Early yesterday, the Associated Press set the internet on fire by reporting that the current Department of Justice, headed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, had made a decision not to prosecute Trump cabinet member Wilbur Ross for perjury. This reporting prompted a number of liberal activists to demand that President Biden fire Garland. Now it turns out the story was false.
Half a day after the Wilbur Ross story was published, the Associated Press quietly added this update to the bottom of its story late last night: “This story has been corrected to reflect that the decision not to prosecute Ross was made by the Department of Justice during the Trump administration, not the Biden administration.” Oops.
Everyone makes mistakes, and if anything, this debacle is just the latest reminder of the perilous nature of relying on inside sources. But the real problem here is that this one detail changes the entire story into a completely different story. And because an entire news cycle went by before it was quietly corrected, most people are still under the impression that the false version of the story is true. For the most part, media pundits and online pundits have done very little to try to correct this, after they spent yesterday stoking outrage against Garland.
Of course some observers are going to question why Merrick Garland’s DOJ hasn’t overridden the Trump DOJ decision and decided to move forward with a case against Wilbur Ross. For one thing, we don’t know that this hasn’t happened. Given the swing and miss by the AP’s source, there’s no way at this point of knowing where the case against Ross now stands.
We still suspect that any jury would have a difficult time convicting a half-senile 83 year old man for the specific crime of perjury, when his lawyers can simply make the reasonable doubt argument that he was confused, not lying. So if the Garland DOJ doesn’t take the case out of mothballs, that’ll explain why. But given that it was Trump and Barr who let Ross off the hook, and not Garland, all of yesterday’s outrage against Garland turns out to have been for nothing.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report