A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Before President Trump’s rally in El Paso, TX — his first such gathering of the year — on Monday night, CNN’s Betsy Klein spoke with a source about what to expect at the rally. When she asked about Trump’s repeated usage of widely debunked stats about violent crime in El Paso, the source sarcastically responded, “LOL.”
So that’s where we are, two years into the Trump presidency. Some people laugh about his politically expedient lies. Other people suffer.
For the record, Trump stayed away from that particular falsehood on Monday night, according to Daniel Dale, but he repeated many other lies — even about the size of his crowd. Read Dale’s incredible fact-checking Twitter thread here…
>> “Where are the fact-checkers?” Trump said at one point. “You know, some of the most dishonest people in media are the so-called fact-checkers.”
The Hannity veto?
Minutes before Trump took to the stage, this news broke on Capitol Hill: “Congressional negotiators say they have reached an agreement in principle to avert a partial government shutdown at the end of this week.” Here’s the latest from CNN’s team.
But there’s already some conservative criticism of the deal. “Any Republican that supports this garbage compromise, you will have to explain,” Sean Hannity said Monday evening. Charlie Sykes called it “the Hannity veto…”
>> Trump is not endorsing the deal: “A lot of things have changed, and we’ll see what happens,” he told Laura Ingraham in an interview right before the rally…
>> CNN’s Manu Raju tweeted: “One thing is clear” from this deal: Trump is “not getting $5.7B for the wall as he’s been demanding for weeks and that led to the government shutdown. The question is will he sign off on the emerging deal and try to act administratively to fund the rest of it — despite the risks…”
The difference between Fox and the others
Monday night’s cable news coverage was really revealing. “El Paso, Texas is a major American city with a population the same size as Boston. It is more than big enough to hold two competing presidential campaign style events at the same time, and it did that tonight,” Lawrence O’Donnell said on MSNBC.
Indeed, Beto O’Rourke’s counter-rally was a big deal. Trump repeatedly brought it up. But MSNBC’s liberal prime time lineup only showed short snippets of his rally. CNN discussed the city’s anti-Trump march, but didn’t show Beto’s speech. On the flip side, Fox News showed virtually all of Trump’s rally live — even though it lasted more than an hour. The next time someone claims Fox and MSNBC are mirror images of each other, just cite Monday night as an example of the difference…
How the El Paso Times is covering the dueling rallies
For full local coverage, click here…
“The wall’s being built, it will continue, it’s going at a rapid pace,” he told his fans on Monday night, despite the political walls he’s up against.
Watching his speech, I was struck by his rhetorical usage of “we” and “you.” He said “WE have suffered a totally dishonest media, and WE’VE won, and it’s driving them crazy. It’s driving them crazy.”
And: “I didn’t save our country,” he said a little while later, “YOU saved our country…” And “the world is watching…”
Cliff Sims sues Trump
This is a novel lawsuit… potentially forcing a real legal proceeding over Trump’s non-disclosure agreements… and it was foreshadowed two weeks ago when “Team of Vipers” came out.
Trump cited Cliff Sims’ NDA, and then a Trump campaign aide threatened to sue, prompting multiple lawyers to say, in effect, “I dare you.” Mark Zaid said he would take up Sims’ case “pro bono.” (I quoted Zaid in this story. )
Now Zaid IS Sims’ lawyer. “The U.S. Government is intentionally and unconstitutionally engaging in a subterfuge effort to use a private entity, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., to do its bidding to silence Mr. Sims when it is really the intense powers of the Presidency coming down upon a sole individual,” Zaid asserted in Monday’s suit.
