Since Watergate, conventional Washington wisdom holds that the cover-up is worse than the crime. Richard Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) tasked former intelligence operatives to break into Democratic National Committee headquarters to wiretap the opposition. To cover up his involvement in the Watergate break-in, Nixon lied about what he knew and when he knew it, resulting in his resignation from office.
Whether Hillary Clinton was aware of the crimes committed between 2016 and 2020 to further her political ambitions is a question that may never be answered. What has been proved beyond any shadow of doubt by the U.S. Justice Department over the past few months is that top operatives in her 2016 campaign used concocted falsehoods to leverage active law enforcement officials who in turn used U.S. government programs and resources to spy on the Trump campaign—a violation of American political norms whose only real parallel is Watergate. We also know that under the pretext of “investigating collusion,” at least 40 Obama officials, including then-Vice President Joe Biden, spied on the Trump team. There is circumstantial evidence that Barack Obama knew what was going on, but since, miraculously, no one has ever publicly asked him about Russiagate, not even once, he hasn’t had the opportunity to either lie or come clean.
But with Trump now safely out of office, it appears that the cover-up is now cracking wide open. In September, John Durham, the special counsel investigating the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe, charged Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann with lying to the FBI. In September 2016, Sussmann, a former Justice Department official, passed reports to the bureau that were meant to incriminate the Trump circle by claiming evidence of links between the Trump organization and a Russian bank. Sussmann had told the FBI he was not acting on behalf of a client, but records Durham obtained from Sussmann’s law firm, Perkins Coie, showed he was billing the Clinton campaign for drawing up the reports and for the meeting itself.
Last month, charges were brought against Igor Danchenko, the former Brookings Institution analyst who was ostensibly the primary source for Christopher Steele’s notorious “dossier,” which served as the legal foundation for the Russiagate conspiracy theory within the FBI. Danchenko was indicted for lying to the FBI, on five counts, with a maximum sentence of five years for each count. According to Durham’s 39-page indictment, Danchenko lied to the bureau when he said that Washington, D.C., public relations executive Charles Dolan (identified in the indictment only as “PR Executive 1”) was not one of the sources for information that he passed on to Steele. In fact, Danchenko used several pieces of information provided to him upon request from Dolan, yet another figure in the Clinton orbit.
The four other charges brought against Danchenko are for lying to the FBI about the role played by Sergei Millian, a real estate broker and former chairman of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce. In a January 2017 interview with the FBI, Danchenko said that Millian was the source for some of the dossier’s central claims, like the story about the infamous “pee tape” and the allegation that there was a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Danchenko told his FBI interviewers that he obtained that information during a 15-minute phone conversation with an anonymous caller that Danchenko said he assumed was Millian. During three follow-up FBI interviews, Danchenko continued to insist Millian was one of his sources, even though there is no evidence that the two men ever spoke.
But just because Durham indicted Clinton contractors for making false statements to federal law enforcement doesn’t mean he sees the FBI team that ran the Trump investigation as impartial enforcers of the law. Durham now appears to be using well-documented and relatively easy cases to pressure Sussmann and Danchenko to give up accomplices one rung up, likely under the threat of jail time. The fact that even after dossier source Danchenko effectively confessed he’d made it all up, the FBI still obtained two more warrants to spy on Trump after he’d become president suggests that the agents who had him under surveillance may now also be under Durham’s scrutiny.
Now the media is scrambling to distance itself from the dossier, with the New York Times “explaining” that just because the prestige press poisoned the public sphere with Clinton-funded smears doesn’t mean that the larger Russiagate story they peddled is also fake. That is, the press has taken another page from the Watergate playbook. As that scandal started to unfold, Nixon’s White House aides discussed strategies to deal with the looming disaster. They talked about a standard spy service ploy called a “limited hangout.” When it’s no longer possible to sustain a phony cover story, dangle some partial truths in public and acknowledge some small, albeit honest, miscues in order to keep the most damning parts of the truth under wraps. Just as this strategy failed to protect Richard Nixon and his men, chances are it won’t help culpable reporters and news organizations avoid responsibility for their active role in the country’s biggest political crime of the past half-century. But it does show quite plainly what the American press has become.
