This morning, I was surprised to receive a note from the Washington Post on my prior criticism of the Post’s Philip Bump as previously spreading “false stories” and refusing to accept the facts after they were established by the media. The Post has declared that Bump’s original claims on Lafayette Park, the Hunter Biden laptop, and Russian collusion were true and they stand by them. In light of the unprompted review by the Post, I wanted to lay out what the Post is now embracing as true.
At the outset, here is the email that I received this morning:
In your recent piece in The Hill, you wrote that “Bump has repeatedly spread false stories and then refused to accept the falsity of his own earlier claims, even after most of the media have admitted the errors.”
The Washington Post stands by Philip Bump’s reporting and your characterization of his articles as “false” is incorrect.
The first Post link is Bump’s claims over the “photo op” controversy in Lafayette Park. Many of us criticized Trump’s photo op in front of the church as well as the level of force used to clear the area of Lafayette Park. Yet, media and pundits like Bump and University of Texas Professor Steve Vladeck (who is a CNN contributor) went further to claim that former Attorney General Bill Barr cleared the park in order to hold the photo op.
There was never evidence to support that factual conclusion. I testified in Congress not long after the clearing of the area and stated that the conspiracy theory was already contradicted by the available evidence. I encouraged Congress to investigate the question and establish the truth of the matter. The issue was not whether it was worthy of investigation but whether it was established as fact.
We previously discussed the Inspector General report on the Lafayette Park protests and the debunking of Bump’s conspiracy theory. The Inspector General of the Department of Interior conducted an investigation over the last year and found that the clearing was not done “to allow the President to survey the damage and walk to St. John’s Church.”
In other words, it was false. Not arguably false. It was false.
One of the most cited articles was by Bump titled “Attorney General Bill Barr’s Dishonest Defense of Clearing of Lafayette Square.” He stated:
“It is the job of the media to tell the truth. The truth is that Barr’s arguments about the events of last Monday collapse under scrutiny and that his flat assertion that there was no link between clearing the square and Trump’s photo op should be treated with the same skepticism that his claims about the use of tear gas earns.”
It was later proven that Barr was speaking truthfully about both the photo op and the tear gas. It was Bump who was giving a false account.
After the release of the report, the Post responded with a second article by Bump entitled ‘The lingering questions about the clearing of Lafayette Square,” which struggled to keep doubt (and the conspiracy theory) alive. Bump emphasized a scene shortly before the operation where Barr reportedly said “Are these people still going to be here when POTUS comes out?” Bump said that that reference to the protesters still raises a “lingering question.”
However, buried in the article, the column admits that the “preparations were made before Barr arrived at the scene. That’s compelling evidence for the argument that the area was going to be cleared despite Barr’s presence.” It also states that “The inspector general’s assessment does add new information to the established timeline that reinforces the Park Police’s assertions that the area was cleared to erect new fencing to better protect the White House complex.”
So Bump’s original claims were false. However, Bump still sought to pretend that there are still doubts. He wrote that there remain questions of whether all of this was just “essentially a coincidence.” It was a bizarre claim. The Post acknowledged that the report detailed the approval of the plan at least a day earlier to address the violence around the White House and threat of a breach of the compound. It also detailed how the operation was supposed to go forward earlier on that day but personnel and fencing were delayed. In the meantime, the White House decided on its own to move forward with a photo op. Barr’s comment would seem the obvious one when told about the plan for a photo op as the personnel were still deploying to clear the area. None of that seems particularly challenging or incomprehensible.
Of course, the photo op was not the only false account by Bump from that day. The federal government long denied using “tear gas” in its operation as opposed to pepper balls in the clearing operation on June 6th. The difference has little real significance either legally or practically. The IG found that “the USPP incident commander did not authorize CS gas for this operation. Expecting that CS gas would not be used, most USPP officers did not wear gas masks.” Not only did the IG not find evidence of tear gas in the federal operation, “the MPD confirmed, that the MPD used CS gas on 17th Street on June 1. As discussed above, the MPD was not a part of nor under the control or direction of the USPP’s and the Secret Service’s unified command structure.”
In fact, the District admitted that it used tear gas about a block away in its enforcement of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s curfew. The admission was itself breathtaking since the media lionized Bowser for her stance against the operation and specifically the use of tear gas. For a year, the District knew that it used the tear gas and said nothing to the public as Bowser basked in the media glow – and Barr was attacked as a liar. Bump simply does not discuss that disproven “fact.”
Yet, the Post is now claiming that Bump has not published false claims on Lafayette Park and stands by his account that the park was cleared for the photo op and presumably that tear gas was used by federal officers.
