'This Is Sketchy': Critics Warn Against Blind Acceptance of Explosive Guardian Report About Secret Manafort-Assange Meetings
September 16, 2020 | News | No Comments
After the Guardian sent the punditry into a frenzy on Tuesday by publishing a bombshell report alleging that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly met with WikiLeaks founder and editor Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London during the 2016 presidential race, journalists and critics were quick to warn against blindly accepting the claims made in the piece due to the story’s scant material evidence, anonymous sources, and explosive political implications.
As independent national security journalist Marcy Wheeler wrote on Twitter, “skepticism” about the Guardian‘s reporting—which was quickly picked up by corporate outlets—”couldn’t be more broad-based” as it brought together journalists and legal experts from an array of political persuasions and opposing views.
While some commentators simply withheld judgment on the report’s veracity in the absence of further corroboration, others argued that there are plenty of reasons to doubt that the story’s central claims are accurate—such as its heavy reliance on anonymous Ecuadorian intelligence officials who may have political motives and an unverified internal document written by Ecuador’s National Intelligence Secretariat (SENAIN), which claims “Paul Manaford [sic]” and “Russians” were well-known guests of the embassy.
As whistleblower advocate Naomi Colvin and others pointed out, official Ecuadorian embassy visitor logs make no mention of any Manafort appearances, let alone the three separate appearances reported by the Guardian.
Instead of citing official logs, the Guardian‘s latest reporting relies heavily on SENAIN’s document, which critics argued is questionable at best given that SENAIN may have political motivations to discredit WikiLeaks for publishing secret agency documents in the past.
“There are genuine grounds to be cautious about the report,” argued The New Republic‘s Jeet Heer. “It is based on anonymous sources, some of whom are connected with Ecuadorian intelligence. The logs of the embassy show no such meetings. The information about the most newsworthy meeting (in the spring of 2016) is vaguely worded, suggesting a lack of certitude.”
“There are so many weird aspects to the Guardian story beyond the fact that it doesn’t describe its sources or show any evidence. But nobody cares. People will claim it’s true or not based solely on whether they want it to be.”
—Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept
As the Guardian reports, “It is unclear why Manafort would have wanted to see Assange and what was discussed.” The only specific details offered are related to the length of the alleged 2016 meeting—”about 40 minutes”—and Manafort’s alleged attire—”sandy-colored chinos, a cardigan, and a light-colored shirt.”
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