“There are so many ‘facts’ in the public domain now that many people are connecting them in a way that has them concluding the Trump campaign must have been guilty of conspiring with the Russians in a way that would be a violation of the law,” former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell told the Cipher Brief. “It is way too early to come to that conclusion.”
The loose collection of government officials leaking stories about Kushner “is not a sourcing chain in which I would put a great deal of confidence,” Morrell said.
Of course, one might suspect that Morell is using his credentials to make a political argument in defense of the president – but Morell has never hopped on the MAGA bandwagon. In addition to endorsing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Morell wrote in a New York Times op-ed last year that, based on Trump’s “obvious need for self-aggrandizement” and “routine carelessness with the facts,” the Republican would be a “poor, even dangerous,” US leader.
But what the US media is doing now is also risky, he said. There are essentially two intelligence failures, Morell explained. There’s over-connecting the intel dots to arrive at a conclusion – WMDS are definitely in Iraq, for example – or under-connecting them – there’s no way the Japanese could invade Pearl Harbor.
"We need to be careful that we don’t over-connect the dots," Morell said.
The Washington Post first reported that Kushner sought a private communications channel with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. Most of the rest of the mainstream US media has leapt on the story, CNN in particular fanning Cold War flames with headlines including "McCain on Kushner backchannel reports: ‘I don’t like it,’” “Donald Trump’s Jared Kushner dilemma,” “Trump gets twisted up in his own weird Russia logic," and "Franken on Kushner’s reported backchannel: ‘This is very suspicious’” in just the past 24 hours.
But as Morell and others have pointed out, “Reaching out to the Russians during the transition is not necessarily a crime. It may be bad policy, but it is not necessarily a crime.” It could have been for benign purposes; it could have been for malign ones, he said: there is simply not enough solid information to back up the conclusions the media is so desperate to come to at the moment.
“I spent a career watching the media get a significant portion of intelligence-related stories wrong,” said Morell, who served as acting director of the CIA in 2011 and from 2012 to 2013. And now, again, the very people relied on for keeping the government honest are guilty of their own misfires when it comes to Trump and Russia.
"I do think that Trump’s performance as president has been quite poor," said Morell. "But, I do think that the president is right to say there is a bias among some in the media. I see it everyday when I read the papers and see how things are being reported. And, I think this is a big deal.”
American media risk losing their credibility, the former spy chief said. “I believe that objective, fact-based journalism has never been as important as it is today to the future of our democracy. But, in order to be effective, journalists cannot take sides or even appear to take sides.”