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Tag: russia probe

Top DHS Official Delayed Crucial Report On Kremlin 2020 Election Meddling

Chad Wolf, former acting secretary of Homeland Security for the Trump Administration, delayed the dissemination of a crucial intelligence report on Russia’s intervention in the 2020 elections by demanding changes, creating the perception that the report was politicized, according to a new report by Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) watchdog.

In its redacted report — titled “DHS Actions Related to an I&A Intelligence Product Deviated from Standard Procedures” — the DHS Office of Inspector General underscored the department’s failure to follow “its internal processes and comply with applicable intelligence community policy standards and requirements when editing and disseminating an Office of Intelligence and Analysis [I&A] intelligence product regarding Russian interference in the 2020 US presidential election.”

At issue was Wolf’s unorthodox decision to interfere in the report, which raised “objectivity concerns,” according to the OIG report. The acting secretary’s politically-charged effort appeared to have been intended to aid then-President Trump’s bid for reelection, the OIG’s office inferred in the report.

"The acting secretary participated in the review process multiple times despite lacking any formal role in reviewing the product, resulting in the delay of its dissemination on at least one occasion," the DHS inspector general report stated. "The delays and deviation from I & A (the DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis) standard process and requirements put [them] at risk of creating a perception of politicization."

“This resulted in a delay in the dissemination of an intelligence product intended to inform stakeholders about foreign influence efforts relating to the 2020 U.S. Presidential election,” the OIG report added.

This intelligence product was a report that analysts in the Cyber Mission Center (CYMC) of the DHS began drafting in April 2020 to warn officials at the local and state levels of a significant rise in covert and overt efforts by “Russian malign influence actors” to spread unsubstantiated claims about then-Candidate Joe Biden’s mental health after Super Tuesday, to erode voters’ confidence in the democratic candidate for president.

However, before the release of the Russian report, the former DHS analyst for intelligence and analysis, Brian Murphy, filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that Wolf, his predecessor Kirstjen Nielsen, and deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli had interfered in the report.

Murphy alleged that, in May 2020, Wolf had asked him “to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran,” according to the Guardian.

The analyst — who, according to the OIG report, “believed foreign efforts questioning a candidate's health were worth exploring” — also said that Wolf had in July 2020 ordered him to delay the intelligence report because “it made the president look bad,” but Murphy refused to comply.

In his whistleblower complaint, Murphy said that obeying Wolf’s directives would have “put the country in substantial and specific danger."

"Russian disinformation was something [DHS leadership] didn't want to report on," Murphy told CBS News in October 2021. "It mattered. It had a material impact on life and safety of how the events unfolded during 2018 and forward," he added.

A representative for the DHS denied Murphy’s claims at the time.

I&A planned to circulate the intelligence report on July 9, 2020, but delays postponed its release until September 8. Even then, according to news media reporting, the I&A didn’t use its traditional channels to distribute the intelligence, delaying the report’s full publication yet again until October 15.

The OIG report found that, after months of delay, analysts included additional text in the intelligence report about efforts by China and Iran to amplify phantom narratives questioning then-President Trump’s mental capacity.

When pressed on its decision to include a “tone box” (the additional information) in the intelligence report, the DHS contradicted itself, reports CBS news.

"[The CYMNC Manager] told us it was a feature intended to draw a contrast between the actions of Russia and those of Iran and China, but also described the tone box as a 'blunting feature' meant to balance the product. When asked whether intelligence products require balancing, he said the addition of the tone box was not politicization, yet also said it showed I & A's political savviness, as the state and local customers of their products tended to be political," the OIG report said.

Wolf now leads a far-right, pro-Trump thinktank, America First Policy Institute. In a statement to NBC News, he said the DHS watchdog “did not find any credible evidence that I directed anyone to change the substance of the report because it ‘made President Trump look bad.’”

However, the Inspector General’s office disputed Wolf’s claim on page 11 of its report, saying, “Based on our interviews with relevant officials, as well as our document review, it is clear the acting secretary asked the acting USIA [under secretary for intelligence and analysis] to hold the product from its pending release.”

The watchdog added that Wolf and others named in its report had denied the claims.

Fox News Drops Durham Smear After Clinton Hints At 'Actual Malice'

In the days after special counsel John Durham, tasked with investigating the FBI probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, filed a pretrial motion on February 11, Fox News provided an astounding amount of coverage at a breakneck pace, falsely claiming it proved 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton spied on the Trump campaign. However, coverage of the story slowed dramatically after Clinton accused the network of “getting awfully close to actual malice” in its reporting.

