Why is it that so many media got the story so wrong? And why is it that some media, such as The Epoch Times, got the story right?
Today on American Thought Leaders we sit down with Epoch Times Editor-in-Chief Jasper Fakkert to talk about this as well as the origins of the investigations into Trump.
Jan Jekielek: Chief editor of the Epoch Times. To sound, perhaps, a little boastful, I think the Epoch Times has been leading the reporting around what we now know is the so-called Russia collusion and also the other side that Senator Lindsey Graham was mentioning, which is looking at, basically, FISA abuse which has now been dubbed Spygate. And we love to hear you’ve been leading this effort. I’d love to hear more.
Jasper Fakkert: Sure. I mean it’s actually quite simple. You know, what we do at the Epoch Times, we report the facts. We look at what’s actually happening and we report it. And you know, I guess in this day and age it’s a rare commodity.
If you look at the past two years a lot of media outlets—most, I’d say, for one reason or another, they bought into this narrative that the president colluded with Russia to win the election. We never bought into that narrative, and I think it is because we looked at, you know, what evidence is there of Russia collusion. You know, some of the key people involved in these investigations said at the time that there was no proof of collusion. I’m talking about James Clapper, for example, was the former director of national intelligence. Before Mueller was appointed they did their own investigation which concluded … I believe it was January 2017. And Clapper went on TV afterwards and basically said there was no evidence of collusion. They found evidence that Russia interfered with the election, but they didn’t find any evidence of collusion. So, you know we’ve always kept our mind open to all possibilities, but we never just jumped on the bandwagon because everybody else is saying it. It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but we think it’s the right thing to do.
Jan Jekielek: Mr. Clapper—he kind of seemed to have changed his tune later on, but maybe we can get back to that a little bit later. We published an article back in May of 2017. I think not too long after the special counsel was …
Jasper Fakkert: I think it was about a week after.
Jan Jekielek: Right. And I’m just going to read the headline: “Despite Allegations, No Evidence of Trump-Russia Collusion Found.” Subtext is: “Breaking down the allegations that Trump colluded with Russia and the efforts to undermine his presidency. So, this is May 25, 2017. Seems, in retrospect, like a bold thing to say. Was it a bold thing to say? Did we go out on a limb?
Jasper Fakkert: All that article did, you know, just like I mentioned just now, we just looked at everything that was out there. Remember, this is like the frenzy … probably was the height of the Russia collusion talk.
Jan Jekielek: Theories.
Jasper Fakkert: Exactly. But we just looked at all of the evidence that was out there, including the investigations that had concluded, and we basically just reported that. And nobody was able to pinpoint any evidence that there was collusion. And, of course, we knew that the special counsel was going to investigate that. And you know they’ve investigated it, and they’ve come to the conclusion that there was no evidence to support the claims.
Jan Jekielek: And so did you already at that time have a sense that there wouldn’t be evidence?
Jasper Fakkert: Oh, we didn’t know of course. We can only report what we know, and that’s kind of the approach we’ve taken over the past two years. We’ve always looked at, OK, what’s out there and can we verify it, can we report on it?
Now, the interesting thing is that during our reporting a lot of questions have been raised about, you know, the origins of the investigation, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. There was a lot of serious questions that have been raised. What was the role of the Steele dossier in the opening of this investigation? Why was the Steele Dossier used to obtain the FISA warrant on Carter Page who at some point in time was an adviser to the Trump campaign? And I think that question is even more relevant now: Now that the special counsel has concluded there was no collusion, what exactly was the basis of this investigation that led to the special counsel’s investigation?
Jan Jekielek: So I guess not only did the special counsel conclude there was no collusion, but what I understand, he also left it to the Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Attorney General Barr to assess whether obstruction had happened.
Jasper Fakkert: Of course.
Jan Jekielek: And I thought that was very interesting. And also they concluded, based on what they were presented with, that there was no obstruction. Is this something you had a sense of already previously based on the information we reported on, or is this new?
Jasper Fakkert: Well, there’s always been an interesting question about, you know, the appointment of Mueller as the special counsel and the firing of James Comey. And one of our contributors Jeff Carlson, back in December last year he wrote this great article about it. I believe the headline “Nine Days in May: The Quiet Struggle Between Rod Rosenstein and McCabe.”
