Ready, Fire, Aim

There's a great scene from the movie All the President's Men in which Bob Woodward's source, Deep Throat, berates him for screwing up on a story involving Bob Halderman.

Deep Throat: You let Halderman slip away.

Woodward: Yes.

Deep Throat: You've done worse than let Haldeman slip away: you've got people feeling sorry for him. I didn't think that was possible. In a conspiracy like this, you build from the outer edges and go step by step. If you shoot too high and miss, everybody feels more secure. You've put the investigation back months.

Yesterday, a piece in BuzzFeed claimed that Donald Trump instructed his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie in his testimony before Congress about the Moscow Tower project. If true, that would make the President of the United States guilty of subornation of perjury, which is obstruction of justice. Understandably, the media and, in particular, Democrats jumped all over the story. Some were throwing around the "I" word.

Later that evening, however, Peter Carr, a spokesperson for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, threw cold water on the story. A statement issued by Carr said, "BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate."

What did Carr mean by "specific statements?" Was he saying all of the piece was wrong or just part of it? Did Trump tell Cohen to lie or not? While BuzzFeed is standing by its story, Trump and his allies are, not surprisingly, having a field day. Once again, the "fake media" was proven wrong, this time ironically enough by the office of the man tasked with investigating his administration.

Look, we still don't know how all this will play out. No doubt Cohen will be asked to clarify exactly what Trump told him when he appears before the House Oversight Committee in February. What we do know is this: it's rare for Mueller's office to issue a statement regarding the investigation, so we can only surmise that he felt it was necessary in this instance.

And let's face it, BuzzFeed isn't exactly The New York Times or The Washington Post when it comes to credibility. They may well have jumped the gun on this one, and if that is true, like the aforementioned line from All the President's Men, it will make Trump and his supporters feel more secure. While it still won't have any impact on the actual investigation, since that is still in Mueller's control, it will give ammunition to those who are looking to smear it.

And that's the thing that needs to be underscored here. BuzzFeed intentionally or unintentionally ran with a story that cannot be corroborated and has now been challenged by Mueller's office, and that makes everyone's job in the press that much harder to do. One fuck up, one failure to dot an "i" or cross a "t" is all it takes to muddy what is already pretty much a toxic cesspool. Imagine what Fox News and the rest of the conservative media will say the next time a story about Trump surfaces, and you know there are going to be more. With a president this corrupt, it's inevitable.

This is why sources are so critical. That's why it is imperative that leads be checked and rechecked. When you are dealing with something this big, there is no margin for error. Yes, mistakes will happen, and when they do, it is incumbent upon the publication or media outlet to correct them as soon as possible. If the editors at BuzzFeed truly feel their story is legit, then fine, stick with it. But if there is even a scintilla of doubt, they owe it to their colleagues to pull it and pull it now.

This is the greatest story of our lifetime. A foreign power interfered on behalf of a presidential candidate, who then went on to win the election. To what degree, if any, is that president compromised? What, if any, intelligence did he share with that power? And what are the short and long-tern consequences for this country?

To find the answers to these and other questions will take a concerted effort by both the intelligence community, of which Mueller is a part, and a free and independent press committed to a thorough and relentless search for the truth.