In a bombshell op-ed, Buzzfeed reports that an administration official “solicited the services of an apparent WikiLeaks source, who has been sharply critical of the Trump administration’s handling of the situation in Ukraine.”
The Post also has sources saying the official is Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia. This tweet confirms McFaul’s identity:
McFaul was the last Obama administration ambassador in Moscow, who made allegations of Russian meddling into the 2016 election in his final report to Congress. (I filed a story about that report here.)
Buzzfeed says it has information from the whistle-blower that the administration official, whose name was not publicly disclosed, placed “an illegal request for help from a known WikiLeaks source,” and sought to get the source to leak to WikiLeaks.
Buzzfeed said the “controversial official” was Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who was an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The official solicited the services of an apparent WikiLeaks source, who has been sharply critical of the Trump administration’s handling of the situation in Ukraine, according to two U.S. officials who have been briefed on the matter. WikiLeaks has denied having any connection to the individual.
Buzzfeed suggests in the piece that McFaul and WikiLeaks did have some sort of connection, since “WikiLeaks has previously hosted other political figures in positions of influence, most prominently Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.”
This is likely a complete non-story. A former Obama administration ambassador would have solicited WikiLeaks for help (at the level of someone in charge of organized crime) to publish embarrassing information, but that’s not new or surprising. Buzzfeed itself has it covered, in its own recent coverage of alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.
Buzzfeed is treating this as a bombshell story, despite its complete lack of sourcing. A while back the Washington Post profiled McFaul, who was brought in to make a positive impression on the Trump administration and has gone on to serve as director of the Freeman Spogli Institute. Buzzfeed’s investigative journalism has a strong journalistic tradition, but this one is almost certainly just smoke.
Asked for comment on Buzzfeed’s piece Wednesday night, Peter Carr, a spokesman for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, issued a rare statement about a matter involving an ongoing investigation:
Statement about Buzzfeed story: “Buzzfeed has chosen to perpetuate its longstanding practice of publishing unsubstantiated and partisan claims without verifying them. This type of reporting is not new. BuzzFeed routinely chooses to publish these stories and actively encourages its readers to do the same.” https://t.co/XE9nuvqAYX — Michael Isikoff (@IsikoffNBC) September 26, 2018
McFaul also tweeted Wednesday night, confirming that he is the source.