How Jonathan Swan Covered [Up] John Durham’s Corruption

Something funny happened yesterday.

Full-time Trump-whisperer Maggie Haberman, Trump-whisperer Jonathan Swan, and DOJ reporter Charlie Savage wrote a story responding to Trump’s promise to appoint prosecutors to investigate Joe Biden and his family just like Biden’s own DOJ has done (which they note). They described that if Trump won a second term, he would “appoint an ally who would bring charges against his political enemies regardless of the facts,” then described how Jeffrey Clark and Russell Vought were already working on the plan.

Mr. Trump appeared to be promising his supporters that he would appoint an ally who would bring charges against his political enemies regardless of the facts.


Mr. Clark and Mr. Vought are promoting a legal rationale that would fundamentally change the way presidents interact with the Justice Department. They argue that U.S. presidents should not keep federal law enforcement at arm’s length but instead should treat the Justice Department no differently than any other cabinet agency. They are condemning Mr. Biden and Democrats for what they claim is the politicization of the justice system, but at the same time pushing an intellectual framework that a future Republican president might use to justify directing individual law enforcement investigations.

They make no mention of the cases on which Bill Barr attempted to do just that — bring charges against Trump’s political enemies regardless of the facts: Greg Craig, Jim Comey, Andrew McCabe, John Kerry, among others (though Savage has covered them).

The only mention of Barr’s unprecedented past success at politicizing DOJ includes an important error.

Under Mr. Barr, the Justice Department overruled career prosecutors’ recommendations on the length of a sentence for Mr. Trump’s longest-serving political adviser, Roger J. Stone Jr., and shut down a case against Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who had already pleaded guilty. Both cases stemmed from the Russia investigation.

Barr’s DOJ did not succeed at shutting down Mike Flynn’s prosecution, in which a sentencing memo, approved by Barr’s DOJ, had already been submitted by the time Barr commenced his efforts. Emmet Sullivan was still deciding whether to grant DOJ’s request to throw out Flynn’s guilty plea when Trump pardoned Flynn; and when Sullivan finally did dismiss the case, he reaffirmed Flynn’s guilty verdict.

NYT’s silence about how Trump really overturned Flynn’s conviction, a pardon, carries over generally. These journalists join Kaitlin Collins in warning of future Trump corruption without bothering to catalog or hold Trump accountable for his past unprecedented corruption, the pardons he used to reward those who lied about what really happened with Russia in 2016. That’s the opposite of accountability journalism, warning of future corruption while remaining silent about the similar corruption that already happened.

But the weirdest thing, coming as it does from a team including both Swan and Savage, is that NYT made no mention of the Durham investigation, in which a Special Counsel appointed under Trump literally did, “bring charges against [Trump’s] political enemies regardless of the facts.”

The silence from Savage is unfortunate given that he has done such important work laying out how that’s what Durham did.

Swan’s silence is more inexcusable.

That’s because — as I documented in real time — Swan was absolutely central in disseminating Durham’s unsubstantiated insinuation that a “Clinton/Dem operative” (Durham’s claim itself relied on exaggeration) was behind the pee tape.

Swan’s judgement, a neutral journalist not just magnifying and repeating Devlin Barrett’s shitty reporting on the Igor Danchenko indictment (Barrett said charges, plural, were tied to Charles Dolan and falsely claimed that Durham had alleged Dolan was the source for the dossier, “rather than well-connected Russians”), but adding his judgment that it “doesn’t get much worse,” went viral, accepted as fact.

I pointed that out, with a hot link to his earlier Tweet.

Swan responded. He ignored the clear factual error about Flynn and the point about pardons, but he conceded that his Tweet “is inaccurate.”

So he deleted it, with only this Tweet recording that he did so and no apology to the two innocent men, Charles Dolan and Igor Danchenko, he falsely accused and — with his viral tweet and his considerable credibility as a journalist — led others to falsely accuse, having done so because of the deliberately misleading way Durham had presented his charges against Danchenko.

Most curiously, Swan explained that he, “never covered Durham.”

It’s absolutely true that he never laid out how Durham, a Special Counsel Trump demanded and got, brought “charges against his political enemies regardless of the facts,” as Savage has. Swan never even, as Barrett did, reported on an indictment and misleadingly claimed uncharged allegations in it were charged conduct. Swan wasn’t the experienced DOJ reporter who first fell for Durham’s affirmatively misleading charging document, Barrett was.

But as a journalist, Swan disseminated Durham’s unsubstantiated, uncharged claims, exacerbated by Barrett’s shitty reporting, and people took his report as true. Swan played a key role in leading the public to believe that a prosecutor who charged Danchenko for making a literally true statement to the FBI about his contact with Dolan had instead found something so bad that, “it doesn’t get much worse.”

