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‘Criminal Referral’ Smear: What Trey Gowdy Knew — And When He Knew It

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‘Criminal Referral’ Smear: What Trey Gowdy Knew — And When He Knew It


Suspicion grows that the leaks behind the bungled New York Times “criminal referral” story came from the Republican side of the House Select Committee on Benghazi chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC). First Times public editor Margaret Sullivan hinted that the original “tip” came from “Capitol Hill.” Over the weekend, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking Democrat on the select committee, revealed proof that Gowdy knew of the (utterly non-criminal) referrals by the inspectors general for the intelligence community and the State Department to the Justice Department, in advance.

Criticizing the stumbling scramble to publish without checking what turned out to be inaccurate information, Cummings complained in an article on the Huffington Post of “a series of inaccurate, partisan leaks designed to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Many of these attacks rely on anonymous sources to describe – and often mischaracterize – documents reporters have not seen.” The Maryland Democrat’s post ought to have received much more attention than it has received so far. It offers a disturbing perspective on events from “behind the scenes,” on the day that the Times broke its ill-fated scoop:

On Thursday morning at 10:27 am, my staff received a copy of a letter sent from Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy to FBI Director James Comey. To the best of my knowledge, that letter has never been made public.

Chairman Gowdy’s letter warned the FBI Director that the Chairman was aware of a “formal referral” that was made to the FBI “by impartial officials within the Executive Branch” related to “classified information.”

I had no idea then — and still have no idea today — how Chairman Gowdy knew about this referral before everyone else, and his office has refused to respond to my staff’s inquiry.

At 12:03 p.m., the office of the State Department Inspector General (IG) sent an email to staff on several committees with a copy of a memorandum describing its joint work with the Intelligence Community IG reviewing the FOIA process for Secretary Clinton’s emails. This memo did not mention any sort of referral to the Department of Justice.

At 2:30 p.m., my staff and I had a previously scheduled meeting with the State Department IG, so we asked him about Chairman Gowdy’s letter and whether he was aware of any referral.

He told me he never asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton’s email usage. Instead, he said officials from the Intelligence Community IG — not the State Department IG — notified the FBI and Congress that they had identified information they believed was classified in several mails that were part of the FOIA review.

Importantly, the State Department IG made clear that none of those emails had been marked as classified when Secretary Clinton received them.

At 5:44 p.m. that evening, the Intelligence Community IG’s office sent a notification to the Intelligence Committees describing — for the first time — its referral to the FBI. This notification detailed a counter-intelligence referral, not a request for a criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton.

When I woke up on Friday morning and read the news, I was stunned. I immediately issued a public statement and released the congressional notification from the Intelligence Community IG.

I then got on the phone with both IGs from the State Department and the Intelligence Community. They confirmed that they never asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton’s email usage. Instead, they said this was a “routine” referral, and they said they had no idea why the Times story was so flawed.

But Cummings has his own ideas about that problem — and wonders why the Times reporters never checked with him or other Democrats on the committee, who could have corrected the ruinous mistake before publication. Combined with the timeline posted last week by the Clinton campaign’s Jennifer Palmieri, the Cummings post indicates just how irresponsibly this story was handled by the paper of record. Yet so far, the Times‘ editors and proprietors have offered nothing much beyond that public editor’s note — no apology for smearing Clinton, no accountability for any reporter or editor. Just an implausible excuse or two and a deflection of responsibility to those naughty sources, whose identities will of course remain protected. So why shouldn’t they perpetrate more inaccurate smears? They will.

Meanwhile, reporters covering the House might start asking some tough questions of Gowdy and the man who appointed him, Speaker John Boehner. Most likely, they never will.

File Photo: Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) questions a witness during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing on Benghazi on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers.

Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003).

Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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  1. idamag August 3, 2015

    Maybe if a few people would sue, it might stop this tripe that is supposed to be journalism in this country.

