When Robert Mueller appears Wednesday before two congressional committees, he will face questions from at least seven Democratic lawmakers who have floated false claims about various aspects of the Russia probe, all without issuing retractions once the stories were debunked.
Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee such as Steve Cohen, Ted Lieu, and Sheila Jackson Lee have all circulated now-debunked reports that claimed former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen visited Prague during the 2016 election.
House Intelligence Committee Democrats Mike Quigley and Jackie Speier pushed the fake story that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
And Adam Schiff and Jackson Lee also jumped on a Jan. 17 story published by BuzzFeed that alleged Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress in 2017 about his work to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. In a rare move, Mueller’s office issued a statement saying that the story was false.
All of the lawmakers will be present Wednesday when Mueller appears before both the House Intelligence and House Judiciary Committees to discuss his investigation into whether the Trump campaign worked with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.
During Mueller’s 22-month long investigation, Democratic lawmakers appeared frequently on cable TV and spoke out on Twitter to seize on the latest development in Russiagate. Often, the stories the lawmakers circulated were later debunked by additional reporting, or by the Mueller report itself.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of Democrats’ greatest flops:
Steve Cohen, House Judiciary Committee
Cohen touted a McClatchy report published on Dec. 27, 2018 that alleged Cohen visited Prague during the campaign. If accurate, the story would have backed up one of the most serious conspiracy allegations in the Steele dossier, which the FBI used to obtain wiretap warrants against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
In the dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele alleged that Cohen visited Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin officials to arrange paying off hackers.
“[I]s the Steele (stet) door closing in?” Cohen asked in a tweet linking to the McClatchy piece.
Cohen had long denied Steele’s allegation, but Trump critics held out hope that it was accurate. Those hopes were dashed with the release of the special counsel’s report.
The report cited Cohen’s statement that he has never visited Prague. Cohen himself has testified to the House Intelligence and House Oversight Committees that the dossier’s claims about him are false.
Ted Lieu, House Judiciary Committee
Lieu also circulated the inaccurate McClatchy report, which now includes an editor’s note acknowledging the special counsel’s findings. In a tweet linking to the article, Lieu asserted that information about Cohen’s alleged trip to Prague was being leaked “because the Steele Dossier has lots of truth.”
Other aspects of the dossier have crumbled in the wake of Mueller’s report. Steele, who investigated Trump on behalf of the Clinton campaign and DNC, alleged that the Trump campaign engaged in a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” with the Russian government. But Mueller’s report said that investigators could not establish that a conspiracy occurred, and did not find that any Trump associates acted as agents of Russia.
Sheila Jackson Lee, House Judiciary Committee
Jackson Lee touted an earlier report from McClatchy making a similar claim about Cohen visiting Prague.
The Texas Democrat tweeted out a link to an April 13, 2018 story that said Mueller’s team was given evidence showing that Cohen’s cell phone pinged off of towers near the Czech Republic capital.
“How soon before we learn that he was in Prague to meet with Russians about coordinating with the Trump Campaign?” Jackson Lee asked.
Lee circulated another false story that furthered the collusion narrative. She claimed in a tweet on July 12, 2018 that Donald Trump Jr. “was communicating with Wikileaks’s Julian Assange about the timing of releasing emails designed to harm Hillary Clinton.”
The special counsel’s report cited no evidence that Trump Jr. or any Trump associates had direct communications with Assange. Trump Jr. did exchange several private messages with the WikiLeaks’ Twitter account, but none referred to the timing of the release of Clinton emails.
Mike Quigley, House Intelligence committee
On Nov. 27, 2018, Quigley alleged in a tweet that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was guilty of “Lying to investigators, violating your plea deal, covering up secret meetings with Julian Assange.”
He appeared to be referring to a report in The Guardian that claimed Manafort visited Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Except the story appears to be completely inaccurate.
Both Assange and Manafort have vehemently denied the allegation, and no other evidence has appeared to back up the Guardian report. The special counsel’s report, which has several sections devoted to WikiLeaks, made no mention of a secret meeting between Assange and Manafort. The Guardian has somehow avoided commenting on the controversial report.
Jackie Speier, House Intelligence Committee
Speier was also snookered by the Guardian story.
“Manafort met with Assange while working for Trump in 2016, MONTHS before the first Wikileaks release of DNC emails. If it looks like collusion, meets like collusion, and acts like collusion, then it probably is collusion,” she tweeted.
Adam Schiff, chairman of House Intelligence Committee
Schiff has promoted several false story lines during the course of the Russia probe. In a March 20, 2017 congressional hearing, he cited several allegations from the dossier. He has also said he saw “more than circumstantial evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
Schiff also circulated two stories about Cohen that have fallen apart under additional scrutiny.
On July 26, 2018, he cited a CNN report that claimed that Cohen was willing to testify to the special counsel that he witnessed a discussion between Trump and his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., discussing an upcoming meeting with a group of Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016. The story would have been problematic because both of the Trumps have denied discussing the meeting before it occurred.
“The conspiracy case may have just gotten stronger,” Schiff wrote of the CNN report.
The story soon fell apart as one of CNN’s sources, Cohen attorney Lanny Davis, admitted that he had provided inaccurate information about what Cohen witnessed. Cohen told Congress that he had suspicions that Trump Jr. told his father about the Trump Tower meeting, but that he had no solid proof to back it up.
Schiff also jumped headfirst into the fake news buzzsaw by latching on to a Jan. 17 story in BuzzFeed that accused Trump of explicitly instructing Cohen to lie to Congress in 2017 about the extent of his negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the campaign.
“The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date,” Schiff wrote.
Jackson Lee also pushed the story.
“Incredible,” she wrote. “@realDonaldTrump suborned #perjury.”
As with many bombshell reports throughout Russiagate, the BuzzFeed story fell apart under further scrutiny. Mueller’s spokesman issued a statement saying that the article was inaccurate.
Cohen later testified that while he believed that Trump wanted him to lie about Trump Tower, his former boss did not specifically tell him to lie about the project.
The Mueller report said: “Cohen said that he and the President did not explicitly discuss whether Cohen’s testimony about the Trump Tower Moscow project would be or was false, and the President did not direct him to provide false testimony. Cohen also said he did not tell the President about the specifics of his planned testimony.”
Eric Swalwell, House Intelligence and House Judiciary Committees
Swalwell has aggressively pushed the conspiracy theory that the Trump campaign worked with the Russian government. In a recent exchange on Fox News, Swalwell refused to acknowledge that the dossier’s claim about Cohen visiting Prague was inaccurate.
“Which part of it hasn’t been proven factual?” Swalwell asked Fox News host Martha MacCallum when challenged about the dossier in a March 27 interview.