Rachel Maddow's Shocking New Low

With last night's loony response to the indictment of Igor Danchenko, the MSNBC anchor takes a bold leap off the credibility cliff

Yesterday, Special Counsel John Durham indicted Brookings Institute analyst Igor Danchenko, better known as the primary source for Christopher Steele, the ex-spy who compiled the now-infamous “Steele Dossier” on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. The case has implications for higher-ranking figures, but the indictment is most immediately devastating to the reputation of the many famous news personalities who hyped the Steele story. They almost all look terrible today, but the response by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was a thing beyond. Whatever the category below “disgraced journalist” is, she entered it with gusto with last night’s performance.

Much of the indictment concerns false statements Danchenko allegedly made to the FBI concerning his interactions with “PR Executive-1,” described as a “U.S.-based individual… who was a long-time participant in Democratic Party politics and was then an executive at a U.S. public relations firm.” New York Times reporter Charlie Savage received confirmation from the lawyer of a man named Charles Dolan that Dolan is, in fact, the executive:

Russiagate is already a sizable boil on the face of American journalism, but the indictment of Danchenko has the potential to grow the profession’s embarrassment to fantastic dimensions. For instance, a key claim of the Steele dossier involved a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between Trump and Russia that supposedly went back years, and was managed on the Trump side by Paul Manafort and Carter Page. At one point, it was believed this claim was sourced to an anonymous phone call Danchenko thought came from the former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, Sergei Millian. Danchenko moreover reportedly told the FBI that he and the “anonymous caller” made an appointment to meet in New York.

The indictment, however, asserts that Danchenko never even spoke to Millian, repeatedly emailing him and getting no response. As for that trip to New York, hoo boy:

From on about July 26, 2016 through July 28, 2016, DANCHENKO traveled to New York with a family member. On or about July 28, 2016, DANCHENKO visited, among other places, the Bronx Zoo with the family member. During this trip, DANCHENKO did not meet or communicate with Chamber President-I.

It’s bad enough that the “well-developed” conspiracy tale appears to have been sourced to a graduate of the Jayson Blair school of investigation, who was strolling in the Bronx Zoo during the time when he was supposedly landing the scoop of a lifetime (note that Steele himself reportedly believed the pee tape was sourced, “in part,” to Millian).

Every reporter who touched that allegation should be ashamed, and Rachel is at the front of that huge crowd. Among other things, she emphasized the importance of Steele’s “broader assertions,” repeating the claim that the “Russia regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years,” going so far as to praise Steele for keeping his “head down” and listening to his “deep cover sources” like Danchenko.

However, that’s not the most damning part. It turns out at least one assertion by Steele, a relatively minor observation in an August 2016 report that claimed a senior member of Trump’s inner circle was glad when Paul Manafort resigned as campaign manager, came directly from Dolan, via Danchenko.

The indictment shows an email chain in which Danchenko tells Dolan he’s working on a “project against Trump,” and is looking for any “thought, rumor, allegation” that might be useful. Dolan replies, after Manafort’s resignation, that “I had a drink with a GOP friend of mine” who told him “a number of people wanted [Manafort] gone. It is a very sharp elbows crowd.”

On one hand, this exchange almost makes Steele look not-dishonest, because it shows there was at least some attempt by some of the people involved in his “project” to gather information from someone, at one point. However, the indictment goes on to quote Dolan about that tidbit:

PR Executive-I later acknowledged to the FBI that he never met with a “GOP friend” in relation to this information that he passed to DANCHENKO, but, rather, fabricated the fact of the meeting in his communications with DANCHENKO. PR Executive-I instead obtained the information about Campaign Manager-I from public news sources.

A source whose lawyer has confirmed his identity is saying, outright, that he “fabricated” a story that made it into the Steele dossier. This is degrees worse even than the assertions of the previous Durham indictment of former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussman. That case detailed how the “sources” behind the infamous Trump-Alfa Bank story speculated that it might be easier to fake a scenario to make Trump and the Russians “appear to communicate,” even using the word “faking.”

If I were Rachel Maddow and had a record of saying things on air like, “Above all else, we know this about the now-famous dossier: Christopher Steele had this story before the rest of America did. And he got it from Russian sources,” news like the Dolan item would make me furious. Not only did she flog the Steele document for years, she specifically hyped its credibility on the grounds of how it was put together, and by whom.

Now, we find out that the actual construction of the reports was like something out of a Three Stooges episode, with Igor, Chuck, and a Bronx Zoo zebra standing in for Moe, Larry, and Curly. The mere fact that some of Steele’s supposed “Russian sources” turned out to be this absurd stateside parade would have any honest journalist fuming.

Rachel not only isn’t upset, she’s expressing pride in having been burned, and is digging in for more.

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