last monthby the House Permanent Select
Committee on Intelligence suggest growing evidence of a pay-to-publish
scandal that may shake large parts of the Washington press corps.
the center of the controversy is the Washington DC-based communications
shop Fusion GPS, which assembled and distributed the so-called “Steele
dossier.” It’s named after former British spy Christopher Steele, who is
believed to have authored the document alleging that Donald Trump and
members of his campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.
Steele acknowledges that some of the dossier’s information issourcedto
Russian officials, including a “top-level intelligence officer.”
its other Russia-related work, Fusion GPS engaged in a media campaign
opposing a law targeting foreign nationals across the globe for human
rights abuses. In its advocacy against theGlobal
Magnitsky Act, a worldwide extension of the U.S. legislation
imposing sanctions on Russian officials and other figures associated
with the Russian government for their involvement in the detention and
death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, Fusion GPS mirrored Kremlin
the court filing from the U.S. district court for DC shows that Fusion
GPS paid several journalists, including three whoreportedon
“Russia issues relevant to [the committee’s] investigation,” the House
Intelligence Committee said in a court filing.
documents did not release the names of the journalists and media
Fusion GPS Used Media Contacts
understand the role Fusion GPS played in promoting and distributing the
Steele dossier as well as the company’s work to undermine the Magnitsky
Act, we’ll need a fuller account of Fusion GPS’s relationship with the
journalism industry its principals left and then cultivated.
story starts at theWall
which is taking fire from the rest of the profession, plunging the paper
into what some have described as a civil war between its traditionally
right-wing editorial page and left-leaning news desk.
don’t know a single WSJ alum who’s not agog at where that edit page is
heading,” tweeted formerWall
Street Journalreporter Neil King, reacting to
calling for the firing of Robert Mueller. “WSJ edit page has gone full
bats–t, now hosting an op-ed suggesting Trump pardon everyone, including
Street Journaleditor Bill Grueskin, now a
professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.
Kimberley Strassel wrote on the editorial page that plenty of bombshells
are to come in the Trump-Russia narrative—about the FBI, the Democratic
National Committee, and Fusion GPS—JournalalumstoldPoliticoreporter
Jason Schwartz that was all crazy talk. The real story, they suggested,
was that News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch had whispered inJournaleditor
Gerard Baker’s ear that the paper better support Trump or else.
the unusual step ofrespondingto
chastising the publication for omitting key details—like the fact that
King is now employed by Fusion GPS. “Mr. Schwartz,” the editorial
continued, “also failed to point out that Mr. King’s wife, Shailagh
Murray, also a formerJournalreporter,
worked in the Obama White House. Perhaps Mr. Schwartz understands that
this kind of political incestuousness is so routine in Washington that
even to mention it would get him drummed out of the club.”
was in on a game whose major players include Fusion GPS and Democratic
operatives like Murray, in which the press’s role is to credential the
fruits of Fusion GPS’s oppo research as legitimate news stories.
reporting on Fusion GPS is unrelated to where its employees used to
Street Journaleditorial page editor Paul Gigot
wrote me in an email. “We think the story of Russian meddling in the
2016 election is important, and where we differ with the rest of the
press corps is that we think the story of Fusion’s ties to Russia and
the Steele dossier, as well as the dossier’s influence on the FBI, are
also important to investigate. Let’s get the full Russia story.”
WSJ Reporters Now Push Russiagate Story
GPS’s principals—Glenn Simpson, Peter Fritsch, Thomas Catan, and
Moreover, several other formerJournalhands
employed throughout the Washington DC press corps to cover the
Russiagate beat have teamed with the Fusion four. BecauseJournalalums
played a key role not only in creating the Great Kremlin Conspiracy but
also in disseminating it, it is natural that theJournalwould
find itself in the middle of the story. It appears its newsroom is still
influenced by the former staffers driving the Russiagate story.
Browder, the driving force behind the Magnitsky Act, told me recently
about his experience with theJournal’s
newsroom and its relationship with the firm four formerWSJreporters
have founded. “When I was trying to get journalists interested in a
story about the role Fusion GPS was playing in trying to undo the
Magnitsky Act,” said Browder, “I found that theWall
Street Journalwas one of the places where
Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS were deeply entrenched in the newsroom.”Wall
Street Journaleditor Gerard Baker did not
reply to a request for comment on Browder’s assertions.
Fusion GPS story doesn’t end with theWall
Street Journal. It only started there. Recently The Daily Callerreported
onCNN reporter Evan Perez’s ties to Fusion GPS,
showing photographs of Perez with Fritsch and King, with whom hesharedbylines
Street Journalbefore they went to Fusion GPS
and he moved to CNN. Perez had the lead byline on CNN’s January 10, 2017storythat
broke how four U.S. intelligence chiefs briefed incoming president Trump
and outgoing President Obama on the Steele dossier. The CNN story made
no mention of Perez’s friends and former colleagues who produced and
distributed the dossier that was the subject of the story.
Adam Entous, recentlyhiredby
Yorker, had the lead byline on theWashington
the newsthat Marc Elias, a lawyer from the DC law firm Perkins
Coie, hired Fusion GPS to compile an opposition research file on Trump
for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign.
After the story broke,New
York Timesreporters Maggie Haberman and Ken
Vogel expressed their professional frustration on Twitter. They were
after the story, and someone else nailed it.
involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a
“When I tried to report this story,”wroteVogel,
“Clinton campaign lawyer@marceeliaspushed
back vigorously, saying ‘You (or your sources) are wrong.’”
how did thePostget
the Clinton campaign, DNC, or Elias to confirm the story? There’s no
evidence they did. A former Clinton spokesman told the paper he wasn’t
aware Fusion GPS was hired. A DNC spokesperson said the new leadership
was not part of the decision-making. “Elias and Fusion GPS,” according
“declined to comment on the arrangement.”
leaves the firm’s principals as Entous’ most likely sources. Why?