A Media Matters review of Fox News transcripts found that from February 11 through February 24, 2022, Fox's total coverage of the Durham filing was more than 11 hours over 149 segments. Eighty-five percent of that was before Clinton alleged Fox of “malice”; just 15 percent was after.

Contrary to framing from right-wing media, which generally ran hog wild with the story, Durham’s filing alleges that a lawyer linked to the Clinton campaign shared internet traffic data from networks near the White House and Trump Tower with the CIA. The filing does not allege that the data were obtained illegally or that the Clinton campaign directed the effort, nor does it provide evidence that the data were collected after former President Donald Trump was sworn into office.

From February 13, when Fox first mentioned the story, through the 3 p.m. EST hour on February 17, when Clinton commented about the network's coverage approaching “malice,” Fox covered the story for 9 hours and 23 minutes total. From then onward through February 20, Fox spent 1 hour and 40 minutes on the story: The network covered it for 5 minutes on February 18, 17 minutes on February 19, and 56 minutes on February 20.

  • Fox News coverage of Durham investigation "bombshell" falsely alleging Clinton spied on Trump

A significant portion of Fox’s coverage after Clinton’s “malice” comment was on the February 20 edition of Life, Liberty & Levin, where host Mark Levin spent 35 minutes on the Durham investigation and false allegations from Trump that the Obama administration or the Clinton campaign spied on his own. Levin has been making these unsubstantiated accusations for years. Since then, Fox appears to have dropped the subject entirely; there was only a single mention of the story which Trump made during an interview on February 23’s The Ingraham Angle.

In between accusing mainstream media of ignoring the story, Fox and other right-wing media’s coverage falsely framed the Durham filing as a “bombshell” proving Clinton is a “certified political criminal,” and “the real insurrectionist” who “tried to steal the election by spreading misinformation.” Meanwhile, Durham attempted to distance himself from right-wing coverage of his filing.

Such pontificating was not relegated to the network’s opinion programming; Fox’s straight-“news” shows were just as culpable in pushing the false narratives of the Durham filing. Nearly 4 hours of coverage was on so-called “news” shows like The Story with Martha MacCallum (44 minutes), America Reports with John Roberts and Sandra Smith (37), Special Report with Bret Baier (33), and America’s Newsroom with Bill Hemmer and Dana Perino (32).

But Fox’s opinion shows provided the most coverage with more than 7 hours in total. Leading the pack was the network’s premiere weekday morning talk show Fox & Friends with 1 hour and 3 minutes. Following closely behind was Hannity (58 minutes), Fox & Friends First (50), and Fox & Friends Weekend (43).


  • Fox News coverage of Durham investigation "bombshell" falsely alleging Clinton spied on Trump

Clinton’s accusation of “actual malice” holds real legal meaning: The 1964 decision in The New York Times v. Sullivan established “actual malice” as the legal threshold to prove defamation of a public figure; 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against The New York Times hinges on the same legal standard. This wouldn’t be the first time Fox found itself in legal hot water for its reporting: Dominion Voting Systems Corp. and Smartmatic are suing the network for knowingly pushing false information about election fraud.

Methodology

Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any of the terms “Durham” (including misspellings), “Special Counsel,” or “Clinton” not within close proximity to “Bill” each within close proximity to any of the terms “Trump,” “Russia,” “Sussmann,” “White House,” or “server” from February 11, 2022, through February 24, 2022.

We included segments, which we defined as instances when Durham’s investigation was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the investigation. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the investigation with one another. We also included mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker discussed the investigation without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the investigation scheduled to air later in the broadcast. We rounded all times to the nearest minute.

We split Fox programs into “news” and “opinion” sides. We defined “news” programs as those with anchors, such as Bret Baier or Shannon Bream, while we defined “opinion” programs as those with hosts, such as Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham, at the helm. We used the designations from each anchor’s or host’s FoxNews.com author page. We also considered the format of the program; we defined those using a panel format, such as Outnumbered and The Five, as “opinion.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters


How The Republican Party Became A Wholly-Owned Asset Of The Kremlin

On Monday, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) warned that his office was getting calls from Fox News watchers whose reliance on Tucker Carlson had led them to argue that the United States should be supporting Russia. Not just supporting Vladimir Putin in his plans to invade a sovereign nation, but supporting Russia’s “reasonable” position in their arguments that NATO is somehow the aggressor.