    1. johninPCFL August 4, 2015

      But THAT’S the reason that the Times never checked any other sources. Watch “Absence of Malice” (Paul Newman movie) to see the requirements to sue.

    2. Dominick Vila August 4, 2015

      Donald Trump is suing every person or institution that decided to terminate the contracts they had with him after his “Mexicans are criminals and rapists” remark. He is doing it on the basis of breach of contract, and I would not be surprised if he wins and collects large sums of money.
      Unfortunately, the same outcome may not be as easy. The media can simply claim they got erroneous information and made a mistake. They can refuse to reveal the name of whomever gave them the wrong information (Watergate comes to mind). In Trump’s case, what will influence a Court decision is not moral considerations, but the law. In this case, contract law.

    3. robertblair3174 August 4, 2015

      Maybe if some of these “Committee” chairmen were IMPEACHED for abuse of power, and they and/or their staff brought up on CHARGES for leaking what should have been classified documents, then these vindictive, rabidly partisan, politically motivated “Investigations” might wind down, so they can STOP WASTING THE TAXPAYERS MONEY!

      1. idamag August 4, 2015

        Yes, it is the politically motivated “investigations” that have made a mockery of our government. How about the conveniently leaking a CIA covert operative because the findings, of her husband, was not what was wanted? One of the things that never got mentioned about that abuse was the fact that the operative’s contact in the Mideast lost his life because she was outed.

  2. angryspittle August 3, 2015

    Gowdy Doody is a great face for the GOP.

    A wooden headed fool.

    A wooden headed tool.

  3. 1Zoe55 August 4, 2015

    Gowdy Howdy Doody, what a mush mouth from the South. This former attorney-general should return to his own realm of know-nothings.

  4. Eleanore Whitaker August 4, 2015

    This is one time, when, like the outing of the CIA agent, that the GOP should be outed themselves. If there was a leak from the GOP, they’d better be damn sure it didn’t come from one of the Koch boys meetings with Cantor, Ryan or any of the other junior Johnny Jump Ups of the Koch regime.

    Trey Gowdy is a snot nosed punk who needed his mouth stuffed with a sock a long time ago. First, he refused to allow a fair bi-partisan investigating committee. Then, if you watched him on CNN in action, you saw how he badgered all of his witnesses when they wouldn’t lie under oath. When that didn’t work, he cut them off and supplied the answers to the questions HE asked of them.

    This little BS boy needs to be censored. That investigating committee is a joke.

    1. Grannysmovin August 4, 2015

      Finally this committee is no longer trying to keep up the facade of investigating Benghazi, and is really a Clinton vetting committee. However, since it is paid for by tax payers which is made up of Democratic, Independent and Republicans , and we are all equal under the constitution, than this “committee” should be vetting all candidates.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker August 4, 2015

        21 GOP candidates running is not enough for you? The Republican party is and has always been male dominated. I ought to know. I was a Republican for 33 years until I could tolerate no more of the Father Knows Best and mother is Donna Reed” routine.

        The investigating committee is NOT made up of Democrats. The GOP saw to that when they met in secret to choose who would be on the committee. It is not bi-partisan if only the GOP gets to choose who sits on the committee. It is NOT bi-partisan if when the time came to choose the witnesses to testify before the committee, were all chosen by the GOP and Gowdy.

        Time for you to face one fact about Republican men…they would fit perfectly in the Nazi Party.

        1. Grannysmovin August 4, 2015

          Sorry but you really did not get my post and there are Democrats on the committee, not many and we only hear from one and that is Rep. Elijah Cummings . Because the way they hold meetings excluding the few Democrats I agree it is not a bi-partisan committee, but no one ever thought it was.

          1. Eleanore Whitaker August 5, 2015

            Congress is bi-partisan…The Republicans refuse to allow that. In Hitler’s era, this would be called Gestapo tactics.

