The Hippo


Jul 23, 2019








Seth Abramson of Manchester

What are you really interested in right now?

I have been watching the show Vikings.

Professor on Trump
Academic and former prosecutor


 With what we know now, what is your current theory about Donald Trump and Russia?

I think there is evidence to suggest that Donald Trump and members of his campaign traded U.S. foreign policy toward Russia in exchange for specified and unspecified assistance from Russian nationals during the 2016 presidential campaign. I think Russian nationals began to operate in a way that implicitly aided the Trump campaign before members of the campaign were necessarily aware that that was happening, but once the campaign became aware of what was happening, they continued to offer inducements to the Russian government in the form of unilateral sanctions disengagement. … Keep in mind that for any of the propositions that I have put out there, there is significant evidence in the public record. My role here is not simply to spin theories, but to illuminate what investigative theories are encoded within the evidence we have in the public realm.
Let’s talk about your sort of strange role that you’ve taken on here. If someone were to criticize you for over-speculating or playing a kind of pundit role based on limited information, would you concede this is all to be taken with a grain of salt? Is there a way to balance that out?
If Bob Mueller were conducting this investigation in a public fashion, or if Congress had decided to permit a bipartisan probe of what happened during the 2016 election, I wouldn’t be doing any of what I’m doing now on social media. … So, I think it was necessary for a number of people in public to be developing a theory of the case in real time. As with any investigation or any theory testing, sometimes you have to update your theory as you get new information. That’s not irresponsible, that’s exactly the opposite.
Do you view yourself as a sort of investigative journalist or something else?
I consider myself a meta-journalist or a curatorial journalist, which is a type of investigative journalist. I use my expertise and experience to collate, curate, narrativize and frame information in the public record to develop a theory of the case for an investigation that ... is happening out of sight in the offices of the special counsel.
What were some of your motivations getting into this, and why choose this Russia investigation as a focus?
I think this is the most complex, far-ranging, influential federal criminal investigation of my lifetime, and due to its particular circumstances, it has been underreported in certain respects in major media. And the Congressional and FBI investigations are happening largely outside the public view, so what’s needed is a public accounting of what’s occurring in real time, and how the disparate parts of this story connect to one another.
What is your research process? How do you find sources and how do you vet them for what’s true and what’s not?
I use almost exclusively major media reporting from known, reliable media outlets. Sometimes I encounter their reports through my own internet research and sometimes I’m directed to various reports from readers of my Twitter feed. I get hundreds and hundreds of tips per week and those tips are simply in the nature of people directing me to major media reports that might illuminate something about the stories of the day. … I’m a trained criminal investigator and a trained criminal attorney and so I have a lot of experience in reading reports and seeing how reports collected over a long period of time connect to one another and develop a theory of the case.
Do you have any concerns that after theorizing and forming possible narratives that it might take steam out of or harm the credibility of the final, authoritative version of events once those become public?
I will, and I hope others will, accept and abide by whatever the findings of the special counsel are. My work is not intended to replace the work of federal investigators, but to help members of the public understand the likely course of the investigation as it unfolds. … I think that as long as people read the feed understanding what it transparently represents itself to be, there’s no danger that people will decide to supplant the results of Bob Mueller’s investigation with what I have written over the … years that I will have been following the story.
— Ryan Lessard
The Q&A above is the product of two separate interviews on Jan. 26 and Feb. 13, edited and condensed. 

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