The Trump presidential campaign’s alleged ties to WikiLeaks have been a pivotal piece of the Trump-Russia “collusion” story since the beginning. In order to mitigate the damage to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy after WikiLeaks in July 2016 released damning emails swiped from the Democratic National Committee’s server, Clinton’s team skillfully changed the subject by claiming Russia was behind the hack and suggested the Trump campaign had a hand in it, too.
WikiLeaks is back in the news for two reasons. First is the arrest on Friday of former Trump associate Roger Stone, who Special Counsel Robert Mueller alleges made false statements about his communications with the group.
Second, and far more interesting, is renewed allegations by Donald Trump, Jr. that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) leaked details about Don Jr.’s contact with WikiLeaks during the campaign—information that was erroneous and resulted in major correction by CNN, the news organization that first reported the bogus story.
In an interview with Fox News last week, Don Jr. said “there’s a 99.9 percent chance” that Schiff was “the guy that was leaking my testimony as I was testifying.”
“I came out of testimony at about 8 o’clock looking [at my phone] and CNN is running quotes from noon on about my testimony . . . I would bet a lot of money it was him.”
For more than a year, the people who leaked unauthorized information about Don Jr.’s closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on December 6, 2017, have not been officially identified, let alone punished. It is just one more frustrating example of how government insiders, in collaboration with their accomplices in the press, escape accountability for their role in perpetuating a seditious plot to take down a presidency.
The Big Scoop That Wasn’t
Schiff has been particularly fixated on Donald Trump, Jr. and desperate to prove his ties to Kremlin surrogates. From Don Jr.’s infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer (who shared a Russian client with Fusion GPS) to direct messages on Twitter between Don Jr. and WikiLeaks during the campaign, Schiff has gleefully amplified any perceived sketchy connection to prove somehow that the president’s oldest son coordinated with the Kremlin to interfere in the election.
But Schiff apparently flubbed one high-level disclosure, and he still refuses to answer directly whether he was the source of the unauthorized leak that gave CNN the wrong date on a critical September 2016 email from WikiLeaks to Don Jr.
Shortly after Don Jr.’s testimony, CNN ran a big scoop that WikiLeaks had sent an email to Don Jr. on September 4, 2016, furnishing details about how to access an additional trove of DNC documents.
“Trump Jr. was asked about the WikiLeaks email Wednesday when he was questioned in the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors, several sources familiar with the exchange told CNN,” reported correspondent Manu Raju on December 8.
The point of the story was to suggest that Trump’s son and top campaign advisor had advanced knowledge of hacked emails and that he was secretly plotting with Julian Assange to manage their release to inflict maximum damage on the Clinton campaign. (Don Jr.’s legal team voluntarily furnished the email to lawmakers ahead of the interview.) To bolster its scoop, CNN also cited as evidence a tweet from Don Jr. posted September 4, 2016, that ominously linked to a news article about WikiLeaks. Other news outlets eagerly ran with the story, including NBC News.
But later that day, CNN had to make a major and consequential correction to that scoop. The email actually was dated September 14, not September 4. Whoops!
The 10-day gap is significant because WikiLeaks itself made the documents available to the public on September 13. “The new details appear to show that the sender was relying on publicly available information,” the corrected article confessed. “The new information indicates that the communication is less significant than CNN initially reported.”
A few days later, Don Jr.’s lawyer sent a letter to the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee demanding an investigation into the leaks that had occurred both during and after his client’s confidential testimony.
“In advance of the Interview, Mr. Trump Jr. and his counsel were assured by this committee that, in accordance with its rules of procedure, the Interview would be kept strictly confidential and not discussed publicly unless and until the full Committee voted to release the transcript,” Alan Futerfas, Don Jr.’s attorney, wrote. “Certain members of this Committee and/or their staff began disseminating wildly inaccurate information concerning a September 14, 2016 email sent to my client. These disturbing circumstances warrant examination.”
That letter was dated December 12, 2017; no one yet has been held accountable. It is unclear whether an inquiry by House Democrats is ongoing, and Don Jr.’s testimony is set to be released publicly pending approval by the Justice Department.
Last week, Schiff still refused directly to answer whether he was one of the unnamed officials responsible for leaking the (erroneous) details about the WikiLeaks email. When pressed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer three times whether he indeed leaked Don Jr.’s testimony, Schiff only responded in vague terms while essentially admitting he did tell the media that the president’s son had been “uncooperative” during his interview.
But considering Schiff’s odd obsession with the president’s son, his well-known penchant for leaking and his desire to be a media star, the California Democrat’s protestations are unconvincing.
“Everyone knows Schiff is the biggest, most shameless leaker in Washington and a craven media ambulance chaser,” one House Republican involved in the Russian investigations told me. “He’s got precisely two goals: to appear non-stop on cable news, and to slime Trump and all his associates with constant accusations that they’re traitors and Russia colluders—just like he did with Donald Trump Jr.”
Once again, the American public was witness to two distinct set of rules this week: When you are on the wrong side politically, you are hauled out of your home at dawn in your pajamas by FBI agents wielding firearms. When you are on the right side politically, you not only escape justice, you earn accommodating news coverage while controlling powerful government committees. (Schiff still has not corrected his misleading memo to Congress on FISA abuse from February 2018.)
Answers and accountability remain elusive hopes for millions of Americans who frustratingly watch this scenario play on a constant loop in Washington.
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