A comparison of the media’s role in the two biggest political scandals of the past half-century is worth the time of anyone who cares about what the next decade or so of American public life is going to look and sound like. The Watergate story was broken by The Washington Post, which rightfully reaped bushels of glory for uncovering the criminal wrongdoing and malfeasance of President Nixon and his top aides. The Post’s top Watergate reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, became famous and rich, and were lionized in an Academy Award winning film, All the President’s Men.
In Russiagate, The Washington Post played the starring role in the cover-up. Congress’ hometown paper was the main venue through which U.S. officials illegally passed classified information to prosecute a campaign against a sitting president, validating a conspiracy theory that they helped to invent in part to cover their own flanks. Indeed, U.S. intelligence services used the Post to roll out the cover-up of their own illegal actions and malfeasance in a Dec. 9, 2016, story itself sourced to illegal leaks of classified information, titled “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House.”
When the Pulitzer Prize committee awarded the Post, along with its chief rival The New York Times, the prize for its Trump-Russia work, it was an announcement that the kind of fearless investigative journalism that won the press the public’s admiration for three generations was finished. The profession was moving on. It had to—the rise of the internet had destroyed the financial model on which the great 20th-century newspapers and magazines were built, forcing them to spend down the cultural capital embodied in their memorable typefaces. The business of independent journalism, governed by professional editors who imagined themselves to be answerable to their peers, was replaced by monopoly speech platforms that were wholly owned by oligarchs, who called for their hired guns to run social media-driven internet campaigns against their enemies.
The job of these new media outlets was not to speak truth to the powerful men and women who owned their platforms and paid their bills. Rather, it was to serve as a megaphone for their power—to use the forms of journalism like “investigations” and “whistleblowers” and “inside sources” to protect and advance the interests of an increasingly ambitious oligarchy that employed the country’s corporate, political, academic, and cultural elites as their retainers and servants. In rewarding the country’s two most prestigious papers for partnering with intelligence services to shield criminals and attempting to undo the results of a presidential election, the Pulitzer committee announced that the American media had entered the post-dossier era.
The dossier was the centerpiece of Russiagate. Marketed by the press as a collection of highly confidential top-secret intelligence reports, it was in fact a slipshod anthology of fabrications, press articles, and Google search results prepared under the byline of British ex-spy Christopher Steele for Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign in order to smear her Republican opponent as a Russian agent. The Clinton campaign’s lawyers hired Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, co-founders of the D.C. political communications firm Fusion GPS to distribute the dossier to the media.
After Steele’s ostensible primary source for the dossier was indicted for lying to the FBI last month, Fusion GPS’ media clients have been trying to put room between themselves and Steele’s counterfeit memos by arguing that the dossier never actually mattered. Nonetheless, the Russiagate faithful still maintain that the dossier’s wholesale untruthfulness doesn’t affect its essential underlying truth, which is ostensibly corroborated in endless numbers of other places—this type of logic is generally known as “cargo-culting.”
Cordoning off the dossier to preserve the collusion story is a standard part of the Russiagate playbook. Four years ago, when the narrative started to unravel once congressional investigators discovered the dossier had been funded by the Clinton campaign, The New York Times published a story by Sharon LaFraniere, Mark Mazzetti, and Matt Apuzzo on Dec. 30, 2017, (cited by the Pulitzer committee) showing that the Trump-Russia investigation wasn’t based on the dossier after all. Rather, the story claimed, the investigation had been opened in July 2016 because a foreign official told American law enforcement officials that a Trump aide had been told by another foreign national that the Russians had Clinton’s emails.
