The New York Times published a story on March 1, based on anonymous sources, claiming that Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., had met with House Speaker Paul Ryan to blame Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., for leaking texts between Mark Warner and the attorney for a Russian oligarch connected to the author of the salacious and unverified dossier the FBI used to secure a wiretap against a Trump campaign affiliate.
It was a weird story for many reasons. For one, it was the first time the paper had even mentioned these encrypted texts, despite their newsworthiness and the dramatic twist they gave parts of the Russia investigation.
For another, the story was denied publicly by Burr, who told CNN that the account was simply wrong.
For another, it turned out that no members on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence had even seen the texts, according to Nunes and others on the committee.
But the weirdest part about the story is that The New York Times is a frequent recipient of actual leaks from House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee. On Feb. 27, Democrats on the committee leaked Hope Hicks’ testimony directly to The New York Times. In fact, Nicholas Fandos, the very same reporter on the anonymously sourced story about House Republicans supposedly leaking, received a leak from Democrats on the committee, which he immediately published under the headline, “Hope Hicks Acknowledges She Sometimes Tells White Lies for Trump.”
Fandos ran with the spin given to him by Schiff and his staff.
WASHINGTON — Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, told House investigators on Tuesday that her work for President Trump, who has a reputation for exaggerations and outright falsehoods, had occasionally required her to tell white lies.
But after extended consultation with her lawyers, she insisted that she had not lied about matters material to the investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible links to Trump associates, according to three people familiar with her testimony.
The exchange came during more than eight hours of private testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Ms. Hicks declined to answer similar questions about other figures from the Trump campaign or the White House.
The story is based on three anonymous Democrats who serve on or work for the committee. A Republican who serves on the committee spoke publicly about this top news that Fandos carried directly from Democrats’ spin room to the pages of the New York Times. In fact, he said that the latest — of dozens upon dozens — of leaks from House Democrats was the last straw for him, not just because it was yet another leak but because it was spun so falsely.
“We’ve gotten to the point now where we’re literally bringing people in for nine hours just so the Democrats can leak to the press,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla.
Later reports revealed that Hicks hadn’t testified about anything dramatic but had occasionally said her boss was in a meeting when he was actually just otherwise preoccupied. Now, maybe that’s treason and worthy of breathless New York Times coverage and a day-long general media freakout. But if it is, that media will have nothing else to write about for decades and thousands of dead Washington, D.C., press secretaries will soon be swinging from the gallows, all hanged for treason and high crimes. Schiff, who if he didn’t leak the testimony himself, oversees the Democrats who did, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that it was “unfair” that the Hicks testimony had been leaked. Really.
Jack Langer, spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes, who chairs the committee, found the whole thing Kafkaesque, according to one of the Fandos stories:
“The New York Times, a prominent purveyor of leaks, is highlighting anonymous sources leaking information that accuses Republicans of leaking information,” he said. “I’m not sure if this coverage could possibly get more absurd.”
It is a weird thing to watch the media uncritically receive and regurgitate dozens of leaks — all of them out of context, some of them downright false — from Rep. Adam Schiff and his team and then write up that the other side is leaking. This is particularly bizarre given the general lack of leaks coming from House Permanent Select Committee Republicans. At the very least it’s worth noting that there were no leaks from Intelligence Committee Republicans about their 4-page memo alleging FISA abuses, even as the agencies and Democrats on the committee put out anticipatory leaks to cushion the blow from that memo. In fact, they leaked to … Nicholas Fandos.
Here are four other examples of serious, if deceptive, leaks from Schiff and the Democrats he oversees.
1) Selective Leak Of Stone-Wikileaks Texts
I’m not sure how much of this is sloppy and credulous reporting vs. sloppy leaking by Team Schiff, but last week Natasha Bertrand of The Atlantic wrote about a leak from Democrats on the Intelligence Committee of direct Twitter messages between Wikileaks and former Trump advisor Roger Stone. The actual texts depicted Wikileaks telling Stone to stop falsely claiming that they’d been communicating. Bertrand framed it exactly the opposite — that the texts actually provided smoking gun proof that Wikileaks and Roger Stone were plotting to steal an election. The headline and subhed announce, “Roger Stone’s Secret Messages with WikiLeaks: Transcripts obtained by The Atlantic show Donald Trump’s longtime confidante corresponded with the radical-transparency group.” Contra Bertrand, the exchange had previously been reported on here as being “consistent with the group’s public statements casting doubt on claims by former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone that he had advanced knowledge of the group’s anti-Clinton leaks.”