Perhaps his role was unwitting. But Swan played a key role in helping Durham to make and lead the public to believe in false claims, “regardless of the facts,” precisely the topic that Swan and his colleagues suggest is just a prospective threat from Trump.

And much of the public still believes Durham’s false claims, in (small) part because of Swan’s own actions.

John Durham is going to go before Congress next week and be asked to explain and repeat demonstrably false claims — outright fabrications, in some cases — that he made in his report. Durham will likely renew his claims, made in his report, that Michael Sussmann and Igor Danchenko lied, even though two juries told him that he made those accusations, “regardless of the facts.”

And Swan, who generously describes that, “the pee tape rumors didn’t bear out,” rather than that a prosecutor made the claim “regardless of the facts,” Swan, who believes the topic of prosecutors who make false claims “regardless of the facts” is a topic worth reporting, thinks that deleting evidence of his own role in disseminating such false claims is sufficient, even as Durham continues to do Trump’s bidding of making false claims in real time.

John Durham is precisely the threat that Haberman and Swan and Savage warned about prospectively, but Swan, having played a role in leading the public to believe Durham’s false claims “regardless of the facts,” thinks that merely deleting the evidence that that’s what Durham has done is sufficient.

If the threat of prosecutors charging Trump’s enemies “regardless of the facts” is worth reporting, than Durham’s ongoing corruption must be covered, not covered up.

33 replies
  1. Spank Flaps says:

    Steve Schmidt makes the important point that the NYT article is pro-dictatorship propaganda:
    Ironic that the “divine right of Kings” was rejected in England in 1649, and again in America in 1776.
    Comparing Trump to Hitler is hard to accept for some, so how about Henry VIII powers!

    • Amicus12 says:

      NYT is incapable of acknowledging that Trump acted to end democracy and he, and large parts of the Republican party and the plutocracy, remain committed to that course. Were they to do so, the conceit of their worldview would collapse.

  2. Ben Soares says:

    Yeah I’m old enough to remember how Durham came to be and who the President was – the fact you need to explain this to a “Professional Journalist” ….

    I find depressing.

    Thank you Dr.

      • Maureen A Donnelly says:

        grateful to y’all for staying on Durham. hopeful that one day someone will poke around all the money blown for so little and all the lies Bill Barr got to tell as AG. not the GOP of my dead parents.

  3. greengiant says:

    Source based reporters are not journalists they are propaganda amplifiers posing as journalists.
    If they caveated their “sources say” with “sources who have repeatedly lied in the past say” they would not have sources.
    Was it Steve Bannon’s genius that brought the Wall Street ethos of making pennies on the dollar by destroying capital to making pennies on the dollar by destroying democracy? Something like destroy the political parties and the media being the first steps.

  4. Bay State Librul says:

    NY Times
    242 W 41st St, New York, NY 10036
    Attn: Assignment Editor

    Dear Sir:

    Please assign Jonathan Swan to cover the June 21st House Hearing.
    The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, June 21, 2023, at 9:00 a.m. ET. The hearing will focus on the report of Special Counsel John Durham that examined the origins and justifications of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Crossfire Hurricane investigation against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

    The Honorable John Durham, Special Counsel, the United States Department of Justice

    Here is the lede: Durham’s swan song ends, as it began, with Barr’s lies. Crossfire Hurricane land falls in DC with a light breeze.

    Thank you,

    The Groaner

  5. freebird says:

    If the pee tape exists, it will not reveal anything new about Trump. It is proven that he is unfaithful with a voracious and depraved sexual appetite. Examine his past statements and associations with people like Epstein. I was gobsmacked when I heard a clip of Trump saying that Epstein likes women on the younger side. If he knew this and didn’t report Epstein and continued to commingle with Epstein, frankly, nothing else is off limits.

    • notjonathon says:

      According to at least one accusation of forcible rape and intimations of creepiness by beauty contestants, plus an admission by Trump himself about the Junior Miss America contest, Trump himself wasn’t averse to “admiring” girls on the younger side.

  6. Eichhörnchen says:

    “And much of the public still believes Durham’s false claims, in (small) part because of Swan’s own actions.”

