Is someone trying to trap Rachel Maddow and her news crew with careful forgeries? It seems so. In a segment of The Rachel Maddow Show, she breaks down the curious details and sounds the alarm to other media outlets. The timeline and details of this saga are important. 

This spring Maddow’s team launched a website called where people could securely and anonymously send tips, photos, video or documents. She explained they’d received tips from around the country, everything from local legislators behaving badly to national security. And that’s where this story picks up. 

Maddow says her staff received a “top secret” document via their website that was so explosive, so top secret, her staff is reluctant to discuss the details even amongst themselves and MSNBC executives. The document is allegedly relating to the investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to alter our election. Here is a transcript of Maddow describing how this document is so “red-hot” it sucks the air out of the room:

If by any chance this document is real, it is so sensitive, so classified, that I cannot show it to you. I cannot show it to almost anyone. Because of its purported classification level. It’s actually hard to circulate it at all or even to describe it to people. I don’t say that to try to hype it, I say that to let you know that it’s actually logistically difficult to validate something like this.

Because it’s classified at that level, or appears to be classified at that level, you can’t run the document like that by people. The way you would for any other kind of document they might ship to us from some source. People who are in a position to recognize or authenticate this kind of document, people who have worked with things at this level of classification, they typically will refuse to look at document like this if there’s any chance that it is real. That it is a real classified information that has been improperly disclosed. That’s because the terms of their own security clearance mean effectively they can’t use something like this without it creating legal obligations on them.

So it’s very hard to check this stuff out. Classification-wise, it is logistically very difficult to deal with. Very, very sensitive. But in terms of the political implications of this document, its content, politically this thing is so sensitive it takes all the air out of the room. And all of the nearby rooms as well. People talk about finding the smoking gun. What got sent to us was not just a smoking gun, it was a gun still firing proverbial bullets.

Rather than run with the red-hot story, a cautious Maddow team dug further into the document and discovered it is most likely a careful forgery, using a method the NSA used to track down the NSA contractor who leaked a story to The Intercept in early June. The leaked documents showed the Russian attempts to hack voter files went much further than previously reported. The NSA reportedly used a crease and little-known individual forensics fingerprint printers leave behind:

Printer dots left on a a top secret NSA document
Each printer has an identifiable pattern it leaves behind

It says in the criminal complaint that there’s a crease, like you get a crease from folding something, there’s a crease on the document itself that was a clue to the FBI that whoever took this document off the NSA had printed it. Had printed the page and folded it and carried it out of the NSA office by hand.

Then there was another clue. This is where the story gets a little bit crazy. Most color printers, maybe even all of them, I don’t know, they apparently leave behind when they print — right, when they print out a piece of paper from a computer, right? When they print, they leave behind a finger print on every sheet that they print out. You know how in old school detective stories they do the forensics of typewriters. There is a version of that for computer printers, too.

Rachel Maddow Show
A closer look at the forged documents received by Maddow’s staff

Maddow’s team were able to identify the dot pattern specific to that printer. Here’s where the story gets even more interesting. The “top secret” document received at Rachel’s website? It had the same dot pattern, remnants of the same crease at the top of the page. Most curious is the timeline. Take a look:

Saturday, June 3, 2017: NSA contractor is arrested by the FBI after The Intercept showed the classified documents to the NSA for verification.

Monday, June 5, 2017: The Intercept runs the story, publishing the classified document showing Russian election and voter data hacking attempts went much further than previously believed.

Sometime between those two events is when the documents were sent to Maddow’s website. That means someone got their hands on the documents that had not yet been made public, took time to carefully forge a different version with the “red hot” details and put them in Rachel Maddow’s hands. Why? It’s likely an attempt to get Rachel Maddow to take the bait, publish the fake documents and then sit back and watch her career go up in flames. 

See Rachel Maddow break it all down and send a warning flare up for other members of the media who may be targeted with these types of forgeries:

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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