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Ash writes: "BuzzFeed reporters Leopold and Cormier and Editor in Chief Ben Smith are right now in the same dock we were in with the Rove Indictment story, with a twist."

Michael Cohen walks out of federal court, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, in New York. (photo: Julie Jacobson/AP)
Michael Cohen walks out of federal court, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, in New York. (photo: Julie Jacobson/AP)

I Was Jason Leopold's Editor at Truthout When We Broke the Rove Indictment Story

By Marc Ash, Reader Supported News

20 January 19


n addition to being editor in chief of Reader Supported News, I also founded and built from the ground up the online publication Truthout.

While with Truthout in 2005 I reached out to journalist Jason Leopold. His work had impressed me and I encouraged him to begin writing for our publication.

What I liked about Jason was that he did “hard reporting” and came up with explosive details of big stories. Normally his information was good and based on fact. His reporting on Enron and Jeffrey Skilling was groundbreaking and became the template for much of the reporting on the scandal that would follow.

It was also clear from day one that Jason’s methods were asymmetrical. He had no fear of getting off the beaten path and was willing to talk to anyone who had inside knowledge of the story. Sometimes those people were nice people, sometimes not.

On the morning of May 14, 2006, I arrived at New York’s JFK Airport and set out in search of my luggage. As I pulled my bag off the carousel, I realized my phone was still powered-off from the flight. I flipped the switch to the on position. I might as well have pulled the pin from a hand grenade. My phone exploded with calls from media outlets all over the country wanting more information about a story we had published the day before regarding Karl Rove being indicted in connection with the Valerie Plame outing investigation, at that time being conducted by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

It’s probably not useful to re-litigate the story now; however, for the record: Jason had a source we described at the time as someone with direct knowledge of the case who was in a position to know the facts. I personally interviewed the source on multiple occasions at great length. We published a case number for the indictment, “06CR-128,” filed in the court record as Sealed vs. Sealed. I addressed all this in my June 13, 2006 posting on the matter.

I was convinced then that Jason had gotten the story right. His source either went WAY out of their way to stage an elaborate ruse or the detailed information that individual imparted to us regarding the matter was at least in large part true.

Again for the record: although we were roundly criticized at the time by our detractors for having gotten the story wrong, the contents of 06CR-128, Sealed vs. Sealed, have never been publicly revealed, and no one at the Department of Justice has ever denied our reporting.

Fast-forward to BuzzFeed’s recent bombshell report by Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier that Trump instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress on details of the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project. Jason Leopold is at the center of yet another media firestorm. That doesn’t mean his reporting is wrong; it likely isn’t. As mentioned, Jason does come up with very live sources. It’s his methods that get him in trouble.

In 2006, we should never have published our report of Rove’s indictment without a copy in hand. Period. No matter how credible the source was, we should have known that there would be a backlash and we would be pressed for corroboration. That was our mistake, not the core facts.

BuzzFeed reporters Leopold and Cormier and Editor in Chief Ben Smith are right now in the same dock we were in with the Rove Indictment story, with a twist. The normally mute special counsel’s office has chosen to publicly undermine the BuzzFeed report. That’s weird, but what’s even weirder is the cryptic construct of special counsel spokesman Peter Carr’s statement:

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.”

Even by lawyerly standards, that’s remarkably vague, conveniently fluid, and more importantly a non-denial denial. First impression: perhaps Mueller and Co. wanted to send a message that they control the investigation? Or perhaps an attempt to discourage BuzzFeed’s sources from talking to the press?

Leopold and Cormier might want to consider conveying a more descriptive understanding of the documents and evidence they reference in their report. Specifically, email messages and texts. If not sources and methods, perhaps more vivid characterizations of those materials.

The general take on the story by Justice Department analysts favored by MSNBC is, as former DoJ official Chuck Rosenberg put it, “The core of the BuzzFeed story is likely true.” That seems to be the consensus. As well it should be, given Trump’s autocratic modus operandi and more importantly Cohen’s testimony in federal court in New York, in which he directly implicated Trump as having directed him to undertake the illegal acts for which he was convicted and sentenced to prison. The court accepted Cohen’s testimony as fact, why shouldn’t we?

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Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, and is now founder and Editor of Reader Supported News.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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