UPDATE: In 2014, the Free Beacon used an opposition researcher that gave them information on Hillary Clinton in what would become The Hillary Papers, which was reported by then-staff writer Alana Goodman. She’s now with the Daily Mail, but as people criticized the Beacon for using an opposition research for this story, albeit Goodman did do extensive research herself, you had Jason Zengerle, then-with The New Republic, giving a rather robust defense of the Free Beacon’s conduct. If anything, the only criticism he brings up is that the research firm the Free Beacon used for The Hillary Papers was not properly credited. He also says that any news outlet that received what the Free Beacon got would have moved on it. I thought this to be an appropriate update concerning the debate about whether news outlets should use such firms for any reason:
The Free Beacon has scored a couple of big scoops in those archives. In February, staff writer Alana Goodman penned “The Hillary Papers,” which reported on a number of previously unpublished Hillary-related documents in the papers of the late Diane Blair, one of her best friends and advisors. According to Blair’s journals, Hillary had once told her that she supported single-payer health care (something Hillary has long said she doesn’t support) and described Monica Lewinsky to her as a “narcissistic loony toon.” Last week, Goodman wrote “The Hillary Tapes,” which revealed the existence of a previously unknown audio recording from an early 1980s interview in which Hillary can be heard suggesting than an alleged child rapist she once successfully defended was in fact guilty. Granted, Goodman put the most negative spin she possibly could on her findings, but they were good, solid journalistic scoops—shedding new light on possibly the most (over-)covered journalistic subject in the world.
Over this past weekend, Business Insider’s Hunter Walker revealed that it wasn’t Goodman who found these scoops in the University of Arkansas archives but rather a man named Shawn Reinschmiedt. As BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer reported Monday, Reinschmiedt is a former research director of the Republican National Committee whose private “political intelligence” firm was paid $150,000 for “research consulting” by the Center for American Freedom, the nonprofit that funds the Free Beacon, in 2012.
How does Reinschmiedt’s involvement in these stories undermine them? Sure, if I were Alana Goodman I’d be a bit embarrassed putting my byline on (and receiving plaudits for) a couple of scoops someone else unearthed. Then again, she’s hardly the first reporter to write a damaging story about a pol based on material supplied by an oppo researcher. Remember, it was a Democratic oppo researcher (who also happened to be Jimmy Carter’s grandson) who tipped off Mother Jones to the “47 percent tape” that sank Mitt Romney. The Free Beacon did cut out the traditional middleman in this transaction, which is usually facilitated (and paid for) by a third party. But the Free Beacon has never been, and never will be, a traditional journalistic enterprise. It’s an avowedly partisan- and para-journalistic enterprise, and while it’s impossible to buy its claims that it’s merely a conservative analogue to liberal media outlets like TPM or Mother Jones—neither of which put oppo-research firms on retainer—it doesn’t pretend to play by the same rules as most publications.
In the Free Beacon’s case, Reinschmidt has produced the goods on Hillary in the form of documents and audio tapes. If he’d given the fruits of his research labor to the New York Times (or The New Republic), no one would object.
Well, the University of Arkansas Library might object. Last week, the university suspended the Free Beacon’s library privileges on the grounds that it had published the audio tapes of Clinton early '80s interview without receiving permission from the library—something that Reinschmidt, according to Business Insider, had promised he would do as a condition of being granted access to the archives. I can see the university’s—and Clinton partisans’—point on this one, and the Free Beacon did hand them the slimmest reed on which they can legitimately hang their denial of access. Still, journalists should be appalled by it. I can’t imagine many journalists going to the barricades to get the Free Beacon’s library privileges restored, but I do hope that none of us would be so silly as to castigate the publication for breaking those rules in order to reveal accurate, interesting information.
