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Washington Post editorial quietly broke open Trump’s Ukraine scandal

Washington Post editorial quietly broke open Trump’s Ukraine scandal



The Washington Post building

The Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt told POLITICO that “a lot of reporting goes into most of our editorials, and it’s not that rare for us to break news, on local or national stories.” | Alex Wong/Getty Images

The White House’s release of a readout of President Donald Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president largely vindicates a Washington Post editorial from Sept. 5 that first revealed that Trump had pressured Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden.

While it drew some buzz at the time, the unsigned and loosely sourced editorial mostly went under the radar despite making the damning allegation that Trump was urging a foreign leader to probe a political rival — and doing so more than two weeks before the scandal fully broke open.

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In the piece, The Post’s editorial board described being “reliably told” that Trump “is attempting to force” Zelensky “to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of” Biden. And Trump, they continued, “is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.”

The mysterious author of the prescient editorial was Jackson Diehl, the paper’s deputy editorial page editor. Diehl, who confirmed to POLITICO that he reported and wrote the editorial, spent decades as a foreign correspondent and high-ranking editor in the paper’s newsroom before shifting to the editorial department.

While the details of the call released on Wednesday do not show Trump explicitly trying to “extort” Zelensky, they still back up the editorial’s bombshell revelation.

And the Sept. 5 editorial came well before the Wall Street Journal turbocharged the scandal by reporting on Sept. 20 that Trump had repeatedly pressured Zelensky about Biden.

Still, the Washington Post piece drew some attention at the time, partially fueled by Diehl himself.

“Our Washpost editorial looks at what could be our next election scandal: Trump’s attempt to extort Ukraine’s new government into investigating Joe Biden,” Diehl tweeted at 8:50 p.m. on Sept. 5.

The editorial has since gathered more accolades for being way out ahead, with MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweeting Tuesday, “This aged pretty well!”

Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt told POLITICO that “a lot of reporting goes into most of our editorials, and it’s not that rare for us to break news, on local or national stories.”

The Post does boast opinion columnists who break news, like David Ignatius and Josh Rogin, and Diehl.

And the White House on Wednesday further backed up the editorial’s reporting by releasing a memorandum of a July phone call in which Trump urged Zelensky to speak with Attorney General William Barr and personal Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani about investigating Biden.

Since May, Giuliani has suggested Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor in March 2016 to benefit his son Hunter Biden’s business interests in the country, claims for which there is no evidence to support.

Hiatt acknowledged the editorial side of the paper doesn’t have “the resources nor the mission of the news side,” which he praised for its “amazing job on this story for the past week.” He added that “we and they both totally respect the separation of news and opinion.”

Given that traditional separation, Post reporters didn’t find out what Diehl had learned until the editorial was published. “I can remember when it dropped,” said one Post reporter who recalled later speaking to sources who were also struck by the piece. “In retrospect,” the reporter added, “it was incredibly prescient.”

The Post’s editorial board’s handling of Diehl’s reporting demonstrated how the two sides of the paper operate differently. The potentially explosive allegations weren’t presented in the lead of a front page story, but ran on page 20 of the Sept. 6 print edition accompanied by a rather low-key headline, “An Invitation to Intervene.”

Also, the formulation used in the editorial — “we’re reliably told” — isn’t one that would be found in a straight news story, which typically specifies where sources are coming from, such as attributing information to current or former U.S. officials.

“We do not always explain to readers, as the news side does, why a source asked to speak without being named,” said Hiatt, who insisted that “the editorial board is as rigorous as the news side.”





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