The press made the same move away from the dossier after the Justice Department’s inspector general released a report in December 2019 showing how Steele’s reporting had been improperly used by the FBI to put the Trump campaign under surveillance. The media’s argument then, as now, is that the dossier and Russiagate are separate issues—and that, even though the story outlined in the dossier is false, it is also true.
In reality, there is no Russiagate without the dossier. It was the main piece of evidence used by the FBI to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to collect the electronic communications of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Through Page’s communications, the FBI would have been able to sweep up the communications of virtually every Trump associate. Just like the Nixon campaign’s operatives jimmied their way into the DNC offices, the Clinton campaign passed the dossier on to the FBI so it could spy on the Trump campaign digitally.
Why did the Clinton campaign get involved in such skulduggery when it seemed the candidate’s victory was virtually a lock? The motivation seems pretty straightforward: Her team was worried that emails from her notably unsecured private server would go public. If the emails went live and contained problematic content, there would be no way to whitewash whatever is in them, so—like the lawyers they are—they decided to preemptively attack the delivery mechanism. Don’t look at the emails, look over here: The real crime is who stole Hillary’s emails, and who benefited from the theft. So among the scores of other competent intelligence services that likely have her emails, they hung it on Russia, and Trump.
But don’t take my word for it. CIA Director John Brennan explained in a late July 2016 meeting with Obama that Clinton had approved a plan concerning “Trump and Russian hackers hampering US elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.” That’s pretty straightforward.
FBI documents show that the bureau sent an informant against a Trump adviser to get him to talk about Russia, Clinton emails, and an “October Surprise.” According to the 2019 inspector general’s report, the FBI edited the recording to implicate the adviser. It then used the doctored version as further evidence alongside the dossier to obtain the spy warrant.
The New York Times’ Bret Stephens came down hard on the FBI in a recent column cataloging what the Clinton-funded smear campaign cost the country: “years of high-level federal investigations, ponderous congressional hearings, pompous Adam Schiff soliloquies, and nonstop public furor,” writes Stephens. “But none of that would likely have happened if the F.B.I. had treated the dossier as the garbage that it was.” That’s a 180-degree turnaround from where Stephens was three years ago when he wrote in praise of the FBI’s Russia investigation and castigated the congressional investigators who first unearthed the evidence now corroborated by Durham’s investigation. When Tablet emailed Stephens for a comment on his change of heart, he replied: “When I get things wrong, as I sometimes do, I own—and own up to—it.”
In doing so, Stephens is a rare exception among his colleagues in blue chip media. Collusion dead-enders and stone-cold cultists like former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, and Mother Jones’ David Corn argue that just because the dossier was found to be a total fake doesn’t mean the rest of the Russiagate narrative is a hoax. On the contrary!
After Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple acknowledged in a recent column that press organizations, including some of his colleagues, got fooled by Steele and Danchenko, he contended, without evidence, that “there is far more to Russia-Trump than the dossier.” His Washington Post colleague foreign affairs columnist Anne Applebaum concurs. A passionate Russiagater who embarrassingly devoted dozens of columns to hawking the Fusion GPS-driven fraud, Applebaum tweeted after the Danchenko indictments that “even if every single word in the Steele dossier was wrong, that would not change the fact that the Russians sought to manipulate the US election using hacked material and a disinformation campaign. Nor would it change the fact that the Trump family welcomed this intervention.”
Hear, hear! But who are these people? Of the journalists who spent several years of their lives shilling for a conspiracy theory that starts with a crudely pornographic account of prostitutes urinating on a Moscow hotel bed, some were part of the Clinton court, others saw the story as a career move and rode the collusion bandwagon to book deals, TV contracts, and lucrative public speaking gigs. But the real story of the dossier is not a tale of dimwitted writers who were duped by their sources or played along to advance their professional standing. It is about the role that elite media played in an intelligence operation to first spy on a presidential campaign and then discredit the results of a democratic election and undermine the legitimacy of a presidential administration.
