Last July 28, BuzzFeedput out a story co-authored by eight reporters, which sought to demonstrate that Mikhail Lesin, “Vladimir Putin’s former media czar,” had been assassinated in a Washington hotel on Dupont Circle “on the eve of a planned meeting with the US Justice Department.”
The much hyped story was part of “an ongoing BuzzFeed News investigation” — one installment of the series was headlined “From Russia With Blood” — and it claimed that a two-year investigation by the website “revealed explosive evidence pointing to Russia in 14 suspicious deaths on British soil that the UK government had largely ignored”:
Four high-ranking US intelligence officials confirmed that those deaths had been linked to Russian security services or mafia gangs, two groups that sometimes work in tandem, by “intelligence gathered in the field and analyzed” by US spies and handed to Britain’s security services. But the UK police publicly declared that none of the 14 incidents involved foul play. As a result, the public has been kept in the dark about what national security officials have long suspected: Russian assassins may have murdered in the UK with impunity.
Now, with Lesin’s death in the heart of America’s capital, BuzzFeed‘s squadron of reporters had spoken to American officials — unnamed, of course — who “fear the threat has hit home.”
Lesin’s death raised “concerns” that the Kremlin would start “doing here what they do with some regularity in London,” said a former high-level national security official who recently left government. Altogether, 18 current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and other federal officials told BuzzFeed News that they question the official story of how Lesin died.
Of course, a spokesperson for the DC Metropolitan Police, which led the investigation into Lesin’s death, had told BuzzFeed there was “no evidence to suggest…foul play.” Lesin, a notorious drunk, was believed to have gotten trashed and, the U.S. investigation had concluded, “died alone in his room due to a series of drunken falls after days of excessive consumption of alcohol.” Prosecutors closed the case and ruled his death an accident.
BuzzFeed heaped scorn on the cops’ explanation and the investigation. Citing a battery of unnamed intelligence officials and FBI agents “whose assertions cast new doubts on the US government’s official explanation of his death,” BuzzFeed determined that “Lesin was actually bludgeoned to death.”
None of these officials were directly involved in the government’s investigation, but they said they learned about it from colleagues who were. “Lesin was beaten to death,” one of the FBI agents said. “I would implore you to say as much. There seems to be an effort here to cover up that fact for reasons I can’t get into.”
He continued: “What I can tell you is that there isn’t a single person inside the bureau who believes this guy got drunk, fell down, and died. Everyone thinks he was whacked and that Putin or the Kremlin were behind it.”
In another previously unreported revelation, the two FBI agents said it was the Department of Justice that paid for the hotel room where Lesin died. DOJ officials had invited the Russian to Washington to interview him about the inner workings of RT, the Kremlin-funded network that Lesin founded, they said. But Lesin never made it to the interview. He died the night before it was scheduled to take place.
It was a reckless story — we’re talking about BuzzFeed, after all, so that’s essentially a tautology — but, what the hell, editor-in-chief Ben Smith must have concluded, we already published the famously inaccurate Trump dossier when no other news outlet would, we can get away with peddling this yellow journalism too. And in the current news climate, you can accuse Putin — a dictator not above killing his enemies, to be sure — of stealing the Washington Monument and the U.S. press would run a story without confirming if it was still there.
Sadly for BuzzFeed, the Washington Post, which has published its own fair share of Fake News, obtained the 58-page D.C. police report on the investigation and it obliterated the case for Lesin being murdered (and cast doubt on the rest of BuzzFeed’s “explosive” series, whose key findings were provided almost entirely by unnamed sources whose veracity is impossible to evaluate.)
A onetime senior Russian political aide who died in 2015 in a Dupont Circle hotel room had been drinking heavily over the three days before his body was found, including consuming beer, wine and liquor from small bottles kept in the hotel’s mini-fridge and larger bottles of tequila and Johnnie Walker whiskey…
Much of the report is blacked out, including key pages that detail the autopsy, thus leaving unanswered how authorities reached their conclusion that the 57-year-old died accidentally after falling and hitting his head in his hotel room. The death had sparked conspiracy theories because of Lesin’s links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The report says Lesin had been drinking in excess from nearly the time he checked in to the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown on Nov. 2, 2015, until he was found dead three days later in a ninth-floor penthouse room at the Dupont Circle Hotel.
Extensive timelines from both hotels show that Lesin was confronted numerous times by security staff as he wandered drunk through the halls, sometimes wearing only a blue shirt and black underwear. Hotel officials once called the Secret Service, who advised a guard be posted at his door. He twice walked behind a hotel bar and grabbed bottles of liquor after he was cut off, the report says…
The reports say Lesin checked into the Four Seasons on the afternoon of Nov. 2. He took a Coke and a small airline size bottle of vodka from the minibar five minutes after he entered the room, according to the report.
The report says Lesin met a friend at the hotel at 1:45 p.m. on Nov 3, though it’s not clear where the friend went. Seven minutes later, a security guard went to Lesin’s room and found Lesin “passed out on the bed.” Four hours later, Lesin took more alcohol from the minibar. The report does not mention the friend again, although it does say that after the guard visited, “both returned to the lobby” and “[redacted] stays at the hotel.” Numerous interviews with witnesses are blacked out.
On the night of Nov. 3, the report says, a security guard noticed a contusion under Lesin’s left eye. It does not say how he was injured.
Through the night and into the morning of Nov. 4, police said, Lesin left his room and returned, often escorted by security. Once, a security guard told police that he noticed a contusion under Lesin’s left eye. Twice Lesin left the hotel grounds and returned with alcohol, once a bottle of Johnnie Walker whiskey.
He left the Four Seasons about 5 a.m. on Nov. 4 and checked into the hotel at Dupont Circle at 5:30 a.m. He then returned to the Four Seasons, where for several more hours he went back and forth to his room, once with more alcohol from a convenience store. The hotel locked him out of his room and he took a taxi back to Dupont Circle.
The report notes that video surveillance from him entering that hotel shows “the only visible injury is to the left eye” and that it appeared Lesin was not in pain, although a desk clerk noted he “appeared to be very intoxicated.”
About 2 p.m. that day, a security guard visited Lesin’s room and described him as “stumbling drunk.” Another guard returned at 2:23 p.m. and asked Lesin whether he needed medical help. The report says Lesin put his arm on the guard’s shoulder and said, “Nyet.” At 8:16 p.m., another guard went into his room and found Lesin facedown on the floor, but breathing. The guard couldn’t wake him.
At 11:30 a.m. Nov. 5, police said a security guard again went to his room, this time to remind him to check out. The report says Lesin was still facedown on the floor. The guard called 911. Lesin was pronounced dead.
Police reported finding numerous empty bottles of liquor from the minibar, and also three full bottles of Guinness beer and two unopened bottles of red wine.
Whacked? This guy was pickled.
After this debacle, BuzzFeed should go back to publishing kitty pix and listicles. It’s just as mindless, but at least there’s no pretense that the website is reporting the news.