And if you look at the timeline it was very revealing. So May 9 Trump fires James Comey who was the FBI director at the time, and that was in part based on a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But in a letter to Trump said, I recommend for these reasons that you fire Comey. So Trump fires Comey. After Comey was fired, Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director, became the acting FBI director. Now, an interesting thing is—and this is one of the things that Jeff uncovered—was that in the days following the firing of Mueller you had McCabe’s FBI reach back out to Christopher Steele. And this is very interesting because at that point in time Christopher Steele’s report had been made public. Buzzfeed published it in January of 2017, so it had been publicly discredited. It had all these wild claims and, you know, it couldn’t be verified. Even Comey said that under oath before Congress—it was salacious and unverified. So why would McCabe or, you know, at least people within his leadership reach back out to Steele? And this went through Bruce Ohr who was a high-ranking DOJ official who had been acting as a conduit between Steele and the FBI. And this was the only time that the FBI had ever requested Bruce to reach out to Steele to get information as opposed to the other way around. So it was very significant. And then there was the, I believe it was a May 16 meeting, which has, you know, there’s been conflicting accounts about it. That’s the meeting where McCabe said that Rod Rosenstein said that he wanted to wiretap the president. The interesting thing is, you know, people present at the meeting, or at least one person told The Washington Post that that’s not exactly what happened. Rod Rosenstein made those comments in response to McCabe apparently pushing for an investigation. So Rosenstein apparently said something to the extent—
Jan Jekielek: A sarcastic comment.
Jasper Fakkert: Yeah, like, what do you want me to do, wiretap the president?
Now, the interesting thing is just a few weeks ago, the DOJ put out a statement that was when McCabe was giving those interviews to 60 Minutes, put out a statement that with the appointment of the special counsel McCabe was in essence removed/fired from this probe. So think about it some. McCabe had full control over the FBI’s investigation. We know that he was reaching back out to Steele. We know that he was considering a obstruction of justice investigation into the president. And all of the sudden, the same day that this happened, Rosenstein meets with former Director Mueller and President Trump in the Oval Office. That meeting has been described as an interview for Mueller becoming FBI director, which we don’t know what happened but we do know that the next day, May 17, Rosenstein publicly announced that Mueller was the special counsel. So one thing is certain. The appointment of Mueller took away the control of the investigation from McCabe and the FBI. And we know that there’s been serious questions about McCabe’s intentions. Remember McCabe played a key role in the investigation into Trump. I mean, he was talking with Peter Strzok and other people involved in the investigation outside of the regular chain of command. So it’s a fascinating sequence of events.
Jan Jekielek: Yeah, we’ll definitely make sure our audiences can see the link to that very interesting article. So with your work around what now has been called by many Spygate, this kind of other side—investigation into the Trump administration, the Trump campaign, and then later President-elect, and then the administration. We published something very interesting which actually became very popular. It was a … we call it an infographic. It’s also a giant poster which was around the walls in our office. And I’m wondering if a lot of our viewers will be familiar with this, but I’m wondering if you could tell us about the genesis of this, or why you felt you needed to do it in this kind of a format.
Jasper Fakkert: So Spygate, let’s use that word, the plot against Trump, the creation of the Russia collusion narrative, the spying on his campaign, and basically the efforts to either prevent him from becoming president or removing him from his presidency after he was elected is what we call Spygate. Yeah. So that article we published in October 2018. It was basically the culmination of years of reporting.
Jan Jekielek: How many people worked on this? I mean, really, I know you and Jeff Carlson kind of take the top byline, but how many people worked on this?
Jasper Fakkert: It was mostly Jeff and myself who worked on it. Yeah, yeah. So Jeff has been doing excellent reporting on this issue. I mean, he’s been following it for a long time. I’ve been following it for a long time as well. So, yeah, we basically took on this project. Infographics is a very creative project. When it’s done it looks complete, but conceptualizing it and relaying this amount of information is obviously very difficult. Don’t forget there was a 10,000-word article going alongside it which basically explained everything we knew at the time but.
Jan Jekielek: It’s hard to read 10,000 words these days for most folks.
