On Monday evening, two potentially Category 5 stories broke concerning Donald Trump and his many ties to Russia. At 5:36 PM, Slate was up with an analysis of a server in Trump Tower that seemed to be directly, and exclusively, connected to an oligarch-controlled bank in Russia.
It dawned on the researchers that this wasn’t an attack, but a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank.
At 7:52 PM, Mother Jones was up with a reveal from a former spy who claimed to have seriously shocking information.
"Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance."
But by 9:14 PM, the New York Times was ready not only to dismiss the Russian connection to Trump, but paint the Russian hacking of Democratic emails—and only Democratic emails—as a random prank.
Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.
And just like that, stories that might have dominated the morning news were strangled in their crib. But … by who? Who gave the Times the very timely information it needed to attack the Trump/Russia connection at just the right moment?
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On Friday, as the FBI was issuing a letter saying that they were looking into some emails that might possibly be related to the earlier investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server, the New York Times found this worthy of every single column of the front page. On Monday, the information that there was a broad, ongoing investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government rated a single article. On page A21. It became the instant “See? Nothing going on” that every Trump devotee needed to wave at the nearest doubter.
But just how did that article come to so definitively dismiss the issue while presenting no evidence?
‘Someone inside the government leaked this information to the New York Times. Did James Comey authorize this leak?’
The New York Times attributes the leaks about the FBI’s thinking to “[l]aw enforcement officials,” which suggests — but does not definitively establish — that the leaks came from the FBI. Martin says this raises the question as to whether Comey himself authorized the leak. If he did, it could be evidence that he is seeking to influence the election through selective leaks favorable to Trump.
And what about that jaw-dropping conclusion that the Russian interference with only Democratic emails, and the release of information timed to disrupt Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was somehow not intended to slant the election toward Trump?
An actual conclusion would involve, according to Martin, the participation of a variety of intelligence agencies under the supervision of the Director of National Intelligence. In particular, the investigators would need to look at the NSA intercepts of Russian communications and have those intercepts analyzed by a specialist in Russian intelligence. Have the “investigators” speaking to the New York Times reviewed that crucial intelligence? We don’t know.
This conclusion isn’t just amazing, it’s genuinely unbelievable. “Yes, I did hit only Cubs players with a bat as they walked past and ignore the Cleveland players, but I was only trying to mess with the game, not influence the outcome.” There’s no situation in which the lopsided intrusion of Russia would be seen as the kind of chaotic-neutral action the Times story suggests.
As has become their practice of late, the New York Times made several subtle modifications to the story after it first appeared.
The New York Times, meanwhile, quietly altered their story on Monday night adding the caveat “conclusive or direct” to a sentence that previously read “law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.”
The original statement was clearly untrue. The revised statement … who knows? Given the utterly banal description of the Times’ unrevealed sources, it’s impossible to place any faith in the information. What is clear is that the New York Times has some direct connection to sources that are highly interested in killing off Trump/Russia stories—and doing so very promptly.
Who is behind that connection? That would be a good story.