    Swan’s role in disseminating lies may be small, compared to the drumbeat of Fox News, but it’s incredibly important. Such reporting lends invaluable credence to Fox’s claims, coming from a major “liberal” outlet. For the rubes, that’s QED, which is Latin for “game, set, match.” (Latin scolds, hold your fire. I know very well that it actually translates to STFU. /s)

  7. Ashley Montague says:

    On Deadline White House last night in a segment on this piece, there was a weird moment where Savage completely undercut the premise of the discussion, i.e. that Trump plans to abuse presidential power in ways that are way outside any kind of historical norm. Oddly, Savage ended by equating Republicans & Democrats on this issue: “People who criticize executive power tend to do it when their guy is not in office. It’s a place where there is maximal hypocrisy in American politics.”

    • Rayne says:

      I’d love to know when Savage was videoed saying this, given what Teri Kanefield noted last evening after 7:00 pm ET — behavior well outside a historical norm, let alone prudent behavior by a well-advised client.

      Savage can stuff the maximal hypocrisy crap. The number and kind of executive orders tells the story. Trump Biden’s first day in office saw him issue a large number of executive orders — 9 of 17 signed to undo harmful bullshit orders Trump executed, with several others related to pandemic response. (Really, how is undoing a ban on Muslim travel a hypocritical exercise of executive power, Savage?)

  8. Savage Librarian says:

    Jonathan Swan’s boxes are exposed and he doesn’t like it, something he has in common with Trump. “Doesn’t get much worse.”

  9. klynn says:

    Amen to this post! THANK YOU! (Yes, I’m shouting appreciation!)

    Trump did not issue a threat, he just affirmed his MO. Swan played along while trying to maintain the look of a serious journalist but affirming a role of propagandist.

    Thank you for holding the record to account and turning the firehose into a slow dripping faucet.

  10. bawiggans says:

    I think the net effect of NYT’s political reporting is likely not some inchoate affection for Trump, Republicans or authoritarianism. It is much more likely the result of a thousand little editorial decisions based on an ethic of journalistic storytelling that is cautious and extremely averse to accusations of liberal bias. Its sensitivity is so acute that it renders the paper’s editorial identity nearly incoherent. The Times deflects the substance of criticism by regarding the fact of criticism as evidence that it is doing its job: of course, good journalism is going to piss off the cranks and idealogues.

    • loveyourstuff says:

      A round of applause for your superlative bullshit. And I mean this in the un-nicest way.

      • bmaz says:

        Who the fuck are you to be policing this blog? We will have a problem with you very fast if you keep up your current track.

        You have been here little more than a month, and are a pain in the ass. We don’t have time for your garbage.

        • loveyourstuff says:

          bmaz, hi there. I am not policing this blog, which you’ve accused me of before. The author to whom I responded was negating Marcy’s post about the NYT. I responded to his negation.

          And by the by, yesterday a commenter responded to one of my posts and wrote that it was helpful and consistent with the quality posts on this site.

          You, in this instance, don’t know that of which you speak.

          or not

      • Peterr says:

        For someone who claims to comment in ways that are helpful and befitting the quality of this site, this comment is neither. But you nailed your namecalling and dismissiveness with your own self-evaluation of your remarks as made “in the un-nicest way.”

        It’s fine to disagree, but disagree with some substance and evidence.

        • bmaz says:

          There will be a LOT of bullshit over the next year and a half. Most bad, sometimes only annoying. Sadly, there is experience with that, and we will be ready.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            Your usual understatement. Between serial Trump prosecutions and a general election, it’s likely to be Swamp Thingy.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I think that’s a partial description, but it misses what I consider intentional conduct that lays at the feet of the all too sophisticated and Republican-loving folks at the NYT.

  11. Sherrie H says:

    “They make no mention of the cases on which Bill Barr attempted to do just that”

    Heck, Sessions, too: Huber’s investigation of Hillary Clinton, and the subpoena of phone records of Democratic congress members and journalists come to mind.

  12. loveyourstuff says:


    Who shall be named
    Goddess of Reckoning,
    Your recall of who said what and when
    In which context is extraordinary.

    Your accounting of the sins
    Of the hacks, the so-called journalists,
    And the sins of the hoodlums,
    The métiers of so-called truth and justice,
    Attests to your genius
    That is commensurate with the divine—
    Specifically Athena.

    And yet you are cursed
    To Cassandra’s fate,
    At least in respect to those who
    Are not worthy to be called your peers.

  13. MyWag says:

    Excellent reporting.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please choose and use a unique username with a minimum of 8 letters</u>. We are moving to a new minimum standard to support community security. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  14. klynn says:

    OT. Just saw your Tweet on Hugh’s WAPo Opinion piece. I cannot thank you enough for standing up to the disinfo parading as “sound” opinion pieces.

    It’s as though we need a “this is how I would edit this oped” press accountability because too many oped’s are more propaganda than actual factual insight on a matter of concern.

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