After two and a half years of countless mainstream media “scoops” and “bombshells” that turned out to be false or nonexistent, the American people finally have some concrete answers on Russiagate. When Special Counsel Robert Mueller released his 448-page report on Russian interference in the 2016 election on Thursday, some of the investigation’s conclusions debunked once and for all many misleading, and anonymously sourced, conspiracy theories.
Here are some of the most prominent stories the press got wrong about the Russian collusion narrative.
1. Michael Cohen Never Went To Prague
The infamous Christopher Steele dossier, which was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party, alleged that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen met with Federation Council foreign affairs head Konstantin Kosachev in Prague. Desperately wanting to confirm this, news outlets sent reporters to hotels all over Prague checking hotel logs.
In April 2018, McClatchy reported Mueller had obtained evidence of Cohen’s visit to the Czech Republic, according to two anonymous sources. In December 2018, they reported that Cohen’s cell phone, or a device registered to him, was pinged off towers near Prague.
The Mueller report debunked this piece of the dossier once and for all when the special counsel wrote, “Cohen had never traveled to Prague and was not concerned about those allegations, which he believed were provably false.” McClatchy has now added a two sentence editor’s note to their two reports on Cohen.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Robert Mueller’s report to the attorney general states that Mr. Cohen was not in Prague. It is silent on whether the investigation received evidence that Mr. Cohen’s phone pinged in or near Prague, as McClatchy reported.
2. Carter Page Was Not a Russian Agent
Carter Page was the main link between the Trump campaign and Russia. He was a one-time foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign, has spent time in Russia, and has many contacts with the foreign adversary. The dubious Steele dossier alleged that Page held secret meetings with allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin during his trips to Moscow.
These connections are perhaps the only evidence presented by the media who were convinced Page was a Russian spy (and the only evidence used by the FBI to seek a surveillance warrant against Page, but I digress).
Mueller finally put this myth to rest in his report, asserting they found no evidence Page coordinated with Russia on behalf of the Trump campaign.
Russian intelligence officials had formed relationships with Page in 2008 and 2013 and Russian officials may have focused on Page in 2016 because of his affiliation with the Campaign. However, the investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
3. Donald Trump Did Not Direct Cohen to Lie to Congress
In January 2019, BuzzFeed News dropped what was supposed to be “bombshell” report, alleging that Trump had directed Cohen to lie to Congress about a potential real estate deal in Moscow. They also reported that Mueller’s office had evidence of these alleged lies.
The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.
In February, Cohen told Congress under oath that the president never directed him to lie, and now the Mueller report is confirming the contrary report as false:
Cohen said that he and the President did not explicitly discuss whether Cohen’s testimony about the Trump Tower Moscow project would be or was false, and the President did not direct him to provide false testimony. Cohen also said he did not tell the President about the specifics of his planned testimony.
4. Cohen’s Call With a Russian Did Not Prove Collusion
In November 2018, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes reported on live television that “The President was compromised by a hostile foreign government, full stop.” Hayes proposed this was the only conclusion to take from Cohen’s admission that he lied to Congress.
The Mueller report investigated Cohen’s phone call with a personal assistant to a Russian official, and found no evidence that they ever followed up or acted on that initial phone call about a Trump Tower in Moscow.
“Cohen could not recall any direct follow-up from Poliakova or from any other representative of the Russian government, nor did the Office identify any evidence of direct follow-up,” the Mueller report concluded.
5. Paul Manafort Was Not Funneling Polling Data to Putin
Many reporters used Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s past business dealings in Russia to prove he was a Russian stooge, but one reporter, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, was particularly confident that Manafort’s activities proved collusion on the Trump campaign once and for all.
These new revelations combined with earlier reports effectively end the debate about whether there was ‘collusion’ between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. There was. It wasn’t marginal. It was happening at the very top of the campaign. The campaign manager was secretly funneling campaign data and information to a Russian oligarch closely tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin…
The Mueller report thoroughly debunked the theory that Manafort was sharing polling data with Putin in order to win the election.
The Office did not identify evidence of a connection between Manafort’s sharing polling data and Russia’s interference in the election, which had already been reported by U.S. media outlets at the time of the August 2 meeting. The investigation did not establish that Manafort otherwise coordinated with the Russian government on its election-interference efforts.
6. The Trump Campaign Did Not Make Republicans Soften Their Position on Ukraine
MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow passionately presented her theory that in 2016, before the Republican National Convention, the Trump campaign convinced Republicans to soften their policy positions on Russia, and to abandon advocating for supplying Ukraine with weapons to fight off Russian invasion.
“We definitely do have evidence that the Trump campaign was working to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue,” Maddow said.
The Mueller report debunked this conspiracy theory outright:
The investigation did not establish that one Campaign official’s efforts to dilute a portion of the Republican Party platform on providing assistance to Ukraine were undertaken at the behest of candidate Trump or Russia.
7. Jeff Sessions Was Not a Russian Spy
The Washington Post reported a “big scoop” in March 2017, alleging that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met with Russians and lied about it in his confirmation hearing. They reported that, as a Senator, Sessions had a private meeting in his office with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
“The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election,” the Post wrote.
They also reported that Sessions and Kislyak met and talked at an event, which turned out to be a Heritage Foundation event that included 50 other ambassadors in the room.
The Mueller report states that the special counsel investigated Kislyak’s encounters with both Sessions and members of the Trump campaign, and found neither to be evidence of collusion. He wrote that Kislyak’s interactions with Trump campaign officials were “brief, public, and non-substantive,” and that Kislyak and Sessions’s meeting in the Senator’s office discussed nothing “more than a passing mention of the presidential campaign.”
These are just a few of the truths finally unearthed in the aftermath of Russiagate. At this point, the damage these media outlets have done to their own credibility may be beyond repair.