NYT Defends Article James Comey Called Largely ‘Not True’ in Yesterday’s Hearing

Michael Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo make their case

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The New York Times story that former FBI director James Comey called “in the main…not true” in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday was written by Michael Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo.

That Comey disputed its veracity singled it out amid testimony that confirmed the substance of a lot of other anonymous source reports about the Trump administration published in the last few months. The testimony led Schmidt, Mazzetti and Apuzzo to join forces again, this time to respond to Comey’s assertion and defend the story, which disclosed ties between Trump campaign aides and Russian intelligence officials.

In making their case, the trio pointed to follow-up reporting from other publications that supported the claims in their report as well as testimony from former CIA director John O. Brennan in front of the House Intelligence Committee last month.

Mr. Comey did not say exactly what he believed was incorrect about the article, which was based on information from four current and former American officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information was classified. The original sources could not immediately be reached after Mr. Comey’s remarks, but in the months since the article was published, they have indicated that they believed the account was solid.

It could be nothing, but we did find it notable that none of those sources was available for a follow-up post Comey hearing.

In the absence of specifics on what facts, exactly, Comey thought to be untrue, the trio laid out the possibilities, explaining what and why Comey would have thought incorrect, which they believed could rest in part on differing interpretations of descriptors used:

One possible area of dispute is the description of the Russians involved. Some law enforcement officials took issue with the Times account in the days after it was published, saying that the intelligence was still murky, and that the Russians who were in contact with Mr. Trump’s advisers did not meet the F.B.I.’s black-and-white standard of who can be considered an “intelligence officer.”

But several former American intelligence and law enforcement officials have said that other American agencies have a broader definition, especially when it comes to Russia. They said that President Vladimir V. Putin uses an extensive network of government officials and private citizens with deep links to Russian spy services who supplement the intelligence apparatus and report back to the Kremlin. At least some of the contacts, they said, involved Russians who fit into this category.