It’s not the first time a major media outlet has reported on documents without seeing them, but this one might have created the biggest potential for backfire. Buzzfeed’s huge scoop alleging that evidence existed of Donald Trump ordering Michael Cohen to commit perjury left “room for skepticism,” as I noted earlier. Surprisingly, CNN picked up that thread to drill Buzzfeed reporter Anthony Cormier on his sourcing — and on the credibility of his colleague Jason Leopold, who got another special-counsel scoop spectacularly wrong in 2006.
Cormier insisted that “I am rock solid” on this report, even though he hadn’t seen the source materials himself, Colby Hall notes for Mediaite:
“I am rock solid. My sourcing on this goes beyond the two that are on the record. This 100% happened,” @a_cormier_ says about his BuzzFeed report that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about proposed Moscow project. https://t.co/sF3XuqPfkq pic.twitter.com/BMCzhs904a
— New Day (@NewDay) January 18, 2019
Cormier appeared on CNN’s New Day and revealed that he had not seen the evidence underlying his report.
Host Alisyn Camerota opened the interview by asking Cormier if he had seen the evidence to which Cormier replied: “Not personally.” He then clarified that “the folks we have talked to — two officials we have spoken to are fully, 100 percent read into that aspect of the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
The two sources on which Cormier relied were part of the investigation into Trump’s real-estate projects in Russia prior to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel, he tells Camerota. His reporting is based on “302 reports,” the post-interrogation format used by FBI agents, and “a number of different documents.” If that’s the case, though, the sources would have been out of the loop for almost two years — unless they’re currently working for Mueller. Cormier claims that they’re “fully read into” the case, but he’s at best non-specific about it.
That presents more than one credibility issue. Why would these sources leak this out now, after sitting on it for almost two years? And why would they leak it out while Mueller’s team is still conducting its investigation? Are they worried that Mueller didn’t come to the same conclusions after seeing the filings in the Cohen case? Don’t forget that Cormier is relying strictly on the interpretation of these documents by his sources, not having seen the documents for himself. And those sources may have axes to grind that anonymity keeps veiled.
Camerota adds another reason to be skeptical — Leopold’s track record on special-counsel “scoops”:
Camerota asked Cormier of the “dubious past” of his co-author Jason Leopold who came under scrutiny for faulting reporting for Salon 2002 that led to an article getting removed. In 2006 he incorrectly reported that Karl Rove had been indicted.
“He was in trouble for perhaps claiming to have sources he really didn’t have. His stories didn’t wash. Executive directors and editors have had to apologize after some of his big blockbuster stories,” Camerota noted, before asking” How can you be certain today?”
Cormier fiercely defended his “rock solid” sourcing on this story.
“My sourcing on this goes beyond the two on the record,” Cormier told Camerota, adding “It’s 100 percent. I am the individual who confirmed and verified that it I am telling you our sourcing goes beyond the two I was able to put on the record. We were able to gather information from individuals who know this happened. ”
Well, maybe, but without actually seeing the documents? That puts several degrees of weakness into the reliability of this report. That’s not to say it’s wrong, but it doesn’t add much confidence that Buzzfeed got this right, either. Leopold’s not the only credibility question here either, as Buzzfeed has a track record of publishing first without much concern over whether its material is truthful even when they have seen it. They may have prevailed in the defamation suit over the notorious Christopher Steele dossier, but it wasn’t on the basis that the source material was credible or reliable.
Regardless, the House Intelligence Committee will still pick this up and run with it, and now the House Judiciary Committee will also take a look at it. If Cormier’s correct and he got this “rock solid,” then Trump is in deep, deep trouble … but perhaps we should wait to see what the 302s and “different documents” actually say before reaching a conclusion on subornation of perjury and obstruction. Kudos to Camerota for her own skepticism on this report and its sourcing.