How news media omissions distort Russia probe narrative ... and shield Democrats

Counterintelligence investigations are by their very nature complex, nuanced and methodically slow, all facts that today’s news media outlets seem to ignore as they chronicle the Russia collusion probe.

The past week provided fresh examples of how journalists endlessly seeking to portray the Russia probe in black-and-white terms can misinform the public through omission, cherry-picking or lack of context.

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On Wednesday, for example, CNN and others ran speculative reports suggesting Russians or Republicans could be involved in a mysterious grand jury subpoena fight involving special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE.

The inference was drawn because Alston & Bird was believed to one of the law firms involved in the closed-door litigation. To bolster their case, the media outlets noted the firm had represented Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (back in 2003) and some conservative clients since.

What the media omitted, however, was that the same firm also represented (in 2017-18) Orbis Business Intelligence and Christopher Steele, the British intelligence operative whose uncorroborated political opposition research document, paid for by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived' as way to perpetuate slavery Dem strategist says Donna Brazile is joining Fox News 'for the money' CNN to host town hall with Cory Booker in South Carolina MORE and the Democratic Party and known as “the dossier,” was essential to the origins of the Russia collusion probe.

If a reporter is going to cherry-pick old clients in a story about Mueller, Steele is just as big a name as any Russian. Yet, zero mention.

Here’s another one. The New York Times — which considers itself a bastion of journalism but whose work of late was questioned by its former editor — wrote a story this week on the federal obstruction-of-justice indictment of Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

The Times connected the indictment’s information about Veselnitskaya’s ties to the Kremlin and her role in a now infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with the president’s son, Donald Jr., and then-Trump presidential campaign manager Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortHill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides New York prosecutors throw out Constitution to charge Manafort Another prosecutor leaves Mueller investigation in latest sign probe may be winding down MORE.

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What the Times omitted, however, was that Veselnitskaya also was working at the same time with Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS, the opposition-research firm that hired Steele to produce his dossier on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

If Veselnitskaya’s ties to the Kremlin were important to mention for her Trump meeting, then why wouldn’t they be just as important to the guys who helped create the dossier that spurred the Russia probe?

Seems to me that selective editing and cherry-picking did not serve the reader well.

And there’s more paradigm-changing facts excluded from the Times story. Veselnitskaya managed to get into the U.S. because the Obama administration originally gave her a special parole visa.

Hmmm. The lawyer who sets up the Trump Tower meeting gets her original entry to the United States based on a special act by the Obama Justice Department. Seems relevant but, once again, absent from the story.

My third favorite omission of the week comes from the media’s coverage of the secret court filing made by Manafort’s lawyers. It turned out not to be so secret because its redactions were made public by a technical glitch.

Countless news organizations concentrated on the fact that Mueller believes Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with a man in his firm named Konstantin Kilimnik, whom prosecutors claim is tied to Russian intelligence.

But omitted from those stories was the fact that U.S. intelligence first learned of Kilimnik’s ties to Russia intelligence more than a decade ago and warned then-Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump steps up attacks on McCain Trump: 'I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be' Santorum: Trump should 'send emails to a therapist' instead of tweeting MORE (R-Ariz.) in 2005 as he prepared to run for president and was involved in a group that hired Kilimnik.

McCain dismissed the suspected Russian-tied man from the group. I know this because McCain told it to me personally in 2007 and his longtime adviser, John Weaver, re-confirmed it to me in 2017.

Here’s why that omission is relevant: If U.S. intelligence knew long ago of Kilimnik’s ties to Russia, and the George W. Bush intelligence apparatus warned a presidential contender in 2005, why didn’t the Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhatever happened to nuclear abolition? On The Money: Trump presses GM, union to start talks over closed plant | Trump renews call to cut arts, PBS funding | Alan Krueger, former Obama economic adviser, dies at 58 | Americans expected to bet .5B on March Madness Obama reminisces about visit to Ireland on St. Patrick's Day: 'It'll always be O'Bama' MORE intelligence community do the same in 2016 when Kilimnik’s colleague, Manafort, joined the Trump campaign as chairman?

Unfortunately, readers didn’t get to ask that question because they were kept in the dark.

Now, my critique of these stories should not be construed as criticism about their newsworthiness. All three developments were important news that should have been covered.

But in all three examples the media’s execution involved serious omissions that left important truths on the cutting-room floor.

And while we are on the subject of that cutting-room floor, we’ve had endless coverage of Trump and his connections to Russia.

Here are some facts that often get omitted in that coverage. There was a presidential candidate in 2016:

  • Whose husband traveled to Moscow and collected a $500,000 speaking fee from Vladimir Putin cronies while she was serving as secretary of State, negotiating with the Russians;
  • Who ran a Cabinet agency that authorized the sale of a large swath of strategic American uranium assets to Putin’s nuclear company at the very moment the FBI had proven the company was engaged in extortion, bribery, kickbacks and racketeering;
  • Whose prominent fundraiser subsequently came under investigation for possible illegal lobbying activities involving Manafort and Russia-backed Ukraine politicians; and
  • Whose family’s charitable empire accepted support from a lobbying and public relations firm working for a Russian nuclear giant needing State Department approval for a U.S. transaction.

Her name was Hillary Clinton.

That is relevant because Russia’s influence machine is far more sophisticated, bipartisan and far-reaching than the American media has portrayed it to be.

And those omissions provide a distorted portrait of the truth.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill’s executive vice president for video.