Therefore the story of Sergei Millian, and how he was framed by the press, the Clinton campaign, and the FBI, is worth telling here in some detail.
Born in Belarus, Sergei Millian is a naturalized U.S. citizen who came to America in 2001. He settled in Atlanta and then moved to New York before leaving the United States for fear that corrupt law enforcement officials were going to destroy him. “If they could do what they did to a retired U.S. general like Michael Flynn,” Millian told me, “imagine what they’d do to me.” Millian and I have corresponded through social media, which is presumably an avenue available to the dozens of American reporters who published wildly destructive lies about him, and have not yet seen fit to apologize.
Millian didn’t know it at the time, but his problems began as far back as April 2016 when he gave an interview to Russian-language media about the U.S. presidential election and explained why he supported Donald Trump. He liked Trump’s pro-business attitude and said he’d met the candidate in Florida, where he’d arranged to assist in selling some units in a Trump property. Millian believes it was the Russian-language press article, and the accompanying picture showing him posing with Trump at a Florida racetrack, that caught the attention of Fusion GPS contractor and Russian-language specialist Nellie Ohr, who previously was a contractor for the CIA. And indeed, documents show that Ohr had zeroed in on Millian for a Fusion GPS opposition research document outlining the Trump team’s supposed ties to Russia.
That report must have been disseminated widely to the press, because Millian told me that lots of reporters started calling him in the summer of 2016. The first, says Millian, was ABC News producer Matthew Mosk. Simpson and Fritsch wrote in their 2019 book that Mosk was an old friend, and they told him to get Millian on camera for an interview.
Millian was flattered by Mosk’s invitation to be filmed with Brian Ross, then still at ABC. Millian believed the publicity would help his real estate business—how could he have imagined that the U.S. media, including a formerly reputable outfit like ABC News, was setting him up to be framed as a Russian spy?
During the July 2016 interview, Ross repeatedly asked him if he was a Russian spy. Millian was surprised and upset. In September, the network released parts of the interview on Good Morning America, heavily edited to make it seem as though Millian was confirming contemporary press reports (based on Fusion GPS opposition research files) that Trump was involved in shady business in Russia. Later that day, the Clinton team recycled snippets of the interview for a campaign video.
In other words, Clinton campaign operatives had picked someone with the word “Russia” in their biography and who was tangentially tied to Trump, and framed him—and then handed off the result to the press, which made it all look like legit journalism to aid the Clinton campaign.
According to FBI documents, Simpson also misled law enforcement about Millian. He told Justice Department official Bruce Ohr that Millian was a Russian agent. Bruce Ohr is Nellie Ohr’s husband, a fact that illustrates the circular nature of how Russiagate information was pushed through professional and personal networks. To wit: Nellie Ohr’s boss told her husband that Millian, a person whose name she picked out from a news article under Simpson’s direction, was a Russian spy. Her husband, Bruce Ohr, then passed that information to his colleagues at the FBI, which in October 2016 opened a counterintelligence investigation of Millian—which seemed to corroborate the truth of the initial accusation, which was fabricated for a political purpose by paid agents of a political campaign.
In March 2017, with the post-election collusion campaign in overdrive, The Wall Street Journal reported that Millian was a key source for the Steele dossier. The article was bylined by Mark Maremont, the paper’s Boston-based investigative reporter and a former colleague of Simpson and Fritsch, with whom he shared bylines at the Journal in the early 2000s.
Later that month, The Washington Post did its own hit piece on Millian (which has since been extensively altered), written by Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger, the latter a former Journal reporter who’d also co-written reports with Simpson in the early 2000s. In their book explaining how they set Russiagate in motion, Simpson and Fritsch talk about meeting with Hamburger on the sidelines of the 2016 convention to whet his appetite for their collusion research. Hamburger and Helderman were part of the Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Russia reporting team.