  5. Dominick Vila August 4, 2015

    Only the most partisan or naive can be surprised by the distinct probability of Republican congressmen leaking disinformation to the media. Lacking a record, potential solutions to remaining socio-economic problems, and a vision, the only option left for the Republican party is political assassination.
    The most perplexing part of their strategy, for me, is that lines of attack that ought to serve as a reminder of some the worst foreign and domestic policy debacles in U.S. history, are given credence, even when there is not an iota of evidence available to support them, and even after outright lies are exposed. Rep. Cummings assertions have not received the attention they should have for a simple reason: our so-called “liberal” media is owned and run by ultra conservatives. The ability of Republicans to capitalize on issues like this are influenced, to a large extent, on the reluctance of the media to challenge the claims they make…and the ambivalence of a public that seems to be more interested in video games, texting, the latest reality show, or lions, than the preservation of our democracy, our freedoms, and the future of the United States.

    1. Eleanore Whitaker August 4, 2015

      Dominic, It is quite frightening when men like Charles and David Koch, Sheldon Adelson and the Murdoch dynasty all own 90% of US and global media. It is a reminder that corporate encroachment has crossed the Constitutional lines in ways that will have enormous blowback.

      I no longer rely on US media. Every TV news station is owned by an ultra conservative. If these conservatives needs such massive autonomous power, you can only figure out what their real agenda is: government takeover.

      When corporations own politicians, the media and big business, what remains of our Constitutional rights?

      1. Dominick Vila August 4, 2015

        Not much. I rely, mostly, on foreign media for unbiased and extensive information. My favorite is the BBC. I also watch TVE (Spanish TV) almost every day.

        1. Eleanore Whitaker August 4, 2015

          I also favor BBC and the CBC. Thus far, there have been no contributions by either Koch or Adelson to these media sources. Murdoch’s name is mud to the BBC for that incident on tapping phone conversations by his sons.

          I have a friend who lives in the Cotswolds in the UK. When I said I preferred to the more unbiased BBC, he laughed and said, “Only to an American.” Oh well…lol

      2. davidcayjohnston August 4, 2015

        The Koch Brothers do not own any news organization nor does Sheldon Adelson. The Kochs are in energy and consumer goods, Adelson in casinos and conventions. FACTS MATTER. See http://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/the_koch_brothers_media_invest.php

        1. Eleanore Whitaker August 4, 2015

          Wrong again…The Koch bought last year bought the Chicago Sun Times. Adelson also have executive board voting rights on several media sources. You obviously are corporately naive or think you know it all.

          1. davidcayjohnston August 4, 2015

            The Kochs do NOT own the Chicago Sun-Times. You could look it up.

            As for the LATimes, just thinking about an acquisition is irrelevant.

            As with your earlier posts insisting that NYT reporters typically make $200,000, you seem to just make things up and fail to acknowledge, much less correct, when shown your errors. The NYT reporter top scale is $107k in round numbers and most are in a top pay category of $98k plus rarely seen overtime pay.

            Yes facts matter. I hope that in the future you will post with regard for them.

          2. Eleanore Whitaker August 5, 2015

            Once again, a bossy, overbearing male like you with ZERO corporate experience is demanding he is right. What about BIG MONEY INFLUENCE don’t you bossy little dipwads get?

            Facts do matter. I provided links that you now deny. Denial of facts I proved isn’t just denial. It’s a dunderhead man always insisting, insisting, insisting, you are always right. Do you also want to say that Murdoch sons were never investigated for phone tapping in the UK?

            In the future, my hope is that men like you drop dead of your bullying. Or, is that it? You hit middle age and suddenly think you are OH SO POWERFUL?

            Tyrants put their pants on like we all do. Stash that elitism act. I’m not impressed hot shot.

          3. davidcayjohnston August 5, 2015

            Nobody bullied you. What I did was show that your statements about the Coke brothers on in the Chicago Sun-Times or false as well as your assertion that the Coke brothers are currently considering buying any of the Tribune newspapers. What you wrote is simply not supported by fact.

