“It’s over, you nitwits,” wrote independent journalist Matt Taibbi on his Substack, TK News.
Taibbi was addressing his remarks to “the corporate press” and lamenting that the country is so “paralyzed by distrust of media that it prevents real dialogue.” He wrote that the situation “can’t be resolved until the corporate press swallows its pride and admits the clock has finally run out on its seven years of loony Russia conspiracies.”
Like this one:
“Russian bots and trolls were blamed by virtually every major news organization in the country for amplifying the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo,” Taibbi wrote.
Matt Taibbi is one of a small group of independent journalists invited by Elon Musk to search and read Twitter’s internal company correspondence. The reporters have uncovered a widespread influence campaign by U.S. government officials to pressure social media platforms into censoring and suppressing the speech of Americans.
Taibbi learned that Twitter executives repeatedly informed high-ranking Democratic elected officials that there was absolutely no evidence of Russian involvement behind the spread of the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag, but despite this, the politicians continued to tell news organizations that an army of Russian bots was promoting it. News organizations never checked with Twitter to see if that was accurate, and Twitter never went public with the fact that it was not.
This episode relates to the FBI’s investigation into alleged — but utterly fictional — collusion between Donald Trump and Russia. The investigation began before Trump was elected, and its suspicious origins are the subject of a separate special counsel investigation.
In October 2016, less than a month before the presidential election, the FBI and Department of Justice obtained a warrant to spy on Carter Page, an American with ties to the Trump campaign, by withholding from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that some of the “evidence” presented to the judge was unverified, political, paid opposition research produced for the Hillary Clinton campaign.
And that brings us back to the hashtag, #ReleaseTheMemo. The memo in question was dated January 18, 2018, and was written by the majority staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by then-congressman Devin Nunes, a California Republican. The subject of the memo was “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Abuses at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
The four-page memo, classified at the time, informed the intelligence committee of the staff’s findings, which raised “concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain DOJ and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court” and “a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process.”
The memo detailed how the warrant to spy on Page was obtained and then renewed three times based on a sketchy and uncorroborated “dossier.” It also reported the intense anti-Trump bias exhibited by FBI personnel and by the author of the dossier, Christopher Steele, who had been paid $160,000 by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign. The payment was funneled through the Perkins Coie law firm and a company called Fusion GPS, where the wife of a senior Justice Department official happened to be employed.
This all occurred during the final months of the Obama administration, as Hillary Clinton was desperately trying to win the White House.
After Clinton failed to win as expected, she told anyone who would listen that Russians had interfered in the election to help Donald Trump. However, by 2018 the intelligence committee staff had uncovered very different findings, spelled out in the January 18 classified memo.
Taibbi wrote that the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag reportedly originated with Tracy Beanz, an American journalist who is the editor-in-chief of the news site, UncoverDC. But two powerful Democrats, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff, published an open letter on January 23 demanding that Twitter and Facebook conduct an investigation into “Russian bot activity” tied to the hashtag, which they insisted was “linked to Russian influence operations.”
Twitter’s team found no evidence of that, and on January 26, the company sent a letter to the lawmakers explaining that an analysis of available data “has not identified any significant activity connected to Russia” related to #ReleaseTheMemo.
Twitter’s information was ignored. The politicians, now joined by Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, all cited a website called “Hamilton 68,” created by a former FBI counterintelligence official. The site reported that there were 600 social media accounts tied to Russian disinformation, most of them promoting #ReleaseTheMemo.
Inside Twitter, Hamilton 68’s claims could not be verified, but the company did not tell the public that the lawmakers were wrong. The Twitter files reveal an internal debate about how to respond, given that there was no evidence of Russian involvement.
“I just reviewed the accounts that posted the first 50 tweets with #ReleaseTheMemo,” wrote Twitter executive Yoel Roth, “none of them show any signs of affiliation to Russia.”
The conversation on Twitter was “organic,” the company’s research found. But the politicians wouldn’t stop their Russia narrative, widely covered in the media.
The California Dream isn’t dead yet — but it’s dying. Here’s how to turn that around.
Congressional ethics take a huge hit
Where does Biden stand in light of the classified documents controversy?
Stove banners offer gaseous excuses for their panic
Federal agents shouldn’t be manipulating social media companies to censor disfavored speech
Taibbi reported that Twitter executives took the advice of “outside counsel from DC-connected firms” and put out a statement that they “take seriously any activity that may represent an abuse of our platform.” That carefully ambiguous statement did nothing to stop major news organizations from continuing to report the politicians’ untruthful but distracting spin that Russia was rallying support for the release of what came to be called the Nunes memo.
The memo was declassified by President Trump on February 2, 2018, and released to the public. “The Nunes assertions would virtually all be verified in a report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz in December 2019,” Taibbi reported.
The Trump-Russia collusion story was invented by partisans with the aid of biased federal law enforcement officials. This was covered up by politicians who fed false stories to sympathetic news organizations and put improper pressure on social media companies to silence online critics.
You can read the Twitter Files online at twitterfiles.co/archive or on Twitter.com, and the Nunes memo here.
Write Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley