Politico Promotes Another False Anti-Sanders Story On Russian Trolls

Thursday, this writer performed an autopsy on Politico’s latest hatchet-job on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, using its own cited sources to expose it as a fraud and a lie. On Saturday, Edward-Isaac Dovere, the unethical hack responsible for that atrocity — and Politico’s chief Washington correspondent — returned for another round. Beneath another false, click-baity headline, “Bernie Sanders Promoted False Story On Reporting Russian Trolls,” he continued the fictional narrative from his first story while adding

In an appearance on Vermont Public Radio, Sanders had related how, toward the end of the 2016 presidential race, John Mattes, a staffer on his campaign in California, noticed and began to investigate strange activity on pro-Sanders Facebook groups. Mattes came to believe it was being carried out by Russian trolls and took this information to the Clinton campaign. Sanders acknowledged he didn’t personally know Mattes and former Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver later clarified that Sanders only knew of this incident via press reports, citing a piece from NBC’s San Diego affiliate, which had, in fact, reported that “Mattes said he took his findings to the Clinton Campaign as well as the Obama Administration last September” — that being September 2016.

To challenge this, Dovere edited out Sanders acknowledgement that he had no firsthand knowledge of Mattes and tried to make Weaver’s later statement sound like Sanders had changed his story. Dovere then turned to an anonymous “former Clinton campaign staffer,” who denied the incident had ever happened. Since Mattes had reportedly told that NBC affiliate it had,[1] the implication was that Mattes was a liar. If Dovere ever talked to Mattes himself — which would have been the first step for any competent journalist investigating this matter — he gave no indication of it.

I talked to Mattes on Saturday — he’s not hard to find — and he confirmed that Dovere had never contacted him prior to writing that first article. Dovere never contacted Mattes at all, in fact, until Mattes, who wasn’t at all pleased with how he and his activities had been portrayed in that article, contacted Politico. “It’s disheartening,” Mattes told me, “to see inexperienced reporters peddling phony stories.” Mattes sees the broad circulation of Dovere’s article — it has gone all over the internet, its false narrative picked up by many other outlets hungry to bash progressives in general and Bernie Sanders in particular — as further cause for dismay. “It is even more distressing that a phony story is picked up and amplified by other so-called reporters who don’t do the most basic thing in journalism: check your sources.”

Dovere’s second article, which focuses much of its attention on Mattes, is a train-wreck from its opening:

“Bernie Sanders is taking credit for action to combat the Russian incursion into the 2016 election that he didn’t have anything to do with — and didn’t actually happen.”

The “action” in question is Mattes’ investigation into alleged Russian internet activities, which did actually happen, but while Dovere twice accuses Sanders of “taking credit” for this — later in the article, he gets ambitious and says Sanders is “taking all the credit” — Sanders hasn’t, in fact, taken any credit for it in any venue at any time. In the radio interview that started all of this, in fact, Sanders described Mattes as “a guy on my staff who I don’t know personally.” Devore, who heard this comment but cut it from his own account of that interview (inserting ellipses at the break), continues to lie to his readers, pretending as if Sanders never said it. Even without Sanders’ own words, Jeff Weaver pointed out, days ago, that Sanders’ only knowledge of Mattes’ activities re:the Russia business came from press reports and Devore knows this too, because he quoted Weaver on it in his previous story, yet he now pretends as if he’s uncovered something new; “it turns out,” he writes, “that the purported Sanders’ staffer who said he tried to sound the alarm was a campaign volunteer who acted on his own, without any contact or direction from the Vermont senator or his staff.” And then he quotes the same remarks from Weaver as before (“All [Sanders] knows is what was reported.”).

Sanders definitely misspoke in saying Mattes was “on my staff” — Mattes jokes that “Bernie gave me a promotion” — but Devore can’t resist belaboring even this utterly inconsequential error. In a Sunday appearance on Meet the Press, Sanders described Mattes as “one of our social media guys out in San Diego” — a more accurate description. Dovere compares this to Sanders radio description of Mattes and writes that “Sanders told two versions of the false story.” He writes about “a purported Sanders staffer” and continues to dwell on this until Sanders spokeswoman Arianna Jones “eventually acknowledged that Sanders ‘misspoke’ in calling Mattes a member of his staff.”[2]

Mattes has been around. Among other things, his distinguished career as a litigator and investigative reporter has netted him a pile of awards that would blot out the sun. Devore, whose career is unlikely to ever imperil his own sun-tan, makes Mattes sound like someone who just fell off the turnip truck, writing that when Mattes “said he communicated with the Clinton campaign in local press accounts, he was confusing it for a super PAC supportive of Clinton.”

“I guess I’m that clueless,” Mattes told me, “and I’m glad that Politico pointed it out to me.” But Mattes didn’t sound particularly sincere on this point.

Mattes’ story is straightforward and he’s been telling it for a year now. Late in the 2016 campaign, he noticed a sudden influx of new people into the various Facebook groups that had grown up around the Sanders campaign, an odd development, as Sanders was long out of the race by then. He began to investigate and eventually came to believe this was the work of the Russians. “From September through the election, I shared what I was uncovering on a daily basis with the research arm of the Clinton organization,” that being David Brock’s American Bridge.

It’s on this last point — about which Mattes was never for a moment confused — that Dovere hangs his assertion that Mattes’ story is false:

“[Mattes] said he never talked to anyone on the Clinton campaign itself, though he believed that the researcher he spoke with at the pro-Clinton American Bridge PAC, run by David Brock, was tantamount to reaching the campaign… Mattes is adamant that anyone who claims that American Bridge was not tantamount to the Clinton campaign is being naive, though campaign finance laws prohibit interaction between entities such as those.”

