Major development in Durham probe ignored during CNN, MSNBC primetime coverage

Chuck Ross, DCNF 

  • CNN and MSNBC devoted little coverage Friday and Saturday to the first development in U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation of the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.
  • Kevin Clinesmith, a former FBI lawyer, is expected to plead guilty to altering an email regarding former Trump aide Carter Page’s past association with the CIA. 
  • CNN and MSNBC employ at least three former FBI and CIA officials as analysts, though none appeared on air to discuss the Clinesmith case. 
  • MSNBC host Chuck Todd questioned whether the Durham probe was aimed at “creating confusion.” 

CNN and MSNBC largely ignored the news Friday that a former FBI lawyer will plead guilty to altering an email related to Carter Page, the former Trump campaign aide.

Neither network mentioned the case against the former FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, in their primetime broadcasts, according to a review conducted by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The networks had brief segments during the daytime broadcasts that reported the news that Clinesmith would plead guilty to making false statements by altering an email that downplayed Page’s past work for the CIA.

Page had been an operational contact for the CIA through at least 2013 and provided information about his interactions with a Russian intelligence officer. Clinesmith, 38, added a line to a CIA liaison’s email in June 2017 that said that Page was “not a ‘source’” for the spy agency, according to the charging documents.

The case is the first major development in an investigation led by U.S. Attorney John Durham into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.

CNN and MSNBC would be well-positioned to discuss the case since the networks between them employ at least three analysts who worked on either Crossfire Hurricane or the special counsel’s probe. MSNBC also has former CIA Director John Brennan as an analyst.

MSNBC recently hired Lisa Page, a former FBI lawyer, and Andrew Weissmann, a top prosecutor on the special counsel’s probe, as analysts.

Page was general counsel to Andrew McCabe when he served as FBI deputy director. She was directly involved in decisions made in Crossfire Hurricane.

Neither appeared on MSNBC on Friday.

McCabe is an analyst at CNN, though he also did not appear on TV to discuss the Clinesmith development.

CNN last year also hired former FBI general counsel Jim Baker. He also did not appear on air, though it is unclear if he is still with the network.

The lack of coverage of the Clinesmith case is in stark contrast to CNN and MSNBC’s handling of developments during the special counsel’s investigation. Both networks were known for their wall-to-wall coverage of every twist and turn in the Russia probe.

Neither of the networks’ primetime hosts addressed the Clinesmith news. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, one of the leading proponents of the Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy theory, did not mention the story.

A review of Grabien, the television monitoring service, shows that the Clinesmith news was reported on CNN during Brooke Baldwin’s and John King’s shows. Evan Perez, a CNN justice reporter, appeared for a total of less than five minutes to report the developments in Clinesmith’s case.

MSNBC spent more time discussing Clinesmith, though the coverage was more dismissive of the development.

NBC reporter Pete Williams outlined the case in a segment on Andrew Mitchell’s show. Brian Williams spent 30 seconds on the case during his show airing just before midnight.

Chuck Todd, an MSNBC host who also anchors “Meet the Press,” was dismissive of the case. He suggested that the Durham probe is less important than an investigation of WikiLeaks.

“What’s unclear is whether this is a serious investigation into what else like the issue of WikiLeaks and how many American citizens’ privacy and rights were violated by these Russian hackers who did this,” he said.

He also asked whether the Durham probe was aimed at “creating confusion about investigating the investigators here.”

“We will wait for this investigation and see if there is any concern about how many American citizens were targeted by WikiLeaks, something that seems to have gotten lost with this Justice Department,” Todd continued.

Contrary to Todd’s claim, the special counsel’s office brought charges against a Russian intelligence unit that provided stolen emails to WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. The U.S. government has also charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a case unrelated to the Russian email hacks.

MSNBC host Ari Melber discussed the case during a segment questioning the motives of Attorney General William Barr. Melber’s guest, former federal prosecutor John Flannery, called the Clinesmith plea “pretty weak tea.”

Neither MSNBC nor CNN immediately responded to requests for comment.

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