Jasper Fakkert: Yes, absolutely. The thing is … and that’s the reason we made the infographic because the number of people and the number of agencies involved in this is staggering. I mean it involved the CIA, it involved the FBI, it involved the State Department, it involved the DOJ. Then you had a whole bunch of private entities that were involved. You had the Hillary Clinton campaign involved. You had her law firm involved and a whole bunch of media involved. You had former spies in the U.K. and diplomats involved. And I think that’s why this Spygate thing was so successful, like the creation of this narrative, because like the Steele Dossier was spread everywhere—it was spread through the FBI to the State Department, and they built on his reputation as former British spy to sell it. But they pushed it through all of their entrenched channels. So a lot of these people—actually I don’t know if they really believed it, but they might have really believed it, or at least the people that they were spreading it to might have really believed that this was a legitimate document and of grave concern. But because so many people were involved and because it was so complex I think that’s why it was so successful in terms of convincing the public that this happened.
Jan Jekielek: There is a kind of a nuance and how—and I actually even find this a little bit complex that maybe you can explain it for us—but the way that the dossier was known ostensibly to be unverified by all sorts of people that there was a special kind of means by which it was passed into these agencies so that it would appear newsworthy. I don’t know if I’m correct. That’s the sense I got from reading the Spygate article and looking at the infographic. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
Jasper Fakkert: I think the key is that they use so many different channels that the people who wanted to investigate Trump gave them a reason to investigate him. And, you know, the FBI at some point officially they were working with Steele in some capacity through their office in Rome. And at some point they fired Steele or they stopped their collaboration with him because he had talked to the media. But at the same time Steele was talking to Bruce Ohr, the highest-ranking career official at the DOJ at the time. And he was passing this information out. So Ohr had a meeting with Steele. A few days later he has a meeting in the office of Andrew McCabe with him and Lisa Page relaying this information and following that he kept passing on information. The same with James Baker the former legal counsel at the FBI. He was getting information, as well, through Michael Sussman, a partner at Perkins Coie which is the law firm that the Clinton campaign used, and those were the allegations that there was a bank, a Russian bank that was communicating with a computer at the Trump Tower. So they were just really successful in spreading it through so many different channels that people, you know, that they were able to use it. And then, of course, the media—you had several reporters who reported on this. And if you look at the Carter Page FISA application, which actually hasn’t been declassified, but the report on it by the House Intelligence Committee basically said that it relied heavily on the dossier plus the media’s reporting of it. So you had a circular reporting type going on where Steele leaked the information to the media. He was actually instructed by Fusion GPS to talk to these reporters. Five media were specifically mentioned—The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, CNN, and Yahoo News. So you have this article by Yahoo News which ends up being used in the FISA application on Carter Page as sort of a verification of the Steele dossier.
Jan Jekielek: It’s a verification of itself kind of thing.
Jasper Fakkert: Exactly. To come back to your original question, did people know it wasn’t real? I don’t know. Because the way it was being sold to like reporters and what not, it was basically hung on Steele’s impeccable reputation as this great former MI6 agent who had done, you know, extraordinary work. And he had found these grave matters of national security that the president-elect or presidential candidate might be compromised. So whether people believed it, I don’t know.
Jan Jekielek: I see. I think we counted there were literally tens of thousands of articles about Russia collusion. I think a Pulitzer was won around Russia collusion. Are you actually saying there was no evidence, really, of Russia collusion all this time?
Jasper Fakkert: I haven’t seen it.
Jan Jekielek: You’ve been looking.
Jasper Fakkert: Yeah, of course. The special counsel has been looking, interviewed 500 witnesses. They issued, you know, they executed 500 search warrants, 2,800 subpoenas.
Jan Jekielek: I mean 2,800 subpoenas—that’s something.
Jasper Fakkert: Yeah. So you know I guess the president was right.
Jan Jekielek: Yeah, well, he would know, right? I guess, where do things stand now? We’ve had two years, we’ve had, I think, I’ve seen estimates between 35 and 50 million dollars spent. You know, a large number of officials committed to looking, and suddenly we find out there’s no collusion, there’s no obstruction. Most media have been terribly, terribly wrong about what they’ve been saying at best, right? Where do we go from here? It feels like almost like an anticlimax. Given what we’ve known about the facts all this time, but where do we go from here?
Jasper Fakkert: The great thing is, you know, over the past few years our media at the Epoch Times has really taken off, so to speak. Like our readership is growing exponentially. Everybody here works hard. You know, we feel the rewards of that because we feel like we stay true to the original intention of journalism which is to responsibly report the facts and truly inform the public. And we feel this is more and more being recognized. As for other media, I can’t really comment on it, but I think definitely, you know, they suffered a tremendous blow to their credibility because the thing that they’ve been saying so definitive has proven to be false. In terms of where we’re going, I mean, there’s a lot of questions that have to be answered. Senator Graham today called for a second special counsel to look into the FISA abuse. The real question is: What are the origins of the investigation into the Trump campaign? What did the officials with the Obama Administration know, what was their intention? It certainly looks like the people involved knew that there was no collusion and that they were actively trying to undermine a presidency. And that’s of course a very serious matter. So I think the American people deserve, and, quite frankly, I don’t think the American people will have satisfaction until all of this is properly investigated and we know what really happened so we can make sure that that never happens again.
Jan Jekielek: Some people have called this bigger than Watergate. And I think Watergate takes this kind of mythical, has this mythical status in this country. What’s your take on that?
Jasper Fakkert: I mean, I wouldn’t say the entire, but large parts of the intelligence apparatus of the law enforcement apparatus was actively weaponized against a presidential candidate. Plus it appears that they were actively working with foreign governments on this.
So, yeah, it’s an extremely important investigation. And that’s basically what the Spygate map that we made shows—it shows all of the people involved. And shows all of the agencies involved. Of course it’s deeply troubling.
Jan Jekielek: So there’s something actually interesting. As I watched your work evolve over the last two years—yours and Jeff’s work evolve over the last two years—I noticed that are the way we interpreted the facts is actually quite different. It was different from what I saw in the what I call the legacy media. It was definitely very different from that, but it was also quite different from what people would call conservative media who were ostensibly telling the other side of the story. It was certainly telling the other side of the story. I wanted to kind of explore that a little bit. Specifically it has to do with Mueller and it has to do with Rosenstein. The way we approached what they were doing was really quite different. I mean could you expand on that a little bit?
Jasper Fakkert: Well, I think, it was, in terms of conservative media, I think it was very easy to buy into the narrative that Mueller and Rosenstein were somehow these deeply entrenched people in the system that were out to take down Trump. I mean it seems like a logical narrative.
Jan Jekielek: The president even suggested it.
Jasper Fakkert: Exactly. I think it goes back to just our approach to the reporting, which is like you just look at what happened. Like that sequence of events I described to you in May 2017 is very telling because if you line things up logically all of a sudden you get a different picture, and you need to have a full picture to be able to make up your mind. So, yeah, I guess we just kept our independence and just reported the facts that we thought were true.
Jan Jekielek: Based on what we know now as of Sunday with the attorney general’s letter, how does our reporting basically rack up?
Jasper Fakkert: Well, you know, you referenced this May article from 2017. You know I think it basically proves our reporting. I mean that there was no evidence of collusion. And in terms of the deputy Attorney General Barr in consultation with Rosenstein they looked at the facts presented in terms of the obstruction of justice issue, and they determined that there was no obstruction of justice case. So if Rosenstein had really been this bad person entrenched in the government trying to take down Trump then I guess that would have been his chance, but obviously that didn’t happen.
Jan Jekielek: Interesting. So, essentially, this is a kind of an exoneration.
Jasper Fakkert: Oh, of course it is. I would say it’s a complete exoneration.
Jan Jekielek: So is there anything else you’d like to share at this time?
Jasper Fakkert: I guess I just want to say that none of this, you know, our reporting is not possible without our great reporting team, our great contributors. I mean, we’ve talked about Jeff. Brian Cates is another one of our contributors. He’s been doing excellent work.
Jan Jekielek: Related to this issue?
Jasper Fakkert: Yeah, absolutely. Brian has done great reporting on the whole question of the DOJ, Rod Rosenstein and the role he was playing. So in our own reporting staff obviously, we have a great team and we’re going to keep going. We’re committed to bringing people real journalism. And that’s what they can expect from us, and we’ll keep doing that.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mispronounced the name of the law firm Perkins Coie.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.