Great Odin’s Raven! We now know where Fusion GPS’s, the research firm behind the infamous Trump dossier, first checks came from regarding the opposition research effort into the 2016 GOP field: the conservative Washington Free Beacon. You can already hear the liberal media licking their lips and sharpening their knives for this one. For starters, the Free Beacon has reported heavily on Hillary Clinton and often times engaged in Grade-A trolling of the two-time presidential loser. They’re out for blood, but overreach is almost 100 percent guaranteed because it doesn’t look like the Free Beacon did anything wrong. In fact, from what we know now—this is a nothing burger.
Yes, it's wrong. According to news reports, Republicans exited long before Steele's dossier work began. https://t.co/8W4pHOGuTw— Mollie (@MZHemingway) October 27, 2017
Zero information from the Free Beacon’s effort made it into Christopher Steele’s documents; Steele was the former British intelligence operative whom the Democrats paid to collect dirt on Trump from Russian sources. Only money from the Democrats helped fund this effort, the one that’s been one of the reasons why we have a special counsel looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians during the 2016 election. As for the Free Beacon, their opposition research effort centered on roughly the whole 2016 GOP field, not just Trump—and the information gathered was through public sources. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York reported on this last Friday [emphasis mine]:
The original arrangement between the Free Beacon and Fusion GPS involved opposition research into multiple Republican candidates, not just front-runner Donald Trump.
Sources close to the Free Beacon stress that the project, when the Free Beacon funded it, had nothing to do with Russia and did not involve Christopher Steele, the former British spy who gathered anti-Trump dirt in Russia. Steele was retained by Fusion GPS when the project was funded by Democrats, and not in its initial phase, when the Free Beacon was involved.
The Free Beacon was founded in 2012. Its founders included Michael Goldfarb, who has moved back and forth between conservative journalism, politics, and activism. The Free Beacon was originally part of a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization called the Center for American Freedom, but in 2014 became a for-profit organization. It has never revealed its ownership.
Conservative billionaire Paul Singer, a major funder of the Free Beacon, strongly opposed Trump at the time of the opposition research project.
The statement from the Free Beacon elaborates further, while offering zero apologies for their methods [emphasis mine]:
Since its launch in February of 2012, the Washington Free Beacon has retained third party firms to conduct research on many individuals and institutions of interest to us and our readers. In that capacity, during the 2016 election cycle we retained Fusion GPS to provide research on multiple candidates in the Republican presidential primary, just as we retained other firms to assist in our research into Hillary Clinton. All of the work that Fusion GPS provided to the Free Beacon was based on public sources, and none of the work product that the Free Beacon received appears in the Steele dossier. The Free Beacon had no knowledge of or connection to the Steele dossier, did not pay for the dossier, and never had contact with, knowledge of, or provided payment for any work performed by Christopher Steele. Nor did we have any knowledge of the relationship between Fusion GPS and the Democratic National Committee, Perkins Coie, and the Clinton campaign.
Representatives of the Free Beacon approached the House Intelligence Committee today [Friday, Oct 27] and offered to answer what questions we can in their ongoing probe of Fusion GPS and the Steele dossier. But to be clear: We stand by our reporting, and we do not apologize for our methods. We consider it our duty to report verifiable information, not falsehoods or slander, and we believe that commitment has been well demonstrated by the quality of the journalism that we produce. The First Amendment guarantees our right to engage in news-gathering as we see fit, and we intend to continue doing just that as we have since the day we launched this project.
So, in all, the focus of the research was on the whole GOP field, none of the information came from sources inside Russia; it was all public, and none of the information Fusion GPS gave to the Free Beacon made it into Steele’s dossier, which by then was a project funded by the Democratic Party. I really don’t see what the big hubbub is all about regarding the Free Beacon. They’re not connected to the dossier. Yes, they may have started this hunt, but they pulled out before Steele and the Democrats took it over and engaged in what some have called collusion.