Because Fusion GPS and its principals had an interest in dumping
information to deter the House Permanent Select Committee in
Intelligence from successfully subpoenaing the company’s bank records
for evidence that Fusion GPS paid journalists. “Entous,” said one
veteran journalist familiar with the national security beat, “is tight
with Fusion GPS.”
Friendly Media Anti-Trump Smears
Lee of NBC News is anotherWSJalum.
At her new job she has worked on Russiagate stories with Ken Dilanian, a
be a regular and reliable purveyor of Fusion GPS-manufactured talking
points. In September, for instance, Lee and Dilanianbroke
a storyabout the June 2016 meeting between
Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which also
included Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.
network of journalists who take dossiers from Fusion GPS is rich and
and Dilanian reported, “Two sources tell NBC News that Manafort’s
smartphone notes from the meeting included the words ‘donations’ in
close proximity to the reference to the Republican National Committee.”
NBC News was eventually forced to walk back the story when it turned out
the word on Manafort’s phone was “donors,” not “donations,” a difference
that nullified the thrust of the story, which was to suggest that Russia
was funneling money directly to the Trump campaign.
who fed Lee and Dilanian their story? It seems likely from the list of
people at the meeting that their sources included Veselnitskaya herself
and another Russian at the meeting, Rinat Akhmetshin—who both had
partnered with Fusion GPS to try to undo the Magnitsky Act on behalf of
pro-Putin elements. Indeed,Simpson
met with Veselnitskayabefore and after her meeting with Trump
Jr.—a meeting Simpson says he didn’t know about until it was later
network of journalists who take dossiers from Fusion GPS is rich and
deep, which is how the company manages to seed so many stories around
the media and make its money. Others whose tenure at theWall
Street Journalintersected with those of Fusion
GPS principals and who have filed numerousstorieson
the Trump-Russia narrative that originated with Fusion GPS’s “Steele”
dossier include, among others,Devlin
Mouthpieces for Unknown Interests
is hardly the only industry networked not just by the work it produces,
but also the values and professional ethic it reproduces. Thus the
picture of the American news media that emerges from all this hush-hush,
buddy-buddy back and forth isn’t pretty.
the briefing, Obama’s intelligence chiefs had re-credentialed Fusion
GPS’s oppo research as a news story.
of the fourth estate, it seems, is a world of Renfields, grotesque
courtiers gorging on scraps left at the master’s table: reporters who
conceal the for-profit sources that pay them and coordinate campaigns of
political warfare with the partisan operatives and intelligence
officials they’re supposed to be reporting on; and editors who publish
conspiracies drawn from a platform for a Russian-manufactured
disinformation operation furnished by former colleagues advocating on
behalf of a pro-Kremlin interests to undermine American law. Why have
they pushed a narrative based on a dossier that they couldn’t verify?
Because they couldn’t abide the results of an American election.
nearly a year most of the press—with the exception of Yahoo News andMother
Jones—held off from reporting on the dossier because they
couldn’t discern how much, if any, of it was true. It was Barack Obama
who put it back in play when, as CNN reported, his four intelligence
chiefs briefed the newly elected Trump in early January 2017.
reason the nation’s intelligence chiefs took the extraordinary step of
including the synopsis in the briefing documents was to make the
President-elect aware that such allegations involving him are
circulating among intelligence agencies,” reported CNN.
the point was to provide a pretext for a press that before the election
had refrained from publishing the dossier to now put it out in the open.
With the briefing, Obama’s intelligence chiefs had re-credentialed
Fusion GPS’s oppo research as a news story. Now it was legitimate. Then
the feeding frenzy began.
Institutions Can’t Stop Corruption
knows how editors and journalists justify to themselves promoting a
storyline based on a dossier that their journalistic ethics had
previously rejected. Maybe they convinced themselves that the fate of
the American press, or America itself, actually depended on promoting
the dossier to jam a spike in Trump’s wheels. There was really no
telling what the mad, press-hating tweeter-in-chief might do once in
it weren’t for the Trump-Russia narrative, maybe digital subscriptions
wouldn’t have surged at theTimesand
elsewhere over the last quarter.
if it weren’t for the Trump-Russia narrative, maybe digital
subscriptions wouldn’t havesurged
elsewhere over the last quarter. Sure, it would be bad if the tables
were turned, and the other side had a noble public servant of its own
like Robert Mueller coming after Hillary Clinton on the basis of some
“dossier” of hogwash that a Trump donor paid $10 million for then leaked
to Steve Bannon at Breitbart —but, well, that’s not happening. Not this
can try to pretend that none of this actually happened, and that in fact
they are all still the heroes of their own imaginations, bravely
fighting Nazis and fascists. That the choices they made while playing
dress-up are fully justified by Trump’s awfulness, even if they also
weakened the badly damaged structures of an institution that for the
past century has been central to the American form of government.
political institutions, including the press, are designed to check the
power that any one group accrues as a consequence of its sociological
dynamics, and make it difficult for them to advance their narrow
interests, friendships, or whims at the expense of the public. The
scandal that now threatens to put a stake through the heart of the media
is that it may have been paid to publicize what it knows and has known
for more than a year: The Great Kremlin Conspiracy Theory is a hoax.
Smith is the media columnist at Tablet and a senior fellow at the Hudson