A new report ties Fusion GPS to a flawed (but sensational) story claiming nefarious ties between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank, which Hillary Clinton’s campaign immediately used to attack Republican nominee Donald Trump a week before the 2016 election.
On October 31, 2016, Slate’s Franklin Foer wrote a story alleging secret communications between Trump’s company and Russian bank Alfa. Foer’s story cited a group of computer scientists who claimed to have proof of server pings between Alfa’s server and a Trump hotel server. Foer’s piece argued that the server pings represented a secret line of communication between Trump and the Russians.
That story, which failed to pass follow-up media scrutiny, originated with Fusion GPS, The Washington Times reported on Sunday. The explanation for the server pings appears to be spam from a third-party marketing company used by Trump’s organization, a follow-up investigation from The Intercept revealed.
“Fusion pushed the story that a special email server existed between Trump Tower and Moscow’s Alfa bank,” as part of the group’s efforts to plant anti-Trump stories in the media, the Times reported. (RELATED: Wife Of Demoted DOJ Official Worked For Fusion GPS During The Campaign)
That report is consistent with previously reported facts, including that Fusion was briefing various reporters on the contents of the anti-Trump dossier. The dossier, which BuzzFeed published in February, accused Alpha’s partners of having a close relationship with Putin and doing favors for him.
Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee hired Fusion GPS in April 2016 to produce opposition research on Trump, including the infamous anti-Trump dossier, which Fusion outsourced to former British spy Christopher Steele. (RELATED: CNN’s Undisclosed Ties To Fusion GPS)
Fusion co-founder Glenn Simpson and Foer were both featured speakers at an elite Washington, D.C. journalism conference three weeks before the story went up. Foer, who is now an editor at The Atlantic, did not return an email seeking comment about Fusion GPS’ role in his story.
The Clinton campaign immediately used Foer’s hit piece, which was reportedly produced by their own opposition research firm, to accuse Trump of being too close with Russia.
“This secret hotline may be the key to unlocking Trump’s ties to Russia,” Clinton campaign press secretary Jake Sullivan said at the time, calling it “the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow.”
The campaign sent out a tweet from Hillary Clinton’s Twitter account attacking Trump for the story. The tweet went viral, getting more than 28,000 likes or retweets.
Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank. pic.twitter.com/8f8n9xMzUU
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) November 1, 2016
Foer’s story was discredited soon after, including by liberal news sources like Vox and The Washington Post. A story in the Post titled, “That secret Trump-Russia email server link is likely neither secret nor a Trump-Russia link,” brutally dismissed the accusations in Foer’s story.
Several outlets, it was revealed, had declined to run the same story because it wasn’t credible.
“At least five outlets including The Intercept have been looking at this for weeks and decided it didn’t add up,” Sam Biddle, a reporter at The Intercept tweeted at the time, adding: “The Trump/Alfa story could be true, but we all looked at the same data Foer did and it just won’t take you to that conclusion.”
Fusion’s role in the shaky story raises further questions about the credibility of the infamous anti-Trump dossier, much of which remains unconfirmed and some of which has been debunked. It also provides further evidence of Fusion’s ability to manufacture misleading media narratives on behalf of a client.
The same day that Foer’s story went up on Slate, Mother Jones reporter David Corn wrote an article citing the dossier and directly quoting Steele, although neither he nor Fusion was named in the story.
Senate witnesses have repeatedly described Fusion as a smear-for-hire operation that manufactures misleading or false media narratives for its clients.
Fusion is reported to have paid multiple journalists as part of its Russia-related work. The names of those journalists are currently unknown.
REP. JIM JORDAN EXPLAINS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE CLINTON FOUNDATION AND FUSION GPS
Chuck Ross contributed reporting.