And just like that, one of the most enticing political scandals in quite some time potentially goes up in smoke. Gawker's John Cook just updated the world on the site's crowdfunded efforts to purchase the video of Rob Ford (allegedly!) smoking crack cocaine, and it is not a breakthrough — even if the truth is out there, even if the other team hunting down the tape (besides the cops, and Ford) says the sellers are "running scared right now."
Cook reports he heard from the middle man handing negotiations between Gawker and the video's sellers on Friday, but now it's missing. "It's gone. Leave me alone," was the message relayed to Cook. The Atlantic Wire emailed Cook on Monday to ask how negotiations for the footage were going and Tuesday's update, evidently, is why we didn't receive a response. A full $200,000 "crackstarter" or not, the video was no longer for sale. Dammit. Cook has more info on why, exactly, the first hard video evidence of a major elected official doing drugs while in office has now likely vanished:
According to the intermediary, these two factors—a fear of being identified, and a strong desire from the Somali community to make the whole thing go away—led the owner of the video to go to ground and soured the owner's relationship with the intermediary. I frankly find it difficult to believe that a crack dealer would be more responsive to the desires of his ethnic community than to a $200,000 bounty. But I have heard independently from others familiar with the goings-on in Toronto that leaders in its Somali community have determined who the owner is and brought intense pressure to bear on him and his family. Toronto's "Little Mogadishu" neighborhood is located in the ward Rob Ford represented when he was a city councillor; though he is a conservative and a racist buffoon, I am told he has long-standing connections to Somali power brokers there.
Ford initially offered a carefully worded denial about being addicted to crack cocaine, a week after Gawker broke the scandal wide open. (The Toronto Star also says its staffers have viewed but not obtained the video.) But, three days later, Ford was comfortable enough to claim the video doesn't exist, a position he's held in many interviews since.
Where the video went, though, is pretty unclear. The police allegedly knew of its existence, and where to find it, a few days after the video leaked. The big problem? So did members of Ford's staff, and some remain employed at Toronto city hall. (Many have quit over the last few weeks.) Cook also points to the leaked details, mostly from the mayor's staff, that led to the media locating the Etobicoke apartment on Dixon Road in Ford's former riding, or district, where the tape was allegedly being held.
So: What now? There are allegedly more copies of the tape, thought to be stashed outside of Toronto city limits for safe keeping, but who controls the access to those tapes is also pretty unclear. For what it's worth, Michael Cooke, the editor of the Star, said this today:
"We are working towards obtaining it," Cooke said.
"The people who have this video, they're running scared right now. They're worried about deportation. They're worried about being charged criminally. But the video is slowly making its way to daylight, and when that happens, we'll all be better off."
Cook, of course, was probably the scandal lover's best bet for this footage ever surfacing. He was offering $200,000. The Star is not.
Indeed, earlier on Tuesday, before Cook's video update, various remaining Ford staffers were amazed when the press scrum outside of the mayor's office dwindled into nothingness.
This post originally appeared on The Atlantic Wire.