It’s not just Democratic lawmakers getting these calls. As Axios made clear on Thursday, Republicans are also hearing from their base. And, in the modern Republican tradition, those Republicans are doing what they always do when confronted by extremists in their own party — rolling over.

“Leery of the base, they are avoiding—and in some cases, rejecting—the tough-on-Russia rhetoric that once defined the Republican Party. GOP operatives working in 2022 primary races tell Axios they worry they'll alienate the base if they push to commit American resources to Ukraine or deploy U.S. troops to eastern Europe.”

Strangely enough, Axios gets through the whole article about Republicans being afraid to offend Vladimir Putin, without mentioning one little thing: The whole reason that this is happening, is because Russia interfered in U.S. elections to support Donald Trump.

Repeatedly, the Axios article comes close to spilling the beans. Republicans who are still willing to be critical of the idea that Russia should be allowed to swallow whole Europe’s second-largest nation while the U.S. cheers from the sidelines are described as “still making statements that sound more at home in the pre-Trump GOP.” This shift in the Republican base is attributed in part to “President Donald Trump's warmer posture toward Russia.”

But let’s go to the tape. Or, in this case, to the five-volume report on Russian interference in the 2016 election prepared by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, and finally released just three days after the 2020 election.

What does that report have to say about Russia’s actions in 2016?

  • “The Committee found that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian
    effort to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak
    information damaging to Hillary Clinton and her campaign for president. Moscow's intent was
    to harm the Clinton Campaign, tarnish an expected Clinton presidential administration, help the Trump Campaign after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, and undermine the U.S. democratic process.”
  • “The Committee found, that the [Russian intelligence operation] IRA sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton's chances of success and supporting Donald Trump”
  • "Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency"
  • “Russia's targeting of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society”
  • “The Russian government ‘aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him’”
  • “[Russian] social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump, and to the detriment of Secretary Clinton's campaign”
  • “Posing as U.S. political activists, IRA requested-and in some cases obtained-assistance from the Trump Campaign in procuring materials for rallies and in promoting and organizing rallies”
  • “IRA employees were directed to focus on U.S. politics and to ‘use any opportunity to criticize Hillary”
  • “[S]tories about Democratic emails might have mentioned that their release was part of a Russian influence campaign and that Donald Trump's repeated references to the releases, his stated adoration of WikiLeaks, and his solicitation of Russian assistance were taking place in the context of an ongoing influence campaign to assist him.”
  • “Manafort hired and worked increasingly closely with a Russian national, Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer. … Prior to joining the Trump Campaign in March 2016 and continuing throughout his time on the Campaign, Manafort directly and indirectly communicated with Kilimnik, Deripaska, and the pro-Russian oligarchs in Ukraine.”
  • “On numerous occasions, Manafort sought to secretly share internal Campaign information with Kilimnik.”
  • “The Committee obtained some information suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected to the GRU's hack and leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election.”
  • The Russians who Manafort and Donald Trump Jr met with at Trump Tower had “significant connections to Russian government, including the Russian intelligence services.” This included Natalia Veselnitskaya, whose connections to the Kremlin “were far more extensive and concerning than what had been publicly known.”

What Russia got for the few million it expended is priceless: Not just Trump in the White House for four years, defending Moscow’s interests from Ukraine to the Middle East, not just a greater-than-ever gap in American society, but a fundamental shift in the Republican base, and in right-wing media, that turned them into an extension of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign.

In 2012, Mitt Romney took heat for the vehemence of his antipathy toward Russia. Romney’s warnings about Russian aggression drew scorn at the time, though soon after the election the Utah Republican actually got apologies from Democratic officials and candidates as Russia massed its forces on the border of Ukraine and staged an invasion with the assistance of Republican insider Paul Manafort.

Romney’s position wasn’t unusual at the time. In fact, most of the heat he took from his anti-Russia stance was based on the idea that the presidential candidate wasn’t putting any thought into his response. He was simply continuing a long Republican tradition of using the threat from Russia as an excuse to bolster U.S. military spending.

From the Cold War right up through the Obama administration, Republicans didn’t just maintain a solid front when it came to the danger represented by Russia, they built their foreign policy around that threat.

