I have a column today in the Hill on the indictment of former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann by Special Counsel John Durham. The indictment fills in a great number of gaps on one of the Russian collusion allegations pushed by the Clinton campaign: Alpha bank. Sussmann and others reportedly pushed the implausible claim that the Russian bank served as a conduit for communications between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. The indictment removes the identity of key actors like a “Tech Executive” who used his connections with an Internet company to help the Clinton campaign (and said he was promised a top cyber security position in the widely anticipated Clinton Administration). One of those figures however may have been identified: “Reporter-2.” Atlantic staff writer Franklin Foer wrote an article for Slate that seems to track the account of the indictment and, as such, raises questions over his role as a conduit for the Clinton campaign’s effort to spread the false story.
The indictment discusses how Fusion GPS pushed for the publication of the story, telling Foer that it was “time to hurry” on the story.:
“The Investigative Firm Employee’s email stated, ‘time to hurry’ suggesting that Reporter-2 should hurry to publish an article regarding the Russian Bank-1 allegations. In response, Reporter-2 emailed to the Investigative Firm Employee a draft article regarding the Russian Bank-1 allegations, along with the cover message: ‘Here’s the first 2500 words.’”
The indictment states Reporter-2 published the article “on or about the following day, October, 31, 2016.” That is when Slate published a piece written by Foer headlined, “Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia?” The story then was pushed by the Clinton campaign.
Foer has not addressed this close coordination with Fusion, including the showing of an advanced copy of his article. He later stated the following in the Atlantic:
“Every article is an exercise in cost-benefit analysis; each act of publication entails a risk of getting it wrong, and sometimes events force journalists to assume greater risk than they would in other circumstances. Before I published the server story, I asked myself a fairly corny question: How would I sleep the next week if Donald Trump were elected president, knowing that I had sat on a potentially important piece of information? In the end, Trump was elected president, and I still slept badly.”
The cost behind this article is getting it wrong but relying too greatly on a biased source without independent research. Foer states that he was more concerned with missing a chance on the story only to have Trump elected. We have been discussing the rise of advocacy journalism and the rejection of objectivity in journalism schools.
In this case, Foer allegedly coordinated with investigators paid by the Clinton campaign to publish a story that had little or no basis. Even the researchers quoted in the indictment objected that the theory was unsupported and could bring public ridicule. Yet, the campaign continued to push the story and Foer ran it after allegedly sending an advance copy of his article to Fusion.
The next question is who is the “Tech executive”?