McClatchy reporters Peter Stone and Greg Gordon rocked the political world Friday when they reported special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, visited Prague in the summer of 2016.
The report appeared to confirm one of the infamous Trump-Russia dossier’s key allegations: that Cohen met in Prague with a Kremlin official about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The development would be significant because Cohen has adamantly denied making the Prague trip.
But three days later, no other news outlet has confirmed the report, and there are reasons to be skeptical.
A spokesperson for the special counsel’s office wouldn’t comment on the Cohen-Prague story specifically, but told The Daily Caller News Foundation that “many stories” about the Russia investigation have been “inaccurate.”
“What I have been telling all reporters is that many stories about our investigation have been inaccurate. Be very cautious about any source that claims to have knowledge about our investigation and dig deep into what they claim before reporting on it,” the spokesperson said. “If another outlet reports something, don’t run with it unless you have your own sourcing to back it up.”
Benjamin Wittes, a fierce Trump critic and ally of former FBI Director James Comey, over the weekend urged caution towards the report, which he called “a little too good.”
“The sourcing is relatively thin. It is sourced to two sources familiar with the matter, who are presumably not Mueller shop folks. It’s not clear to me what the universe of people who would know this sort of thing from a distance looks like,” Wittes wrote on Twitter.
“The story does not, actually, say that Michael Cohen was, in fact, in Prague at the relevant time. It says that Mueller’s investigation has developed some evidence that he was in Prague. It gives no sense of how much evidence or what type of evidence—or how credible it is,” he added.
Cohen also reiterated his denial that he’s visited Prague.
“Bad reporting, bad information and bad story by same reporter Peter Stone,” he tweeted in response to the McClatchy piece.
On at least three other occasions, Stone and Gordon have reported similarly explosive — but thinly-sourced — Trump-Russia stories that have failed to live up to the hype. All four stories cited the same sourcing: “two sources familiar” with the matters.
Stone and Gordon reported on March 20, 2017, that FBI investigators were probing whether right-wing news sites, including Breitbart and Infowars, assisted Russian cyber operations during the 2016 election.
The next day, Stone went on MSNBC and floated the “possibility that some of these far right news sites might have actually in some way collaborated with Russia as it was endeavoring to unload this enormous cyber attack on the United States.” He conceded the possibility the story won’t “pan out.”
To date, no other news outlet has confirmed that story.
In January, Stone and Gordon reported that Mueller was investigating whether Russian banker Alexander Torshin funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Trump win the 2016 presidential election.
“The extent to which the FBI has evidence of money flowing from Torshin to the NRA, or of the NRA’s participation in the transfer of funds, could not be learned,” the report conceded.
Two days later, the two reporters came out with a second report tying the NRA to Russia. That report claimed Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who worked for the NRA, “had concerns about its ties to Russia and its possible involvement in channeling Russian funds into the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump.”
Mitchell cast doubt on both of McClatchy’s NRA-Russia reports.
“Ms. Mitchell tells me she told McClatchy before publication that this was false, that she has spoken to no one about the NRA’s actions in 2016, and that she believes the entire NRA-Russia story line is preposterous,” Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel wrote in a column excoriating the McClatchy reports.
“She asked the reporters to explain to whom she supposedly said this, when and in what context,” Strassel wrote. “They couldn’t, but ran the story anyway. Ms. Mitchell calls it ‘the quintessential definition of fake news.’”
Mitchell told TheDCNF that reporters from several outlets contacted her with the allegations about the NRA-Russia story.
“I know that someone was pitching the false story about me to multiple news outlets,” she said, asserting that McClatchy is “the only one who bit.”
“There was someone really peddling that false story,” says Mitchell, a partner at the firm Foley & Lardner.
Gordon told TheDCNF he and Stone stand by their reports on NRA-Russia ties and investigations into Breitbart and Infowars. To date, no other news organization has confirmed those reports.