Just a week ago, NBC News promoted what it claimed was a blockbuster report virtually guaranteed to seal the fate of the Trump administration. The headline read Manafort Notes From Russian Meet Contain Cryptic Reference to ‘Donations’.
Paul Manafort’s notes from a controversial Trump Tower meeting with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign included the word “donations,” near a reference to the Republican National Committee, two sources briefed on the evidence told NBC News.
The references, which were not previously disclosed, elevated the significance of the June 2016 meeting for congressional investigators, who are focused on determining whether it included any discussion of donations from Russian sources to either the Trump campaign or the Republican Party.
It is illegal for foreigners to donate to American elections. The meeting happened just as Trump had secured the Republican nomination for president, and he was considered a longshot to win. Manafort was the campaign chairman at the time.
The hint that they were hoping everyone would pick up on was that the Trump campaign was exchanging promises to do Russia’s bidding for campaign contributions. This was like catnip-mixed-with-crystal-meth for the whole anti-Trump crew, left and right. You don’t have to look hard to find the gleeful headlines for yourself.
By that evening, the story contained this correction:
CORRECTION (Aug. 31, 6:30 p.m.): An earlier version of this article used an incorrect quotation in describing Paul Manafort’s notes. According to a spokesman for Sen. Charles E. Grassley, whose committee staff has reviewed them, the notes did not include the word “donation.” A source who provided the information said the notes used a word that referenced political contributions, and another source said the notes used the word “donor.”
But, even with the correction, the story is based on two anonymous sources neither of which had actually seen the notes and now are disagreeing on what was in the notes they haven’t seen. The reporting was so shoddy that even the Washington Post wasn’t buying it…and when the WaPo says an anti-Trump story stinks that means is smells like a corpse’s butt crack.
The lead of the current version reads like this: “Paul Manafort’s notes from a controversial Trump Tower meeting with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign included a mention of political contributions near a reference to the Republican National Committee, two sources briefed on the evidence told NBC News.”
So what? What if the notes were abridging a comment from the meeting in which someone said, “It’s illegal for foreign nationals to make contributions to the RNC or DNC.”? Both before the correction and after the correction, in other words, this story provides only fodder for innuendo and conspiracy, not for sound conclusions about what happened. According to a statement issued by Donald Trump Jr. when this whole story first broke, the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had mentioned information about Russia-connected figures funding the Democratic National Committee.
Now Politico drives a stake through the heart of this shameless fabulism: Notes from meeting with Russians said not to be damaging to Trump family.
Notes from former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on a meeting he attended last year with a Russian lobbyist and Donald Trump Jr. are not seen as damaging to the Trump family or campaign officials, according to government officials and others who have looked at the notes.
According to these people, the notes have been with Senate officials for weeks and have been reviewed by a number of people on Capitol Hill. Also in attendance at the June 2016 meeting in New York were a Russian lawyer, a Russian businessman and other Trump campaign officials, including Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
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Officials who have reviewed the notes say they are not likely to be independently vital to any case, if at all, because they are difficult to follow, particularly one year later. To be sure, the notes are not an exhaustive account of the meeting, and other things could have been discussed that are not included in the notes.
The notes from Manafort, these people said, are about financier Bill Browder, a key player in the Magnitsky Act, which sanctioned Russian officials for human rights abuses. In retaliation for those sanctions, Russia banned U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children.
If you recall, the Magnitsky Act is exactly what the participants said the meeting was about and that elicited anti-Trumpian howls of delight about a meeting about “orphans.”
What is apparent from the Politico story is that the people NBC relied upon to source the story were so far out of the loop that they weren’t even allowed to see the meeting notes that a lot of people had seen.
Will there be repercussions? Of course not. NBC might as well be Media Matters in its editorial focus. At least CNN had the decency to discipline the people behind a libelous story they ran on Scaramucci.