As the Democratic National Convention descended into chaos in July 2016, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, co-founders of Fusion GPS, high-tailed it from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia to stanch the political bleeding following the release of damning internal emails that showed party honchos had rigged the process in favor of Hillary Clinton.
Simpson and Fritsch, serving multiple paymasters at the time including Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee, had a plan to divert media attention away from the crisis: spin a dark tale of collusion between the Kremlin and Donald Trump to stop Hillary Clinton from winning the White House.
Russian hackers were already blamed, without evidence, for infiltrating the DNC email system and giving the correspondence to WikiLeaks. Expanding on that accusation by revealing the secretive work of Christopher Steele, portrayed as a “former Western intelligence officer,” to friendly journalists successfully changed the subject.
“They wanted to have some discreet conversations with a few reporters to let them know they might be able to help with stories about Trump, particularly on Russia,” Simpson and Fritsch wrote about themselves.
One of the first reporters they met with in Philadelphia was the Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger, a longtime former colleague of Simpson’s when both worked for the Wall Street Journal. “[Knowing] he could be trusted, Simpson decided to tell Hamburger about the Steele work on a promise that he would keep it mum. Simpson laid out the basic allegations in the first Steele report. He mentioned the alleged golden shower episode at the Ritz-Carlton,” referring to a purported recording of prostitutes urinating in front of Trump in a hotel room in 2013.
Hamburger, based on his subsequent catalog of reports on imaginary Russian collusion, was more than happy to help his pal and former co-worker. Numerous articles written by Hamburger are footnoted in Simpson and Fritsch’s book, including one article on Sergei Millian, a target of Simpson’s chop shop to bolster the collusion narrative. “Sergei Millian, Identified as an Unwitting Source for the Steele Dossier, Sought Proximity to Trump’s World in 2016,” Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman wrote in February 2019. Millian, the reporters claimed, not only was a dossier source but also substantiated the existence of the infamous “pee tape.”
The Post, however, recently changed the headline on that story to instead read, “Belarus-born businessman sought proximity to Trump’s world in 2016.” Why? Because the original story is untrue.
Courtesy of a new indictment brought by Special Counsel John Durham, the public—and the entire news media—now knows for certain that Millian was not a dossier source. Accompanying the newly-branded defamatory article is a note by the editor:
An earlier version of this story published on Feb. 7, 2019, referred to previous reporting in The Washington Post that Belarusan-American businessman Sergei Millian had been a source of information for a dossier of unverified allegations against Donald Trump. In November 2021, The Post removed that material from the original 2017 story after the account was contradicted by allegations in a federal indictment and undermined by further reporting. References to the initial report have been removed from this piece.
The Post added the same caveat to a March 2017 hit job on Millian, also bylined by both Hamburger and Helderman, with another twist:
The original account was based on two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide sensitive information. One of those people now says the new information ‘puts in grave doubt that Millian’ was a source for parts of the dossier. The other declined to comment.
Unlike the paper’s treatment of Millian, the identity of the anonymous sources will remain protected by the Post’s editor.
In a separate article explaining the Post’s corrective actions—laughably published in the paper’s Style section rather than the front page or editorial section—Paul Fahri, a media reporter, wrote that the “decision to edit and repost the Millian stories is highly unusual in the news industry.” Fahri scoffed that “Trump has repeatedly denounced the dossier as false, framing it as the centerpiece of a malicious effort financed by his political opponents to damage him.” (Farhi referred to Fusion GPS as “an investigative firm.”)
Trump, of course, is right. But Fahri’s mention of the former president is somehow supposed to discredit those allegations as more far-fetched “conspiracy theories” from the Bad Orange Man.
But the Post should not just unapologetically correct the phony stories on Millian; every single article, column, and video that supports the now-debunked Russian collusion hoax should be retracted with a lengthy explanation. Tom Hamburger, who was in cahoots with Simpson from the start and met with Simpson and Christopher Steele in September 2016 to accelerate the narrative weeks before the presidential election, should be fired. Immediately.
So, too, should Helderman. And Post editors should force the pair to return the Pulitzer Prize they won, along with several New York Times reporters, in 2018 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.”
This unfolding scandal is not only about how inaccurately the media covered Sergei Millian or the bogus Steele dossier. There was no collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russians. Period.
And everyone knew it at the time. Tom Hamburger knew it, Rosalind Helderman, everyone at MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and more knew it was fabricated garbage peddled by a well-known paid smear merchant who was disguising another paid political operative as a “western intelligence officer.”
It was intentional, not “one of the most egregious journalistic errors in modern history,” as Axios’ Sara Fischer described it in a roundup of other news organizations that still refuse to acknowledge misleading reporting and editorializing on the Steele dossier—again, a red herring since coverage of phony election collusion exceeded beyond allegations contained in the dossier.
“CNN and MSNBC did not respond to requests for comment about whether they planned to revisit or correct any of their coverage around the dossier,” Fischer reported. “The Wall Street Journal told Axios, ‘We’re aware of the serious questions raised by the allegations and continue to report and to follow the investigation closely.’” Mark Maremont, a Journal reporter, first disclosed Millian’s name in a January 2017 article, suggesting he was responsible for a “compromising video” on Donald Trump.
David Corn, author of an October 31, 2016 article for Mother Jones titled, “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump,” that was sourced directly by Steele and Simpson right before the election, told Erik Wemple, the Post’s media critic who commendably called out high-profile dossier propagandists in a lengthy series last year, that he has no plans to retract his previous reporting. “My priority has been to deal with the much larger topic of Russia’s undisputed attack and Trump’s undisputed collaboration with Moscow’s cover-up.”
Fischer claims a “reckoning” is hitting newsrooms across the country. With the exception of a cowardly response by the Post’s editor, that’s about as accurate as the dossier itself. A true reckoning would involve more than a few editor’s notes or burying collusion coverage down the media’s deep memory hole.
In any other honorable profession, one that still takes itself seriously and is capable of self-policing to preserve the tattered shreds of integrity and accountability that remain, mass firings, not faux “reckonings,” would empty newsrooms. Reporters, columnists, cable news hosts, and paid contributors would be shown walking papers. Editors would step down in humiliation. Public apologies, not mealymouthed caveats and explainers buried in the entertainment guide, would be plastered on the front page of every newspaper and website; talking heads would make amends to the victims—including Donald Trump—for this reckless, destructive hoax and also to their audience for intentionally misleading them for years and then announce their early retirement.
Collusion between Donald Trump and the Kremlin to influence the outcome of the 2016 election never happened—but every news organization, big and small, contributed to spreading this lie. It’s breathtaking malfeasance on a scale unrivaled in American history. The media should not be permitted to proceed with business as usual.
Fire them all.