CNN walked back an “exclusive” story Friday in which it initially reported on an email it claimed indicated that WikiLeaks may have reached out to then-candidate Donald Trump’s team to offer hacked WikiLeaks documents.
The initial story, by Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb and titled, “Exclusive: Email shows effort to give Trump campaign WikiLeaks documents,” reported that Trump’s team was sent an email on September 4, 2016 offering a website and decryption key to the team. CNN’s report noted that it had not seen the email but that it was “described” to them by multiple sources.
According to that description, it was sent from someone called “Mike Erickson” and was addressed to Trump, Trump Jr., and Trump Jr.’s personal assistant.
Congressional investigators are trying to ascertain whether the individual who sent the September email is legitimate and whether it shows additional efforts by WikiLeaks to connect with Trump’s son and others on the Trump campaign. The email also indicated that the Trump campaign could access records from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose hacked emails were made public by a Russian front group 10 days later.
But hours later, the Washington Post reported that the email was actually drawing attention to information that was already publicly available and that CNN had got the date wrong.
Crucially, the Post reported that the email was actually sent Sept. 14 – not Sept. 4 as CNN claimed. The difference in the date is vital, as WikiLeaks had reportedly sent out the information linked to in the email on Sept. 13, making it publicly available, and meaning that the writer was likely flagging information that was already in the public domain.
According to the Post: “The message also noted that information from former secretary of state Colin Powell’s inbox was available ‘on DCLeaks.com.’ That development, too, had been publicly reported earlier that day.
CNN issued a correction at the top of the story late Friday.
“Correction: This story has been corrected to say the date of the email was September 14, 2016, not September 4, 2016. The story also changed the headline and removed a tweet from Donald Trump Jr., who posted a message about WikiLeaks on September 4, 2016.”
The changed headline is, at time of writing, a much less spectacular: “Email pointed Trump campaign to WikiLeaks documents.” The “exclusive” tag had also been removed.
The updated copy also said it “has now obtained a copy of the email, which lists September 14 as the date sent and contains a decryption key that matches what WikiLeaks had tweeted out the day before.”
An attorney for Trump Jr. had earlier blasted members of the House Intelligence Committee for leaking the document in a misleading way.
“The email was never read or responded to — and the House Intelligence Committee knows this,” he said in a statement to the Post. “It is profoundly disappointing that members of the House Intelligence Committee would deliberately leak a document, with the misleading suggestion that the information was not public, when they know that there is not a scintilla of evidence that Mr. Trump Jr. read or responded to the email.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, meanwhile, asked, “Who’s going to be fired?”
CNN’s correction comes a week after ABC was forced to walk back a bombshell report that initially claimed that former national security adviser Michael Flynn was prepared to testify that President Trump told him to reach out to the Russian officials as a candidate. Markets tumbled before the outlet clarified that this was actually when Trump was president-elect.