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Today, the Guardian published a significant scoop, that Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, met with Julian Assange before he took over the Trump campaign in March 2016.
The story doesn’t discuss at all what the meetings were about, but the implication the Guardian leaves hanging is that the two could have discussed WikiLeaks’ release of emails obtained by Russia that damaged the Hillary Clinton campaign in the run-up to the 2016 election.
If that were true—and there’s nothing in the Guardian story about what was discussed—it would shatter the (already tenuous) narrative of WikiLeaks as a non-partisan transparency agency.
And because of that, it’s a story that WikiLeaks has been downright frantic trying to deny today. Before the story even came out, it attacked the reporter behind it, Luke Harding, calling him a plagiarist.
SCOOP: In letter today to Assange's lawyers, Guardian's Luke Harding, winner of Private Eye's Plagiarist of the Year, falsely claims jailed former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had secret meetings with Assange in 2013, 2015 and 2016 in story Guardian are "planning to run". pic.twitter.com/ZEw7Hjwtki— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 27, 2018
The organization also predicted the decision to publish the story would backfire, trying to make a million-dollar bet with the Guardian that the incident never happened.
Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper's reputation. @WikiLeaks is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor's head that Manafort never met Assange. https://t.co/R2Qn6rLQjn— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 27, 2018
It also said the decision to publish the story would reverberate in the annals of fake news, comparing it to the publication of the Hitler Diaries, which were a fabricated series of entries purporting to be from Hitler, published by German magazine Stern. The man behind the forgery went to jail for his role.
This is going to be one of the most infamous news disasters since Stern published the "Hitler Diaries".— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 27, 2018
It also noted a modification made to the story’s headline.
Ninety minutes after publication the Guardian modifies its "Manafort held secret talks with Assange" headline to add ", sources say". pic.twitter.com/zcg8cQcYGq— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 27, 2018
And continued to go after Harding.
The Guardian "journalist", Luke Harding, behind the fake Manafort story also claimed the NSA was secretly deleting his words, won "Pliagiarist of the Year" and was savaged by Julian Assange in this book review: https://t.co/DDnkSoczut— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 27, 2018
Harding was accused of plagiarism in a letter to the editor of the Exile in September 2007. The comparisons were also made by the Exile in an article where it billed the Guardian for its original work. Assange made the claim in a Newsweek op-ed in 2015 that Harding had been named “Plagiarist of the Year” by British satire magazine Private Eyes, but it’s unclear if that’s true.
WikiLeaks wasn’t done. It shared Manafort’s strenuous denial.
STATEMENT from Manafort: "This story is totally false and deliberately libelous. I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly." (1/2)— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 27, 2018
"I have never reached out to Assange or Wikileaks on any matter. We are considering all legal options against the Guardian who proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.” (2/2)— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 27, 2018
And then it announced its intention to sue the Guardian, launching a crowdfunding push.
WikiLeaks launches legal fund to sue the Guardian for publishing entirely fabricated story "Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy" -- which spread all over the world today. It is time the Guardian paid a price for fabricating news. https://t.co/VaoMESN5RO— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 27, 2018
As of now, that GoFundMe has raised over $12,000.
While it’s possible the Guardian story is completely false, WikiLeaks has been alleged to have spoken with cutouts for the Trump campaign, so it’s not implausible for the head of the organization to have met with Manafort.
David Covucci is the Layer 8 editor at the Daily Dot, covering the intersection of politics and the web. His work has appeared in Vice, the Huffington Post, Jezebel, Gothamist, and other publications. He is particularly interested in hearing any tips you have. Reach out at [email protected]