And there “We stand by our reporting” was in a CNN statement to the Erik Wemple Blog, which had asked the network about its anchors’ repeated claims that the dossier compiled by former British intelligence official Christopher Steele had been corroborated to a significant degree. “Your intel community has corroborated all the details,” CNN host Alisyn Camerota told Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in December 2017. Other CNNers stated that “parts” or “much” of the dossier — which claimed an “extensive conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and Russia prior to the 2016 presidential election — had been corroborated.
A nearly two-year investigation by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz upended all such talk with this finding: “The FBI concluded, among other things, that although consistent with known efforts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections, much of the material in the Steele election reports, including allegations about Donald Trump and members of the Trump campaign relied upon in the Carter Page FISA applications, could not be corroborated; that certain allegations were inaccurate or inconsistent with information gathered by the Crossfire Hurricane team; and that the limited information that was corroborated related to time, location, and title information, much of which was publicly available.”
Here’s CNN’s full statement to the Erik Wemple Blog: “CNN stands by our reporting. Our approach to the dossier has been consistent since day one. CNN only reported details when they were corroborated, part of a government filing, or publicly discussed by officials or those mentioned.”
If the discrepancy over dossier corroboration wasn’t sufficient to knock CNN off of its stand-by-our-reporting cant, here’s an even starker one: In early October 2017, CNN correspondent Evan Perez presented some news to the network’s viewers: Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had interviewed Steele as part of his two-year investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. It was an important development indicating that Mueller was pursuing all avenues in his probe.
Perez had a little more, though. He zeroed in on a famous intelligence community assessment that Russia had meddled in the 2016 presidential election to favor Republican candidate Donald Trump. As for the role of the dossier in that assessment, here’s Perez on Oct. 6, 2017:
Now we don't know what information Steele may provide to Mueller's team, but we do know that Steele has previously provided the FBI with some information to try to verify some of the sources that he used to put together the dossier.We're also learning that late last year top officials at the FBI, and the CIA, and the Director of National Intelligence actually discussed including parts of the Steele dossier in the official intelligence document on Russian meddling.Sources tell us that the intelligence community didn't want to include it because they didn't want to explain what parts of the dossier that they had been able to corroborate. And they also were concerned about revealing sources and methods that they had used to do so.So, while the President Trump calls the dossier a hoax, it appears that his intelligence agencies have a vastly different view.
They do, huh?
According to the Horowitz report, actually, the intelligence agencies didn’t even have a unified “view.” A thoroughgoing section of the report addresses how the FBI tussled with other agencies over how the assessment would or would not incorporate the claims of the dossier. Andrew McCabe, then deputy FBI director, pushed for prominent inclusion of the dossier in the assessment, because President Barack Obama had made a broad request for materials related to Russian interference; the dossier was “consistent” with information from other sources; and the Steele material was circulating at high levels of government.
The CIA, however, wasn’t impressed with the dossier. From the Horowitz report:
According to the Intel Section Chief and Supervisory Intel Analyst, as the interagency editing process for the ICA progressed, the CIA expressed concern about using the Steele election reporting in the text of the ICA. The Supervisory Intel Analyst explained that the CIA believed that the Steele election reporting was not completely vetted and did not merit inclusion in the body of the report. The Intel Section Chief stated that the CIA viewed it as “internet rumor.”
The final assessment relegated an abridgment of the dossier to an appendix. To keep its distance from the document, then-Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. issued a statement saying that the intelligence community “has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions.” In their famous Jan. 6, 2017, briefing with Trump at Trump Tower, the intelligence chiefs presented their findings on Russian meddling, followed by a session focused on the dossier with Trump and then-FBI Director James B. Comey. In a subsequent appearance on Fox News, author and investigative reporter Bob Woodward said, “That is a garbage document. It never should have been presented as part of an intelligence briefing.”
The Erik Wemple Blog has asked CNN if its stand-by-our-reporting comment extends to Perez’s reporting about the intelligence community’s alleged respect for the dossier. We will update this post if we receive a response. In the meantime, CNN could do a sensational segment looking back at this moment in Trump-Russia history, considering that it now has McCabe himself on the payroll as a network contributor.
Read more from this series by Erik Wemple: