Update: The Washington Examiner has now offered an extensive correction to the story Trump tweeted about Friday, effectively disowning the entire premise that there was something nefarious going on.
“The Washington Examiner has updated this story to: remove the characterization that the New York Times reporter 'fed information’ to the FBI; clarify when the email was written and when and to whom it was forwarded; include a post-publication response from the New York Times; and reflect the fact that four days after the email was sent the New York Times published a report headlined, ‘Senate Committee to Question Jared Kushner Over Meetings With Russians.’ We regret that this story did not adhere to the Washington Examiner’s normal standards and procedures.”
Trump has yet to retract his own allegation.
In his long-running quest to prove the real collusion was collusion against Donald Trump, the president on Friday promoted a story suggesting the New York Times tipped off the FBI to information about Jared Kushner.
But the claim instantly falls apart upon further inspection. It seems pretty clear this was merely a request for confirmation — something responsible journalists are required to seek.
Let’s walk through it.
The Washington Examiner got hold of a March 2017 email that the Times’s Michael S. Schmidt wrote to an FBI public affairs aide. In the email, Schmidt tells the aide about the story that three of his colleagues are working on.
“Wanted to flag you on something. Three of my colleagues are working on a story about the Russia investigation. They’re told that Jared Kushner is among the individuals who the F.B.I. is scrutinizing for their meetings with Russians,” Schmidt wrote, according to the email, which was obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch and apparently shared with the Examiner.
Schmidt adds: “My colleagues were told that [Russian] Ambassador [Sergey] Kislyak, after meeting Kushner and General [Michael] Flynn in early December at Trump Tower, set up a meeting with Kushner and a Russian banker. Kushner ultimately met with the Russian banker. The banker worked for Alpha Bank. Thanks. Mike.”
Trump played up the story Friday morning.
“Just revealed that the Failing and Desperate New York Times was feeding false stories about me, & those associated with me, to the FBI,” Trump claimed, adding: “Is what they have done legal?”
Not only was it legal; it doesn’t appear nefarious in the slightest.
First, note what the Times was allegedly tipping the FBI off to: an FBI investigation. Why would the FBI need to be informed about something it was already investigating?
Second, note who the email was to: a public affairs aide. Schmidt never explicitly asked for confirmation or comment, but when you email a press liaison, it’s implied.
And third — and most importantly — the information in the email was soon reported by the Times. The email is from March 24, 2017. Here’s what the Times reported on March 27, 2017:
The White House Counsel’s Office was informed this month that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, wanted to question Mr. Kushner about meetings he arranged with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, according to the government officials. The meetings, which took place during the transition, included a previously unreported sit-down with the head of Russia’s state-owned development bank.
Until now, the White House had acknowledged only an early December meeting between Mr. Kislyak and Mr. Kushner, which occurred at Trump Tower and was also attended by Michael T. Flynn, who would briefly serve as the national security adviser.
The Washington Post broke the news about the FBI investigating Kushner on March 25.
Why would a reporter need to privately tip off the FBI to information the newspaper was just going to report publicly a few days later? If you’ve really got it out for someone, you could just publish the story and let the FBI take it from there. There’s no need for the cloak and dagger.
Trump likes to attack his opponents for overzealously claiming he or his campaign colluded with Russia in 2016. And to muddy the waters, he has repeatedly alleged the real collusion involved Democrats, the FBI and/or the media — in numerous different formulations.
This might be his flimsiest accusation to date.
Here’s the official New York Times response: