Monday, June 12, 2017

Updates To Stories

There are many recent updates to my last few articles, but the biggest one is to a December 1, 2015 story I published called "New York Times journalist Michael Schmidt wrongly reports on Hillary Clinton emails again."

Although the original article should be read to learn more about Schmidt's misreporting, this is the entire new update I added over the last few days due to recent news events and more research I completed. If you appreciate my hard work, please contribute to my PayPal account, since I keep working hard on this story - for years - but have never earned a dime for it.

(Updates added from June 8 to June 12, 2017, in light of recent news events.)

6/8/17 Update: Why is the following significant? Essentially, the adviser to former FBI Director James Comey - who once worked with him in US Attorney's office - has been a source for New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt for at least nine years. Schmidt reported many things incorrectly about Hillary Clinton during her unsuccessful 2016 presidency campaign, but he also got a lot of great scoops. Some Clinton supporters believe Comey may have violated the Hatch Act just before the election, and - one of the reasons - he was fired by President Trump as FBI director was due to wrongful testimony regarding her longtime aide, Huma Abedin.

On November 2, 2016, a NYT article - Schmidt co-wrote - reported, "Daniel C. Richman, an adviser to Mr. Comey and a Columbia University law professor, argued that despite the backlash, Mr. Comey’s decision to inform Congress preserved the F.B.I.’s independence, which will ultimately benefit the next president."

Defending Comey, Richman told the paper: "Those arguing that the director should have remained silent until the new emails could be reviewed — even if that process lasted, or was delayed, until after the election — give too little thought to the governing that needs to happen after November. If the F.B.I. director doesn’t have the credibility to keep Congress from interfering in the bureau’s work and to assure Congress that a matter has been or is being looked into, the new administration will pay a high price."

Schmidt and Richman appeared as guests during alternate halves of a PBS NewsHour broadcast last Halloween, three days after Comey sent his October 28 letter - to eight Republican chairmen of Congressional committees, seven Democratic ranking members and vice chairman of the Select Committee of Intelligence Sen. Dianne Feinstein - in order to "supplement [his] previous testimony" that the FBI had "completed its investigation of former Secretary Clinton's personal email server." The letter was very brief, but reverberated at the end: "I believe it is important to update your Committees about our efforts in light of my previous testimony."

"In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation,” Comey wrote. "I am writing to inform you that the investigative team briefed me on this yesterday, and I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review those emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation."

On May 3, 2017, editor-in-chief Nate Silver claimed at FiveThirtyEight - which is now owned by ESPN, but had a "partnership agreement" and was published at the NY Times from 2010 to 2012 - that this letter "upended the news cycle and soon halved Clinton’s lead in the polls, imperiling her position in the Electoral College." Silver also noted, "The article that led The New York Times’s website the morning after the election did not mention Comey or 'FBI' even once — a bizarre development considering the dramatic headlines that the Times had given to the letter while the campaign was underway."

On the October 31st NewsHour show, New York Times reporter Schmidt - who was criticized a few times by the Clinton campaign for misreporting that had to be corrected - brought up the "classified" word first, and didn't note that there weren't any emails that were marked classified before they were sent by the Democratic presidential candidate and her former State Department staffers to private accounts. "That’s the real question here, whether any of the e-mails they’re in possession of are ones they had before that they know are classified or they know they looked at or if these are entirely a new batch," Schmidt said.

Schmidt defended the letter and wrongly predicted: "I sort of find it hard to believe that the FBI would go with such an aggressive step of telling Congress without really having some idea of what is truly here. If these end up to be just a bunch of duplicates, then this will have been a big hubbub over nothing." Politico's Josh Gerstein countered that "Comey might have violated Justice Department policy," and said, "We know from our other reporting that Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates strongly advised Comey against sending the letter, but he felt he needed to, so he did it anyway."

Without realizing that her next guest had been a Schmidt source for many articles, host Judy Woodruff asked him, "Is it your understanding from your reporting that FBI officials already know what’s here or are they truly looking for something unknown?" The New York Times journalist responded, "If you look at Director Comey’s letter to Congress, he basically says, we haven’t had a chance to look at these I wonder what the FBI really knows here. And did that lead them to push as far as they did?"

When asked if "Comey acted because of pressure of some sort from FBI agents who felt that he wasn’t being tough enough on Hillary Clinton", Schmidt said, "I find that hard to believe."

"I think that the line FBI agents who really knew what was going on with the e-mail investigation understood why Director Comey came out and said that the bureau wasn’t recommending charges," Schmidt said, before adding, "I think they realized that there wasn’t criminal intent there," and "So the idea that Director Comey would do this facing some insurrection by FBI agents, I think, is probably not true."

In the following half of the NewsHour broadcast, Woodruff welcomed Richman, introducing him as a "professor at Columbia Law School...a former federal prosecutor, himself, and current policy adviser to Director Comey." Richman sounded much like Schmidt, when he said that Comey was "protecting the credibility of the organization and of his own credibility with Congress," and had been "confronted with very little notice with a trove of e-mails that appeared to be pertinent."

