NBC Keeps Digging After Starting Dud Clinton Email Story That Trump Campaign Ran With

After scandalizing communications from the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton regarding publicly available information about a court hearing, NBC continues to engage in sloppy reporting on the matter. Citing hacked emails, an NBC News reporter first brought attention to a Clinton campaign email thread discussing litigation regarding the release of Clinton’s work emails. Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign subsequently seized upon the report to baselessly suggest “collusion” between the Department of Justice and top aides to Clinton. While other news outlets have explained that the emails present no evidence of impropriety and are merely discussions of a routine -- and public -- litigation update, NBC properties have continued to suggest otherwise.

NBC Reporter Scandalized Clinton Campaign Emails About Public Court Hearing, And Trump Immediately Promoted The Report

NBC News Reporter Implied Impropriety Because Hacked WikiLeaks Email Revealed Clinton Press Secretary Communicated About Clinton Email Court Hearing. NBC News’ Tom Winter wrote on Twitter, “NEW: Hacked e-mails from Wikileaks appear to show Clinton campaign spokesman in touch with DOJ officials regarding e-mail litigation.” The May 2015 email in question shows a Clinton staffer writing that “DOJ folks” advised him of the timing  of a routine “status hearing” -- which is public information -- involving representatives from the Department of Justice (DOJ) with the court overseeing the release of Clinton’s secretary of state work emails. Winter’s post has been retweeted more than 10,000 times:

Trump On Winter’s Post: “Wow. Unbelievable.” A little more than an hour after Winter brought attention to the email, Trump promoted Winter’s initial tweet, garnering more than 18,000 retweets:

Trump Campaign: Email Proves “Collusion” Between DOJ and Clinton Campaign Over FBI Investigation Into Clinton’s Work Emails. Even though the court hearing discussed in the hacked email referred to litigation over a Freedom of Information Act request filed by a reporter for Vice News, The Trump campaign falsely alleged that the email proved “collusion” between the DOJ and the Clinton campaign over the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails. The FBI inquiry was a separate matter that didn’t start until two months after the hearing in question. Politico reported:

“Today’s report that Clinton’s campaign was in communication with the Obama Department of Justice on the email investigation shows a level of collusion which calls into question the entire investigation into her private server,” Trump communications adviser Jason Miller said in a statement. “The Department of Justice must release all communications with the Clinton campaign and her allies as soon as possible in order to definitively prove their investigation was completely above board.” [Politico, 10/11/16]

Multiple Outlets -- Other Than NBC -- And Lawyers Explain That The Email Doesn’t Suggest Impropriety, But Rather Shows Communication About A Routine Public Court Hearing

Former Bush Administration Ethics Lawyer Richard Painter: “Sounds Like The Type Of Communication I Would Routinely Have With The [Republican National Committee] When I Worked At The White House: Giving Them A Status Update.” The Politico article reporting on the Trump campaign’s claim both noted that the allegation was inaccurate and quoted lawyers who said  the email doesn’t suggest impropriety. Painter explained that the Clinton campaign is “entitled” to know the type of information being shared and the article also quoted a criminal defense lawyer who wrote on Twitter, “This 'find' by NBC News is truly inane. Anybody can confirm a lousy status conference. Absolute garbage inference being peddled”:

Federal government employees are generally prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity while at work, but one ethics expert said Tuesday that restriction does not bar all communications between officials and campaigns.

“Sounds like the type of communication I would routinely have with the [Republican National Committee] when I worked at the White House: giving them a status update,” said Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush.

Painter also said it would be appropriate for Justice Department lawyers to advise Clinton's aides or lawyers of what position the government was taking on FOIA requests for her emails.

“Mrs. Clinton's office is certainly entitled to know what the U.S. is going to do in these [FOIA] cases to the extent the government is willing to share that,” said the former government ethics lawyer, now a law professor at the University of Minnesota. “I don’t think the fact that a former official is running for office changes that a lot. You do need to be somewhat careful that you are not engaged in advocacy or trying to coordinate with a political campaign a strategy for litigation or something like that.”


[Clinton press secretary Brian] Fallon had no comment in response to a query from POLITICO, but he did retweet a comment ridiculing an NBC News reporter's tweet calling attention to the email in question.

“This 'find' by NBC News is truly inane. Anybody can confirm a lousy status conference. Absolute garbage inference being peddled,” criminal defense lawyer @bmaz wrote on Twitter.

Another former Obama administration Justice Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, also dismissed the report.

“Lame. A status hearing is publicly available information. Nothing confidential or secret here,” Miller tweeted. [Politico, 8/11/16]

Conservative Legal Writer And Attorney Gabriel Malor: “The Implication Here Goes Too Far. Easiest Thing In The World To Get Confirmation On A Scheduled Status Update. It's No Secret.” From Twitter:

NY Times: “The Communication Between The Campaign And The Justice Department Appeared To Have Simply Been Updates On A Court Case Related To The Emails.” The New York Times reported that the information discussed in the Clinton campaign communications “was publicly available”:

The timing of the release of Mrs. Clinton’s State Department emails was critical information for her aides, who were devising strategy on how to respond to any story lines that could emerge. But the communication between the campaign and the Justice Department appeared to have simply been updates on a court case related to the emails, information that was publicly available.

Brian Fallon, the campaign’s press secretary, told other campaign aides in May 2015 that he had just received information about a case from someone at the department.

DOJ just filed a briefing saying the gov’t proposes releasing HRC’s cache of work-related emails in January 2016,” Mr. Fallon wrote.

“Get out!???” replied Cheryl D. Mills, a lawyer and longtime adviser to Mrs. Clinton.

The correspondence came months before the F.B.I., which is part of the Justice Department, opened an investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified emails at the State Department. In July, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said Mrs. Clinton had been “extremely careless” but recommended no charges, which the Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, accepted. [The New York Times, 10/12/16]

CNN.com: “The Hearing Fallon Was Referring To Was Publicly Available Information And Covered Extensively At The Time By CNN, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, Politico, Vice, National Journal And The Hill, Among Others. [CNN.com, 10/11/16]

But NBC News Continues To Suggest Impropriety In The Face Of Evidence To The Contrary

NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker: Fallon Email Is “Raising Questions About A Possible Conflict Of Interest.” Although no evidence of a conflict of interest has been put forward, NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker reported during the October 12 broadcast of Today that Fallon’s email is “raising questions.” While the segment aired, an on-screen graphic asked, “Clinton Campaign Collusion?”:

KRISTEN WELKER: The Clinton camp is also dealing with a new round of hacked emails, purportedly from campaign chairman John Podesta, released by WikiLeaks, but not authenticated by NBC News. In one email that’s raising questions about a possible conflict of interest, Clinton press secretary and former Justice Department official Brian Fallon writing that he was in contact with DOJ about lawsuits over Clinton’s email issues, writing, “DOJ folks inform me there is a status hearing in the case.” [NBC, Today, 10/12/16]

Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin On NBC Nightly News: “This Latest Batch Of Documents Demonstrates Once Again That Hillary Clinton Is One Disclosure Away From Potentially Having This Race Flip-Flop Once Again.” After a report on the email, NBC Nightly News played a clip of Mark Halperin, Bloomberg Politics’ managing editor, claiming that emails like this could flip the race in Trump’s favor. [NBC, NBC Nightly News, 10/11/16]

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough: DOJ Could Have Been Giving Clinton Campaign “Inside Information.” Even though the information discussed in the email was publicly available, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough suggested that the DOJ was passing “inside information” to the Clinton campaign. Despite acknowledging that the information was publicly available, Halperin said, “Probably those conversations shouldn’t have taken place.” [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 10/12/16]