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Slate journalist sent draft of story to Fusion GPS about possible link between Trump, Russian bank: Indictment

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Journalist Franklin Foer appeared to admit Friday he was the journalist mentioned in a federal grand jury indictment who sent 2,500 words of his story to Fusion GPS the day before it was published. 

The research firm hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign to investigate then-candidate Donald Trump wrote him it was “time to hurry” on the story for left-wing outlet Slate linking the Trump Organization and a Russian bank days before the 2016 election, according to the indictment of Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann.

Sussmann is accused of lying to the FBI by the John Durham probe investigating the origins of the Russia investigation. The indictment accused Sussmann of hiding the fact that he was working for the Clinton campaign while pushing for an investigation into supposed ties between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank. 

Foer was pressured by Fusion GPS, referred to as “U.S. Investigative Firm,” to “hurry” on his story about the possible backchannel between Trump and the bank, according to the indictment, referring to him as “Reporter-2.”

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The Atlantic staff writer Franklin Foer appears to be "Reporter-2." (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

The Atlantic staff writer Franklin Foer appears to be “Reporter-2.” (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

“The Investigative Firm Employee’s email stated, ‘time to hurry’ suggesting that Reporter-2 should hurry to publish an article regarding the Russian Bank-1 allegations. In response, Reporter-2 emailed to the Investigative Firm Employee a draft article regarding the Russian Bank-1 allegations, along with the cover message: ‘Here’s the first 2500 words,’” the indictment stated. 

The indictment then notes Reporter-2 published an article regarding the allegations “on or about the following day, October, 31, 2016.” 

On Oct. 31, 2016, Slate published a piece written by Foer headlined, “Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia?” The Clinton campaign hyped the story that day, with policy adviser Jake Sullivan – now President Biden’s national security adviser – calling the “secret hotline” perhaps “the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia.”

Foer even suggested there was time for an “October surprise” in a tweet with a link to the story, suggesting it could be a game-changer. However, Trump went on to be elected president, and Clinton would fume that then-FBI Director James Comey’s re-opening of the investigation into her email server prevented her victory.

Foer acknowledged there were “limitations” to the story in a follow-up piece in The Atlantic two years later and expressed hope that the Robert Mueller investigation would tie up any loose ends. The Justice Department’s Inspector General said the FBI had investigated and found no cyber links between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization, the Daily Caller reported last year.

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Foer appeared to admit he is “Reporter-2” in a statement to the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple.

“It appears to be true. ‘Reporter-2’ here, is Franklin Foer, who wrote the Slate piece on Alfa Bank-Trump Org. And the intel firm, as you note, is Fusion GPS. I asked Foer about it and he assumes it is he,” Wemple tweeted along with a statement Foer provided. 

“If memory serves, it was a technical piece. I sent one long section, that was about the community of computer scientists and their work, to someone who I thought was knowledgeable to see if I had the thrust right. Unfortunately, they weren’t of much help,” Foer told Wemple. 

Slate did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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It can be deduced that the “U.S. Investigative Firm” in the indictment was Fusion GPS, due to an earlier statement in the indictment that the Clinton campaign’s general counsel, Marc Elias, “retained a particular investigative Firm (the ‘U.S. Investigative Firm’) to gather information regarding Trump’s purported ties to Russia.” 

It was first reported in 2017 that Elias tapped Fusion GPS on behalf of the Clinton campaign to investigate Trump, eventually leading to the infamous Christopher Steele dossier that would form part of the basis for the sprawling Russia investigation. 

“Throughout the Presidential campaign, the U.S. Investigative Firm worked with Law Firm-1, members of the media, and others to gather and disseminate purported evidence of Trump’s ties to Russia,” the indictment states.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barry Meier condemned the then-unnamed journalist’s action on social media. 

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“When journalists allow private operatives like Fusion GPS to set the rules of engagement, bad things can happen. And this, if true, is really bad,” Meier tweeted

In his follow-up for The Atlantic in 2018, Foer said he decided to publish the story because he worried he would feel bad if Trump wound up winning the election.

“Before I published the server story, I asked myself a fairly corny question: How would I sleep the next week if Donald Trump were elected president, knowing that I had sat on a potentially important piece of information? In the end, Trump was elected president, and I still slept badly,” he wrote.

Fox News’ Michael Lee contributed to this report.



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