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It's official: Matt Taibbi is the new John Durham
The search for the hidden hand of "Deep State collusion" continues, as Elon's surrogates advance baseless right-wing and pro-Kremlin fantasies devoid of all context and reason.
Update: Special thanks to Parker Molloy for the updated cover image. Go subscribe to her newsletter!
If you’ve been on Twitter recently, you’re probably well aware of the much hyped “Twitter Files” put out by blogger Matt Taibbi at the behest of Elon Musk. The “Twitter Files” were supposed to blow the lid off the Twitter censorship of the New York Post story about data supposedly found on “Hunter Biden’s laptop” in the leadup to the 2020 election. If you’ll recall, url links to that article posted on Twitter were labeled as “unsafe” by Twitter staff, which was an attempt to suppress a story of dubious sourcing handed over to a single a Trump-friendly media outlet weeks before voting in the presidential election began. There were several reasons for Twitter to doubt whether or not the New York Post story was accurate, as the story was known to originate from Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon at a time when Giuliani was digging for dirt on the Biden family in Ukraine and using one particular source named Andriy Derkach—a man widely suspected of being a Russian intelligence agent and later indicted for exactly that. Derkach was indicted prior to the 2020 election for attempting to interfere in our election and harm Joe Biden politically. That the data supposedly taken from Hunter Biden’s laptop was not shared with other news outlets who requested it—the New York Times and the Washington Post among them—further lent credence to the idea that the Trump campaign, via Giuliani, was perpetrating a hack-and-release “October Surprise” much like Russian military intelligence (GRU), WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign carried out in 2016 with the DNC’s hacked emails. In truth, the story here ended up being more complicated than what we saw in 2016, and Twitter executives—including former CEO Jack Dorsey during Congressional hearing—admitted the company went too far with the aforementioned New York Post story. The right-wing in America wasn’t satisfied with this admission, however, and the culmination of their lingering rage is the “Twitter Files” collaboration.
I won’t rehash all the various ways the “Twitter Files” fell flat. You can read excellent pieces which have already done so by Tim Miller and Jared Holt or any number of others after a quick Google search. By any non-partisan measure, the “Twitter Files” showed much less of a Democrat, “Deep State” and Big Tech plot to help Joe Biden than they showed an imperfect handling of a chaotic situation by people who seemed to want to do the job they were paid to do at Twitter. There were questions, doubts and decisions ultimately made by human beings. There was no hidden hand pulling the strings here at the behest of the DNC. Nevertheless, this story has been weaponized to help future House investigations against their opponents, and we see in this story the continuation of right-wing narratives concerning “Russiagate”—their preferred nomenclature for a set of beliefs that the investigations into the Trump campaign’s interactions with the Russian government and its surrogates were a baseless witch hunt and a hoax. (Read volume 5 of the Senate Intelligence report on Russian active measures campaigns and interference in the 2016 U.S. election to find out why they’re wrong.)
They didn’t have to go down this path, and yet, with Taibbi’s second thread, titled “Twitter Files Supplemental”, the pro-Kremlin “Russiagate” narrative reemerged in force. I feel the need to talk about this as it relates to Musk’s recent behavior.
The release of the “Twitter Files” mirrors Bill Barr’s attempt to exonerate Trump of any wrongdoing related to the Mueller Report.
Commenting after Matt Taibbi’s admissions contained within his ‘Twitter Files Supplemental’ thread, SPLC journalist Jason Wilson noted the dubious nature of the source material and why reputable journalists would’ve avoided using this selectively leaked material at all.
For his own part, Taibbi appeared to share none of these concerns. In considering how he could justify using selectively cherry-picked data, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the last time Taibbi so dramatically gifted the right-wing disinformation merchants a narrative win. That came in April 2019 when Taibbi published a long-form screed titled ‘It's official: Russiagate is this generation's WMD’ shortly before Bill Barr misleadingly summarized the findings of the Mueller Report in order to exonerate Donald Trump of wrongdoing related to the probe of the Trump campaign’s contacts and dealings with the Russian government or its surrogates.
Taibbi received criticism at the time for doing the right’s dirty work, but he defended himself by claiming his publication had nothing to do with Barr’s partisan summary of Mueller’s findings—which were later criticized as misleading by a federal judge. Perhaps that was true at the time of publication, but it is an odd defense piece to make so frequently on Twitter considering Taibbi later edited the piece specifically to add this line from Barr’s press conference that day.
In doing so, Taibbi used the same selective edit from the Mueller Report that Bill Barr was later criticized for using by a federal judge because it was presented as a de-facto exoneration of Trump by Mueller—a thing which did not occur. As the AP wrote in their summary of U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton's findings:
In his opinion Thursday, the judge said he struggled to reconcile Barr’s public characterizations of the report — which included his statement that Mueller found “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia — with what the document actually said.
