(…) “Given the squads of lawyers and the platoon of FBI agents at Mueller’s command, the footnotes show a surprising reliance on media accounts as evidence of consequential claims – an echo of the FBI’s FISA warrant, which used a Yahoo News article to substantiate allegations in the Steele dossier. In discussing whether Trump had ordered his White House counsel to fire Mueller, the report cites the same Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman article in the New York Times not just once or twice, but in four footnotes in a row.
To establish the crucial claim that “On July 22, 2016, the day before the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks posted thousands of hacked DNC documents revealing sensitive internal deliberations,” the special counsel turns not to the investigative prowess of the FBI, but relies instead on a Washington Post story by Tom Hamburger and Karen Tumulty. “WikiLeaks releases thousands of documents about Clinton and internal deliberations,” which is the citation found in footnote 20, Volume II.
The special counsel wrote that “On December 10, 2016, the press reported that U.S. intelligence agencies had ‘concluded that Russia interfered in last month’s presidential election to boost Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.’” To establish this, Mueller’s team cites a Guardian article by Damien Gayle. The Guardian, in turn, attributes its claims to the New York Times and the Washington Post. They, in turn, cite anonymous sources. Why does the special counsel resort to hearsay thrice removed to make any claim when he had every investigative tool at his disposal?
Sometimes the references are such shoddy clip jobs that the media accounts cited undercut the very point they are meant to buttress. Take footnote 16 of the report’s second volume. The body text being footnoted reads, “The press also reported that foreign policy advisor Carter Page had ties to a Russian state-run gas company.” The first citation is to a Bloomberg article making that claim. But then the footnote goes on to cite a September 2016 Politico article by Julia Ioffe, headlined “Who Is Carter Page?” Ioffe wrote that in doing her reporting she “quickly discovered” that Page “was known by neither Russia experts, nor energy experts, nor Russian energy experts.” In other words, the thrust of Ioffe’s article was the exact opposite of the point it was being used to validate. And the footnote misspelled Ioffe’s name.
The Mueller team does cite many primary sources – especially FBI interviews – but in some cases those sources merely offer opinions instead of evidence. One example is the report’s section dealing with Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was fired after misleading the administrations about a conversation with the Russian ambassador. A footnote informs us that Flynn “told White House officials that the FBI had told him that the FBI was closing out its investigation of him,” but that John Eisenberg, a deputy White counsel, “did not believe him.”
Let’s pause for a second and consider what the footnote appears to tell us, but doesn’t: Eisenberg’s incredulity aside, did the FBI tell Flynn it was closing out its investigation of him or didn’t it? By citing Eisenberg’s disbelief, the special counsel suggests that Flynn was lying to his fellow White House officials. But what Eisenberg believed settles nothing – he was in no position to know what the FBI had or had not told Flynn.
What about the two FBI agents (one of them the ubiquitous Peter Strzok) who interviewed Flynn? The special counsel could have questioned them separately, asking each under oath whether they had told, suggested, hinted, or in any other way made Flynn to believe he was off the hook. In this case, the sources Mueller chooses not to question are more telling than the ones he does cite.” (Read more: RealClearInvestigations, 7/23/2019)