Per CNN’s Kate Sullivan, “the lawsuit requests a court ruling that Trump ‘may not enforce, whether directly or through non-U.S. Government cutouts, any nondisclosure agreements that seek to unconstitutionally infringe upon his First Amendment rights.'” More here…
Another reason why this lawsuit matters
Maggie Haberman, who broke the news about Sims’ lawsuit, tweeted: “The suit gets at the heart of what the president has attempted to be simultaneously over the last two years – both a private citizen and the holder of the highest office in the land…”
FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE
— Zachary B. Wolf’s latest: “Trump’s racist Elizabeth Warren taunts have entered a new phase…” ( CNN )
— Poppy Harlow will moderate CNN’s second town hall of the 2020 season, with possible presidential contender Howard Schultz, Tuesday in Houston… 10 p.m. ET…
— “Frontline” and the WSJ are working together for the first time… “Predator on the Reservation,” a joint investigation, premieres Tuesday… ( PBS )
Today’s Bezos updates
Monday’s main development was a scoop by the WSJ: The National Enquirer’s parent company American Media (AMI) “sought advice last year from the U.S. Justice Department over whether the publisher should register as a foreign agent.” The DOJ’s response letter, available on the web, all but confirmed it. While American Media’s name is redacted, the details match up perfectly.
Think back to the spring of 2018. Michael Cohen has been raided. American Media has been subpoenaed. The company, wanting access to Saudi financing, has published a fawning pro-Saudi publication. And news outlets have been asking questions about this curious piece of propaganda on supermarket checkout shelves. THAT’S the backdrop for AMI’s outreach to the DOJ.
The government concluded that AMI did not need to register as a foreign agent because, even though the publisher “sought out comments” from a Saudi advisor before publishing, there was no financial deal with the Saudis. The open question: Did AMI publish the brochure with the hopes of striking a deal later?
If so, it didn’t work. Pecker’s lawyer, there was never any Saudi $$ deal. And AMI said in a new statement on Monday that it “does not have, nor have we ever had, any editorial or financial ties to Saudi Arabia.” Here’s my full story…
What will AMI’s investigation find?
After the Bezos allegations against Pecker hit last Thursday, AMI announced that its board of directors had convened and ordered an immediate investigation. Many of us scoffed at the idea of the four-man board investigating itself. But VF’s Joe Pompeo reported Monday night that the board “has retained an outside firm to conduct the probe,” per a source “familiar with the matter.” AMI declined to comment…
Two theories of the case
On “Erin Burnett OutFront,” I outlined two theories about Bezos and Pecker, fully acknowledging that we don’t know if either is what really happened.
#1: Bezos was the victim of a blackmail attempt and a complex, politically-motivated plot that may involve a “Saudi angle” and the Trump White House. His photos and texts may have been obtained illegally. His blog post began to expose the geopolitics and grudges that are involved.
#2: Bezos fell in love with a woman with Hollywood connections and the Enquirer found out, because that’s what tabloids do. His security chief’s probe and the Enquirer’s panicked reaction enabled Bezos, through a blog post, to reframe the story — making him out to be a journalistic hero rather than an embarrassed tech exec.
In this Monday night tweet, the NYT’s Edmund Lee said it more concisely than I can. “There’s still a lot about the Bezos-Enquirer saga that hasn’t been explained,” he wrote, “and I suspect a lot of the theorizing bandied about (including in Bezos’s) own blog post will remain theories. I think Occam’s razor will hold.”
FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO
— Alex Weprin tweeted: “Per its latest quarterly 8-K filing, Meredith Corp. says it expects to ‘finalize’ the sales of Sports Illustrated, Money and the ad tech company Viant by the end of the fiscal year, which will be June.” ( Twitter )
Lowering expectations about Mueller’s end game…
Or merely resetting out-of-control expectations? Here are three examples of something I’m noticing a lot these days:
— USA Today’s Kevin Johnson and Bart Jansen: “As the inquiry grinds closer to its conclusion, there are signs that the public might never learn the full extent of what Mueller has — or hasn’t — found..”
— Jeffrey Toobin in this week’s New Yorker: “The Watergate scandal was like Shakespeare—a drama that built to a satisfying climax. The Russia story is more like Beckett—a mystifying tragicomedy that may drift into irresolution. Did Trump collude, and did he obstruct justice? Mueller may never have the answers.”
— ABC’s “The Investigation” podcast debuts Tuesday with Kyra Phillipsinterviewing former Trump lawyer John Dowd. He told her: “I will be shocked, if– if anything regarding the president is made public, other than, ‘We’re done.'”