            In addition I showed that what you wrote about NYT reporter pay has no basis in fact.

            You cited utterly irrelevant pay like Lauer at NBC, which tells us exactly nothing about the pay of working reporters at the New York Times. I don’t deny it anyway the facts that are in the article you linked to, but it is about television not working newspaper reporters.

            I then showed you what the actual NYT-Guild contract pay rates are for reporters — not the $200,000-a-year and more that you said was typical but either $98,000 or $107, in round numbers.

          4. Eleanore Whitaker August 5, 2015

            How many boards of directors in addition to their Koch Industries do Charles and David Koch sit on? You split hairs to get your way like a selfish spoiled little boy. Sorry if I don’t pander to your childish tantrums. Grow up. I worked with 2 major Fortune 50 CEOs. I know far better than you ever will which boards they sit on and they are not related to their own companies. So don’t try to tell me that Koch money has not infiltrated several major US media conglomerates. You are so full of BS. It’s coming out your ears.

          5. davidcayjohnston August 5, 2015

            Nothing in your rant above supports your false assertions. The Kochs are incredibly rich and powerful, but they do not own the Sun-Times and are not trying to buy the LATimes.

            Now you are shifting gears with a new assertion, that Koch money has “infiltrated several major US media conglomerates…”

            That would be an important story if true. Please advise which companies you are so certain they have “infiltrated” as I do not see their names among those whose holdings must be disclosed at any of the major corporations with news subsidiaries. I also cannot find among the many articles about the Kochs by places like Mother Jones, the New Yorker, The Nation, Bloomberg any articles even hinting that they own or are directors of newspapers or broadcast.

            And there is a lot of bs being spread here — by you. Assertions about where you worked are irrelevant to the issues at hand — namely the untrue statements you wrote about who owns the Sun-Times and “typical” NYT reporter pay.

          6. Eleanore Whitaker August 5, 2015

            Check out the post from Irishgrammy: ”

            “The Kochs were considering buying the LA Times about a year and a half ago, and once that information got out, the negative response doomed the deal! The subscribers threatened to terminate their subscriptions in mass to the LA TImes, me included!!!! The response was determinative! The Kochs pulled out! They may try again, “secretly”, but it will get out and the response will be way over the top to stop it! This is after all, LIBERAL California!!!

            A simple “I was wrong” is due from you. Two posters stated they tried to buy the LA Times and yet you as the dunderhead you are keep insisting it isn’t true. What do you want next? Minutes of the meeting between the LA Times owner and the Kochs before you admit you are wrong?

            Here is publicized proof you won’t admit either blockhead: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/la-times-koch-brothers/

          7. davidcayjohnston August 5, 2015

            Yet again you get your facts wrong.

            You wrote, one day ago (see above), that the Kochs “are, at present, also considering buying the LA Times.”

            I wrote one day ago in reply “As for the LATimes, just thinking about an acquisition is irrelevant.”

            And an hour ago I wrote “that there was no factual basis for your writing that the Koch brothers own the Chicago Sun-Times and currently seeking to buy the LATimes.”

            Those statements by me are accurate. So is what Irishgrammy wrote about — but notice she links to a HuffPost piece from two years ago, not “currently,” which is what you wrote.

            And in any event they don’t own so it does not matter. They have exactly zero influence over the newsroom at the LATimes (where I worked for 12 years) or the Chicago Sun-Times.

            As with your assertions about “typical” NYT reporter pay no facts support what you wrote.

            When I err I acknowledge it, promptly and forthrightly. In this case the only errors are by you and you keep compounding them by making more baseless statements.

          8. Eleanore Whitaker August 6, 2015

            Oh let us all bow down to King David…who when (if according to him “if ever)) he errs he acknowledges it. No…he doesn’t.

