In his daily online Wall Street Journal column of December 16, James Freeman took up “Obama’s FBI and the press.” He opens his column in the spirit of accountability that animates this series: “Thanks to a report from the Obama-appointed inspector general of the Justice Department, now everyone knows the truth about 2016. The Obama administration misled the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and wiretapped an American who supported the presidential campaign of the party out of power. One of the many sad lessons is that no American can count on even the most celebrated members of the establishment press to shine a light on such abuses.”
Freeman then states what we now know:
By concealing exculpatory evidence, the Obama FBI, directed by James Comey, obtained a warrant from a court intended to counter foreign enemies and managed to turn the surveillance powers of the federal government against a U.S. citizen participating in our domestic politics, Carter Page.
Some of us have been concerned for a while about the abuses of the Obama FBI and their foundational challenge to free elections and a free society. Now it’s nice to see that even one of the New York Times columnists who enjoys tossing casual treason references at President Donald Trump is beginning to see the light.
“The inspector general’s report about the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation offered a hideous Dorian Gray portrait of the once-vaunted law enforcement agency,” admits Maureen Dowd in the 11th paragraph of her umpteenth column attacking Mr. Trump. She adds: “The F.B.I. run by Comey and [Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe ] was sloppy, deceitful and cherry-picking — relying on nonsense spread by Christopher Steele. ”
She’s referring to the British author of the now discredited “dossier” of smears paid for by Mr. Trump’s opponents. The FBI never told the court that Mr. Steele’s own sources debunked his report.
Beyond Ms. Dowd, will the Times newsroom and that of the Washington Post now consider how they got this story so wrong for so long?
I think that is a rhetorical question to which the answer is of course not.
Freeman then reminds readers — I had already suppressed the memory — of this salient fact: “In 2018, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger presented Pulitzer Prizes in national reporting to the staffs of the Times and the Post.” Freeman quotes the prize citation:
For deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.
After special counsel Robert Mueller concluded his nearly two-year investigation and reported in March that he found no evidence of Trump collusion with Russia, the prize citation seemed to be in need of a rewrite. Now Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report undercuts more details in the reporting.
Freeman quoted one of the prize-winning submissions — this Washington Post story dated February 28, 2017, by Tom Hamburger and Rosalind Helderman:
While Trump has derided the dossier as “fake news” compiled by his political opponents, the FBI’s arrangement with Steele shows that the bureau considered him credible and found his information, while unproved, to be worthy of further investigation… Steele was known for the quality of his past work and for the knowledge he had developed over nearly 20 years working on Russia-related issues for British intelligence.
Oops. The Post story elaborated that in 2016, “Steele became concerned that the U.S. government was not taking the information he had uncovered seriously enough, according to two people familiar with the situation.” According to anyone familiar with the Horowitz report, the government should not have taken his information seriously at all.
He wasn’t yet done with the Post (emphasis in original):
Another Post classic that helped win the prize was the report published on May 22, 2017 [by Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima] that said Mr. Trump had asked intelligence officials “to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.”
Of course everyone knows now that Mr. Trump was asking them to state the plain fact that there was no collusion evidence. But according to the Post at the time: “Current and former senior intelligence officials viewed Trump’s requests as an attempt by the president to tarnish the credibility of the agency leading the Russia investigation.”
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the FBI deserved to have its credibility tarnished. Continued the Post: “Senior intelligence officials also saw the March requests as a threat to the independence of U.S. spy agencies, which are supposed to remain insulated from partisan issues.”
Is there anything more threatening than a powerful spy agency refusing to be accountable even to the duly-elected President of the United States? The Post saw things differently: “’The problem wasn’t so much asking them to issue statements, it was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation,’ a former senior intelligence official said of the request to Coats.”
No, it’s now clear that there truly was a lack of collusion evidence. The false statements were being made by former senior intelligence officials.
Then Freeman turned to the Times:
Among the Times prize-winners was a report on April 22, 2017 [by Matt Apuzzo, Michael S. Schmidt, Adam Goldman and Eric Lichtblau]: “Days after Mr. Comey’s news conference, Carter Page, an American businessman, gave a speech in Moscow criticizing American foreign policy. Such a trip would typically be unremarkable, but Mr. Page had previously been under F.B.I. scrutiny years earlier, as he was believed to have been marked for recruitment by Russian spies. And he was now a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump. Mr. Page has not said whom he met during his July visit to Moscow, describing them as ‘mostly scholars.’ But the F.B.I. took notice. Mr. Page later traveled to Moscow again, raising new concerns among counterintelligence agents. A former senior American intelligence official said that Mr. Page met with a suspected intelligence officer on one of those trips and there was information that the Russians were still very interested in recruiting him.”
The FBI shared all of their alleged concerns about Mr. Page’s Russian connections with the FISA court but did not share key information—including the fact that Mr. Page was working with the CIA. Is there any chance a FISA judge would have approved the FBI’s surveillance request on Mr. Page if his assistance to another arm of the federal government had been fully disclosed?
The full details on the Obama-Comey FBI’s abuse of power in 2016 are taking years to come to light, and not just because too many prize-winning media outlets failed to recognize them.
Freeman concludes his column with another rhetorical question: “Where were the whistleblowers when America really needed them?”
In light of what we now know, the Pulitzer Prize to the Times and the Post ranks in the hall of shame just below — but somewhere in the vicinity of — the 1932 Pulitzer awarded the Times’s Walter Duranty for the reporting that concealed the famine that killed millions in the Soviet Union. The Pulitzer board, by the way, has twice declined to withdraw the award to Duranty (statement here).