Post spokesperson Shani George wrote Tablet: “Post reporters unsuccessfully sought comment from Sergei Millian after the indictment, as noted in stories at the time. As Washington Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee has said on the record, ‘The story we corrected was not among those awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The coverage awarded the prize focused on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the Obama administration’s handling of the interference and contacts between certain members of Trump’s administration and Russian officials. We are proud of that important work, which was later substantiated and affirmed by the investigations led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee.’ Our reporting is done completely independently.”
Fusion GPS, according to bank records, paid journalists. But the more significant revelation from those records is that Fusion GPS was paid by at least one media organization and at least eight law firms in addition to Perkins Coie. The money trail would seem to lead not just to individual reporters, but also to those at the very top of the elite ecosystem: editors-in-chief, publishers, media magnates, Washington, D.C., lawyers with ties to both parties, and major donors.
This is the fuller context in which to understand the media’s response to the Danchenko indictment and Durham’s possible next moves. They’re bracketing the dossier to save not just the Russiagate narrative but their own skins.
Accordingly, The Washington Post is furnishing a limited hangout. Rather than retract the two fraudulent stories about Millian’s role in assembling the dossier, the Post has taken the novel step of correcting the stories by removing the allegations and appending an editorial note. That is, the Post has falsified the record of its own reporting by removing from public view the evidence of how it helped frame an innocent man.
In a recent column chastising the media for getting the dossier wrong, Wemple withheld the identities of the two Post reporters, Hamburger and Helderman, who published the false stories about Millian. Meanwhile, another recent Wemple column takes aim at CNN for its “fake reckoning” over the dossier and criticizing Brian Stelter for not renouncing the dossier on his media show. In other words, the Post’s media man is focusing on other outlets to distract attention from the fact his Post colleagues were the main media force behind Russiagate.
Wemple, who did not respond to Tablet’s email requesting comment, has been running interference for the paper’s Russiagate coverage since the publication of the 2019 inspector general report. At the time he embarked on a multicolumn series calling out the various media organizations that needed to be forthright about their dossier reporting, like CNN, MSNBC, Politico, Mother Jones, and even The New York Times—all of which, according to Wemple, got played. As for his own paper, he made a fleeting reference to a 2018 David Ignatius article in which the columnist vouched for the dossier. But that hardly tells the whole story of Ignatius’ role in the Russiagate operation.
Shortly before Trump’s January 2017 inauguration, Ignatius wrote an article that cast suspicion on incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador to Washington. Obviously, communicating with foreign officials is what the job of national security adviser entails, but Ignatius reported details of their conversation that were meant to implicate the retired general as a Russian agent. The details were believed to be sourced to an illegal leak of a foreign intelligence intercept, which congressional investigators and intelligence officials say was one of the biggest such leaks in U.S. history. The leak was used to target Flynn, who as a career military intelligence officer was the one Trump aide in an administration full of novices who would’ve known how to find evidence of the FBI’s preelection crimes. This was the first step in an FBI operation that eventually flushed Flynn from the White House and would lead to a long legal fight that cost him millions of dollars. And thus, Ignatius’ Jan. 12, 2017, column was one of the main instruments in the FBI’s coverup. Ignatius did not respond to Tablet’s email requesting comment.
The New York Times’ designated clean-up guy is former Times reporter Barry Meier, author of the recently published Spooked: The Trump Dossier, Black Cube and the Rise of the Private Spies. Meier told an interviewer from New York Magazine that the purpose of writing Spooked “was really to point out that we as journalists—and I still very much consider myself as a journalist—need to reassess how we engage with hired spies and private operatives.”
Hear, hear! One might imagine that any such assessment might be helped by some candor about how that engagement works, but at this point Meier becomes unusually shy. Meier notes in the book that he too had communicated with Fusion GPS, but doesn’t elaborate on the nature of those communications, in particular that as a Times man he used its opposition research to further the Russiagate story. After Spooked was published, Simpson and Fritsch produced several emails Meier wrote them to show that he was a former Fusion client.