The Hunter Biden Laptop and Campaign Spying
The Post also stands by Bump’s repeated claims of Russian collusion by the Trump campaign. I previously criticized Bump for those columns. Bump was, as usual, consistent and categorical in embracing any claims against Trump. For example, Bump slammed Trump for claiming that his campaign was spied on by the FBI under the Obama Administration. (Trump used the term “wiretapping” which is a rather dated term for surveillance). Bump again guffawed at the suggestion. Later it was shown that the surveillance did target both the campaign and campaign associates.
In 2021, when media organizations were finally admitting that the laptop was authentic, Bump was still declaring that it was a “conspiracy theory.” Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Bump continued to suggest that “the laptop was seeded by Russian intelligence.”
The media like the New York Times later admitted that the laptop was authentic but the Post now insists that Bump was correct that the laptop was seeded by Russian intelligence and that there was never FBI spying on the Trump campaign.
Bump and I have sparred in past years over Russian collusion. FBI officials have acknowledged that the Russian collusion investigation was based on false reports, including the Steele dossier. The Special Counsel found that the investigation lacked a factual foundation for the full investigation launched under former FBI Director James Comey.
Even as other media was acknowledging that the Russian collusion claims were debunked, Bump was still swinging. In one column, he declared:
‘The report details how the Russian collusion conspiracy was invented by Clinton operatives and put into the now-infamous Steele dossier, funded by the Clinton campaign,’ Turley writes, incorrectly. At another point, he writes that “President Barack Obama and his national security team were briefed on how ‘a trusted foreign source’ revealed ‘a Clinton campaign plan to vilify Trump by tying him to Vladimir Putin so as to divert attention from her own concerns relating to her use of a private email server.’ It then happened a few days later.” That is also incorrect.”
Let’s start with the second claim. Bump says that it is untrue that Obama was briefed on the Clinton campaign plan. Notably, in the long time line that follows, Bump never shows how the statement is false. Indeed, he admits that “Russian intelligence obtained by the U.S. government indicates that Clinton’s campaign decided to ‘vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.’”
Note Bump does not deny the briefing occurred. Indeed, the line is based on the Durham report and the briefing was previously reported by media. Rather, he later reveals that he is just objecting because the Clinton people would not confirm the intelligence report. He writes:
“That allegation remains unconfirmed to this day despite Durham questioning Clinton staffers about it. Clinton herself told Durham that the claim — sourced to Russia, which Durham describes as a “trusted foreign source” — “looked like Russian disinformation to me; they’re very good at it, you know.”
So Bump is citing Clinton whose campaign funded the dossier, hid the funding in its legal budget, denied its role to reporters, and actively pushed not one but two false claims with the FBI.
Bump then adds, bizarrely, that “it’s strange to argue both that the Clinton campaign explicitly sought to dig up dirt linking Trump to Russia, leading to Steele’s work in June, and that it wasn’t until late July that they decided to make this a core strategy. The latter undermines the former.” I will leave that to you to figure out.
Now on to the main event. Bump says it is false that “The report details how the Russian collusion conspiracy was invented by Clinton operatives and put into the now-infamous Steele dossier, funded by the Clinton campaign.”
Once again, when you get to his proof, it is not there. He does not defend the actual allegations in the dossier that Durham demolishes in his Report. He only suggests that others may have invented or pushed their own conspiracy theories a couple weeks earlier.
Bump curiously starts the relevant timeline in June 2016 and emphasizes that the Clinton campaign did not make the collusion effort a “core strategy” until July. That formal decision is used rather than the earlier dates when Fusion was hired and the research funded by the campaign. Durham details how Fusion approached Steele in May 2016 to do the work.
Bump details how figures like Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook were raising Russian concerns as proof that the Russian collusion allegations were not just the work of the campaign.
Citing the Clinton campaign manager as evidence that others were raising the concerns is hardly compelling. It also does not alter the fact that the campaign’s dossier manufactured false allegations that were then fed to the government and media.
However, the Post now stands with Bump’s continued fostering of the Russian conspiracy theories.
I have previously criticized Bump for his refusal to acknowledge his past false statements. I suggested that he was at odds even with his own newspaper. While this may trigger yet another hit piece in the Post, I felt that it was worth setting out the basis for my prior criticism. Now the Post has clarified that it is standing by the claims that (1) Lafayette Park was cleared for a photo op, (2) Barr did lie about the use of tear gas, (3) the Hunter Biden laptop was seeded by Russian intelligence with false information, (4) there was never any spying of the FBI on the Trump campaign, and (5) the Clinton campaign did not create and foster the false Russian collusion claims.
That, if nothing else, offers needed clarity. As Bump himself intoned in his past writings, “It is the job of the media to tell the truth.” So the truth is that these were all true statements and the Post stands by them.