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02 October 2019


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The Twisted Genius

Larry, you’re in a unique position to clear this up directly with Sy Hersh. The recorded conversation between Hersh and Butowsky seems to be central to most of Seth Rich conspiracy theories. Hersh has said a hack of the DNC does not rule out a leak from the DNC or vice versa. That is a wise statement. One I agree with. Here are a few excerpts and links to support the point I made earlier.

In an interview with NPR, Hersh says he is skeptical of the official account by intelligence officials that the Russians hacked the DNC. But Hersh now says he was fishing for information from Butowsky. "I did not talk to anybody at the FBI — not about this," Hersh tells NPR. "Nothing is certain until it's proved. And I didn't publish any story on this."


In an August 8 interview with Folkenflik, Hersh provided a partial explanation. Reported Folkenflik: “Hersh now says he was fishing for information from Butowsky. ‘I did not talk to anybody at the FBI—not about this,’ Hersh tells NPR. ‘Nothing is certain until it’s proved. And I didn’t publish any story on this.’” But that hardly explains his lengthy comments in the recorded call.

In his response to The Nation, Hersh was reluctant to revisit the episode. “I’d rather bay at the moon than say anything more about someone like Butowsky,” Hersh wrote in his e-mail. Pressed to explain his comments, however, he said, “What I write and what I say to someone…are different animals,” adding, “I did not write about the issue at the time.” Butowsky, he said, “used the tape to push a story that he wanted to believe.”


Big League Politics posted an article containing what purported to be an email exchange between Butowsky and Hersh from June 2. In the exchange, Butowsky wrote:
I am curious why you haven’t approached the house committee telling them what you were read by your FBI friend related to Seth Rich that you in turn read to me. Based on all your work, it appears that you care about the truth. Even though, as you said you couldn’t get a second, shouldn’t you tell them so they could use their powers to determine the truth?
Hersh replied:
ed—you have a lousy memory…i was not read anything by my fbi friend..i have no firsthand information and i really wish you would stop telling others information that you think i have…please stop relaying information that you do not have right…and that i have no reason to believe is accurate…
In an interview with NPR reporter David Folkenflik on Aug. 1, Hersh remarked, “I hear gossip. [Butowsky] took two and two and made 45 out of it.” In a phone interview with me this week, Hersh said much the same, and added that he never claimed to have a source in the FBI on the Rich case.


Larry Johnson

Twisted, You are very good at being very wrong. Just deal with the facts.
It was Julian Assange who offered a reward up for the murder of Seth Rich and alluded to him as a source.
It was Ellen Ratner, the sister of Assange's lawyer, that said she had talked to Assange and was told the source of the DNC emails came from within the Hillary Campaign.
The only reason Butowsky got involved with this is that Ellen Ratner asked him on behalf of Assange to contact Seth's parents and offer help to find the killer.
Folkenflik is a liar. Period. Having personally dealt with that asshole before I know he cannot be trusted to report that the Sun rose in the east.
Listen to the recording. Sy's words are Sy's words. He was legitimately pissed at Butowsky illegally taping him. But Butowsky and Hersh are a mere side show to the reality that Seth is a likely suspect for having downloaded the emails from the DNC and sold them to Wikileaks. Certainly warrants an investigation.

Keith Harbaugh

LJ, since you have claimed, I believe, to be a whistle blower yourself,
I wonder if you have any thoughts on the accuracy of this article:
"The ‘Whistleblower’ Probably Isn’t"
It’s an insult to real whistleblowers to use the term with the Ukrainegate protagonist
by Matt Taibi, 2019-10-06
Here's a sample from the article:

“It took me and my lawyers a full year to get [the media] to stop calling me ‘CIA Leaker John Kirakou,” he says.
“That’s how long it took for me to be called a whistleblower.”
BTW, the article also mentions Bill Binney, among others.

David Habakkuk


I am now back at base, and can look back at my files, rather than having to rely on memory.

Did you, by any chance, read the 29 April post here entitled ‘Fake News Media Suffers Body Blow on Case Linked to Seth Rich by Larry Johnson’?

In addition to the – very great – importance of the piece itself, some of the discussion it produced looks very relevant in the light of subsequent developments. (I am rather proud of my own remarks on the ‘politics of Lilliput’ and ‘Galician Gamblers.)