Reading that, one wonders if Dovere is being really dishonest (again) or if he just slept through the entire 2016 campaign then couldn’t be bothered to do basic research (again). While he’s correct on the point of law, David Brock’s operation openly flaunted that in order to coordinate directly with the Clinton campaign. American Bridge’s specialty was opposition research. Shortly after Clinton entered the presidential race, one of its subsidiaries, the Correct the Record Project, made a show of breaking with the parent org, announcing it was “reorganizing so it can coordinate with Clinton’s campaign and devote all of its resources to her.” That’s as reported in — wait for it — Politico. The Washington Post reported that:

“Hillary Clinton’s campaign plans to work in tight conjunction with an independent rapid-response group financed by unlimited donations, another novel form of political outsourcing that has emerged as a dominant practice in the 2016 presidential race.”
On Tuesday, Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton rapid-response operation, announced it was splitting off from its parent American Bridge and will work in coordination with the Clinton campaign as a stand-alone super PAC. The group’s move was first reported by the New York Times.
“That befuddled many campaign finance experts, who noted that super PACs, by definition, are political committees that solely do independent expenditures, which cannot be coordinated with a candidate or political party. Several said the relationship between the campaign and the super PAC would test the legal limits.
“But Correct the Record believes it can avoid the coordination ban by relying on a 2006 Federal Election Commission regulation that declared that content posted online for free, such as blogs, is off limits from regulation.”

The “break” with American Bridge was essentially a paper separation; they remained, for all intents and purposes, the same org. They shared the same address in the Capitol — 455 Massachusetts Ave. NW, the 6th floor — the same founder and, simultaneously, a lot of the same employees. American Bridge and Correct The Record are both represented by the same law firm (Perkins Coie), which also happens to be the firm that represented the 2016 Clinton campaign. In April 2016, the Center for Public Integrity noted how CTR, Bridge and two other pro-Clinton PACs that were incestuously intertwined

“regularly shuttle millions of dollars in cash and resources among themselves. This means an initial, anonymous contribution to one super PAC can flow through any of the rest before it’s finally used to help Clinton. Consider the $1 million Priorities USA Action gave Correct the Record in December. Correct the Record, in turn, gave American Bridge 21st Century $400,000 later that month.”

The Clinton campaign worked openly with CTR, a fact that, yes, Politico noted over and over again throughout the 2016 cycle. The hacked John Podesta emails offered a wealth of detail on this coordination. On at least one occasion, the campaign directly paid American Bridge for some “research,” something that only became public because of an apparent filing error.

So when Mattes calls this “the research arm of the Clinton organization,” he’s not blowing smoke, talking smack or revealing state secrets. Dovere writes that “Mattes shared with POLITICO email exchanges he had with an American Bridge researcher, whom Federal Election Commission records show was on staff through the end of 2016.” Mattes describes his contacts with American Bridge on this issue as extensive, continuing on a daily basis for the last months of the campaign, “and at no point in time in the hundreds-plus conversations and the hundreds-plus emails did anyone say ‘John, you’ve called the wrong place. Please contact the Clinton campaign.’” As Mattes told Dovere, “if they weren’t sharing it with Hillary, that is their responsibility.”

Mattes doesn’t mince words on the sort of dope Dovere is peddling.[3] “It’s fraud. It’s journalistic malpractice, period.” He feels strongly that Russian interference in the political process is a serious business that is done a serious disservice by this sort of nonsense, as is journalism itself. “If journalists can’t be responsible with our own stories, then why would anybody depend on them for any factual analysis?

— j.

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[1] Dovere also writes at one point that “Sanders and staffers offered numerous and conflicting answers in the span of a few hours on Wednesday about what he did about Russian meddling.” This is a reference to Devore’s own false narrative from his previous article. He digs in further, writing that “Sanders and his top aide were at turns defiant and defensive during and after his interview with a Vermont radio station, even initially disputing special counsel Robert Mueller’s finding in his indictment last week that the Russians backed his campaign.” As I covered in my response to it, Sanders and co. have been telling the same story, and never disputed Robert Mueller’s findings. Rather, Sanders pointed out that Mueller’s indictment, which doesn’t, in fact, substantiate any specific example of support for Sanders’ campaign, outlined the goal of the Russian conspiracy as sowing chaos and discord, not “supporting” Bernie Sanders. Dovere tied himself in such a knot with his misrepresentations of Sanders that he was insisting Sanders, who has always strongly supported the Mueller investigation and insisted it must go forward, wherever it leads, was somehow echoing Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine same.

[2] It’s completely ridiculous that Dovere would slam Sanders for accurately relaying a story that had been reported in the press and as Dovere pretended as if the Mattes story isn’t true, Jones got in two good digs at him:

“Asked to explain why Sanders would repeat a story he didn’t know was true and turned out not to be, Sanders spokesperson Arianna Jones said he’s ‘not a great fan of reporters who try to provoke controversy where none exists.’… Asked why the senator relayed the Mattes story without checking it, Jones responded, ‘It sounds as if you’re suggesting that we should no longer trust the reporting of outlets like NBC and that the information they provide requires independent verification?’”

[3] And Dovere’s dismal work is only one of multiple egregious examples with which he’s recently come face-to-face (and which may be covered here in the near future).