Taibbi: Rachel Maddow's Shocking New Low

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by Tyler Durden
Friday, Nov 05, 2021 - 05:00 PM

Submitted by Matt Taibbi, via Substack,

Yesterday, Special Counsel John Durham indicted Brookings Institute analyst Igor Danchenko, better known as the primary source for Christopher Steele, the ex-spy who compiled the now-infamous “Steele Dossier” on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. The case has implications for higher-ranking figures, but the indictment is most immediately devastating to the reputation of the many famous news personalities who hyped the Steele story. They almost all look terrible today, but the response by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was a thing beyond. Whatever the category below “disgraced journalist” is, she entered it with gusto with last night’s performance.

Much of the indictment concerns false statements Danchenko allegedly made to the FBI concerning his interactions with “PR Executive-1,” described as a “U.S.-based individual… who was a long-time participant in Democratic Party politics and was then an executive at a U.S. public relations firm.” New York Times reporter Charlie Savage received confirmation from the lawyer of a man named Charles Dolan that Dolan is, in fact, the executive:

Russiagate is already a sizable boil on the face of American journalism, but the indictment of Danchenko has the potential to grow the profession’s embarrassment to fantastic dimensions. For instance, a key claim of the Steele dossier involved a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between Trump and Russia that supposedly went back years, and was managed on the Trump side by Paul Manafort and Carter Page. At one point, it was believed this claim was sourced to an anonymous phone call Danchenko thought came from the former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, Sergei Millian. Danchenko moreover reportedly told the FBI that he and the “anonymous caller” made an appointment to meet in New York.

The indictment, however, asserts that Danchenko never even spoke to Millian, repeatedly emailing him and getting no response. As for that trip to New York, hoo boy:

From on about July 26, 2016 through July 28, 2016, DANCHENKO traveled to New York with a family member. On or about July 28, 2016, DANCHENKO visited, among other places, the Bronx Zoo with the family member. During this trip, DANCHENKO did not meet or communicate with Chamber President-I.

It’s bad enough that the “well-developed” conspiracy tale appears to have been sourced to a graduate of the Jayson Blair school of investigation, who was strolling in the Bronx Zoo during the time when he was supposedly landing the scoop of a lifetime (note that Steele himself reportedly believed the pee tape was sourced, “in part,” to Millian).

Every reporter who touched that allegation should be ashamed, and Rachel is at the front of that huge crowd. Among other things, she emphasized the importance of Steele’s “broader assertions,” repeating the claim that the “Russia regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years,” going so far as to praise Steele for keeping his “head down” and listening to his “deep cover sources” like Danchenko.

However, that’s not the most damning part. It turns out at least one assertion by Steele, a relatively minor observation in an August 2016 report that claimed a senior member of Trump’s inner circle was glad when Paul Manafort resigned as campaign manager, came directly from Dolan, via Danchenko.

The indictment shows an email chain in which Danchenko tells Dolan he’s working on a “project against Trump,” and is looking for any “thought, rumor, allegation” that might be useful. Dolan replies, after Manafort’s resignation, that “I had a drink with a GOP friend of mine” who told him “a number of people wanted [Manafort] gone. It is a very sharp elbows crowd.”

On one hand, this exchange almost makes Steele look not-dishonest, because it shows there was at least some attempt by some of the people involved in his “project” to gather information from someone, at one point. However, the indictment goes on to quote Dolan about that tidbit:

PR Executive-I later acknowledged to the FBI that he never met with a “GOP friend” in relation to this information that he passed to DANCHENKO, but, rather, fabricated the fact of the meeting in his communications with DANCHENKO. PR Executive-I instead obtained the information about Campaign Manager-I from public news sources.

A source whose lawyer has confirmed his identity is saying, outright, that he “fabricated” a story that made it into the Steele dossier. This is degrees worse even than the assertions of the previous Durham indictment of former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussman. That case detailed how the “sources” behind the infamous Trump-Alfa Bank story speculated that it might be easier to fake a scenario to make Trump and the Russians “appear to communicate,” even using the word “faking.”

If I were Rachel Maddow and had a record of saying things on air like, “Above all else, we know this about the now-famous dossier: Christopher Steele had this story before the rest of America did. And he got it from Russian sources,” news like the Dolan item would make me furious. Not only did she flog the Steele document for years, she specifically hyped its credibility on the grounds of how it was put together, and by whom.

Now, we find out that the actual construction of the reports was like something out of a Three Stooges episode, with Igor, Chuck, and a Bronx Zoo zebra standing in for Moe, Larry, and Curly. The mere fact that some of Steele’s supposed “Russian sources” turned out to be this absurd stateside parade would have any honest journalist fuming.

Rachel not only isn’t upset, she’s expressing pride in having been burned, and is digging in for more.

She aired a report last night in reaction to the Durham indictment that painted the exercise as an effort by a Trump-appointed Special Counsel to exact revenge for the Russiagate investigation, using a spooky graphic that read “Payback?” As for the aforementioned details about Danchenko’s stimulating trip to New York and Dolan’s “fabricated” story (and those were only a few of many damning tales in the document), Maddow said:

But is also worth noting that this new indictment, just like the last one, spends comparatively little time talking about these false statements, and a lot of time talking about who Igor Danchenko came into contact with, or talked to, who are — horror of horrors — Democrats.

