A brouhaha erupted this week over the creation of a highly questionable and lurid dossier on Donald Trump. That document is of the utmost importance—it may have been cited to authorize wiretaps of Trump Tower—but the controversy over it has unfolded without the true affiliations of some key players being named. We’re not talking about the Democratic National Committee, the Hillary Clinton campaign or their lawyers—all of whom are reportedly behind hiring the opposition research firm that delivered the dossier. This is about the Washington Free Beacon, the neoconservative news site that’s admitted to retaining Fusion GPS before the Democrats did.
Oddly, mainstream reports talk about the “Republican allies” or even “conservatives” who hired the muckraking group first, but fail to note who they are, or point out that these aren’t just ordinary partisans but neoconservative operators who had Trump in their crosshairs from the beginning.
For example, Byron York’s investigative work for the Washington Examiner, which reports that the dossier originated with the Washington Free Beacon, only hints at, without explicitly mentioning, its neoconservative connections. York links the publication and its editors to Never-Trump activism, but goes no further in breaking down their ideological identities. In fact, the only website that does go further is Breitbart, which tells us that Weekly Standard editor-at-large Bill Kristol founded the Beacon, and that, like the Standard, the Beacon has a “neoconservative foreign policy outlook.”
Kristol and another neoconservative, Michael Goldfarb, were co-founders of the Beacon; the site’s major funder, Paul Singer, gives generously to neoconservative causes, and the present editor-in-chief Matthew Continetti is married to Kristol’s daughter Ann Elizabeth. The Washington Free Beacon has been a rallying point for neoconservative Never-Trumpers in Washington, and the hiring of Fusion GPS to go after Trump has all the hallmarks of their skullduggery. We shouldn’t be surprised that a neocon publication hired an agency to manufacture news against someone it was trying to bring down; it turns out that Trump, though, was too big a target for Kristol and his friends to successfully dispatch. (Interestingly, by the time Trump was in office, he and Kristol’s funder Paul Singer had reconciled.)
I certainly do not blame the liberal media for describing the Beacon as a “conservative” publication, or for tracing the controversial dossier back to “Republican allies.” I heard the same stuff on Fox News, after noticing that Kristol’s son-in-law frequently appears on the Fox All-Star Panel. My impression is that the GOP media are unlikely to abandon their neoconservative buddies and sponsors—and there are very good reasons for this. They all depend on the same donor base, write for the same publications, and share the spotlight with Fox News. It would be suicidal for the conservative establishment to go after its neoconservative participants. Some alliances are indissoluble as well as extremely hazardous. Fox News might allow Tucker Carlson to occasionally rough up such maniacal global interventionists as Ralph Peters and Max Boot, but lowering the boom on their friends for what they can blame entirely on the Democrats would be another matter altogether.
This explains the lackadaisical manner in which official conservatives have looked at neoconservative complicity in the formation of the dossier. Judge Jeanine Pirro characterized the “Republican allies” as those managing a “somewhat conservative” publication, before turning to a topic of greater interest. But why are the Democrats alone to blame for circulating certain falsehoods about the Judge’s friend Trump, when responsibility should also fall on those Never-Trumpers who originally paid for research that might have gone into the dossier? The defense offered by Continetti for his publication’s retention of what is basically a smear agency is not entirely convincing. Even if the relationship was terminated by the end of May 2016, why was it established in the first place, if not to derail the campaign of their bête noire, Donald Trump? How does Continetti know, as he claims he does, that none of the research that his funders paid for went into the final dossier? The opposite seems just as likely. Even if Christopher Steele, the former British spy who produced the final draft of the dossier, had not been hired by Continetti and his friends and donors, why should we assume that he put nothing into the document that had not come from earlier research?
One might further ask why Continetti and Goldfarb are proud of the way their publication gathered information against Trump through third-party firms. According to both, “we stand by our reporting and do not apologize for our methods.” The two have stated unequivocally that they will continue to engage in the use of third-party reporting, even if this “method” has already caused them embarrassment and even if it’s a strange way for professional news investigators to gather reliable data. Still, I have to admire this cheekiness. Whatever happens, they never seem to admit to making mistakes.
Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for twenty-five years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale PhD. He writes for many websites and scholarly journals and is the author of thirteen books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents. His books have been translated into multiple languages and seem to enjoy special success in Eastern Europe.