Those inconsistencies, Walton wrote, “cause the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the contrary.”
Nevertheless, Taibbi repeated Barr’s selective quote uncritically and verbatim (compare the archived versions from March and April 2019 to see the addition of the quote in April as screenshotted below).
It’s worth contrasting this misleading snippet used by Barr and Taibbi with the full quote from the Mueller Report. It read (emphasis mine):
Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.
Whatever Taibbi’s intent when he first published this “Russiagate” article one day after the completed Mueller reported was handed off to Trump’s attorney general, the story picked up an enormous amount of traction the day of Bill Barr’s press conference. Taibbi’s blog post was shared by Donald Trump Jr., RT (Russia Today), Glenn Greenwald, WikiLeaks, Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars and a variety of current and former Trump staffers. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this because it was a narrative which was mutually beneficial both to MAGA and the Kremlin. The Trump campaign and its associates wanted to downplay their extensive contacts with the Russian government, and the Kremlin has consistently attempted to downplay their efforts to influence elections and public opinion abroad. Of course, neither camp has much love for the mainstream media, and so they found common cause in Taibbi’s tale.
The latest drop of the “Twitter Files” conveniently checks many of the same boxes. It criticizes the press. It downplays the very real and legitimate concerns at the time that the Trump campaign was carrying another hack-and-release campaign much like they did in 2016 with WikiLeaks and Russian military intelligence (GRU). Perhaps most importantly to the Kremlin, it attempts to make Democrats look bad at a time when the Russian military’s failures in Ukraine are mounting thanks in large part to the ongoing support Kyiv has received from Joe Biden.
Matt Taibbi and Elon Musk channeled “Russiagate” criticisms in their “Twitter Files Supplemental”
While Barr’s assistance to Kremlin lies about not interfering in the 2016 election—despite obviously doing so then and now—was immediately apparent, Taibbi’s assist to the pro-Kremlin narrative didn’t truly come into focus until he added a thread to his original which he titled the “Twitter Files Supplemental”.
It began with a tweet on December 4th in which Taibbi shared a blog post from right-wing commentator Jonathan Turley, himself a staunch critic of “Russiagate” who frequently came to Trump’s defense when new details emerged that cast Trump or his advisers in an unflattering light regarding their behavior towards Russian President Vladimir Putin. In his piece, Turley wrote in his recent article:
As thousands of Twitter documents are released on the company’s infamous censorship program, much has been confirmed about the use of back channels by Biden and Democratic officials to silence critics on the social media platform. However, one familiar name immediately popped out in the first batch of documents released through journalist Matt Taibbi: James Baker. For many, James Baker is fast becoming the Kevin Bacon of the Russian collusion scandals.
Turley attacks Baker for his contacts with Michael Sussmann in 2016, which were related to one aspect of the FBI’s Trump Russia investigation. Sussmann himself was investigated by Trump’s own Special Counsel John Durham who attempted to prove the Clinton camp had manufactured the so-called “Russia hoax” to damage candidate Trump. Despite all the vague innuendo from the right, remember, Sussmann was acquitted on all of the specious charges Durham later brought. Of course, Turley neglects to inform the reader how breathlessly he covered the Durham probe and hyped its potential findings, all of which resulted in one single guilty plea leading to no jail time and two acquittals from the only two cases Durham brought to trial.
Turley went on to say:
After leaving the FBI, Twitter seemed eager to hire Baker as deputy general counsel. Ironically, Baker soon became involved in another alleged back channel with a presidential campaign. This time it was Twitter that maintained the non-public channels with the Biden campaign (and later the White House). Baker soon weighed in with the same signature bias that characterized the Russian investigations.
This, while meant to be more fuel on the right-wing fire, is debunked by his colleague Matt Taibbi’s own thread in which he admits “the Trump White House” also had a direct line to Twitter, as do all major political campaigns.
Nevertheless, Turley is correct in saying that Jim Baker was mentioned as a point of contact for Michael Sussmann in 2016, which is true and was mentioned at Sussmann's trial (the one where Sussmann was acquitted). Turley adds that Baker did "work closely" with former FBI Director James Comey, and he was "an acquaintance of key Clinton figures like Sussmann who pushed the false collusion allegations." Quite the bombshell, no? The top lawyer at the FBI worked closely with the head of the agency, and he also knew other people in Washington DC. It’s crazy what they’ll let the “Deep State” get away with these days!
Still, the seeds of this try-hard narrative were planted, and on December 6th, Elon Musk replied to Taibbi’s tweet featuring what I would call Jonathan Turley’s Russiagate redux article to let everyone know that Jim Baker had been fired.