Bertrand repeatedly sources her story to the “House Intelligence Committee,” meaning Democrats on that Committee. She squeezes 1,600 words out of the texts, leading observers to write that, “Stone was Trump’s intermediary to Julian Assange’s secretly partisan pro #TrumpRussia media outlet.” A senior editor at The Atlantic, who you have to charitably assume didn’t actually read the piece, hyped it as an actual “smoking gun” of treasonous collusion between Trump and Russia:
The full text exchange was innocuous and brief, as you can see for yourself here, and shows no evidence the group and the Trump associate are colluding. As one observer noted, “Leaking them now sure looks like an attempt to push a sputtering narrative forward.”
2) The Fake News About Trump, Jr., And Hacked Documents
Speaking of false claims of smoking guns, don’t forget the early December reports leaked, or perhaps we should say invented, by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. This was when they claimed that Donald Trump, Jr. was given advance notice about documents hacked or phished from Democrats before they were publicly available. The “smoking gun” was an email from a random dude to Trump, Jr. The story didn’t include any evidence that the random dude who emailed Trump, Jr. was correct, that his email had been opened, that he was connected to Russia, or anything else to justify the excitement that those all-in on the collusion narrative had in response to it. But more than that, it turned out that CNN completely botched the story. Instead of advance notice that this random dude sent in to Trump affiliates, it was late notice that this random dude sent in. The random American was emailing about previously released documents. The leakers — CNN had claimed two separate leakers on the House Intelligence Committee — had gotten the date wrong.
MSNBC and CBS were also leaked this false information by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee yet none of them have ever explained how they were led astray or what measures they will take to avoid being led astray by Schiff and his team in the future.
Think back to that false New York Times story at the top of the page. Imagine if our media had as much curiosity about what happened with this demonstrably false leak and resulting false reporting at CNN, MSNBC and CBS, as they did about the real leak of Warner texts (that they refused to cover except as a leak story).
3) False Leaks About Meeting Transcripts And Business
The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman also credulously took a leak from Team Schiff in late January that turned out to be false. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee said that Nunes had refused to deny he’d coordinated with the White House when putting together a memo alleging surveillance and law enforcement abuses at the FBI. In fact, Nunes explicitly denied the charge, as transcripts of the meeting showed. Before that transcript was published, The Daily Beast’s headline, subheadline, and lede about the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee refusing to answer a question were all false. You can read all about it at, “Transcript Shows The Daily Beast Peddled Fake News About Devin Nunes.”
Apart from leaking flagrantly, Schiff has also generally publicly omitted facts about committee business, made false statements about the committee, and publicly given false information about Nunes, including when he falsely characterized a mid-day meeting at the White House as a secretive “midnight run.”
4) From ‘I Know Nothing’ to ‘It Was Justified’
Last March, Nunes revealed that he’d seen dozens of reports featuring unmasked information on Trump and his associates and family members. He said these reports arose out of incidental collection during FISA surveillance, had nothing to do with Russia, were disseminated widely throughout the intelligence agencies, and contained little to no foreign intelligence value.
Many in the media responded by downplaying or denigrating his news, distracting with process complaints, or quickly thrown-together stories from anonymous sources with no evidence claiming more breathless wrongdoing with Russia. When it turned out that former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice herself had been involved in the unmasking, some media outlets rushed to her defense in a manner one might expect from one’s lawyer — or lover — than a media organization.
Rice actually denied any knowledge of what Nunes was talking about — which was, again, that he’d seen dozens of unmaskings of Trump affiliates that arose out of incidental collection during FISA surveillance, had nothing to do with Russia, contained little to no intelligence value, and had been disseminated throughout intelligence agencies.
“I know nothing about this,” Rice emphatically stated to Judy Woodruff in a March 22 PBS Newshour interview. “I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today.”
Well, it turned out that she testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that she knew everything about this. She admitted that she unmasked information on Trump affiliates that arose out of incidental FISA surveillance connections, and that these collections were unrelated to Russia.
But rather than cover this as, “Susan Rice totally lied when she said she knew nothing about unmasking, y’all,” Team Schiff got CNN’s Manu Raju — a favorite and reliable leak recipient for the Democrats on the Committee (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example) — to spin the news as totally ordinary and justified. Amazingly, Raju never mentioned Rice’s comments to Woodruff that she knew nothing about any Obama people unmasking Trump people. That’s not Schiff’s fault, but the reporter’s. Credulously accepting partisan spin is the reporter’s fault, too. The leak of her testimony, however, is thanks to the Democrats on the Committee.
For some reason reporters are hostile to even the notion of Republican leaks, such as the apparently false claim in the first story mentioned, but remarkably incurious about the actual Democratic deluge of leaks. For reasons outlined here and previously (here and here) it would behove them to treat the deluge of leaks from Schiff and his team with more skepticism and journalistic rigor.