Woodruff's other guest, Arent Fox attorney and partner Peter Zeidenberg - who "spent 17 years at the Justice Department as a federal prosecutor" and "also joined 100 others in an open letter critical of Comey’s actions" - said he thought the then FBI director was "premature to notify Congress before he had had a chance to actually examine these e-mails," that "it was a mistake," adding, "And, frankly, I think it was irresponsible to do it and drop this bomb."

"And, as Josh Gerstein mentioned, it’s very possible, if not likely, that all these e-mails have been looked at already," Zeidenberg told Woodruff. "They could all be duplicates."

Woodruff asked Comey's spokesman if there was "inconsistency", since, that day "the Clinton campaign and others pointed out that there is now new reporting that Director Comey didn’t want it to be known that the administration had confirmed that the Russians were behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, arguing that it was too close to the election, that this would influence the election."

Five months before Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway would catch heat over "alternative facts", Richman said, "There is only inconsistency, in the sense that there are really different facts."

Richman added: "And I certainly don’t know all the facts with regard to the internal deliberations with regard to the Russian hacking. But, yes, it certainly is the norm that the department doesn’t confirm or deny investigations and doesn’t confirm or deny the focus on any particular party."

"James Comey told a Senate committee on Thursday he was behind the leak of a memo he wrote that said President Donald Trump asked him to stem the FBI’s investigation to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn," Max Kutner reports for Newsweek. "The account appeared in The New York Times in May, days after the president fired Comey as FBI director."

Kutner adds: "Comey did not name the friend, but Columbia Law School professor Daniel Richman reportedly confirmed he is that person to the Financial Times and CNN. In an email to Newsweek, he declined to comment."

"Richman’s faculty webpage says he is 'currently an adviser to FBI Director James B. Comey.' The New York Times previously quoted Richman in multiple articles about the former FBI director, around the same time the newspaper published the Flynn article. A New Yorker article in May quoted him and described him as Comey’s 'unofficial media surrogate.'"
"The professor is a former federal prosecutor and served as chief appellate attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, where Comey also worked," Kutner notes. NBC News adds: "Richman and Comey’s ties run deep, and the pair has been friends for 30 years, the law professor told NBC News last fall."

Schmidt's byline appears on multiple Comey stories that quote Richman, including "F.B.I.’s Email Disclosure Broke a Pattern Followed Even This Summer" (1/11/16), "Comey Tried to Shield the F.B.I. From Politics. Then He Shaped an Election." (4/22/17), and "‘Enough Was Enough’: How Festering Anger at Comey Ended in His Firing" (5/10/17).

Schmidt has cited Richman as a source - on the record - for his New York Times articles going back at least nine years to 2008, when he reported many stories related to drugs and baseball.

Some examples include: "Canseco Is Said to Seek Favor to Omit Name" (1/24/08), "Motion Would Take Aim At Clemens's Top Lawyer" (2/26/08), "Balco Prosecutors Target Trainer’s Wife" (2/20/08), and "Contradictions in Kirk Radomski’s Book Could Benefit Clemens" (1/25/09).

Schmidt has apparently ducked questions from multiple media organizations regarding his outed relationship with Richman, but he probably isn't the only journalist at the Times and other outlets that has used the former FBI director's friend, colleague, advisor and spokesman as an unnamed source for articles that have been published regarding Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Clinton and Abedin controversies surrounding the use of a private email server, and the presidential race itself.

However, Schmidt got a lot of things wrong in his reporting for the New York Times and in other media appearances, such as the PBS broadcast, but doesn't seem to care or ever apologize for his role in creating - arguably - "fake news". Despite being part of the story, on June 8th, Schmidt conducted a Facebook Live discussion video for the New York Times called "Key Takeaways From Comey's Testimony." One reader asked if Comey would face any "legal repercussions" for "leaks" from himself and "friends" to the media. Schmidt never mentions his source by name.

"Comey explained today how he had instructed one of his friends to put out to the media the contents of one of these memos," Schmidt said, then placed both hands against his chest to add, "I was the recipient of that memo." On May 16, Schmidt had reported, "The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey's associates read parts of it to a Times reporter." Schmidt said he didn't think Comey would face any "legal jeopardy" because the "contents of the memo were not classified."

Schmidt claimed "Comey went to great lengths to make sure that the memos were not classified I believe, in part, because if he ever needed to get them out there, that made it much easier." He added, "If they were classified it would have been very difficult to declassify them and get information from them out."

As noted above, the original article can be found at this link.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Trump FBI Director Nominee Christopher Wray Defended Library Record Probes

During an October 21, 2003 Congressional hearing concerning US Terrorism prevention efforts, President Trump's FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray defended the controversial Patriot Act section related to library record borrowings.

According to a 2003 Congressional Quarterly Press article referring to the (perhaps now revised) Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Kenneth Jost wrote, "The section has been dubbed the 'angry librarian' provision because it could be used to obtain records of a person's library borrowings," and that "Justice Department officials appearing as witnesses at the hearing also rejected criticisms of the law."

"The various misperceptions that have been perpetuated about the Patriot Act are disturbing and simply wrong," Jost noted Christopher Wray, who was then the "assistant attorney general for the criminal division", said at the hearing.

