A 2014 article about then-President Barack Obama’s behind-the-scenes efforts to work with Russia has been widely disseminated among right-wing media in the past 48 hours in an attempt to defend President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who allegedly asked for back-channel communications with Russia during Trump’s transition. The article seems to have initially re-emerged on fringe blogs and two Twitter accounts that could be bots.
Trump and his administration have come under scrutiny after The Washington Post on May 26 reported that in December 2016, Kushner had discussed setting up a secret communications channel between Trump’s presidential transition team and the Kremlin. Former intelligence and national security officials have called the move naive, “bizarre,” “very concerning,” “indicative of espionage activity,” and “possibly even illegal.”
In the early morning hours of May 27, the day after the Post ran the story, Twitter account TheTruthIsOutThere posted, “#BROMANCE Inside Obama’s secret outreach to Russia, including a Kissinger offensive.” The tweet linked to a 2014 article from Josh Rogin, then of Bloomberg, reporting that Obama was “working behind the scenes for months to forge a new working relationship with Russia.” Seemingly hours later, fake news purveyor Before It’s News published a link to a fringe blog highlighting the Bloomberg article. The following evening, slightly before 9:30 p.m., a second Twitter account linked to the article. About two hours later, at around 11:46 p.m., the Drudge Report highlighted the article at the top of its page. About an hour later, many Twitter accounts started to highlight the Bloomberg article without adding much accompanying text. Rogin, the author of the 2014 Bloomberg piece, noted the Twitter activity, writing, “This article of mine from 2014 has been tweeted hundreds of times today, all exactly the same way. #bots.”
Meanwhile, likely thanks to Drudge, the article exploded into fringe right-wing media, eventually making its way to Fox News on May 29 and on Trump’s favorite morning show, Fox & Friends, on May 30, which cited the article to suggest hypocrisy by the “fake, left-leaning, mainstream” media for focusing on Kushner. This despite the fact that Obama’s effort came during his presidency, not during his presidential transition.
If a fake news purveyor and bots did play a role in disseminating this claim into more traditional right-wing and mainstream media, it would not be the first time. Former FBI official Clint Watts testified before the Senate in March that Russian bots spread fake news during the 2016 election and beyond, and the FBI is investigating Russian bots pushing pro-Trump articles from conservative websites. The fake news outlet involved in this recent incident, Before It’s News, has also repeatedly pushed claims that support the Kremlin's agenda, such as spreading the dubious charge that the Syrian chemical attack in April was a “false flag” operation and pushing a fake news story from Russian state media. The site is part of the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem that has disseminated misinformation to the public before.