The Dacre doggies at the Daily Mail have become positively animated at the opportunity given them to spin the Arron Banks story away from that of Russian influence, something that Leave-supporting media outlets may be indulging in rather more in the following days and weeks. But taking Banksy at his word may not be such a good idea.
“Millionaire Brexiteer Arron Banks briefed CIA agents on his contacts with Russian ambassador” gasps the headline. At last! The news the Mail wanted to hear - Banks was on the West’s side all along! But is it true? “Millionaire Brexiteer Arron Banks is set to claim that he briefed CIA agents in London on his contacts with a Russian ambassador, according to a new report”. And where might this report have originated?
“Banks … and his business associate Andy Wigmore will appear before a Commons committee … They claim to have met with a senior CIA agent a 5 Hertford Street, a Mayfair club, where they briefed him 'on everything' pertaining to their meeting with the Russian ambassador in November of 2016, reported the Telegraph … The paper also said the men had kept the agent's business card and are going through their emails to find evidence of their correspondence and meeting”.
CIA contacts give out business cards? Next, Banksy and Wiggy will be claiming they met Felix Leiter round at Universal Exports. But enough - the Mail article also includes very good reasons to be, at the very least, sceptical of anything Banks claims.
Take this passage: “Mr Banks had reportedly been in talks with [Ambassador] Yakovenko to invest in a Goldmine and invited out to Moscow for talks … He visited the city in February - but insists this was not for business talks but just on a family holiday with his Russian wife Catya and mother-in-law Olga”. So far, so procedural.
But then comes “Mr Banks told The Sunday Times they visited the world famous Hermitage museum on the trip - but that is actually in St Petersburg … While he also claimed the family went on a river boat cruise, but these do not run in either of the cities in February because of the winter ice”. Anyone might conclude that Banksy is prone to saying things that are blatantly untrue.
So Damian Collins and his committee should be on their guard. After all, as former whistleblower Chris Wylie said in response to Carole Cadwalladr’s acknowledgement of Banks’ links to Russia, “There should be an investigation into LeaveEU. I already reported it to the National Crime Agency. In fact the NCA has known about the documents relating to LeaveEU's dealings with Russia since April – and that Isabel Oakeshott was withholding the information”. That means they are already bust.
Anyone might conclude that Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore are planning to go in front of the DCMS Committee tomorrow and spin them a whole oven full of porkie pies. Anyone might also know for certain that Collins and his colleagues will have done their preparation and will be waiting for them. Lying to them would be pointless.
But if you’ve got the habit, it might be a hard one to break. Get the popcorn in.