            There are two posts with links and King David of the BS Realm still insists he is right. Those statements by you are NOT accurate…not when 4 of the top US papers in the country printed otherwise. Do you always wake up every morning and choose to be a massive fanatical contrarian or do you just come by it naturally?

            Go play your games with someone who needs your brand of low level intelligence. I won’t respond to anymore of your BS. Because you can’t even stay on topic.

          9. davidcayjohnston August 6, 2015

            Ms. Whitaker,

            Your gratuitously insulting comments indicate you think I am some moronic troll. I am a well-known journalist with many honors, including a Pulitzer, and author a series of best-selling
            investigative books about the economy.

            You assert that four of five top newspapers printed — what? You do not say nor do you provide links.

            The facts are these:

            1. Wrapports LLC owns The Chicago Sun-Times. Its ownership is explained at the following link, where you will NOT find any Kochs:

            2. The pay of NYTimes reporters (I was one for 13 years) is nowhere near what you assert. I sent you the CURRENT pay scale, which is roughly half of what you called “typical.”

            My responses have all been precisely on topic — addressing your repeated posts that have no basis in fact. Sadly, for whatever reason you continue to fabricate instead of acknowledging that what you repeatedly posted is untrue.

          10. Eleanore Whitaker August 6, 2015

            So you claim. But, as we all know, a lot of men love to slather on the BS to make themselves look good. I don’t care if you are Walter Cronkite reincarnate. I provided the Huffington Post link and a NY Times link. But I imagine from your phony oh so lofty Ivory Tower in Journalism, you have printed a whole lot of biased BS.

            You do realize that I call call the NY Times and have one of them identify you.

            You are a liar and you know it. I am not going to pander to your childish need to be the Omnipotent Almighty God of the Solar System. Do yourself a favor…go back to your journalism.

            I also am a ghost writer of over 4900 online articles for technical, blogs and white papers. When you can match that, let me know.

            Your head is so swollen to such balloon proportions, it’s about to burst. Good. Just make sure you keep your personal pollution to yourself.

          11. davidcayjohnston August 6, 2015

            If you can show any error in my work it will be corrected promptly and forthrightly. The only errors here are yours. And, to be clear, I retired from the NYT in 2008, as you could establish by checking the Wikipedia page others created about me or doing a simple Internet search. That you made no effort to discern actual facts seems consistent with your practice of just making things up and citing irrelevant sources. No wonder you had to write as a ghost writer.

            All of your posts ignore simple verifiable facts: what you wrote about the Kochs owning the Chicago Sun-Times and “currently” trying to buy the LATimes are false and the “typical” pay of NYT reporters is roughly half what you assert. And you did not provide a single link from the NYTimes, only one to a publication that had estimates about pay in television, while I sent you the current contract pay rates for NYT journalists in Categories 10 and O.

            BTW, I still do journalism –for this website (National Memo), Newsweek, Tax Notes, The Nation, the NYTimes and many other publications.

          12. Irishgrammy August 4, 2015

            The Kochs were considering buying the LA Times about a year and a half ago, and once that information got out, the negative response doomed the deal! The subscribers threatened to terminate their subscriptions in mass to the LA TImes, me included!!!! The response was determinative! The Kochs pulled out! They may try again, “secretly”, but it will get out and the response will be way over the top to stop it! This is after all, LIBERAL California!!!

      3. CPAinNewYork August 4, 2015

        I don’t like the GOP or Hillary Clinton. Hopefully, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden wll get on the ballot, maybe as running mates.

        Oh, by the way, I don’t like Eleanore Whitaker either, because she’s a hateful idiot.

        1. Eleanore Whitaker August 4, 2015

          I don’t like lazyass CPAs who rip off their clients like Madoff….try again big mouth.

        2. Steve Batchelor August 5, 2015

          Sure sound like a Rethug to me..Why….Because attacking another persons credibility and calling them names is all Rethugs do.