Matt Taibbi reiterated this on his billionaire inspired hagiographic Twitter thread later, adding that, “The news that Baker was reviewing the ‘Twitter files’ surprised everyone involved, to say the least. New Twitter chief Elon Musk acted quickly to ‘exit’ Baker Tuesday.”
You see, Taibbi was supposed to have released batch two of the “Twitter Files” several days earlier as promised, but the reason for the delay had nothing to do with Taibbi’s malaise at his decision to sell out to the richest man in the world. No, no, no. It’s all a very real and sinister plot choreographed by the same figures who told you Trump had concerning links to Russia! It’s not at all as flimsy and speculative as the Durham investigation which spent 3.5 years looking for this supposed plot and ultimately could not convict a single person in court. The release was delayed because one of the “Russian collusion hoax” figures got in the way and tried to sabotage the truth seekers on the right yet again. That’s different somehow but don’t think too long figuring out how.
Perhaps my favorite part of this entire saga is Musk’s claim that he only found out Jim Baker was Twitter’s legal counsel last Sunday, the day he said the second batch of “Twitter Files” would be released.
For one thing, how did Elon not know who Twitter’s deputy legal counsel was five weeks after he started running the company? For another, this is actually not the first time he’s been made aware of this connection! Gamergate lawyer and Pizzagate promoter Mike Cernovich tagged Elon about Baker on Twitter back in April, and Elon responded!
Here’s a screenshot of that April exchange.
As you can see, this narrative is identical to the one written by Jonathan Turley which was then shared by Matt Taibbi and replied to by Musk as an implied justification for firing Jim Baker as Twitter’s deputy legal counsel.
And yet, despite all their rage, Michael Sussmann was acquitted in court over an attempt to prove anything nefarious that Trump-appointed special counsel John Durham spent 3.5 years investigating. Jim Baker was never charged with any crime. Mike Cernovich, in addition to his right-wing domestic disinformation duties, has a long history of advancing pro-Kremlin media narratives and has appeared on Russian state-owned RT. Now he appears to be influencing policy at Twitter.
Musk is cozying up to other pro-Kremlin figures on Twitter
When Musk hosted a Twitter Spaces audio chat after the release of the Twitter Files, several pro-Kremlin figures were co-hosts of the event. These including Kim DotCom (who is regularly featured by RT), Ian Miles Cheong (who writes op-eds on RT) and Tara Reade (another RT opinion writer). Many of the right-wing accounts Elon replies to favorably on Twitter regularly amplify pro-Kremlin talking points. These include Russell Brand, Dan Bongino, Charlie Kirk, Raheem Kassam, Benny Johnson and others. Meanwhile Musk criticizes Putin critics such as Garry Kasparov, Alexander Vindman and Ruth Ben-Ghiat. If Elon simply wanted to cozy up to right-wing figures, that would perhaps be one thing, but why does he make such an effort with individuals who have a well-documented history of amplifying pro-Kremlin narratives?
As you might expect, the “Twitter Files” were covered extensively by Russian state-owned outlets such as RT, Sputnik and unofficial Kremlin propaganda arms like Zerohedge and Infowars. It also gained traction with pro-Kremlin figures who claim to be on the left such as Jimmy Dore and his guest Max Blumenthal—head of The Grayzone—a man whose history includes defending Xi’s attacks on Hong Kong pro-Democracy protestors, war crimes denial to the benefit of Assad in Syria and Putin in Ukraine and a stint in Venezuela where he claimed the country had plenty of food (they didn’t). Even Iran’s state-owned PressTV managed to highlight the coverage of the Twitter Files, themselves similarly gleeful at the domestic infighting occurring in the United States.
During the same Twitter Spaces talk, listeners were asked to send in questions for Musk to answer. Some on the right, including Newsweek opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon, pressed him on the issue of Twitter’s commitment to the free speech rights for all people—including Ukrainians on the front line of Russia’s information war and the anti-regime protestors actively demonstrating in both Iran and China. Musk refused to answer these questions, and in fact the questioners were shouted down in one instance by RT opinion writer Ian Miles Cheong. Elon’s reluctance to criticize China, while equally problematic, is at least logical. His electric car company, Tesla, maintains close working relationships in China. He needs their components. He needs their customers. He needs to keep the CCP happy. Musk’s unwillingness to defend Iranian protestors and decision to cultivate ever-closer ties to pro-Kremlin media figures is less easily explained but increasingly concerning.
Why is he doing this? I can’t answer that yet, but as the “Twitter Files” continue rolling on, it’s something I’ll be watching.
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