On Tuesday, the Guardian dropped a "bombshell" report alleging that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had personally met with WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in "secret talks," at one point presumably about Clinton campaign-damaging emails. But with WikiLeaks emphatically declaring the story false and both Manafort and Assange making legal threats over the "libelous" claims, the Guardian has edited the article to soften the language.
"Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign, the Guardian has been told," the outlet reported Tuesday. "Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 – during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House. .... A well-placed source has told the Guardian that Manafort went to see Assange around March 2016. Months later WikiLeaks released a stash of Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence officers."
In response, WikiLeaks posted a series of tweets blasting the outlet for having "permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper's reputation."
"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," WikiLeaks wrote in a series of tweets ripping the outlet and the article's lead author.
"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," WikiLeaks added in another tweet.
Manafort adamantly denied the allegations. "This story is totally false and deliberately libelous," Manafort said in the statement Tuesday. "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. 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."
In an update to its article, the Guardian includes Manafort's statement, but conspicuously leaves out the opening and closing lines threatening legal action.
With WikiLeaks continuing to keep up pressure online, the Guardian quietly edited a few key lines, which WikiLeaks made sure to document. "Guardian walks away from fake 'Manafort visited Assange at embassy' story with stealth edits," WikiLeaks wrote, with screenshots of the two versions:
The edits — which serve to qualify the phrasing in two instances and make the number of sources more vague in another — are in bold:
It is unclear why Manafort would have wanted to see Assange and what was discussed. But the last apparent meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. [...]
According to the [changed from "two"] sources, Manafort returned to the embassy in 2015. He paid another visit in spring 2016, turning up alone, around the time Trump named him as his convention manager. The visit is tentatively dated to March.
The title of the article was likewise qualified with the addition of "sources say": "Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy, sources say."
The updated article also includes this new line: "In a series of tweets WikiLeaks said Assange and Manafort had not met. Assange described the story as a hoax," as well as an excerpt of Manafort's statement.
WikiLeaks later announced that Assange has instructed his lawyers to sue the Guardian "for libel over fabricated Manafort story" and has "launched a legal fund to boost the action":