Attorney General Bill Barr continues to insinuate the press may have played a more-than-inconsequential role in the dissemination of the rumor and innuendo that would ultimately feed the Russia collusion investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign.
The Washington Times recently listed a number of examples of stories that appeared in 2017 following a speech then-candidate Trump had given at DC’s legendary Mayflower Hotel in April 2016 in which Trump, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions were all together in the same room.
The flurry of stories, Barr suggests, may have helped push the now-debunked narrative that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia.
The foreign policy speech was, according to the Times, sponsored by “The National Interest, a publication of the Center for the National Interest, and its director, Dimitri Simes. The center works to build better relations between Washington and Moscow.”
The stories that followed a year later in the Spring of 2017 include:
⦁ NBC News: “Five current and former U.S. officials said they are aware of classified intelligence suggesting there was some sort of private encounter between Trump and his aides and the Russian envoy, despite a heated denial from Sessions, who has already come under fire for failing to disclose two separate contacts with Kislyak.”
⦁ The Independent, a British news website: “The meeting between the two men took place while Mr. Trump was at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington April 27, 2016. The reports directly contradict the president’s repeated denials about contact with Russian officials prior to his election.”
⦁ Bloomberg News: “President Trump met last April with the Russian ambassador at the center of a pair of controversies.”
⦁ Newsweek: “Sessions’s lies about his Russia Contacts: Chapter and Verse … Lying to Congress is a felony and special counsel Robert Mueller may have jurisdiction here since these statements materially relate to the investigation of Trump campaign relations with Russia.”
⦁ CNN: “Investigators on the Hill are requesting additional information, including schedules from Sessions, a source with knowledge tells CNN. They are focusing on whether such a meeting took place April 27, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, where then-candidate Donald Trump was delivering his first major foreign policy address.”
“Current and former U.S. officials said that that assertion is at odds with Kislyak’s accounts of conversations in two encounters during the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech [at the Mayflower] and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention,” The Post said.
⦁ The New York Times: “The origin of the Mayflower story can be traced, according to several American officials, to raw intelligence picked up by American spy agencies last year that is now held at C.I.A. headquarters in Virginia. The intelligence appears to be based on intercepts of Mr. Kislyak discussing a private meeting he had with Mr. Sessions at a Trump campaign event last April at the luxury hotel.”
Barr told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo that the press, after the investigation fell apart following the release of the Mueller report. made no attempt to correct the record. “They’re just onto the next false scandal,” the AG said.
He also told Sen. Ted Cruz, on his “Verdict with Ted Cruz” podcast, that media was “merciless” in pushing the Russia collusion narrative.
“One of the stunning things, I’m sure you’ll agree, is that the media just went hellbent for leather on pushing this Russiagate story that Trump was essentially an agent of Russia,” Barr told the Senator. “And they were merciless. And up until recently you had former senior government officials sort of talking knowingly about how the president was going to be indicted and so forth and so on. Is there anyone standing up now saying that President Trump is an agent of a foreign power? Whoops. They got it wrong. And you wouldn’t know that ‘cause there has been no retraction, no readjustment by the media. … They’re just on to the next false scandal because their purpose seems to be to cripple this administration and drive it from office at any cost.”
The question now becomes: can members of the press be held accountable for pushing the story and neglecting to retract or correct any part of it when it began to fall apart?
The press is generally protected because they’re able to say they printed only what sources told them; what’s more, they are under no obligation to reveal those sources. So it would be tough to include members of the press in any indictments that may result from U.S. Attorney John Durham’s probe into the origins of the Russia collusion investigation.
But Barr’s continued insistence that the press played a role is at the very least encouraging in that it’s an attempt to hold media accountable at least to public scrutiny.