MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow breathlessly reported last week that someone sent her show a “fairly convincing” fake National Security Agency document alleging illicit contacts between a Trump campaign member and the Russian government.
The left-leaning TV host suggested that the hoax was intended to undercut her show’s credibility and that of other news outlets.
“Heads up,” was her word of advice to other journalists.
Maddow’s 21-minute “exclusive” segment was widely interpreted as an implication that someone in the White House, or a Republican operative, or even someone at the website The Intercept (which published a document last month on which the phony report was based) had sent Maddow the fabrication.
On June 7, two days after The Intercept published a legitimate NSA report that had been stolen by a contractor, an unidentified person emailed Maddow’s show what they claimed was an NSA report alleging potential campaign collusion between the Trump team and Kremlin. (RELATED: Someone Sent Rachel Maddow Fake NSA Documents Alleging Trump-Russia Collusion)
“Somebody, for some reason, appears to be shopping a fairly convincing fake NSA document that purports to directly implicate somebody from the Trump campaign in working with the Russians in their attack in the election,” Maddow said.
“This is news, because: why is someone shopping a forged document of this kind to news organizations covering the Trump-Russia affair?” she asked.
Maddow described how her team investigated the fake document. She noted that there was some typos and errors in the report. She also said that red flags were raised because the report identified the Trump campaign team member by name, something that would not be found in a typical NSA report.
But Maddow portrayed her team’s sleuthing as intensive. She also said that metadata in the faked document showed that it was created before The Intercept published its legitimate report. The implication was that someone who had initial access to The Intercept document — perhaps someone at The Intercept — had send fabricated documents to Maddow.
The fake document has now been published, and according to the co-founders of The Intercept, which published it, it’s an obvious phony not worth the exasperated reporting given by Maddow on her show.
The Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald was provided the fake document by the man who created it, he said. In a segment on The Intercept’s podcast, Greenwald said he talked to the hoaxster behind the report.
Greenwald says that the man devoted about 10 minutes to creating the fake document. That, he said, showed that the forgery was not part of a meticulous process aimed at nailing Maddow and the mainstream media.
The hoaxster told Greenwald that he faked the document in order to test whether news outlets would do their due diligence by vetting their sources.
“I did it because I want to make sure the media is held accountable to check their sources before they post rather” than “run with anonymous sources only to backtrack months later,” the man told Greenwald.
The man also sent the fake NSA document to BuzzFeed. But that outlet spotted the report as an obvious fraud almost immediately.
Chris McDaniel, a reporter at BuzzFeed, tweeted after Maddow’s segment that the outlet received the fake documents. He characterized the document as “very clearly a fake.” (RELATED: Fake NSA Documents Alleging Trump-Russia Collusion Were Also Sent To BuzzFeed)
A review of the fake report suggests that McDaniel’s characterization is more accurate than Maddow’s.
The fake document claims that Russian agents made contact with David Bossie, a conservative activist and Trump’s deputy campaign manager, to discuss the release of emails stolen by the Russian government from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
But there are several tells in the document indicating it was a hoax.
The title is a giveaway. It reads: “Russia/Trump Campaign Communications: Trump Campaign Director David Bossie, Communications With Russian State Agents, Coordinating Release Of The WikiLeaks John Podesta Email Dump; September 2016 To October 2016.”
Bossie was not Trump’s “campaign director,” and the informal term “email dump” would likely not be used by the NSA.
The body of the phony report also has several obvious errors. It refers to Bossie as “Trump Campaign Manager,” though he served as deputy campaign manager.
The fake report also claims that Russian agents contacted Bossie in October to give him a heads up that a damning video tape of Trump would soon be published. On Oct. 7, The Washington Post released unaired footage of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” show in which Trump was heard speaking in vulgar terms about women.
Hours later, WikiLeaks released the first batch of emails stolen from Podesta’s account.
There has been no suggested from the U.S. intelligence community or in news reports that Russia was involved in releasing or was aware of the “Access Hollywood” tape.
Maddow has not followed up on her initial story, which she touted as an exclusive “scoop.” That despite saying in her show last week that, “we don’t know who’s doing [the forgery], but we’re working on it.”
According to Greenwald, Maddow declined to comment on the latest developments.