AUGUST 17, 2020
A New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for his role perpetrating the Russia collusion hoax was tasked with framing the news that a former top FBI lawyer was to plead guilty to deliberately fabricating evidence against a Donald Trump campaign affiliate targeted in the Russia probe. The resulting article is a case study in how to write propaganda.
Adam Goldman broke, and cushioned, the news that former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith was to plead guilty to fabricating evidence in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant application to spy on Trump campaign affiliate Carter Page.
His job was to present the news as something other than an indictment of the FBI’s handling of the Russia collusion hoax, to signal to other media that they should move on from the story as quickly as possible, and to hide his own newspaper’s multi-year participation in the Russia collusion hoax. One intelligence source described it as an “insult” to his intelligence and “beyond Pravda,” a reference to the official newspaper of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. Here’s how Goldman did it.
Mild Headline With Ludicrous Spin
The New York Times used to put every Russia collusion story it had on the front page. Then, when the narrative fell apart, the Times moved on to a new narrative of redefining America as irredeemably racist.
Even though Clinesmith’s guilty plea is directly relevant to the false story the Times peddled for years, and even though it broke the news of his guilty plea, the publication hid the story deep in the paper and put a boring headline on it. “Ex-F.B.I. Lawyer Expected to Plead Guilty in Durham Investigation,” as if begging readers to move on. If they didn’t, the subhead told them that the news really wasn’t such a big deal. “Prosecutors are not expected to reveal any evidence of a broad anti-Trump conspiracy among law enforcement officials,” it claimed, without, well, evidence.
In fact, while the charging document was brief, it revealed that while Clinesmith deliberately fabricated evidence in the fourth warrant to spy on Page, all four warrants failed to mention the information the CIA gave the FBI months before the first warrant was filed. That information was that Page, a former Marine officer who graduated from the Naval Academy, had been a source for the agency, sharing information about Russians the agency was interested in. In fact, he’d done it for five years.
All four warrants took those contacts as probable cause to spy on him, so the CIA’s information would have significantly altered the applications if included.
Downplays Robert Mueller Ties
Goldman describes Clinesmith as someone “who was assigned to the Russia investigation,” avoiding any mention of his role on the “Mueller probe” until the 24th paragraph. The Mueller probe is the name given to the special counsel investigation ostensibly led by Robert Mueller but actually led by rabid partisan Andrew Weissmann.
Clinesmith was removed from the Russia collusion investigation not for falsifying evidence but for his extreme anti-Trump texts. Those were found when Inspector General Michael Horowitz investigated the FBI’s gentle treatment of Hillary Clinton when she was facing scrutiny for mishandling classified information.
“I’m just devastated,” Clinesmith texted to FBI attorney Sally Moyer shortly after Trump won the 2016 presidential election. “Plus, my god damned name is all over the legal documents investigating his staff,” Clinesmith wrote.
“Is it making you rethink your commitment to the Trump administration?” Moyer later asked Clinesmith, apparently referring to Clinesmith’s plan to remain at the FBI.
“Hell no,” Clinesmith responded. “Viva le resistance.”
Assertions Without Evidence
Goldman claims, without evidence, that Trump “has long been blunt about seeing the continuing investigation by the prosecutor examining the earlier inquiry, John H. Durham, as political payback.” In fact, Trump has said that no president should go through what he went through: the weaponization of a political opponent’s conspiracy theory to undermine a duly elected president.
Still Peddling Russia Claims
“Attorney General William P. Barr has portrayed Mr. Durham’s work as rectifying what he sees as injustices by officials who sought in 2016 to understand links between the Trump campaign and Russia’s covert operation to interfere in the election,” Goldman writes, failing to inform his readers that there were no such “links.”
Evidence Of Broader Conspiracy
As in the headline, Goldman highlights his view that “prosecutors were not expected to reveal any evidence in charging documents that show Mr. Clinesmith’s actions were part of any broader conspiracy to undermine Mr. Trump.” Beyond the fact that the very brief charging document actually does get at problems that extend beyond Clinesmith, the lack of an outline of such evidence doesn’t mean the prosecutors don’t have it, just that they didn’t put it in this document.
Perhaps Clinesmith’s plea involved his assistance in laying out this evidence, or perhaps the information was unnecessary, or perhaps it simply wasn’t shared with Clinesmith or his attorney who are the obvious source candidates for the article.
Factual But Not Truthful
The corporate media are “factual but not truthful,” says critic Michael Malice. A good example of that is when Goldman picks out the two least salient pieces of information from the inspector general’s investigation of FISA abuse to claim that actually the FBI did a good job. This was the report that found 17 egregious errors, inaccuracies, and problems in the applications to spy on Page.
Goldman saves his mention of that for the 14th paragraph of his article, instead saying, “And the Justice Department’s independent inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, has found that law enforcement officials had sufficient reason to open the Russia investigation, known inside the F.B.I. as Crossfire Hurricane, and found no evidence that they acted with political bias.”
He leaves out that Horowitz also said he found the FBI officials’ “we weren’t politically biased” claims to be insufficient and unsatisfactory explanations for how all of the egregious problems happened. And before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Horowitz testified that questions of political bias get “murkier” once you get past the opening of the probe.
More Anonymous Sourcing
Goldman grants Clinesmith or his attorneys anonymity to say that “his motives were benign, and other evidence indicated that he had not tried to hide the C.I.A. email from his colleagues.”
