Accuracy in Media

Special counsel Robert Mueller may have thrown cold water over the Trump-Russia collusion theory, but Politico reporter Natasha Bertrand is not ready to give up yet.

On Monday, she produced a story headlined, “When Trump won, Putin deployed his oligarchs” – subhead: “After an election marred by Moscow’s attempts to buoy Donald Trump’s candidacy, the Russian president wanted to cash in.”

The problem with the headline is it implies the Russians were working only to “help” Trump win election. They, in fact, created online content that boosted both candidates and helped provide the false information that made up the Fusion-GPS dossier – a document clearly not intended to help Trump.

The story unwittingly actually makes the Trump administration look good.

Bertrand opens by saying Russian president Vladimir Putin called a meeting a few weeks after Trump was elected to talk his country’s top businessmen about how to eliminate or reduce U.S. sanctions against Russia. Among the oligarchs resent was Petr Aven, co-founder of Alfa Bank, which the media accused falsely of having an active server in Trump Tower for direct communications with Trump and his then-New York-based team.

The Mueller report says Putin “explicitly encouraged his country’s wealthiest and most powerful businessmen to make contact” with Trump’s transition team and “explains the ‘flurry’ of contact the oligarchs made with Trump’s associates in the weeks following” the 2016 election.

“Even though Mueller did not establish any conspiracy between Trump’s team and Russia, the special counsel’s report shows how important it was to Putin to establish a backchannel line of communication to Trump’s transition team – and how receptive Trump’s associates were to the overtures.”

She reprints a section of the Mueller report that says Putin moved immediately to establish contacts for business people as well as government officials and includes the sentence: “They appeared not to have preexisting contacts and struggled to connect with senior officials around the president-elect.”

Bertrand summarized this as: “In other words, after Trump pulled off his surprise victory in an election marred by Russia’s attempts to sow discord and buoy Trump’s candidacy (again, no mention the Russians also sought to buoy Clinton’s candidacy and provided nearly all the false information included in the dossier), Putin wanted to cash in.”

She goes on to say two of the moguls succeeded in landing meetings with Trump officials. One passed it to an official who passed it to Rex Tillerson who passed it to Jared Kushner. Another, the head of Russia’s government-owned bank, met with Kushner during the transition period to discuss U.S.-Russia relations.

Such outreach – bankers and other members of Russia’s top officials – trying to meet and learn more about the incoming administration – was “striking,” according to Andrew Weiss, a vice president at the far-left Carnegie Endowment for International Peace quoted in the story. “It wasn’t just ‘we need to build bridges for the sake of future dialogue.’ It was designed to head off further sanctions and, in Dmitriev’s case, to create a blueprint for recasting U.S. relations with Russia.”

She then describes other efforts – which proved unsuccessful – for Russians to meet members of the Trump team, then quotes a former CIA agent-turned-Trump-critic saying without evidence it was “‘inconceivable’ that the oligarchs were Putin’s only method of infiltrating Trump’s inner circle.”

She then tried one last time to raise the Alfa Bank issue. She said it had “a computer server pinging a Trump organization server during the 2016 race” and said the FBI looked into it and said there could be other explanations but did not provide them. In fact, the entire notion of Alfa Bank somehow being part of colluding with Russia was dismissed in the report, which declared no Americans knowingly conspired with Russians in any aspect of the 2016 election.

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