I emailed Meier to ask why he hadn’t disclosed the extent of his own relationship with Fusion GPS in his book. He responded: “Your misguided, conspiracy-laced writing about the dossier—like your absurd suggestion that I had a ‘professional relationship’ with Fusion GPS—is evidence of how toxic our public discourse has become.”
In a Medium post, the Fusion GPS principals published an August 2016 email from Meier asking them for information on Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s business in Ukraine. The story Meier eventually wrote with two colleagues was about a secret, or “black,” ledger that showed Manafort was paid illegally by his Ukrainian clients, off the books. (Ukrainian officials described the “black ledger” as a forged document.) The article forced Manafort out of the campaign within a few days after publication. Fusion GPS then recycled a reference to Meier’s article into a dossier memo dated a week after the Times piece was published. This was another instance of circular reporting, a hallmark of the dossier operation—Fusion GPS fed stories to journalists, whose articles were then inserted into or referred to in the dossier as if to show the “Steele” (i.e., Danchenko) reporting was authentic.
After the Times published a dossier-related excerpt from Spooked in the Business section (which is edited by Ellen Pollock, Meier’s wife) it was clear why he didn’t disclose his own role in advancing Fusion GPS’ project. According to Simpson and Fritsch’s Medium post, Fusion GPS gave the Manafort story to Executive Editor Dean Baquet and his deputy Matt Purdy, who assigned the story to Meier and the two other reporters, which shows that the paper of record knowingly participated in this game from the top down, not the bottom up. Spooked’s thesis—the media may have been duped by campaign operatives and private spies, but there was nothing overtly corrupt about it!—gets them all off the hook. (The New York Times did not respond to Tablet’s emails requesting comment.)
As their response to Meier’s book shows, if Simpson and Fritsch believe it will serve their ends, they will feel no obligation to cover for a press corps that fed eagerly from their trough. It’s not hard to imagine a long section in the report Durham is charged with writing that describes the press’s role in advancing Russiagate, including big names from America’s top media organizations.
Russiagate was not a collective miscue committed by dedicated, albeit overzealous and perhaps gullible reporters. Rather, it was an intelligence operation targeting a U.S. president. The main media players were not pixielike and paranoiac TV celebrities or even glib establishment cable TV newsreaders. They were reporters from the country’s two most prestigious newspapers.
A closer look at the stories cited by the Pulitzer committee celebrating the Post’s and Times’ Russia work sheds light on how they worked with spy services to prosecute the operation. The first story cited by the Pulitzer Prize committee, “Officials say Flynn discussed sanctions,” is the Post’s follow-up attack on Flynn, dated Feb. 9, 2017, almost a month after Ignatius’ initial strike. This story is also sourced to a leak of a classified transcript of Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador, confirmed by nine U.S. officials—in other words, it is evidence of at least nine people committing a felony by leaking information from a foreign intelligence intercept. Its authors, Greg Miller, Adam Entous, and Ellen Nakashima, appear to have been the intelligence services’ chosen partners, since they published numerous leaks of classified information to facilitate the cover-up.
Usually when newspapers are passed classified information the editors will make the decision to publish by weighing the public interest against U.S. national security. But Post reporters themselves recognized there was no public interest to be served in this case. In a 2018 interview before a Georgetown University audience, Entous said that when he was first handed the story, he asked, “Why is it news that Michael Flynn is talking to the Russian ambassador?” It wasn’t news; it was the second stage in an information operation to take out a Trump aide.
The operation’s next target was Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions. A March 2 Post story by Entous, Miller, and Nakashima cited by the Pulitzer committee was also based on leaked information from a foreign intelligence intercept. U.S. officials now gave the reporters details from a conversation between Russian officials discussing the Russian ambassador’s meeting with Sessions.
