A few years ago I wrote here in Salon about a phrase I call “Cokie’s Law,” referring to a comment by journalist Cokie Roberts during the Lewinsky scandal. There was a silly kerfuffle over Hillary Clinton allegedly claiming that her husband’s philandering was a result of his rough childhood. Roberts said,
“At this point it doesn’t much matter whether she said it or not because it’s become part of the culture. I was at the beauty parlor yesterday and this was all anyone was talking about.”
This comment says a lot about how the media sees its role as the arbiter of truth, but it’s also illustrative of how political operatives manipulate the press to their advantage. Take, for example, this passing comment about Rudy Giuliani’s latest antics in Politico:
Earlier this month, Giuliani said he was planning to travel to Ukraine to urge the country’s president-elect to investigate Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, over his involvement in a Ukrainian energy company. Giuliani also insinuated without offering any evidence that Joe Biden had somehow nefariously used his position as vice president to quash an investigation of his son.
Giuliani later backed out of the trip after Democrats accused him of openly encouraging a foreign country to meddle in an American election. The country’s lead prosecutor also told reporters he’d found no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden, and media reports have further poked holes in Giuliani’s theories.
But Trump allies said Giuliani accomplished his mission, raising suspicions about Trump’s potential 2020 opponent. “The information is now out there,” Duhaime said. “He’s about getting the job done and not about what other people may think about him.”
The job the Trump campaign wants Rudy to do now, according to Politico, is to be Trump’s top campaign character assassin, a task at which he excels and one he appears to enjoy a great deal. He went on television several times with this Ukraine story, never really offering up a story line that made sense, but as Cokie Roberts would say, “It doesn’t much matter.” It’s out there.
That Ukraine project was helped along by the New York Times, which gave Giuliani the megaphone to plant this little smear, and it probably won’t be the last time. Certainly the Times won’t be the only news organization to do it. During the 2016 campaign, the Times and the Washington Post entered into a devil’s bargain with a right-wing provocateur named Peter Schweizer, a Steve Bannon associate and current Breitbart editor, to publish a similarly distorted tale about Hillary Clinton called “Clinton Cash” that formed the basis for Donald Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” meme. As it happens, Schweizer is behind the Biden Ukraine story as well. This time the Times didn’t deal with him directly, but rather spread it through Giuliani, Trump’s top hitman.
This isn’t the first time Rudy has taken on that campaign role. During 2016 he was intimately involved with the New York FBI office that was suspected of being behind former FBI Director James Comey’s decision to reopen the Clinton email investigation in the days before the election. According to the Department of Justice inspector general’s report on the investigation, Comey told Attorney General Loretta Lynch that senior agents in the New York FBI office had a “deep and visceral hatred for Clinton” and were prepared to leak the story that new emails had been found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.
Giuliani was almost certainly involved. On Oct. 25, 2016, three days before Comey’s fateful letter to Congress, he appeared on “Fox & Friends” and said, “We got a couple of surprises left, and I think it’ll be enormously effective,” grinning almost maniacally. Two days later, Giuliani appeared on Fox again and declared that there would be “pretty big surprises,” adding, “We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this thing around.” On the day of Comey’s shocking announcement, he went on the radio and said:
The other rumor that I get is that there’s a kind of revolution going on inside the F.B.I. about the original conclusion being completely unjustified, and almost a slap in the face of the F.B.I.’s integrity. I know that from former agents. I know that even from — a few active agents who obviously don’t want to identify themselves.
The main “former agent” Giuliani was talking about was James Kallstrom — super Trump fan, Clinton hater and Giuliani BFF. Wayne Barrett reported in the Daily Beast that Kallstrom had been ginning up anger among active-duty FBI agents over the Clinton emails for months. After the Republican convention in the summer of 2016, Giuliani went on CNN to complain about Comey’s decision not to prosecute Clinton, saying, “The decision perplexes me. It perplexes Jim Kallstrom, who worked for him. It perplexes numerous FBI agents who talk to me all the time. And it embarrasses some FBI agents.”
Barrett wrote that Kallstrom himself “has been invoking unnamed FBI agents who contact him to complain about Comey’s exoneration of Clinton in one interview after another, positioning himself as an apolitical champion of FBI values” and openly threatening that “if it’s pushed under the rug,” the agents “won’t take that sitting down.” He said, “I think we’re going to see a lot more of the facts come out in the course of the next few months. That’s my prediction.”
While Comey was still FBI director, he asked the Inspector general to look into the New York office and Giuliani’s activities during that campaign. So far there has been no word on whether that investigation ever took place. It remains astonishing that this has received almost no attention while the text messages of former FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page have been front-page news for months and months. After all, there were no leaks from Robert Mueller’s investigation. But it’s pretty obvious that some members of the FBI were plotting with a loyal associate of Donald Trump to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
According to Nate Silver at 538, it’s entirely possible that this one act perpetrated by Giuliani and his friends in the FBI was responsible for Trump’s win. The impact was measurable in the polling and because it happened so late in the campaign it was impossible to bounce back. Nobody has done Trump a favor as important as that one. Is it any wonder that the Trump 2020 campaign is eager to have Giuliani back, doing what he does best?