Important detail. pic.twitter.com/b14lX5W4Ej— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) October 27, 2017
Because there are three components used to evaluate information: (1) content; (2) source; and (3) cost. https://t.co/sxku29Is1L— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) October 27, 2017
So basically they had no connection to the actual dossier whatsoever. pic.twitter.com/yvBEobBZkB— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) October 27, 2017
This is almost as good a scoop as the time Andrew Stiles got caught secretly donating to Trump by buying the WFB staff $400 of MAGA hats— Kilgore Trout (@KT_So_It_Goes) October 27, 2017
Because the "research" -- used to justify wiretaps -- was a bunch of shoddy claims from dirty Russians. Not hard. https://t.co/YCfRTeODk9— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) October 27, 2017
Marc Elias, who was a lawyer for the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee last year, secured Fusion GPS. He apparently had zero oversight when doling out funds from the campaign to bankroll this effort (via WaPo):
When Marc Elias, general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, hired a private research firm in the spring of 2016 to investigate Donald Trump, he drew from funds he was authorized to spend without oversight by campaign officials, according to a spokesperson for his law firm.
The firm hired by Elias, Fusion GPS, produced research that resulted a dossier detailing alleged connections between Trump and Russia. While the funding for the work came from the campaign and the Democratic National Committee, Elias kept the information about the investigation closely held as he advised the campaign on its strategy, according to the spokesperson, who requested anonymity to discuss the internal dynamics.
Elias’s involvement in the financing and internal dissemination of the Trump research underscores the influence he wields behind the scenes in Democratic politics — a role that is now being pushed into the spotlight amid multiple investigations into Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 elections.
Again, the article noted that the Free Beacon’s efforts were solely contained to the Republican primaries—and that Elias was approached by Fusion GPS if they were interested in taking over; Elias thought the firm’s capacity was greater than the Clinton campaign’s operation in gathering opposition research. This was all done under the umbrella of the Clinton campaign and the DNC.
Hey @jonathanchait U say we "pretend" Steele sources r Kremlin agents. Pls read dossier. Steele says sources r . . Kremlin officials. Oops.— Kimberley Strassel (@KimStrassel) October 27, 2017
After that, former MI6 operative Steele came, along with the various sources of information from within the Russian Foreign Ministry and intelligence apparatus that produced the unverified dossier that is the linchpin for the Russian collusion hypothesis. One that has yet to produce a solid shred of evidence that Trump campaign officials colluded with the Russians. For now, it seems like Clinton-land and the rest of the Left have to dig out the pieces of buckshot that just got blown in their faces. Donald Trump is no longer the main subject of investigation because top Democrats have alleged they know nothing and I think it’s a bit odd that no one at the DNC knew what was going on with this dossier (via CNN):
Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta and former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz both privately denied to congressional Russia investigators that they had any knowledge about an arrangement to pay for opposition research on President Donald Trump, three sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
The interviews happened before this week's disclosure that the Clinton campaign and DNC paid for the research. Senate investigators may seek to further question the two top Democrats and dig deeper on the origins of the so-called Trump dossier, one of the sources briefed on the matter said.
Their remarks to congressional investigators raise the stakes in their assertion that they knew nothing about the funding because it's against the law to make false statements to Congress.
The White House has seized on the funding disclosures to discredit the ongoing investigations into potential collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign. While the most salacious allegations in the dossier haven't been verified, its broad assertion that Russia waged a campaign to interfere in the election is now accepted as fact by the US intelligence community.
In recent closed-door interviews with the Senate intelligence committee, Podesta and Wasserman Schultz said they did not know who had funded Fusion GPS, the intelligence firm that hired British Intelligence Officer Christopher Steele to compile the dossier on Trump, the sources said.
Sitting next to Podesta during the interview: his attorney Marc Elias, who worked for the law firm that hired Fusion GPS to continue research on Trump on behalf of the Clinton campaign and DNC, multiple sources said. Elias was only there in his capacity as Podesta's attorney and not as a witness.
So, while the Free Beacon should probably stay away from publishing stories related to the dossier and the Fusion GPS, this is not a smoking gun. There is no evidence that shows the dossier was a bipartisan effort to derail Trump. It still remains a Democratic effort, funded under the auspices of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC. The blowback still remains with Hillary and her crew. They lied—again. For now, it looks as if the Free Beacon did nothing wrong.