As he does many mornings, President Trump tweeted a complaint Tuesday about the “fake news” media.
But new allegations suggest that it’s Trump, himself, who is a primary purveyor of fake news.
Late Monday, The Washington Post reported that the president personally dictated a statement in which his son claimed that he and a Russian lawyer mostly discussed the adoption of Russian children and that their meeting wasn’t tied to the presidential race. That was a lie; Donald Trump Jr. later released emails showing he took the meeting after receiving an email promising incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help the Trump campaign.
And Tuesday a lawsuit was filed that claims President Trump worked with Fox News to concoct a story that a Democratic National Committee staffer was killed in retaliation for giving damaging emails about Clinton to WikiLeaks. That story was a complete fabrication; U.S. intelligence says Russian hackers gave those emails to WikiLeaks. These allegations about Trump, if proven, would be beyond disgraceful.
If Trump purposely misled the public about his son’s meeting with Russians, that could provide compelling evidence of a cover-up to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
According to the Post, Trump’s advisers wanted to release a statement to get ahead of media reports about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that included Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, the Russian lawyer, a Russian-born lobbyist who is a former Soviet intelligence officer and a Russian-born financier.
But on the flight home July 8 from the G-20 economic summit in Germany, the president directed that the misleading statement be issued. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Trump “weighed in” on his son’s statement, but said it was accurate. Sanders also denied that Trump or the White House was involved or had any knowledge of the Fox News story at the center of the lawsuit. Fox News had to retract the story.
It was irresponsible and breathtakingly cruel to the family of Seth Rich, whose July 2016 slaying on a Washington, D.C., street is still unsolved. Twelve days after his death, WikiLeaks dumped thousands of emails embarrassing to the DNC. The timing and circumstances fueled conspiracy theories, but it was Fox News that brought them into the mainstream.
The lawsuit was filed by Rod Wheeler, a private investigator hired by the Rich family and an occasional Fox News contributor. Wheeler claims that Fox News made up his quotes in the story supporting its premise and that Trump wanted the story put out to divert attention from the Russia investigation.
The lawsuit includes a screen shot of a purported text message to Wheeler from Ed Butowsky, a Trump backer and Fox News contributor, on May 14, two days before the story was published: “Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It’s now all up to you. but don’t feel the pressure.”
Trump can call the Russia probe a witch hunt all he wants, and blame it all on Democrats and the media. If there’s nothing there, why does Trump keep acting as if there is?
This editorial was first published by the Sacramento Bee.