The attorney general had previously denied meeting with the ambassador in his role as a Trump campaign surrogate, but he had met with him in his primary role as a U.S. senator from Alabama. Democrats then used the Post story to pressure Sessions to recuse himself from Russia-related investigations. With that, Trump was at the mercy of a Justice Department and FBI that knew the easiest way to cover up for their preelection offenses was to tie the president down with yet more Russia allegations.
A May 16 Post piece cited by the Pulitzer committee, “Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador,” carried the bylines of Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe. They reported on a White House meeting between Trump, the Russian ambassador, and the Russian foreign minister, during which the president was alleged to have shared with them classified information provided by a U.S. ally, later reported to be Israel. Allies share intelligence knowing that heads of state will use intelligence as they see fit to advance their own national interests, but the Post story furthered the collusion narrative.
This leak of Trump’s conversation with foreign officials, which are also highly classified, was part of a series of unlawful disclosures by U.S. officials intended to obstruct the president’s ability to conduct the foreign policy he was elected to implement. Under Miller’s byline the Post published leaks from a transcript of Trump’s phone call with the Australian prime minister In August 2017, the Post, under Miller’s byline (and others), published the full transcripts of his call with the Australian leader and the president of Mexico. Miller did not respond to Tablet’s email requesting comment by press time.
A May 17, 2017, Times article bylined by Michael Schmidt and cited by the Pulitzer committee, “Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation,” was published a week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. After the domestic spy chief had kept the phony Russia investigation hanging over his head for months, Trump finally acted to remove a threat to his presidency. It appears that Comey’s back-up plan in the event he was terminated was to release memos of conversations he’d had with the president regarding Flynn in order to prompt a special counsel investigation. It worked. By making the memos public, this article helped prompt the DOJ to appoint Robert Mueller, named the very day the piece was published, to lead a Russia probe that would tie down the Trump administration for nearly two years.
The Pulitzer committee also cited Miller, Entous, and Nakashima’s June 23, 2017, Post story, “Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault.” Sourced to former Obama officials, the story documents how months before the 2016 election the CIA put documents in front of the president assessing that “Putin was working to elect Trump.” In other words, according to the Post, Brennan shared the dossier with Obama.
How do we know it was the dossier? Because this was the key finding from the postelection intelligence community assessment that Obama ordered Brennan to complete before he left office, and there is no evidence for that claim outside of the dossier. Like the media now, Obama’s intelligence chiefs wanted to put some distance between themselves and the dossier, so they kept the dossier itself out of the assessment. But attached to the assessment was a two-page summary of the dossier, called Appendix A. They had to include the dossier somehow—it’s the only source for the claim that they needed to delegitimize Trump’s presidency. And so according to a former Obama administration intelligence official, the footnote supporting the assessment’s key finding that Putin sought to help Trump refers to Annex A: the dossier.
In other words, all of Russiagate—the initial crime and the criminal cover-up—is based on the dossier. No matter how much reporters now try to sever themselves from it while maintaining Trump really did collude with Russia, there was only ever the dossier.
So should the Pulitzer committee strip the Post and the Times of their 2018 prize, as Trump and many of his supporters are saying? By no means. That would only further obscure the damage the media have done to American citizens, U.S. national security, and government institutions during the past several years. The press sponsored an intelligence operation that, among many other outrages, violated the privacy rights of an American citizen (Page); forced another to flee his adopted home for fear of false imprisonment (Millian); dragged a decorated combat veteran through the mud and cost him his home and millions of dollars in legal fees (Flynn); interfered in an election, and helped spies target the president through leaks of classified information. Demanding they simply return the awards they use to credential themselves obscures the larger truth. Instead, it would be more fitting for the Post and Times to have the prize’s citation emblazoned on their mastheads for posterity to commemorate how they injected poison into the national bloodstream and burned down our free press.
Lee Smith is the author of The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President (2020).