It should be noted that this isn’t the first time Putin has been handed a gift by the radical right. In 2014, with the invasion of Crimea underway, Mitch McConnell stood in the way of passing a bill considered vital for Ukraine. Why? As Politico explained at the time: “McConnell faces a tea party primary opponent in May.”

“Twenty, 25 years ago, if you told me McCain would be the leader of the Republicans on foreign policy and McConnell [would be] on the sidelines, I would never have believed you,” said one veteran of President George H.W. Bush’s administration. “Mitch was one of our go-to guys.”

Yeah, well, Mitch is always willing to go … wherever the wind blows him. When it looked like a Tea Party candidate might challenge him, McConnell threw away his “beliefs”

Republicans have been riding the whirlwind since those Tea Party days, banking on an anything-goes faux populism that champions hurting fellow Americans over anything else. They stayed on that whirlwind even when they knew their candidate was being backed and bankrolled by Moscow. And now they have a party that’s urging them to surrender an ally to Putin, arguing that the U.S. should just ignore military aggression from an expansionist authoritarian empire and it will go away. Because that’s worked so well in the past.

Putin bought Trump. Cheap. Now he owns the power-base of an American political party, with GOP candidates falling all over themselves to prove how much they don’t care about Russia tearing a chunk out of Europe.

It’s almost as if the Republican tough-on-Russia position was never real, to begin with, but just something they were doing to bolster donations from defense contractors and create the impression that they had a serious position on foreign policy.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Former FBI Official Says Trump Must Beware Extradition Of Julian Assange

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

In the United Kingdom, the High Court has ruled that WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face espionage charges. Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI special agent and counterintelligence expert, analyzes this development in an opinion column published by MSNBC on December 15 — and argues that Assange’s extradition could be bad news for former President Donald Trump.

“Former President Donald Trump already faces a future filled with legal battles in multiple federal, state and local jurisdictions from Georgia to the District of Columbia to New York State and Manhattan,” explains Figliuzzi, a frequent guest on MSNBC’s cable news shows. “And now, a British court decision against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could resurrect the two seminal questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation: Did Trump obstruct justice, and did his campaign collude with Russia? Assange, an Australian citizen sitting in Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh in Southeast London, may hold the key that reopens the prosecutive possibilities.”

The espionage charges against Assange in the U.S., Figliuzzi notes, stem “from his 2010 publication of State Department and Defense Department files provided by Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst.”

“The charges against Assange concern whether an organization that exists primarily to solicit and disseminate illegally obtained government secrets can be considered a media organization entitled to First Amendment protections,” Figliuzzi observes. “They are not based on WikiLeaks publishing Democratic Party e-mails hacked by the Russian government in support of Trump during the 2016 election. Even so, for his sake, Trump better hope that the notorious hacker and leaker never sets foot on U.S. soil, because if the Department of Justice plays its cards right, it can make the case precisely about those Russian government hacks and WikiLeaks’ dissemination of the content of those hacks by offering a deal to Assange in return for what he knows. That’s what should worry Trump and his allies.”

Figliuzzi points out that when Mueller delivered his final report on the Russia probe, he found that the 2016 Trump campaign’s interactions with Russians “didn’t rise to the level of criminal conspiracy.” But Assange, according to the former FBI special agent, “may be able to close the gap between collusion and criminal conspiracy.”

Figliuzzi argues, “As for obstruction, the second focus of the Mueller team, Assange can help there as well…. Assange may be able to help the U.S. government in exchange for more lenient charges or a plea deal. Prosecutions can make for strange bedfellows. A trade that offers a deal to a thief who steals data, in return for him flipping on someone who tried to steal democracy sounds like a deal worth doing. So, DOJ, if you’re listening….”

Why Durham's Prosecution Of Trump Conspiracy Claims Is Falling Apart

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

In September 2020, attorney and cybersecurity specialist Michael Sussmann was charged with lying to the FBI — an indictment that resulted from Special Counsel John H. Durham’s probe of the 2016 Russia investigation. Now, according to New York Times reporter Charlie Savage, Sussmann’s defense team is asking for the trial date to be set sooner than what the prosecution has requested.

And the team defending Sussman, who was part of a firm working for the Democratic Party in 2016, argued in the new filing that the case against him is even weaker than it initially appeared.