Declaring, "We should not allow libraries or any other businesses to become safe havens for terrorist planning, financing, or communication," Wray told Congress in his opening statement that day:
"As you know, several groups including the ACLU, have claimed that Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the government to investigate the library habits of ordinary citizens. This misinformation has apparently led a number of librarians to warn patrons needlessly of possible government monitoring. This overreaction has only led to further public confusion and misunderstanding about the scope of the Patriot Act.

The suggestion that federal agents are snooping on innocent citizens' reading habits is inflammatory and simply untrue. First, the Patriot Act explicitly protects Americans' First Amendment rights by providing that an investigation may not be conducted 'of a United States person solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.' Second, terrorism investigators have no interest in the reading habits of ordinary Americans. As the Attorney General pointed out recently, as of September 18, 2003, this provision had never been used. The House Judiciary Committee also concluded in its October 17, 2002, press release that its 'review of classified information related to FISA orders for tangible records, such as library records, has not given rise to any concern that the [government's] authority is being misused or abused.'

But historically, terrorists and spies have used libraries to plan and carry out activities that threaten our national security. For example, Brian Patrick Regan, who was convicted last February of offering to sell U.S. intelligence information to Iraq and China, used a computer at a local public library to look up addresses for Iraqi and Libyan embassies overseas. Similarly, in a recent domestic terrorism criminal case, a grand jury served a subpoena on a bookseller to obtain records showing that a suspect had bought a book giving instructions on how to build a particularly unusual detonator that had been used in several bombings. This was important evidence identifying the suspect as the bomber. We should not allow libraries or any other businesses to become safe havens for terrorist planning, financing, or communication.

The Patriot Act ensures that business records can be obtained in a national security investigation with the approval of a federal judge. Under the Patriot Act, the government can now ask a federal court to order production of the same type of records available through grand jury subpoenas, but only after the government shows that the records are sought for an authorized foreign intelligence investigation or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities. Moreover, Congress also exercises careful and ongoing oversight: Every six months, the Attorney General must 'fully inform' Congress of how Section 215 has been used."
Jost's article added: "Echoing Attorney General Ashcroft's speeches in defense of the law, Wray pointed out that the law required judicial approval for records searches and delayed notification search warrants. He also noted that no library borrowing records have been sought under the law, but said that such information could be useful in some cases in identifying and thwarting suspected terrorists."

"For example, you could easily have -- and this is a hypothetical based on the kinds of things that come up on a day-to-day basis at the FBI and the Justice Department, CIA and other places -- you could have a foreign intelligence service that has a raid in a safe house overseas somewhere, and in the course of that raid, comes up with records that -- for example, there might be rental-car records or job applications, tenancy documents of some sort," Wray said at the hearing (which can be viewed on the CSPAN clip below). "There might even be a library book, for example, from the DC library."

CSPAN video from the same hearing shows former Democratic Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold noting, "Secondly, I do acknowledge that the administration has indicated that they have not used the Section 215 library provisions, provisions that they describe as essential to the fight against terrorism."

But Feingold wondered: "Now, which is it? That they never used them or that they are essential? And what is the objection then to reasonable modifications if they haven't even been used?"

Reporting for ProPublica in 2013, Justin Elliott wrote, "Civil liberties groups and librarians’ associations, which have long been fiercely protective of reader privacy, quickly raised fears of the FBI using that authority to snoop on circulation records."

Elliott added, "Even before the Patriot Act passed, the American Library Association warned members of Congress that the business records provision under consideration would 'eviscerate long-standing state laws and place the confidentiality of all library users at risk.'"

"So has the government ever used Section 215 to get library records?" Elliott asked, before answering his own question: "We don’t know."

Elliott's 2013 story continued: "Testifying before Congress in March 2011, a Justice Department official said Section 215 'has never been used against a library to obtain circulation records.' But as with so much else about the Patriot Act, how often or even whether the government has obtained library records is secret. Section 215 imposes a gag order on people or businesses who are compelled to produce records."

"The FBI has also used a separate Patriot Act provision, issuing what is known as a national security letter, to seek library patron records," Elliott reported in 2013. "One such episode prompted a successful court challenge by Connecticut librarians in 2005-06."

In his April 7, 2003 New York Times article, - "Some Librarians Use Shredder to Show Opposition to New F.B.I. Powers" - Dean E. Murphy wrote, "In a survey sent to 1,500 libraries last fall by the Library Research Center at the University of Illinois, the staffs at 219 libraries said they had cooperated with law enforcement requests for information about patrons; staffs at 225 libraries said they had not."

On June 7, 2017, after Trump tweeted about picking Wray, Reason's Scott Shackford blogged: "On the negative side of the ledger, Wray has been a major defender of the Patriot Act and the expansion of surveillance authority that it granted the federal intelligence community. In Senate Judiciary Committee testimony in 2003, he praised the act as a tool for fighting terrorism and pushed back against 'myths' that the law would be used to authorize surveillance against U.S. citizens. It's interesting to read that old defense in light of what we know now. Remember when one of the bigger worries was that the feds would use the Patriot Act to track what library books we were checking out?."