That clip rocketed around the news world this afternoon because of one word: “Candidate.” If Trump told Flynn to talk to Russia before the election, as a candidate, that’s a big deal. Not necessarily criminal but possibly criminal. It could be evidence of collusion between the campaign and the Kremlin to defeat Hillary. Or it could be evidence that Trump was working against Obama’s foreign policy as a private citizen, before he’d been elected to anything. The Logan Act has never been used to prosecute someone successfully but if you’re desperate to make a case for it, a major-party candidate going behind the president’s back to negotiate with enemy regimes during an election, without having won anything yet, is potentially fertile ground.
But if Trump told Flynn to talk to Russia after the election, well, that’s no big deal. He was the president-elect, he’d be sworn in within two months, he wanted to make sure the outgoing administration didn’t do anything to royally screw up relations with a foreign power before he had the chance to properly introduce himself to them. It’s awkward when you have a sitting president and a president-elect both trying to conduct foreign policy but it’s inevitable in a system where the winner of the election doesn’t immediately take power on election night. No one’s going to jail over it.
So the “when” is crucial. And yet ABC apparently botched the distinction when Brian Ross told their audience today that “candidate” Trump ordered Flynn to chat with Russia. That suggested contact with Moscow was made before Americans voted, which would be the strongest evidence yet that Trump himself was interested in collusion, a revelation that might potentially imperil his presidency. The stock market plunged on news of it.
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) December 2, 2017
So “candidate” Trump asked his top natsec guy to rethink U.S. foreign policy towards Russia, and president-elect Trump reached out to make it happen. This is ABC’s big scoop.
Why does Brian Ross still have a job? He’s infamous among right-wingers for going on the air after the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 and noting that the shooter, James Holmes, shared a name with a man from Aurora named Jim Holmes who was listed on a Colorado Tea Party Patriots membership page. “Now, we don’t know if this is the same Jim Holmes – but this is Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado,” Ross told “Good Morning, America.” It … wasn’t the same James Holmes. And if he didn’t have reason to believe that it was, he never should have mentioned it on air, as virtually every journalist in the United States reminded him afterward. That wasn’t the first time he’d blown a big scoop either:
One senior media executive gloated about Ross’s mistake, “This happens all the time. Every single time.”…
In 2001, Ross reported that Iraq and Saddam Hussein may have been responsible for anthrax attacks on the United States, citing four anonymous high-level sources who claimed there was bentonite in the anthrax. The White House later stated that “no tests ever found or even suggested the presence of bentonite” and that “the claim was concocted from the start.”
How can ABC go on letting him report major scoops when he has a pattern of being either flatly wrong or so careless with the information as to suggest that he doesn’t understand the nuances of the story, as was true of today’s “candidate” error?