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Chris Hughes vindicated

Slate Publishes Bombshell Report on Secret Trump-Russia Communication (Too Bad It’s Complete BS)

donald-trump-2-e1466597087771The curent front-page story of Slate certainly is suggestive: “Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia?” it asks. The piece by former New Republic editor Franklin Foer is clearly the result of weeks (if not months) of investigative work. The ground-breaking story: a server registered to the Trump Organization has been receiving messages from a pair of servers registered to the Russian, Putin-connected Alfa Bank, seemingly corroborating allegations that Donald Trump is collaberating with the Russians.

The piece is certainly juicy. The communication we learn, was “secretive,” “suggestive,” it “didn’t pass the sniff test.” Communications between the Russian and Trump server apparently spiked during key election events.“This is more akin to what criminal syndicates do if they are putting together a project,” one expert told Slate.

It sure would be embarrassing if after immediately publishing this story, another publication reported that the whole thing was above-the-board, huh? Because, yeah, that’s what happened.

The New York Times reported hours after Slate’s piece went live that the FBI thoroughly looked for evidence of a link between Trump and the Russian government, and found none. According to The Times, investigators “even chased a lead — which they ultimately came to doubt — about a possible secret channel of email communication from the Trump Organization to a Russian bank”:

They focused particular attention on what cyberexperts said appeared to be a mysterious computer back channel between the Trump Organization and the Alfa Bank, which is one of Russia’s biggest banks and whose owners have longstanding ties to Mr. Putin.

F.B.I. officials spent weeks examining computer data showing an odd stream of activity to a Trump Organization server and Alfa Bank. Computer logs obtained by The New York Times show that two servers at Alfa Bank sent more than 2,700 “look-up” messages — a first step for one system’s computers to talk to another — to a Trump-connected server beginning in the spring. But the F.B.I. ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.

Incidentally, the FBI’s mundane explanation for the servers’ communication is identical to the one given to Slate when the Russian bank launched their own investigation, namely that “the leading theory is that Alfa Bank’s servers may have been responding with common DNS look ups to spam sent to it by a marketing server. But it doesn’t want to speak on the record until it’s finished its investigation.”

Now, I don’t blame Slate for publishing a story and then having the air let out of it hours later; it happens to all reporters eventually. What does baffle me is that the day after The New York Times published its story, there is still no update, no correction, no indication at all in Foer’s piece that federal investigators looked into his allegations and found it was much ado about nothing. There is a massive piece of evidence out there calling Slate’s entire story into question, and the article does nothing to inform readers that that’s the case.

What’s especially amusing is that in his piece, Foer cites the fact that Times reporters are investigating the server story. The same two reporters Foer cites, Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers, are also the authors of the Times piece reporting that the FBI looked into and dismissed the story. So Myers and Lichtblau’s reporting is worth citing when it looks bad for Trump, but when they write a piece downplaying the story, Slate pays them no mind.

Now, it isn’t entirely true that Slate hasn’t updated the piece. There is an update on the bottom: “The article has been updated to make clear that The New York Times reporters learned of the logs independently, not from [a] Reddit thread.” Clearly, THAT was what needed an immediate correction.

And still, as of this writing, the Foer story is the leading story on Slate’s homepage at the moment. It’s almost, almost, like Slate’s motivation for publishing the piece had nothing to do with informing its readers.

Really, I should this end this rant here. But I want to highlight something else that jumped out at me from the Slate piece, specifically the allegation that the traffic from the Russian servers jumped during election moments, something that seems odd if it was really just marketing spam.

The following chart (which I’ve zoomed in on) supposedly shows that “at election-related moments, the traffic peaked.” The shaded blue areas (which Slate chose to highlight), are the Republican policy committee meeting, the Republican convention, and the Democratic convention respectively. The red and blue lines represent attempted communication by each Russian server.

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THAT’s what you’re accusing a presidential candidate of de facto treason over? Small upticks that are completely overshadowed by increases in traffic later in the year, upticks that don’t correspond with election events at all? And perhaps I’m crazy, but it seems the “peak” during the first event– the Republican policy meeting– isn’t even a peak.

It seems obvious to me based on the chart that traffic from each server would spike and fall every few days with some regularity. Considering that the Republican policy committee, RNC, and DNC were each week-long affairs grouped closely together, you’d expect through pure chance that you’d see increases in communication from at least one of the two servers that are, vaguely speaking, around those times. Moreover, there are no shortage of “election-related moments” in any given year. If a reporter– hypothetically of course– was cherry-picking data to suit their hypothesis, they could just as easily pick the Democratic policy committee meeting, the VP announcements, the final primaries, the debates, etc.

In short, Slate’s chart sure is pretty. But missing was any analysis that the peaks in traffic are statistically significant and can be attributed to more than mere coincidence. Evidently, the FBI found they did not.

[Image via screengrab]

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This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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