“Newly disclosed evidence” in the United States of America v. Michael A. Sussmann, according to Savage, could “make it harder for” Durham to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt that” Sussmann is “guilty of the charge against him: making a false statement to the FBI during a September 2016 meeting about possible links between Donald J. Trump and Russia.”

Durham was essentially instructed by former Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate a series of conspiracy theories pushed by Trump and his allies about the FBI's investigation into him and several campaign members' ties to Russia. So far, he has mostly come up empty. Though the indictment of Sussman lists a long series of incidents meant to suggest Democrats were illicitly conspiring to turn the FBI against Trump in the summer of 2016, the only crime he actually charged was that Sussman allegedly falsely claimed that he wasn't representing any clients when he spoke to a representative of the bureau about research on a possible Trump-Russia connection.

In the initial indictment, the evidence for that claim was surprisingly thin. But Sussman's lawyers argued in the new filing that the charge is even less reliable than it initially appeared because other evidence in the Justice Department's possession undermines the case that Sussman lied.

'The indictment centered on a September 2016 meeting between Mr. Sussmann and James A. Baker, who was then the FBI’s general counsel," as Savage explained. "Mr. Sussmann relayed analysis by cybersecurity researchers who cited odd internet data they said appeared to reflect some kind of covert communications between computer servers associated with the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked Russian financial institution."

Savage explained that according to Baker's own interview, it appears that Sussman never claimed he wasn't representing a client while speaking to the FBI:

In July 2019, Mr. Baker was interviewed by the Justice Department’s inspector general about the meeting. Mr. Baker stated, according to a two-page transcript excerpt, that Mr. Sussmann had brought him information “that he said related to strange interactions that some number of people that were his clients, who were, he described as I recall it, sort of cybersecurity experts, had found.”
The newly disclosed evidence also includes a page of a report Mr. Durham’s team made to summarize an interview they conducted with Mr. Baker in June 2020. According to that report, Mr. Baker did not say that Mr. Sussmann told him he was not there on behalf of any client. Rather, he said the issue never came up and he merely assumed Mr. Sussmann was not conveying the Alfa Bank data and analysis for any client.

If this evidence holds up and isn't undermined by additional evidence from Durham, it may be very difficult to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Sussman lied at all to the FBI. That would be a huge blow to Durham's credibility, and it would further undercut Bill Barr's hopes of having his conspiracy theories vindicated.

Devin Nunes Retiring From Congress To Head Trump Media Outfit

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California is retiring from Congress at the end of 2021 to work for former President Donald Trump.

The news was first reported by Alex Tavlian of The San Joaquin Valley Sun, which initially claimed he'd stay on until 2022 before updating with the much more rapid timeline. The Trump Media and Technology Group later released a statement confirming that Nunes had accepted an offer to become its CEO, a position he'll assume in January of the new year.

Many observers quickly pointed out that Nunes was next in line to be chair of the Ways and Means committee, should Republicans take control of the House of Representatives — a particularly powerful position in Congress. But apparently, his options outside of government were even more enticing.

Nunes came to public prominence as a fierce defender of Trump during his presidency. For the first two years, Nunes led the House Intelligence Committee and waged an aggressive campaign against the government's investigations into the then-president. He was an aggressive opponent of the Russia investigation and stoked conspiracy theories about an inside plot to bring Trump down.

Nunes was also an outspoken critic of the House investigation of Trump's efforts to induce Ukraine into going after Joe Biden, which eventually led to the first of his two impeachments.

Since taking a prominent place in American politics, the California congressman launched a sweeping effort to silence some of his critics by weaponizing a series of lawsuits against media organizations and individuals whose reporting and commentary displeased him. Those lawsuits have been largely unsuccessful in court, but the effort may have nevertheless contributed to a chilling effect on people interested in speaking out against him.

Former White House Counsel  McGahn To Testify On Russia  Probe

Former White House counsel Don McGahn has agreed to testify in a private congressional hearing about the Russia investigation, ending a long court battle sparked by former President Donald Trump's effort to stonewall lawmakers. McGahn, a key figure in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, will answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee behind closed doors, but a transcript will be released about a week later, according to federal court papers filed Wednesday. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) hailed the breakthrough agreement with the Justice Depa...

The Journalists Who Parroted Barr’s Lies Owe An Apology

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

A "powerful boost."