First off, this is a really cute way to elide the inspector general’s finding that Clinesmith didn’t just fabricate evidence in the email from the CIA, he also hid his initial email to the CIA, which provided much-needed context for understanding the CIA’s response. But also, what is the justification for Goldman to give the anonymity for making this claim?
Clinesmith or his attorneys are not leaking classified information here. Is the Times willing to grant anonymity to anyone and thus relieve them of the responsibility of their own statements so long as the Times approves of what they’re saying?
Anonymous Leaks Good, Accountable Public Statements Bad
Goldman, who for years regurgitated anonymous leaks to spread the false and dangerous Russia collusion hoax, writes of Barr mentioning that there would be a development in the Durham probe: “It is highly unusual for law enforcement officials to publicly discuss ongoing investigations, but Mr. Barr has long made clear his distaste for the Russia investigation and his view that Mr. Durham would remedy any issues with it.”
In other words, Goldman is opining that it is better to anonymously leak false information like the FBI and Weissmann teams did for three years rather than make mild and accurate statements in a public and straightforward manner. Got it.
We Never Cared About Collusion
The entire reason the Russia collusion hoax gripped the nation for years was because of the conspiracy theory that Trump was a traitor who had colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Thousands of news stories appeared through this period suggesting myriad, concrete Trump campaign linkages to Russia.”
But once Weissmann was unable to find any collusion, the media simply dropped the claim that they had pushed for years. Now Goldman, who won a Pulitzer for pushing the claim, describes the Mueller probe as something that “uncovered the Kremlin’s complex operation to subvert the election and the Trump campaign’s expectation that it would benefit from foreign involvement.”
He hides the fact that Weissmann failed to find any evidence that Trump team colluded with Russia, which was the core allegation being investigated but has suddenly become so irrelevant that he doesn’t find it necessary to mention it while summing up the Mueller probe. Poof, it just disappeared.
Downplaying FISA Abuse
The 434-page Horowitz report identified major abuses by the FBI that violated Page’s civil liberties. The corporate media used to present itself as an institution that cared about protecting individual freedoms from abuse by unaccountable government. The IG report lists the threat to the First Amendment and “constitutionally protected activity” nearly 20 times.
Here’s how Goldman puts it: “Republicans have seized on a narrow aspect of the inquiry — the investigation into Mr. Page — in a long-running quest to undermine it.”
This is propaganda. FISA abuse was never a “narrow aspect” of the inquiry and everyone should have “seized” on it because lying to a FISA court and violating an American’s civil liberties are evil. For Goldman to opine the motivations of his political opponents is beyond his capabilities. Also, he should know that Republicans couldn’t “undermine” the investigation at this point if they tried, since it ended a long time ago.
Good-Faith Document Tampering
The CIA repeatedly told the FBI that Page was a source. Clinesmith told a supervisor Page wasn’t a source, despite what he was told by the CIA. He was asked by the supervisor to provide documentation supporting that claim, at which point he doctored an email so it said Page was “never a source.”
Here’s how Goldman spins this: “Mr. Clinesmith did not change the document in an attempt to cover up the F.B.I.’s mistake, the people familiar with the case said. His lawyers argued that he had made the change in good faith because he did not think that Mr. Page had been an actual source for the C.I.A.”
That sounds very believable and Goldman is a good reporter for not having any skepticism at all toward the claim.
Hiding The Dossier
The New York Times used to trumpet the “Steele dossier,” a collection of memos bought and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign alleging Trump was a traitor who had colluded with Russia. Page featured prominently in the dossier.
Recently it was confirmed that, far from the descriptions in the media, the dossier was just the collected gossip and drunken brainstorming of an American-based researcher and his school chums that were then exaggerated by Steele. Goldman himself was part of a reporting team that described Steele as “an expert on Russia who is well respected in the spy world,” adding that he was “considered a competent and reliable operative with extensive experience in Russia.”
Goldman and his colleagues praised Steele as having “an excellent reputation with American and British intelligence colleagues and had done work for the F.B.I. on the investigation of bribery at FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. Colleagues say he was acutely aware of the danger he and his associates were being fed Russian disinformation.”
It turned out that the FIFA talking point wasn’t true. Steele’s prior handling agent at the bureau told Inspector General Horowitz that he would have never approved such a description of Steele’s work, since most of his prior work had not been corroborated and none of it had ever been used in criminal proceedings.
As for his “acute” awareness of the danger of being fed Russian disinformation, that was also not true. Horowitz found that Steele was an agent of “Russian Oligarch 1,” a reference to Oleg Deripaska, and that he was in frequent contact with agents of Russian oligarchs.
Had the FBI been properly informed that Steele was working both for the Clinton-funded operation and the Russian oligarch, they said they would have been much more sensitive to the possibility his entire operation was related to Russian disinformation. Also, Steele’s two most explosive claims — about Michael Cohen being in Prague and the “pee tape” claim — were both thought possibly to have been part of a Russian disinformation campaign.
The dossier was key to securing the wiretap on Page, which Goldman doesn’t mention. He instead writes, “Investigators eventually suspected that Russian spies had marked Mr. Page for recruitment” as the reason they were able to get a wiretap.
All of which to say, in a story about malfeasance on Carter Page’s FISA warrants, Goldman doesn’t mention the dossier until the penultimate paragraph of a 30-paragraph story.
These are just a few of the ways Goldman manipulates the story to protect the Russia collusion hoax he participated in. Because they were co-conspirators in the hoax, too many in the corporate media are serving as obstacles to holding the FBI and other powerful government agencies accountable for their actions.