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(THREAD) Yesterday's NBC reporting about Rod Rosenstein's impending departure from DOJ, and what it may mean for the Mueller investigation, already seems to be coming apart at the seams. In this thread I take a look at why yesterday's breaking news was neither breaking nor news.
1/ First, here's the NBC News report from Pete Williams—a talented journalist. (What he's not—as far as I know—is an attorney or an expert on the Trump-Russia probe, and, like many journalists, has been using dubious sources to get info on Mueller's work.) nbcnews.com/politics/justi…
2/ Williams' lede: "Rosenstein plans to step down after Mueller finishes his work." But in the fourth graf, he obliterates that lede: "But others familiar with his thinking said there’s no firm timeline and Rosenstein would work out a departure plan once the new AG is confirmed."
3/ First sentence, second graf: "A source close to Rosenstein said he intends to stay on until Mueller's investigative and prosecutorial work is done." That's undercut in the fifth graf: "Rosenstein long intended to serve about 2 years as the Justice Department's No. 2 official."
4/ So, per Williams, either Rosenstein was planning to stay on at DOJ but now feels he can leave because Mueller is almost done with his work...

...or Rosenstein was always going to leave about now...

...or there's actually no timeline for him leaving.

Three *different* ledes.
5/ What Williams does is choose *one* of those contradictory ledes—the one that will get the story attention—and *then* asks his other anonymous sources *what that lede would import for Mueller's probe*...

...*if* it were true.

That's a really problematic journalistic approach.
6/ Consider how NBC follows up its lede that Rosenstein will stay until Mueller's investigative *and* prosecutorial work is done (my emphasis in quote): "The source said *that would mean* Rosenstein would remain until early March. Several legal sources have said they expect...
7/ ... the Mueller team to conclude its work by mid-to-late February, although they said that timeline could change based on unforeseen investigative developments." The problem is these legal sources are—as ever—lawyers for Trump aides/associates w/ no clue on Mueller's thinking.
8/ So when the "source close to Rosenstein" says Pete Williams' reporting "would mean" Rosenstein will leave in early March, is the source basing their projection on Williams' anonymous legal sources' projection about when Mueller will finish his work? It sure does seem that way.
9/ This can't be emphasized enough: there's *no legal source* in *America* who knows what Mueller has planned in his probe *except* legal sources *within* the Mueller camp—which (a) does not leak, and (b) NBC News has *never* claimed to have as one of its vaunted "legal sources."
10/ Attorneys for grand jury witnesses have a *vested* interest—indeed a professional obligation—to advocate narrative(s) that suggest an end to the inquiry into their client quickly and without any indictment. "Legal sources" saying Mueller will be done in February do just that.
11/ If Mueller is just five weeks from finishing his "investigative *and* prosecutorial work" (my emphasis), let's be clear: there will be no new indictments and no additional evidence of criminality to come out of the Mueller probe, unless it relates to Trump and *no one* else.
12/ The problem is that we *know* that's not true. There's major-media reporting suggesting Stone will be indicted. And Corsi will be indicted. And Erickson will be indicted. And Prince will be indicted. And Don Jr. will be indicted. And Manafort will be indicted for new crimes.
13/ Those cases would take many months to resolve even were they brought *tomorrow*. And they couldn't all be brought to tomorrow, because that would over-burden the grand jury. Perhaps that's why Mueller just extended his current grand jury for *six more months*. That's telling.
14/ What if Williams had chosen another of his 3 ledes—that Rosenstein was always planning on leaving DOJ after 2 years? The story might then have said that Barr likely being confirmed—and having told Trump he wants to get a new DAG—means Rosenstein can do as he'd always planned.
15/ The story might then have noted that—as Rosenstein and Barr are friendly (and Rosenstein recommended Barr for AG!)—he has no fears about enacting his two-years-and-out plan. The story might have added that Barr and Mueller being friendly would've further reassured Rosenstein.
16/ And of course if Williams had chosen his *third* lede—that there's *no timeline* for Rosenstein leaving—there would've been no "breaking news" at all, and Williams wouldn't have had a scoop, and no one would've covered any of his reporting yesterday. A very different result.
17/ But of course Williams' story has a *fourth* lede (a *third* "buried lede"—if you're counting at home): "Legal sources...said th[e] timeline [for Mueller finishing his work] could change based on unforeseen investigative developments." *That* line obliterates the whole story.
18/ So now Williams' legal sources—who we know are just lawyers for Trump aides/associates w/ clients before Mueller's grand jury—are admitting they have *no idea* what's going on in Mueller's probe. Which means the "source close to Rosenstein" can't handicap the DAG's exit date.
19/ If Williams' "legal sources" had been inside Mueller's camp, he'd have said so. And if his "legal sources" had been within the Mueller camp, and—as Williams says—just weeks from finishing *all* their work, there's no way they'd imagine "unexpected" investigative developments.
20/ Can you imagine one of America's top lawyers—Mueller's team comprises only these—a) leaking to the press just a few weeks before Mueller's work is done (when the team hasn't leaked before) and b) blithely saying there may still be surprises in a 2-year probe about to wrap up?
21/ No—the story here, which Williams *could've* reported, but for some reason obscured—is that Rosenstein was always going to leave, but Barr's arrival confirms and necessitates it. But Rosenstein is okay with it because he trusts Barr and thinks Mueller has made great progress.
22/ Indeed, Rosenstein would be justified in feeling—and likely feels—that it's too late to stop Mueller's probe, and that therefore his departure is consistent with what he'd once hoped, which is that he'd only leave DOJ when the Mueller probe was "protected" from interference.
23/ But NBC—not for the first time; @KenDilanianNBC recently did it also—instead turned a pretty straight-forward story into a Rube Goldberg-like journalistic thought-experiment that irresponsibly spoke on the most important issue of our times: how the Mueller probe's proceeding.
24/ What neither @KenDilanianNBC nor @PeteWilliamsNBC appreciate—perhaps due to their background, areas of expertise, or the fact that they work for an entity that needs regular "scoops"—is that *wrongly* reporting on this issue *falsely makes a statement about Mueller's probe*.
25/ Simple fact: if Mueller is done with his work, he has an Obstruction case but intends to present *no* case for collusion. So NBC is prematurely—and *erroneously*—reporting on *the most important political question of our generation*. And *that's* why I wrote this thread. /end
PS/ Proof this story could've been responsibly reported is that it was—by ABC (see summary below). Note that the farthest ABC goes is writing that Rosenstein wouldn't leave unless he felt Mueller was far enough along that he couldn't be interfered with. talkingpointsmemo.com/news/rosenstei…
PS2/ Rosenstein believing Mueller has so much evidence already that he can't be stopped is hardly a statement that Mueller is almost done—rather, it's the opposite, as it means even if Trump tried to fire Mueller the evidence *already collected and disseminated* would be damning.
PS3/ So again we find reporters who haven't covered every twist/turn of the Trump-Russia timeline/investigation for 2 years reporting out information implying there's no there there—when even journalists on the same network who *have* done that work (e.g., @maddow) say otherwise.
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