That's how the New York Times in March 2019 famously described Attorney General William Barr's supposed exoneration of Trump following Barr's reading of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Refusing to release the sprawling report, Barr instead put out a thin, four-page press release where he brazenly lied about the Mueller 'reports contents, and claimed Trump was in the clear.

It was an audacious move by Barr, and it worked because the Beltway press eagerly played along, reporting that Trump's Russia worries were not only over, but that Mueller's unseen conclusions had given Trump's re-election a "powerful boost."

This week, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court in Washington confirmed Barr lied about the Mueller report:

From the Washington Post:

[Berman] blasted Barr's four-page letter to Congress in March 2019 that said the special counsel did not draw a conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed the investigation and that Barr's own opinion was that the evidence was insufficient to bring such a charge.
In reality, Mueller's report laid out evidence of obstruction but said the special counsel could not fairly make a charging decision, given department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Even in real time, the news coverage of the Mueller report and Barr's crooked summary of it stood out as one of the low points of the Trump presidency in terms of a systemic press failure. It was stupefying to watch grown men and women at elite news outlets treat Barr as a serious, honest person; to treat the story as truthful simply because it involved the U.S. Attorney General.

Three years into Trump's ransacking of democracy, and after three years of watching Republicans completely disregard the truth, journalists foolishly played along with the charade, running in front of cameras to announce Trump had been "exonerated," without having a read a single sentence of the Mueller report. Overnight, journalists collectively decided that a four-page summary—typed up by a partisan GOP official who had promised Trump he'd never been indicted —was the same thing as seeing the special counsel's findings. It was truly astonishing.

Now that a federal judge has confirmed that the press got played, badly, what's the media response going to be? Will there by any introspection, will editors and producers reflect on how and why they got taken for a ride on one of the most important news stories of 2019? Will there be any transparency with readers and an apology, along with an explanation for what went so terribly wrong in March, 2019?

The likely answer is no to all those questions, because when it comes to being honest and open about grave blunders the press made while covering Trump, there's no appetite for it, except when the criticism comes from conservatives screaming "liberal media bias." There was never any soul searching from the Beltway media for its colossal failure from the 2016 campaign, when it treated Hillary Clinton's emails as if they were Watergate + Iran Contra. Or the way the press conveniently obliterated policy coverage while Trump ran a policy-free campaign.

At the head of the apology line ought to be the Times, which sent an immediate message to the Beltway with its "powerful boost" proclamation, and announcing the Russia "cloud" had been "lifted" from the White House. Times columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote an entire piece that referred to the findings of the Mueller report, even though nobody at the newspaper had seen it. "Robert Mueller seems to have concluded after a definitive investigation, Mr. Trump's win was not the illegitimate product of a treasonous conspiracy," he wrote [Emphasis added].

He also mocked "the aggrieved and embarrassed #resistance-tweeting punditocracy" for "downplaying Mr. Mueller's findings," even though Manjoo had no idea what Mueller's "findings" were. Additionally, the paper matter-of-factly detailed, "The Mueller Report's Findings," as if those were verifiable things at the time. Reminder: No reporter had read the report at that time.

Of course, it wasn't just the Times that fell on its face treating Barr's obfuscation as fact. CNN's Chris Cillizza labeled it, "A credible and well investigated report that [Trump] nor his campaign colluded with the Russians," while NBC's Ken Dilanian announced it was a "total exoneration" of Trump.

Journalists who typically demand access to documents when evaluating investigations made sweeping conclusions based on the Barr press release. The "Mueller report is out," CBS News announced, even though nobody at CBS News had read it. Stonewalling Republicans refused to release the Russia investigation findings, but the Washington Post at the time insisted it was Democrats who lookrf bad because they "boxed themselves in" on the Russia story.

Rather than going with accurate headlines, such as "Trump's Attorney General Claims Mueller Has Cleared the President," newsrooms tossed context aside and embraced GOP-friendly proclamations: "Mueller Finds No Conspiracy" (Washington Post), "Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy" (New York Times)," Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy" (Politico), "Mueller Doesn't Find Trump Campaign Conspired with Russia" (Wall Street Journal), "Mueller Finds No Trump Collusion, Leaves Obstruction Open" (Associated Press).

None of those headlines were accurate, and they did extraordinary damage because they allowed the White House to proclaim victory. "This was an illegal takedown that failed," Trump bragged at the time. "It's complete exoneration. No collusion."

Beltway journalists failed in so many ways during the Trump years. It's time for them to acknowledge that.