The New York Times faced a stinging contradiction from Politico this week after it ran a story besmirching the lead prosecutor in the leak investigation launched under former Attorney General Bill Barr. The article relies on anonymous sources to claim that Assistant U.S. Attorney Osmar Benevenuto of the District of New Jersey was brought in by Barr as part of his “small circle of trusted aides officials.” In reality, it appears that Benevenuto was not initially selected by Barr and does not appear to have known him.
Here is what the New York Times wrote:
“… William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations.
In February 2020, Mr. Barr placed the prosecutor from New Jersey, Osmar Benvenuto, into the National Security Division. His background was in gang and health care fraud prosecutions.
However, Politico ran a story that suggests that Barr did not know Benevenuto when he selected him in February 2020. Rather, it says that Barr asked the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Craig Carpenito who told Politico:
“The attorney general told me that he wanted someone who was an experienced prosecutor and wasn’t afraid to make decisions. What he wanted to know was whether or not there was anything to these investigations, whether they should be closed or brought forward,” Carpenito said in an interview. “I told him Oz Benvenuto was someone I trusted to give him an honest answer and he has the experience to separate the wheat from the chaff. … I also told him Oz had the intestinal fortitude to give him a real answer: He would say, ‘yes or no.’”
Benevenuto is a registered Democrat and, while it is true that he did not previously conduct a leak investigation, few prosecutors have. Instead, he was an experienced prosecutor in cases that often involve heavy reliance on searches of electronic and text communications. He was made a federal prosecutor in 2012 by Paul Fishman, U.S. Attorney in New Jersey under Barack Obama.
The Politico article is full of praise from career prosecutors and others for Benevenuto’s independence and judgment. One of his former colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey, Andrew Bruck, “scoffed at the idea that his friend was carrying out political orders for Barr. ‘
So who are these three unnamed sources? It appears that career prosecutors and others (including Democrats) uniformly deny that Benevenuto was part of any inner circle or some ally of Barr’s. Indeed, there was ample reason for Barr to go outside of the Main Justice since he was seeking to launch a leak investigation that would potentially include many people inside the Trump Administration, including some political appointees. It made a great deal of sense to find a seasoned prosecutor with no ties to Washington.
However, anonymous sources have been repeatedly used to fulfill narratives in the media. As I wrote this week in USA Today, there are compelling reasons to fully investigate the subpoenas targeting reporters and members of Congress. However, there is already that all-too-familiar effort to frame the facts to fit a narrative.