On Thursday, CNN’s investigative reporter Thomas Frank published a story saying that the Senate is investigating SkyBridge Capital founder and Trump advisor Anthony Scaramucci for his ties to a $10 billion Russian investment fund. Then, without explanation, CNN deleted the story late Friday night.
Now amid harsh criticism, CNN is imposing serious changes to how they cover Russian-related news, with President Jeff Zucker said to be personally involved in the process.
The report’s removal immediately caught the attention of BuzzFeed, who reached out to CNN questioning why the story had disappeared. CNN refused to answer any questions regarding the story or its deletion, instead linking to a simple statement that read:
“On June 22, 2017, CNN.com published a story connecting Anthony Scaramucci with investigations into the Russian Direct Investment Fund.
That story did not meet CNN’s editorial standards and has been retracted. Links to the story have been disabled. CNN apologizes to Mr. Scaramucci.”
Right-wing outlets, like Breitbart were quick to pounce on the story’s removal, saying that the report was “very fake news” and was the work of Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ben Cardin:
But now reports are surfacing that CNN’s sole source for the hit piece seems to have been a staffer for Warren who was apparently “egged on” by staff for Harris. Harris is a freshman Democrat Senator who has aligned herself with the Warren-led “resist” movement, using congressional hearings to increase her profile nationally by arguing with Trump administration officials. While Warren’s team is not responding, Harris’s office denies the reports.
Citing a single, unnamed source, the original story reported that the Senate Intelligence committee was looking into the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and the Russian bank Vnesheconombank (VEB) and possible links to Jared Kushner, or other members of the Trump campaign. CNN reported that the VEB oversees the RDIF and “has ties to several Trump advisors.”
The RDIF is a Russian government fund that invests in the Russian economy and works to attract foreign investments in the country. Several prominent American investors, including Steve Schwarzman of Blackstone, were named to the international advisory board for the RDIF when it was established in 2011.
In 2015, the US Treasury Department placed sanctions on the RDIF in the wake of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. However, many US-based investment firms continued to work with the fund, including Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One. The RDIF has even announced plans to open an office in New York.
In January of this year, Scaramucci met with Kirll Dmitriev, the head of the RDIF, and discussed possible joint investments. Bloomberg covered the meeting, reporting:
Scaramucci said he’s long known Dmitriev and worked with him to set up the business delegation as a private citizen. “The idea was, many months ago, to have more outreach with Russia,” he said, noting that he will have to determine whether he can continue from within the administration, given ethics rules.
As for Friday’s story, CNN has not responded to numerous requests to address what issues were found with the story. However, the RDIF issued a statement through a Russian news outlet describing several factual errors:
“CNN’s report contains factual inaccuracies which we have pointed out to the journalists concerned and expect to be corrected, but no amendments have been made so far. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) became an independent sovereign fund in 2016, following the adoption of a special federal law. Consequently, RDIF is not a part of Vnesheconombank and its operations are wholly independent of the bank. RDIF always operates in full compliance with relevant regulations and legislation and its operations do not violate sanctions,” the RDIF spokesperson said.
For his part, Scaramucci accepted CNN’s apology:
— Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci) June 24, 2017
However, BuzzFeed has continued to cover the story, finding that the network has now imposed strict new guidelines on stories covering Russia:
In wake of story retraction, CNNMoney exec editor sends memo to staff mandating all “Russia-related content” must be cleared by him or VP pic.twitter.com/2Y6QMZj1h5
— Jon Passantino (@passantino) June 25, 2017
BuzzFeed quotes a source close to the network in saying that the story was a “massive, massive fuck up and people will be disciplined.” The source also says that the network’s HR department and even President Jeff Zucker are personally conducting an internal investigation on the story. Zucker himself may now be part of the new “workflow” for Russia-related stories.
We all know the ridiculous lengths that the Trump administration has gone to in order to attack the press. Whether it is a constant barrage of tweets about fake news or banning cameras from press briefings, critical media has been an unwelcome presence in the Trump White House. That is why it is more important than ever that the corporate media get their stories correct. This fake story only gives Trump more ammo in his war on media.
CNN’s Scaramucci story was not just a typo or a misquote, it was a serious, yet false, allegation that added fuel to an already overblown Russia story. The only thing accomplished by the story is that it gave the right-wing, Trump-friendly media another rallying point. President Trump and his cult-like supporters do not need any more evidence that the unfavorable coverage of him is nothing more than a leftist conspiracy.
Furthermore, if indeed the unnamed source for the original CNN article was someone associated with Sens. Warren or Harris, then there is an even bigger issue at hand. Democratic party candidates have failed to capitalize on a wildly unpopular ruling party.
The Republicans continue to push truly awful legislation, including their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. However, the opposition has chosen to focus on Russia, instead of policy. So far, the American people have said that the left has not done enough to capture public support.