The Other McCain

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Haunted by Ghosts of ‘Fitzmas’ Past: Jason Leopold’s Trump/Cohen Debacle

Posted on | January 20, 2019 | 1 Comment

Jason Leopold is a journalist, allegedly.

The anti-Trump media are going through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, Professor Jacobson notes, since the collapse of Thursday’s BuzzFeed “exclusive” with the devastating headline, “President Trump Directed His Attorney To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project.” One clue to what was wrong with the story was in the first paragraph: “according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.” Who were these “officials”? Keep in mind that Cohen has already pleaded guilty to lying to Congress; the question is whether this was done at Trump’s direction and, also, is there proof of such direction?

Another clue to what was wrong with the BuzzFeed story was the byline: Jason Leopold wrote the story along with Anthony Cormier, and some of us have long memories of Leopold’s sordid career as an “investigative journalist.” Here we must climb into the time machine . . .

In 2005, left-wingers were promoting wild conspiracy theories about the “leak” of Valerie Plame’s employment at the CIA. What became known as “Plamegate” was a scandal — in retrospect, rather minor — that involved Plame’s husband Joseph Wilson, who had undertaken an unusual trip to Africa to investigate whether Saddam Hussein had obtained uranium ore from Niger. Plame’s husband published a July 6, 2003, column in the New York Times describing his Niger trip and disputing the Bush administration’s claims about Saddam’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons. This column bolstered the Left’s “Bush lied” theme about the Iraq war, and the question arose: Why would the CIA choose this retired diplomat to undertake such a sensitive mission?

The answer was supplied by legendary Washington Post columnist Robert Novak in a July 14, 2003, column which explained how Wilson got his assignment: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.” It was not actually a secret that Plame worked at the CIA, but until Novak’s column, nobody had connected the dots. Novak had gotten this scoop from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, but nobody knew this at the time, and the anti-war Left instead focused suspicion on their two most-hated villains in the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney and senior political adviser Karl Rove. A special counsel investigation by Patrick Fitzgerald was undertaken in December 2003 and, although Fitzgerald learned early in the investigation that Armitage was Novak’s source, the investigation inexplicably dragged on past the 2004 election, in which Bush defeated anti-war Democrat John Kerry.

Having failed to defeat Bush at the polls, therefore, the anti-war Left was now obsessed with the idea that this “CIA leak” investigation would provide the scandal that brought down Bush, and so in 2005, speculation about Fitzgerald’s probe was rampant on the newly emergent liberal blogosphere. In December 2005, the phrase “Fitzmas” was coined to describe the moonbat Left’s hope that Fitzgerald would indict Karl Rove and bloggers gloated over their fantasies of Rove being “perp-walked” in handcuffs after what they hoped would be his imminent arrest. Alas, December came and went with no “Fitzmas” to celebrate, but in May 2006, Jason Leopold broke the exclusive news: Fitzgerald’s grand jury was about to return an indictment against Rove!

Leopold reported that Karl Rove “told President Bush and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, as well as a few other high level administration officials,” that he was about to be indicted in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case, “according to people knowledgeable about these discussions.”
Leopold claimed that multiple sources “confirmed Rove’s indictment is imminent. These individuals requested anonymity saying they were not authorized to speak publicly about Rove’s situation.”

This was simply false, and so far as we know to this day, the “knowledgeable” sources were figments of Jason Leopold’s imagination. Rove was never indicted, and the only person prosecuted by Fitzgerald was Cheney’s aide Scooter Libby who had lied about his conversations with two reporters, Tim Russert of NBC News and Matt Cooper of Time magazine. (Libby’s indictment was only tangentially related to the CIA “leak” and had nothing at all to do with how Novak got his scoop, thus paralleling the current Mueller “Russian collusion” probe, where people associated with Donald Trump keep getting charged with crimes that have nothing to do with Russia.) Once it became clear that Leopold’s story about Rove’s indictment was wrong, the Columbia Journalism Review mocked his story as “Leopold’s latest addition to his application for membership in the Stephen Glass school of journalism.” (In case you don’t know, Stephen Glass was an infamous journalistic fraud who once worked for The New Republic.) The key point about the Rove indictment story is this: Not once in more than a dozen years since that debacle has Leopold explained how and why he got it wrong.

Think about that: A reporter for a website claims to have sources “knowledgeable” of discussions among top White House officials related to the pending indictment of a key presidential advisor in the most widely reported scandal of the era, and his story is proven false. Yet there is never any explanation from the reporter, not even after more than a decade, when surely the identity of his sources could no longer be regarded as confidential, especially since the information obtained from them was wrong. Shouldn’t that omission — the lack of an explanation from Jason Leopold of how and why he botched that 2006 “exclusive” — cause us to be permanently suspicious of him?