This is just a lie: the indictment spends a ton of time talking about the false statements. Moreover, the significance of Danchenko’s contact with Democrats isn’t that he associated with people of a certain political persuasion, but that, in the case of Dolan at least, this particular American Democrat was a source for the supposedly damning oppo research file both the Party and people like Rachel howled over for years. It’s a story about fake news, not ideology.

The most generous explanation for Rachel’s reporting of Russiagate has been incompetence, i.e. she and her network were duped by unscrupulous sources selling an irresistibly sexy, but flawed, ratings-magnet of a story. For those who’ve forgotten how craven the approach was, here’s the famed mashup of one night of “Russia” references on her show during the height of the Russia panic:

The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple summarized the more generous, “She just went overboard” analysis in a still-brutal 2019 story entitled, “Rachel Maddow rooted for the Steele dossier to be true. Then it fell apart.” Wemple noted the remarkable moment when Rachel pressed California congressman Adam Schiff, “Should we stop describing that as an uncorroborated dossier?” Even Schiff, one of the most shamelessly dishonest hypers of Steele’s phony reports, a man whose descendants will probably grow special gills for lying underwater, wouldn’t go that far.

For Rachel and MSNBC, the game was up with regard to the Steele Dossier back in December of 2019, when Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz published his report on the four warrant applications submitted asking for secret FISA wiretap authority on aforementioned Trump aide Carter Page. The report focused a lot on the Dossier, information from which had been used in the applications. Among other things, Horowitz revealed that the infamous “pee tape” story had been a “word of mouth or hearsay” tale that had arisen in a conversation “with friends over beers,” made in “jest.” The report also left no doubt that the FISA court had been intentionally misled as to the reliability of Steele’s information.

It would take too much time to list all the Maddow segments blown up by the Horowitz revelations, but a shortlist would include this one in which Rachel described the memo by Republican congressman Devin Nunes correctly detailing the FISA abuse as an “own goal”; one where she cackled about the same correct memo, “That’s it? That’s what all the hype was about?”; this one in which she laughed at those who felt the “dodgy dossier” was “unverified and uncorroborated,” saying that was “less and less true all the time”; one in which she had congressman Jim Himes on to describe the Nunes memo as a “transparent political hit job”; this segment, entitled “More pieces of the Trump Russia dossier check out,” in which she theatrically waved the Steele reports in front of the camera and implored viewers to remember, “The point of this is, THEY COLLUDED!”; and many, many more.

The latter segment was particularly appalling because Rachel quoted the dossier at length, as she repeated Steele’s claim that a certain Russian diplomat had been recalled to Russia because of “potential exposure in US presidential election operation/s.” In other words, she called a person a super-spy on national TV, showing his name and face, based on what we now know to be a slapstick collection of fabricated/unverifiable bull. If you’ve got no concern for your own reputation, you should at least be nervous about destroying the reputations of others, but nah:

Rachel was all in on Steele, all in on kompromat, all in on pee, and didn’t hesitate, as Aaron Mate noted after the Horowitz report, to suggest the president of the United States might withdraw troops from an area near Russia because he was being blackmailed:

Since 2019, it’s only gotten worse. Remembering of course that indictments are not proof, the previous Durham case filed against former Clinton attorney Michael Sussmann put even more dents in the infamous “mysterious server” story alleging secret communication between Trump and Russia’s Alfa Bank. That narrative could have been dead as far back as the Mueller report, which detailed how Alfa co-chief Petr Aven struggled to make contact with the new Trump administration, or when Mueller testified in July of 2019 about the alleged server contacts, “It’s my belief at this point, it’s not true.” It should have been killed off without a doubt when Horowitz announced definitively that the FBI had investigated the matter and determined, as far back as February 2017, that “there were no such links” between Trump and Alfa Bank.

The indictment of Sussmann shot that tale through with even more holes, detailing at length the genesis of the Alfa story. At minimum, Durham appeared to show it originated with the Clinton campaign, with Hillary Clinton herself tweeting, as if she had nothing to do with it, that “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.” That same announcement showed current National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan lying outright, saying the story had been “discovered by journalists,” when it had been generated by Sussman’s researchers.

Any reporter with designs on retaining credibility at this point would at least leave off covering the story more. Not Rachel. She already looked bad enough thanks to her past comments congratulating Franklin Foer and Dexter Filkins, the reporters who “broke” the Alfa story by non-examining the box of claims their sources feared wouldn’t “fly public scrutiny,” saying to them, “We are blessed as a country to have journalists as talented as you.”

If I’d been conned into saying something that embarrassing on air, I’d want to go on a tri-state rampage, but Rachel is still selling the Alfa tale on MSNBC. Just six days ago, in fact, Maddow doubled and tripled down on this insane garbage, in a segment entitled, “In new letter, tech expert’s lawyer insists Alfa-Bank, Trump server data is no hoax.” Now, after the Danchenko filing, she’s got the network standing behind a document that doesn’t just feature errors like mention of a nonexistent Miami consulate, or a trip by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to Prague that never happened, but contains known, provable fabrications.

Audiences forgive reporters who make errors and own up to them, but MSNBC and Maddow long ago leaped over the “honest mistake” threshold. Being skeptical of Durham is one thing, but there’s no innocent explanation left for continuing to sell the Steele dossier. This behavior was deranged enough when it was profitable. What possible excuse is left for it now?