(See https://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2019/04/fake-news-media-suffers-body-blow-on-case-linked-to-seth-rich-by-larry-johnson.html .)

The post led me to look at the materials from a range of cases in which the lawyers Ty Clevenger and Stephen S. Biss are involved, which are freely available on the invaluable ‘Courtlistener’ site.

At the time Larry wrote the piece, the – devastating – denial issued on 17 April by Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven of the ‘Motion to Dismiss’ filed by Folkenflik and his NPR colleagues in relation to the defamation suit the pair filed on behalf of Butowsky in response to the article you quote, and a range of companion pieces, required a ‘PACER’ subscription.

It can now be accessed without one, as also can other key materials from the case, including in particular the ‘Amended Complaint’ filed by the two lawyers on March – before Judge Craven issued her judgement, but after the hearings on which it was based.

(See https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/7244731/butowsky-v-folkenflik/ .)

I suspect it may have been the growing confidence resulting from these proceedings which was reflected in the ‘Second Amended Complaint’ against Michael Gottlieb et al submitted by Clevenger on 31 July, which contains the claim that Hersh had said his FBI source was McCabe (see section 57, p. 20.)

On the same day, a ‘Complaint’ against Douglas H. Wigdor and Rod Wheeler was entered on Butowsky’s behalf by the two lawyers jointly.

(See https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/15999245/butowsky-v-wigdor/ .)

It is a matter of some moment that both the Folkenflik story to which you link, published on 17 August 2017, and that in the ‘Nation’ by Robert Dreyfuss, to which you also link, follow, and take at face value, the ‘Complaint’ filed on 1 August by Wigdor on behalf of Wheeler against Fox, Malia Zimmerman, and Butowsky.

This is freely available on the relevant ‘Courtlistener’ page. So also is the acceptance of the defendants’ ‘motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim’ on 2 August 2018, in which Judge George B. Daniels ruled that:

‘In this case, Plaintiffs and Defendants embarked on a collective effort to support a sensational claim regarding Seth Rich’s murder. Plaintiff [Rod Wheeler – DH] cannot now seek to avoid the consequences of his own complicity and coordinated assistance in perpetuating a politically motivated story not having any basis in fact.’

(See https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/6129343/wheeler-v-twenty-first-century-fox-inc/ .)

The rather obvious point here was that, as one of the principal supports of the claims about Rich’s death which Wheeler and Wigdor were attacking were statements which the former had demonstrably made, he was hardly in a position to sue Fox and Butowsky for repeating them or making allegations based on them.

What however has been provided in the current versions of the ‘Complaints’ against these various figures is a mass of evidence suggesting not only that the initial versions provided by Wheeler were the honest ones, but that they were essentially accurate.

This brings me on to questions to do with the remarks about and from Hersh you quote.

My reading of the evidence here reflects the fact that, in days long past I was once involved – successfully I hasten to add – in a protracted libel suit in relation to a programme I had made.

A sometime colleague of mine, Sean McPhilemy, became involved in a much more protracted series of legal battles, over rather more dramatic matters: a programme, and then a book, he made about the collusion of the Royal Ulster Constabulary with loyalist death squads in Northern Ireland.

At the centre of the protracted lawsuits – on both sides of the Atlantic – that followed was the fact that his story had essentially relied on a single source, and that source had then retracted his initial claims.

(For a useful account of the affair, see https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/ulstersghosts ; Sean’s book is now freely available at https://archive.org/stream/THECOMMITTEEBySeanMcPhilemy/THE%20COMMITTEE%20%20by%20Sean%20McPhilemy_djvu.txt .)

As it happens, while in general I am uneasy about ‘single source’ stories, I had known Sean – actually a Northern Irish Catholic married to a Northern Irish Protestant – well enough to be confident that, although his emotions were clearly engaged, he was not in the habit when dealing with Ireland of allowing his loyalties to compromise his capacity for objective analysis.

And I have long thought that the obvious interpretation, in his case as in those around Butowsky, is that a key witness had started by giving an honest account, and then persuaded by pressures and/or inducements to retract.

It is very often easier to provide a coherent account of why people should tell the truth first and then obfuscate latter, than it is to explain the reverse movement in a way that will withstand serious examination.

In relation to the lawsuits involving Butowsky and Zimmermann, and in particular the role of Hersh, some other points arising out of my own experience and Sean’s may be relevant.

