Special counsel Robert Mueller relied on the media to feed his Russian election interference report, citing scores of stories mostly from news outlets that promoted the debunked Trump-Kremlin election conspiracy.
Mr. Mueller’s staff of Democrat-aligned prosecutors favored The New York Times over other publications. The 448-page report cited The Times more than 60 times, mostly in footnotes for articles that weave through the report’s main narrative.
The report refers to The Washington Post, another Trump-critic news site, at least 40 times. CNN, principally an anti-Trump network, has about a dozen citations. NBC News has about 10 story mentions, and its anchor, Lester Holt, is the lone journalist to appear in the report’s personalties glossary for his May 2017 interview with President Trump.
During the 22-month investigation, The Times, The Post and other mainstream media generally gave Mr. Mueller uncritical and favorable coverage, conservatives say.
“The media stoked this, so it makes sense they’d have a steady diet of liberal reporting,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign media adviser, told The Washington Times.
For more than two years, The New York Times suggested a Kremlin conspiracy in its stories and editorials and won a Pulitzer Prize — as did The Post. The Times focused on listing Russian contacts with Trump associates. Some purported Trump links, such as a line of communication with Kremlin intelligence, didn’t occur.
Volume I of the Mueller report, the section on Russian election interference, features news media citations to set the atmosphere in Washington.
Volume II, the section on potential obstruction of justice, uses media stories to show what Mr. Trump was hearing as he talked inside the White House of ousting Mr. Mueller and tweeted complaints about the special counsel’s “18 angry Democrats.” It was a common Trump insult for Mr. Mueller’s hand-picked staff of Democratic Party donors.
A Mueller report reference to Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s links to Russia footnotes a July 30, 2018, New York Times story that says: “Manafort’s trial isn’t about Russia but it will be in the air.”
A report discussion on businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who heads the indicted Russian firm Concord Management and Consulting, states: “Numerous media sources have reported on Prigozhin’s ties to Putin and the two have appeared together in public photographs.” Its footnote is a February 2018 New York Times story: “Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian Oligarch Indicted by U.S., is known as ‘Putin’s Cook.'”
Mr. Mueller amply quotes New York Times stories about former FBI Director James B. Comey and the memos he wrote about his intimate discussions with Mr. Trump. Mr. Comey leaked the memos to The Times via a friend to force the appointment of a special counsel.
Mr. Mueller cites a transcript of a Trump interview with The Washington Post to document when George Papadopoulos joined the campaign as a volunteer adviser.
The report’s description of the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting refers to a Washington Post story, “What we know about the Trump Tower meeting,” among other sources, in this sentence: “President Trump has stated to this Office, in written answers to questions, that he has ‘no recollection of learning at the time’ that his son, Manafort, or Kushner was considering participating in a meeting in June 2016 concerning potentially negative information about Hillary Clinton.”
Volume II cites a column by The New York Times’ Frank Bruni on the Manafort tax fraud trial: “Paul Manafort’s trial is Donald Trump’s Too.”
The section on retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and his termination as national security adviser is set into motion by references to the news media. “The Media Raises Questions About the President’s Delay in Terminating Flynn,” the report’s subtitle says.
In another lead-in, the report says, “The press also continued to raise questions about connections between Russia and the President’s campaign.” A footnoted article for that sentence is a February 2017 CNN story that declared, “Trump aides were in constant touch with senior Russian officials during campaign.”
‘The Kremlin’s Candidate’?
The lead paragraph of the CNN story read: “High-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence, multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials tell CNN.”
The Mueller report doesn’t confirm this CNN assertion and found no Trump-Russia conspiracy to interfere in the election.
The New York Times reported that same month that the U.S. collected a year’s worth of intercepts and phone records between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence. Mr. Comey later told Congress that the story was almost completely wrong.
The Mueller investigation cites no such communications.
Mr. Mueller quoted a series of press reports to link Mr. Trump and his aides to Russia and specifically to Russian President Vladimir Putin, if not in person, then in spirit.
“Press Reports Allege Links Between the Trump campaign and Russia,” one report section says.
“Beginning in February 2016 and continuing through the summer, the media reported that several Trump campaign advisors appeared to have ties to Russia,” the Mueller report states. “For example, the press reported that campaign advisor Michael Flynn was seated next to Vladimir Putin at an RT gala in Moscow in December 2015 and that Flynn had appeared regularly on RT [state-run news channel] as an analyst.”
For this paragraph, Mr. Mueller referred to news stories such as one in June 2016 in The Washington Post that said, “Inside Trump’s financial ties to Russia and his unusual flattery of Vladimir Putin.”
The Mueller report states: “The press also reported that foreign policy advisor Carter Page had ties to a Russian state-run gas company, and that campaign chairman Paul Manafort had done work for the ‘Russian-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.'”
Mr. Mueller relied on an unflattering April 4, 2016, article in National Review, home to decidedly anti-Trump conservatives. The article’s headline: “The Kremlin’s Candidate.”
That same section quotes a Washington Post story with a headline that said the Trump campaign “guts” language on Ukraine in the 2016 Republican Party platform.
Republicans say the platform was not gutted. A proposed amendment from a single delegate advocating lethal defensive weapons led to language to provide Ukrainian armed forces with “appropriate assistance.”
The Mueller probe found no Russian influence related to the platform.
The report quotes from one of the most famous, or infamous, stories in the long Trump-Russia saga.
On Sept. 23, 2016, Yahoo News investigative chief Michael Isikoff wrote, “U.S. Intel Officials Probe Ties Between Trump Adviser and Kremlin.” It was the first story to quote the Christopher Steele dossier, though neither the former British intelligence officer nor his document was directly cited.
On a trip to Washington, Mr. Steele told Mr. Isikoff that volunteer Carter Page, while in Moscow to deliver a public commencement address, met secretly with two Putin associates and was offered a huge bribe to end U.S. sanctions, and Mr. Page accepted.
Mr. Page has consistently denied Mr. Steele’s story and other charges in the dossier. The FBI wiretapped him for a year. He was not charged.
The Mueller report described the Yahoo story this way: “On September 23, 2016, Yahoo! News reported that U.S. intelligence officials were investigating whether Page had opened private communications with senior Russian officials to discuss U.S. sanctions policy under a possible Trump Administration.”
Emmet T. Flood, Mr. Trump’s White House Russia investigation counsel, calls the Mueller report “part law school exam paper.”
Mr. Mueller’s spokesman has declined to respond to critics of the report.
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