We don’t know this for certain obviously, but holy cow is there a lot of compelling circumstantial evidence (you’ll see why this title picture is an appropriate fit towards the end of the column). First, let’s start with Wikileaks. What began as a broke whistleblowing outlet is now most certainly a laundromat for Russian intelligence—as I wrote in my deep dive into Edward Snowden:
Wikileaks is a mysterious organization, seemingly constructed around the ego of Julian Assange, who according to former employee James Ball, would do things like “privately promise several thousand Australian dollars to fund Juice News, the makers of humorous pro-WikiLeaks YouTube videos” in 2010 when Wikileaks was struggling to get many donations itself.
Towards the end of that year, Wikileaks threatened that they would release documents on powerful individuals in Russia, and according to their spokesperson, Kristinn Hrafnsson “Russian readers will learn a lot about their country.” An official from the FSB (the successor to the KGB) responded “It’s essential to remember that given the will and the relevant orders, [WikiLeaks] can be made inaccessible forever.”
The documents never came out. Two years later, Julian Assange had his own show on Russia Today, the Kremlin’s West-facing propaganda outlet. Wikileaks even sent a delegation to meet Bashar al-Assad, a President only two major countries support (Russia and Iran). While stuck in in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Assange stated in a press release that he requested Russian security.
So when I say that Fox News may have received a tip straight from the Kremlin, I mean Wikileaks—which is inextricably linked to Russian intelligence (quick side note: a lot of those on the left have come to admire Wikileaks for exposing government malfeasance, and bristle at the notion that they have become a Russian disinformation outlet. If you think this to be the case—and that everything Wikileaks publishes is real and earnest—then you must also believe that per their dump of his e-mails, John Podesta is aware of “nonviolent extraterrestrial intelligence from the contiguous universe helping us bring zero point energy to Earth.”)
Our story begins on Twitter, because that’s apparently how America works these days. Sean Hannity had his account temporarily deleted a couple weeks ago, and a bunch of impostors soon sprang up. One of those fakes, @SeanHannity_, was contacted by Julian Assange. Dell Gilliam—the woman behind the parody—provided screenshots of her conversation with Assange to The Daily Beast.
This is not the first time that Hannity has been involved in confusion surrounding parody Twitter accounts. Last April, he seemingly believed that @SovietSergey was actually Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, and he asked for confirmation that he was being surveilled by American intelligence.
Which brings us to Hannity's employer, Fox News. A couple weeks after Julian Assange told who he thought was Sean Hannity to “try other channels” and that he has “news about Warner,” this Fox News report hit the airwaves.
Ben Collins—senior news editor for The Daily Beast—reached out to Fox News asking if this report was based off information gleaned from Hannity or Assange, and a Fox News spokesperson released the following statement on behalf of the reporter who broke the story, Ed Henry:
The story I broke tonight on FOX News had absolutely nothing to do with Wikileaks — I've never even spoken to Julian Assange or his operatives for that matter. I also never spoke to Sean Hannity about this story at any point in the reporting process.
I contacted Senator Warner's office several times to verify that the texts were authentic and they confirmed that fact this afternoon. In fact, Warner's office never mentioned Assange in the multiple calls and emails I had with them to get their side of the story.
Despite Henry's denial, Assange cryptically tweeted something that sure looks like it pertains to the Fox News report which came out about an hour before this tweet.
When the sun shines it gets warner.— Julian Assange ? (@JulianAssange) February 9, 2018
So what is the supposed big story about Mark Warner's texts? Per Fox News:
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee who has been leading a congressional investigation into President Trump's alleged ties to Russia, had extensive contact last year with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch who was offering Warner access to former British spy and dossier author Christopher Steele, according to text messages obtained exclusively by Fox News.
“We have so much to discuss u need to be careful but we can help our country,” Warner texted the lobbyist, Adam Waldman, on March 22, 2017.
“I'm in,” Waldman, whose firm has ties to Hillary Clinton, texted back to Warner.
Given that Fox News is running constant interference for Donald Trump, relying on their word here is about as good as trusting Trump's. What are other Republicans saying?
It is not news that Mark Warner personally tried to contact Steele to interview him. Burr said at October press conference he and Warner had each personally sought to contact Steele for interviews without success, and hoped he would reconsider.— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) February 9, 2018
Why did they want to talk to Steele? Burr laid out why in October: to try and assess his sources and methods to determine credibility of dossier claims.— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) February 9, 2018
However, one prominent Republican is taking this story at face value for the bombshell it purports to be.
Wow! -Senator Mark Warner got caught having extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch. Warner did not want a “paper trail” on a “private” meeting (in London) he requested with Steele of fraudulent Dossier fame. All tied into Crooked Hillary.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2018
Lastly, this story is presently the main focus of the Russian troll and bot network tracked by The Alliance for Securing Democracy.
Fox News' hit job on @MarkWarner was debunked almost immediately — but it's still dominating among Russian-linked influence accounts.
In the network tracked by @SecureDemocracy, topics related to Warner currently make up:
-3 of 5 top trending topics
-5 of 10 top trending topics pic.twitter.com/rQQb1793X2— Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) February 9, 2018
Put yourself in the shoes of an intelligence analyst looking at this entire mess. A known Kremlin asset reached out to what he thought was a Fox News personality offering a story on Warner, and intimated that this asset and the Fox News personality were communicating on a different channel (this Fox News personality also is reportedly advising the president). Then, Fox News runs a story on Warner, the known asset cryptically references it, and the President of the United States tweets about what big news it is. The impact of all of this is that it seemingly discredits the investigation into the president's ties to Russia. On top of all this madness, Senate Republicans who are digging into his ties to Russia say they already knew of this because Warner told them, and Warner's Republican counterpart who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee also had reached out to Steele. If our intelligence agencies aren't raising an eyebrow at all this, they're not doing their job.
I'll leave you with a conspiracy theory that gets less conspiratorial by the day.
Hannity started in on the Wikileaks tweets at the same time as Don Jr. but before it was mainstream. And now he knows he's caught.— Kilgore Trout (@KT_So_It_Goes) November 13, 2017
And Hannity has behaved like a paranoid lunatic in regards to wiretapping & other surveillance, like he's driven by far more than rank partisan hackery— Kilgore Trout (@KT_So_It_Goes) November 13, 2017
But good lord Don Jr. was just forwarding the fucking emails to everyone he knew, of course he'd send it to Hannity— Kilgore Trout (@KT_So_It_Goes) November 13, 2017
And it's the type of dirtying up that would permanently lock Hannity into servile obedience but that I-know-a-secret dynamic is a two-way street so it would also get him exclusive Trump access— Kilgore Trout (@KT_So_It_Goes) November 13, 2017
To close: this is an evidence-free theory stitched together with stuff that can definitely be explained other ways. I sure could be wrong. But: hmmmmmm— Kilgore Trout (@KT_So_It_Goes) November 13, 2017
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.