A lawyer for President Donald Trump hit back Wednesday at MSNBC and host Lawrence O’Donnell, who one day earlier pushed an unfounded rumor that loans provided to Trump by Deutsche Bank were co-signed by “Russian oligarchs.”
And his effort appears to have worked, as O’Donnell was eventually forced to issue a humiliating apology.
“A source close to Deutsche Bank says Trump’s tax returns show he pays very little income tax and, more importantly, that his loans have Russian co-signers,” O’Donnell tweeted Tuesday. “If true, that explains every kind word Trump has ever said about Russia and Putin.”
A source close to Deutsche Bank says Trump’s tax returns show he pays very little income tax and, more importantly, that his loans have Russian co-signers.
If true, that explains every kind word Trump has ever said about Russia and Putin. @TheLastWord 10pm
— Lawrence O’Donnell (@Lawrence) August 28, 2019
It’s not all that hard to understand what O’Donnell was getting at. Since Russians allegedly co-signed Trump’s loans, O’Donnell was implying he’s been soft on Russia as president.
Of course, the report was based on a single anonymous source, and has not been verified by any other legitimate news outlet.
Even NBC News hasn’t been able to verify O’Donnell’s claim, according to “Morning Joe” producer Michael Del Moro.
Deutsche Bank is declining to comment on Lawrence O’Donnell’s reporting that Russian oligarch’s co-signed Trump’s loans. The information came from a single source who has not seen the bank records. NBC has not seen those records and has not yet been able to verify the reporting.
— Michael Del Moro (@MikeDelMoro) August 28, 2019
That didn’t stop O’Donnell from pushing the rumor on the air on Tuesday night.
“I may have some information, in this next hour, which would add a great deal to their understanding of that, if true, and I’ll be discussing it here,” he said, according to The Hill. “I stress ‘if true,’ because this is a single source who has told me that Deutsche Bank obtained tax returns.”
Of course, journalists aren’t supposed to report something unless they can confirm that it’s true. Though I suppose it might be a bit of a stretch to call O’Donnell a “journalist.”
“This single source close to Deutsche Bank has told me that Donald Trump’s loan documents there show that he has co-signers. That’s how he was able to obtain those loans and that the co-signers are Russian oligarchs,” O’Donnell said.
“The source close to Deutsche Bank said that the co-signers of Donald Trump’s Deutsche Bank loans are Russian billionaires close to Vladimir Putin,” he later added. “If true, that would be a significant factor in Vladimir Putin’s publicly stated preference for presidential candidate Donald Trump over presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.”
Now, Trump will often rail against fake news establishment media outlets, and MSNBC is one of his favorite targets.
But this time he wasn’t messing around.
This time, Trump sicced his lawyer on NBC Universal, which is MSNBC’s parent company, even going so far as to threaten a defamation lawsuit.
“The Program and Tweet make the false and defamatory statements that ‘Russian oligarchs’ co-signed loans provided to Mr. Trump by Deutsche Bank, and described these ‘co-signers’ as ‘Russian billionaires close to Vladimir Putin,’” reads a letter from Trump personal attorney Charles Harder, which The Hollywood Reporter obtained.
“These statements are false and defamatory, and extremely damaging,” the letter added. “The only borrowers under these loans are Trump entities, and Mr. Trump is the only guarantor.”
“Numerous documents for each of these loans are also recorded, publicly available and searchable online. Thus, actual malice can easily be proven based on your reckless disregard of the truth and unreasonable reliance on an alleged ‘source’ who you will not even identify in your story and likely is seeking to mislead you and the public for political reasons or other ulterior motives.”
The letter then demanded that NBC Universal and O’Donnell “immediately and prominently retract, correct and apologize for the aforementioned false and defamatory statements.”
“Failure to do so will leave my clients with no alternative but to consider their legal options which could include immediate legal proceedings against Mr. O’Donnell and NBCU,” the letter says. “Should that occur, my clients would pursue all available causes of action and seek all available damages and other legal remedies to the maximum extent permitted by law.”
Not long after news broke regarding the letter from Trump’s lawyer, O’Donnell issued an apology on Twitter.
“Last night I made an error in judgment by reporting an item about the president’s finances that didn’t go through our rigorous verification and standards process,” he tweeted. “I shouldn’t have reported it and I was wrong to discuss it on the air. I will address the issue on my show tonight.”
Last night I made an error in judgment by reporting an item about the president’s finances that didn’t go through our rigorous verification and standards process. I shouldn’t have reported it and I was wrong to discuss it on the air. I will address the issue on my show tonight.
— Lawrence O’Donnell (@Lawrence) August 28, 2019
It’s a good thing that O’Donnell apologized. But the fact that he pushed this unfounded rumor in the first place shows that pundits like him are willing to do or say anything, as long as it makes Trump look bad.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham may have put it best when she told Fox News: “This is one of the reasons that a majority of Americans have lost trust in the media.”
“Instead of applying ethics and standards to their reporting, journalists and left-wing outlets have weaponized the media, using it to attack and harass people with little to no regard for the truth,” she added.