NYT Still Stands by Collusion Story After CNN Embarrassment

Article alleging Trump campaign contacts with Russia under new scrutiny after other corrections, misfires

by Jim Stinson | Updated 21 Nov 2017 at 9:48 AM

Despite receiving a very public thrashing from former FBI director James Comey, The New York Times has declined to retract a February story alleging ties between Russian intelligence and the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

The February 14 story, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence,” alleged behavior and even an investigation that Comey said under oath on June 8 was not true.

Comey had gone even further, saying he asked FBI agents to double-check what the FBI was tracking after he read the February 14 story. They came back and told Comey: nothing.

Comey was fired three months later. Yet his clear-cut denial didn't move The Times to retract or correct its story. A month later, The Times has still not retracted or corrected its story.

A spokesperson for The Times told LifeZette on Sunday that the paper stands by the story.

"The New York Times has published an examination of Mr. Comey's statements (on June 8), which reviews our previous coverage, and found no evidence that any prior reporting was inaccurate," the spokesperson said. "Neither the F.B.I., nor Mr. Comey would comment or elaborate on what Mr. Comey believes to be incorrect. Should they provide more information, we would review that as well."

The February 14 story rocked Washington when, after the firing of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the Times alleged the FBI was investigating the contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian intelligence.

"Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials," read The Times' lead.

"The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community."

But the kicker was the seventh paragraph, which indicated an FBI investigation of the Trump campaign: "The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the F.B.I. is sifting through as it investigates the links between Mr. Trump's associates and the Russian government, as well as the hacking of the DNC."

Comey made clear his feelings on the story.

"In the main, it was not true," Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee under oath. "The challenge, and I'm not picking on reporters about writing stories about classified information, is the people talking about it often don't really know what's going on, and those of us who actually know what's going on are not talking about it," said Comey. "And we don't call the press and say, 'Hey, you got that thing wrong.'"

Times reporters Michael S. Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti, and Matt Apuzzo wrote the story. Adam Goldman, the Times' FBI reporter, and Matthew Rosenberg contributed.

The question of how much of the Times story should be corrected or even clarified returned to the forefront on Friday, when the Times corrected a different story that repeated the oft-stated fallacy that all 17 of the federal intelligence agencies agreed that the Russian government tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election through hacking.

The Times was forced to correct its June 25 story, by White House reporter Maggie Haberman, "Trump's Deflections and Denials on Russia Frustrate Even His Allies." In it, The Times claimed that all 17 of the federal intelligence agencies had signed off on election-related intelligence. The talking point has often been used by the Democrats, even before Election Day. No one bothered to correct it until Friday, when The Times had to admit only four agencies signed off.

"The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community," the correction read.

The Associated Press soon followed with its own correction admitting it was hoodwinked by the "17 intel agencies" talking point of the Democrats. "In stories published April 6, June 2, June 26 and June 29, The Associated Press reported that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have agreed that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit Donald Trump," the AP wrote in its correction. "That assessment was based on information collected by three agencies — the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency — and published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which represents all U.S. intelligence agencies. Not all 17 intelligence agencies were involved in reaching the assessment."

Critics of the Times and mainstream media pounced. But a much bigger wart remains on The Times, according to the White House. The February 14 story is the basis for many of the so-called collusion stories in the mainstream media that suggest Trump campaign operatives worked with Russian hackers. (The Times admitted, it should be noted, no such evidence yet exists.)

The Times responded to Comey's testimony not with a retraction or correction, but with a new story — almost as if the institution itself were not affected by what Comey said.

"Comey Disputes New York Times Article About Russia Investigation" ran immediately after the testimony. Schmidt, Mazzetti and Apuzzo wrote the story. In that June 8 story, the Times stretched mightily to draw damning links between Russian officials and Trump associates.

The Times article of February 14 appears to have influenced CNN's retracted (and deleted) story from June 22. That story, edited by former Times staffer Eric Lichtblau, alleged ties between a Russian investment fund and Trump associate Anthony Scaramucci, now an Export-Import Bank official.

The embarrassing retraction led to the firing of Lichtblau and two other top CNN journalists, causing major crowing from Trump officials.

At least one of The Times' reporters on the February 14 story, Goldman, did not like the February 14 Times story being linked to CNN's folly at a White House press briefing. On Tuesday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House chief deputy press secretary, took a question from LifeZette about whether The Times and other major mainstream outlets should now review their anonymously sourced Trump-Russia stories.

Goldman, the Times' FBI reporter, did not take kindly to the line of questioning.

"Asking brave questions at the White House," Goldman tweeted, mocking LifeZette. Goldman did not respond to tweets asking why people should believe The Times' February 14 story about Comey.

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