Three prominent media outfits on Saturday issued embarrassing retractions of a story alleging that the FBI had warned
that he was a target of a Russian disinformation campaign. The retractions seem appropriate, but the larger issue is whether Democratic leakers are again working with the press to smear Republicans with false claims of collusion with Russia.
Washington Post and NBC News corrected their earlier reports, but for illustrative purposes we’ll focus on Thursday’s story in the Washington Post reporting that Mr. Giuliani had been “warned” in late 2019 by the FBI that the Kremlin was using him. The story said
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson
receiving a similar warning last August.
The Post described its sources as “current and former U.S. officials,” conveniently unidentified. The story suggests that both men ignored the warnings and as a result were tools of malign foreign influence. The story looked fishy even before the correction, smacking of a repeat of the 2016-17 stories that peddled the false narrative about the Trump campaign and Russia. We now know those leaks were dirty tricks spread with the help of friendly journalists.
The leak about Mr. Johnson is an extension of fictitious claims Democrats have made for months to undermine his report last year on
foreign business dealings. Critics claimed last summer that Mr. Johnson accepted information from two Ukrainians compromised by the Kremlin. The Senator publicly refuted that, and his report was documented by U.S. government information.
The Post’s correction didn’t include Mr. Johnson, but the story was sketchy to a fault. The story provided no details on the threat Mr. Johnson was supposedly warned about, or when, where or how he was supposedly compromised. The Senator told the Post that the FBI briefing last summer was so “generalized” as to be “useless and unnecessary,” especially because he was already “fully aware of the dangers of Russian disinformation.” He said he worried even at the time that the briefing’s purpose was to be used “at some future date” to “offer the biased media an opportunity to falsely accuse me of being a tool of Russia despite warnings.” Well, Q.E.D.
Mr. Johnson hasn’t said if he’ll run for re-election next year, but the Russia briefing story looks like an attempt to undermine him if he does. The story also serves the Democratic narrative that any Republican who asks questions about the Biden family business in Ukraine or elsewhere is being manipulated by autocrats.
As for Mr. Giuliani, the story appeared shortly after the news that federal agents raided his apartment as part of an investigation into whether he violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. This is often how prosecutors use leaks to the media to tar a target’s reputation. If the Biden Justice Department has evidence that Mr. Giuliani broke the law, then present it in court.
All of this echoes the final days of the Obama Administration, when former and active Justice and FBI sources fed the press false narratives about Trump officials. Unidentified sources leaked the details of incoming National Security Adviser
classified conversation with a Russian ambassador, leading to an FBI ambush interview, his firing, and later the unproven charge that he’d lied to federal officials.
Unidentified sources also leaked claims, hyped in the press, about then Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s interaction with the same Russian ambassador—a move that led to his recusal on Russia-related issues and protected
FBI from the AG’s scrutiny.
The problem with unidentified sources is that they aren’t accountable for spreading false information. But the Post, Times and NBC ought to be furious for being misled, if that’s what happened, and should expose who did the misleading. Meanwhile, the public should hold the Biden Administration responsible if the anonymous smear campaign continues.
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