It is very commonly the case that, if one produces the kind of articles/programmes which precipitate libel suits, there is a rather large gulf between what one thinks one has good reason to believe and what one is confident one can prove in court.

In particular, very many people who may have provided entirely credible information privately will not be prepared to testify in your favour.

And there can be very good reasons why witnesses are not able to stand up against the kind of sustained pressures and inducements that can frequently be deployed against them.

So, when plaintiffs and defendants are preparing their cases, the question of who can actually – by fair means or foul – persuade critical ‘witnesses’ to support their version, or at least not oppose it, is commonly important.

Equally important are the dynamics of the ‘discovery’ process.

A critical aspect of the preparation for hearings is, commonly, to employ evidence one cannot produce publicly – yet at least – to identify documentation for which one can legitimately ask, which will help your case and undermine that of the other side.

There is a great deal here which I am still trying to think may way through. What I can see is a possible line of defence which a good defamation lawyer might use, in relation to the subterfuge involved in secretly recording Hersh.

What might be argued is that Butowsky had already seen the Rich family – in particular Aaron – and then Wheeler ‘turned’, by a combination of pressures and inducements. In such a situation, he could have had quite rational reasons to calculate that, if there was any possibility of anyone else changing their story, he needed to ensure that he could prove they had done so.

One then comes on to the – extraordinary – claim that Hersh had identified McCabe as his FBI source.

My initial assumption had been that this was likely to be true. Among other things, a lawyer providing ‘good counsel’ could surely have been expected to tell Butowsky that, if Hersh got up in court and said he was lying, he would have difficulties.

What we now have, however, is testimony from an eminently well-qualified ‘character witness’ – Larry – that it would be quite extraordinary if Hersh had identified a source.

If I were the judge in the case, I would take this as very strong, although not quite absolutely conclusive evidence.

Quite possibly, of course, Butowsky, Clevenger and Biss are simply bungling. However, I can see another interpretation that, at least, merits investigation.

It is here relevant that it appears that Hersh did not actually see the FBI report which he described in the recorded conversation, but relied upon a description of it by his source.

For one thing, it is clearly going to be a central objective of Butowsky, Clevenger and Biss to obtain the document as part of the discovery process, or alternatively provoke the kind of excuses for its non-production which incriminate those who make them.

I also think it eminently possible that they have obtained, from sources whose identity they want to conceal, what they believe to be reliable evidence that Hersh’s source was McCabe. If that was so, it would be a top priority to cross-examine both men about what happened.

All in all, I can see possible ‘Machiavellian’ arguments for inventing a second – unrecorded – conversation with Hersh.

Also relevant here is the fact that, if the source was McCabe, the possibility that the account of the contents of the report which was provided in the conversation that was recorded is disingenuous on some key points needs to be taken seriously – and those of us who accepted it as accurate have to ask themselves whether they may have been duped.

This brings one back to the possibility – whose central importance I tried to bring out in my comments on Larry’s piece back in April – that the fact that material was going to be coming to ‘WikiLeaks’ from the DNC may have been identified, as a result of surveillance on Assange, significantly earlier than is generally recognised.

The identification of Rich as the conduit could have come very much later.

In the account given to Hersh, the dating of the initial approach by Rich to ‘WikiLeaks’ is given as some time in late spring/early summer 2016 (the dividing line was given by Hersh as June 21, not June 22 as I wrote earlier.)

If it was significantly earlier, a lot of elements in the ‘timeline’ might look markedly different.

I have gone on too long to go in detail into your – tendentious – readings of the various accounts of what Hersh said. As is evident, your recycling of Folkenflik’s account, according all the claims about the FBI report were simply a ruse to get Butowsky to reveal his sources, would suggest that he is cynical and unprincipled.

This is I think wildly implausible, both as a reading of the man in general, and of the recording. It seems to me that he is an honest man, and a very fine journalist, in a very difficult position.

What are also however critical are the grounds on which Folkenflik and his colleagues sought the ‘Motion to Dismiss’ which Judge Craven refused.

They were trying to circumvent criticism of the evidential basis of the relevant articles, including the one you quoted, by use of the ‘fair report privilege’ and an attempt to deny that the claims about Butowsky were defamatory.

This strategy – which clearly irritated Judge Craven – does not suggest to me that Folkenflik and his lawyers are looking forward with confidence to cross-examining Hersh, and seeing him blow Butowsky’s claims out of the water.

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