Indeed, after the BuzzFeed “bombshell” about Cohen and Trump exploded Thursday morning, many people familiar with Jason Leopold’s past brought up his previous bungles, and CNN’s Alisyn Camerota raised the issue with Anthony Cormier in an interview Thursday morning:

“[Leopold] was in trouble for perhaps claiming to have sources he really didn’t have. His stories didn’t wash. Executive directors and editors have had to apologize after some of his big blockbuster stories,” Camerota noted, before asking” How can you be certain today?”
Cormier fiercely defended his “rock solid” sourcing on this story.
“My sourcing on this goes beyond the two on the record,” Cormier told Camerota, adding “It’s 100 percent. I am the individual who confirmed and verified that it I am telling you our sourcing goes beyond the two I was able to put on the record. We were able to gather information from individuals who know this happened.”


Watch that interview closely, because something Cormier said may give away where this story actually came from:

“[Our sources] have been working the Trump Moscow tower portion of the investigation…before Mueller. So they had access to a number of different documents, 302 reports which are interview reports,” he said. “That stuff was compiled as they began to look at who the players were speaking with, how those negotiations went, who all from the Trump organization and outside the organization were involved in getting that tower set up.”
“They began to compile the evidence before Michael Cohen decided to cooperate and speak with the Special Counsel,” Cormier added.

Doesn’t this indicate that this story is coming from sources who are no longer involved in the investigation, perhaps James Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, et al.? In other words, it appears that Cormier and Leopold are taking the word of “individuals” who say they “know this happened,” but this doesn’t tell us anything about the direction of Mueller’s current investigation or what Mueller can actually prove.  In other words, even if it were true that Trump directed Cohen to lie in his testimony to Congress, the sources cited by Cormier and Leopold would not have knowledge of whether Mueller could prove this, because their sources were involved “before Mueller.” He was appointed special counsel in May 2017, so when Cormier says these sources “began to look at who the players were speaking with” prior to May 2017, shouldn’t we infer that these “two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation” are not relating any recent information obtained by the Mueller probe?

A gigantic nothingburger — that’s what this story was, and when BuzzFeed published it, Professor Jacobson speculated about the motive:

The Buzzfeed story, like the Steele Dossier, serves a purpose.
Just like the Dossier was used as justification for a FISA warrant on Carter Page and two years of Russia collusion conspiracy theories, the Buzzfeed story is being used by Democrats in the House to demand a House investigation be launched to see if there is evidence to support impeachment of Trump. . . .
How convenient that this story drops just after Democrats regain control of the House and its committees, and just three weeks before Cohen is scheduled to testify in the House.
What better way to justify pre-impeachment proceedings that otherwise would be unpopular than to be able to point to the smoke of the Buzzfeed story.

That’s merely speculation, of course, but what else could explain it? Well, if you’re really cynical — and I am — how about the possibility that Jason Leopold needed a big “exclusive” to justify his continued employment? Prior to his Jan. 17 article, it had been four weeks since his last article (“Russian Agents Sought Secret US Treasury Records On Clinton Backers During 2016 Campaign,” Dec. 20, 2018). Now, I don’t know how your workplace operates, but in most companies, somebody who goes four weeks without producing any actual work might have to deal with an angry boss demanding to know what the hell he’s been doing lately.

Having had some experience as an editor dealing with investigative journalists, I’ll say that productivity can often become an issue if the reporter gets the idea that only the Big Story is worth his time and attention. If he thinks his byline should only appear on “home run” stories, an investigative journalist may stop producing the “base hits” of daily news. In such cases, “investigative journalism” can become synonymous with goofing off, and if Jason Leopold’s editors at BuzzFeed were pressuring him to produce more content, perhaps this overhyped, undersourced nothingburger of a story was his response.

Sketchy as this story was, it nevertheless gave the media an excuse to return to their favorite theme, The Walls Are Closing In. MSNBC and CNN mentioned “impeachment” 179 times in less than 24 hours, before a spokesman for Mueller officially denied the story:

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.”

Well, “not accurate” is perhaps not a synonym for bullshit, but it was enough to send the anti-Trump media into a state of mourning. CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin had perhaps the most honest reaction:

“The larger message that a lot of people are going to take from this story is that the news media are a bunch of leftist liars who are dying to get the president, and they’re willing to lie to do it,” Toobin said. “And I don’t think that’s true.”
“I just think this is a bad day for us … It reinforces every bad stereotype about the news media,” he added.
“Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter agreed with his latter statement but said as a media reporter, he was “desperate” for his audience to judge individuals and brands on a case-by-case basis.
“Don’t fall for what these politicians out there want you to do. They want you to think we’re all crooked,” Stelter said. “We’re not.”

Narrator voice: “In fact, they are all crooked.”


If the media were not “a bunch of leftist liars who are dying to get the president,” as Toobin said, Jason Leopold would be unemployed. The fact that he is on BuzzFeed’s payroll, despite his demonstrable record of publishing discredited hit jobs against Republicans, tells you everything you need to know about the liberal media’s ethical standards.





One Response to “Haunted by Ghosts of ‘Fitzmas’ Past: Jason Leopold’s Trump/Cohen Debacle”

  1. The media are eating their own – The First Street Journal.
    January 25th, 2019 @ 12:30 pm

    […] And he wasn’t even very productive: Robert Stacy McCain reported, on January 20th: […]