        3. truth_machine August 6, 2015

          Odd, it’s you who sounds like a hateful idiot here.

  6. davidcayjohnston August 4, 2015

    Washington journalism is heavily based on leaks, but the problem
    Joe Conason identifies with failing to crosscheck is spot on: “Cummings wonders
    why the Times reporters never checked with him or other Democrats
    on the committee, who could have corrected the ruinous mistake before

    Another question is why Cummings is being published at
    the HuffPost, rather than the op-ed page of the NYT, or the WashPost or the WSJ
    or the LAT. Why is the scandal of the leak not a bigger story?

    This is reminiscent of the fabricated IRS scandal where failure
    to follow what I call the first two rules of journalism resulte din widepsread
    belief in a policy unicorn.

    As I teach to young journalists:

    Rule One. Check it out. If your mother says she loves you, check
    it out.

    Rule Two: Cross check and cross check again and again until you
    both have the facts bolted down solid AND you know their relative place in the

    1. Eleanore Whitaker August 4, 2015

      I was taught as a tech writer that you have to check facts in 3 places to see if they agree. Supposedly, if all 3 resources agree, it is highly likely that the facts are that…facts.

      1. davidcayjohnston August 4, 2015

        In the Wen Ho Lee case that did not happen, though, because the seemingly separate sources were in fact all cross-pollinated. Hence my Rule Two above…

        1. Eleanore Whitaker August 4, 2015

          You sir have one very serious problem. You hate being wrong. Is that because you are a product of a too regimented life where everything you learned came out of a book?

          Three sources that present the same information are not likely to be cross-pollinated in tech writing.

          For example, when I wrote white papers on Arsenic in Water for the PhD from MIT VP, he used federal, state and scientific studies. The same is true for the white paper I wrote on CFCs for another client of mine.

          Scientific data, if accurate, by three independent sources who arrive at the same results are not likely to be “cross-pollinated.” The whole premise of science is for unrelated science sources to create the same experiments on the same science project without knowledge of others doing the same. DUH

  7. Whatmeworry August 4, 2015

    The source for the story is Cummings who has an IQ of 60

    1. The source for the comment is dan ketter who has an IQ of 6

    2. truth_machine August 6, 2015

      ^^^ racist right wing garbage

      1. ←He’s a racist right wing hypocrite.
        Whatmeworry troller is really Dan M Ketter from Virginia
        (aka Mandinka, nofedjobs, many others), who is is nothing more than a
        bitter bigot retired automotive desk clerk with Ford Motors, an online troll
        and military impostor, pretending to be a retired Air Force Colonel and
        Pilot, when in fact, dan never served in the military. It’s also part
        of his fantasy portraying himself as a republican teaparty watch dog,
        and fabricating the facts as much as he can because he has no
        accountability online.

        As a hyprocrite, Whatmeworry/dan actually dodged the Vietnam War draft to stay in college (playing flag football and racquetball with his frat boys in his
        own words), then could only get part time work as a college teaching
        assistant (calling himself a professor…right!) after his draft deferment. The
        govt wouldn’t hire him for civil service (why he hates federal
        employees), but he eventually got a non-union job on Ford’s payroll
        entering parts data into a computer day after day (why he’s a labor
        organization hater). He’s a bigot, and the worst kind of scumbag out

        Ck for yourself whatmeworrys bogus online profiles and their timelines and have a laugh!


        USAF RETIRED????
        June 1996 – June 2001 (5 years 1 month)???? Liar!


        USAF RETIRED, yeah!

    3. whatmeworryisfatDan Ketter November 5, 2015

      Lovey sweeety Linda Rae, the gorgon old hag of Williamsburg

    4. Daniel Max Ketter November 13, 2015

      Yes, I am a military draft dodger, and village idiot of Williamsburg Virginia

    5. whatmeworryisfatDan Ketter November 15, 2015

      Ahahahahaha FAT DAN KETTER



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