On a day defined by the launch of a new Democratic investigation into possible abuses of power by President Trump, The New Yorker magazine presented yet another line of potential inquiry.
Jane Mayer, citing a “well-placed source,” reported that Trump pressured John Kelly and Gary Cohn to make sure that the Justice Department sued to block the AT&T-Time Warner deal. Cohn refused, she added. But the suit was filed a few months later, and eventually failed.
Now multiple Democratic lawmakers are vowing to, in the words of Sen. Chris Van Hollen, “get to the bottom of it.”
Rep. Adam Schiff tweeted on Monday: “I’ve long feared Trump would use the instruments of state power to carry out his vendetta against the press he has attacked as the ‘enemy of the people.’ Congress must find out whether Trump did just that by seeking to interfere in a merger or raising postal rates on Amazon.”
It is notable that Schiff brought up both the AT&T case and Trump’s attacks against Amazon. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, is also the owner of the Washington Post.
Schiff is not the only lawmaker signaling an intent to investigate. Van Hollen tweeted on Monday night that he’ll be contacting the Justice Department about the allegation of attempted interference in the AT&T case.
“I’ll be writing to the DOJ to get to the bottom of this and make sure it never happens again,” he wrote.
Other Democrats are also expressing concern. Rep. Robin Kelly told Brianna Keilar on Monday that if Trump “put his finger on this scale to influence the merger, that is an absolute abuse of power.”
Rep. Dan Kildee told Jim Sciutto that “it certainly fits the pattern of behavior” and “does make the case that this president is unfit for office.”
And Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, told Erin Burnett that the behavior, as described, is a threat to the “free press.”
Nadler said he wouldn’t get into what qualifies as an “impeachable act,” but it’s “certainly an abuse of power.”
Will Cohn or Kelly confirm these quotes?
According to Mayer, in the late summer of 2017, “Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, ‘I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!’”
Mayer continued: “Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, evidently understood that it would be highly improper for a President to use the Justice Department to undermine two of the most powerful companies in the country as punishment for unfavorable news coverage, and as a reward for a competing news organization that boosted him. According to the source, as Cohn walked out of the meeting he told Kelly, ‘Don’t you f—ing dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way.’”
It sure sounds like Mayer has a source who was in the room. Cohn is not commenting, which means he’s not confirming or denying it. But he may be forced to say something.
This “cries out for an investigation by Congress,” Jeffrey Toobin said on Monday’s “AC360,” predicting that Cohn will “have the opportunity to testify about that under oath.”
Confirming AT&T’s long-held suspicions?
As Hadas Gold noted here, “the Justice Department has long denied that politics played a role in their decision to bring the suit.”
But AT&T executives have long suspected that Trump’s animosity toward CNN drove his opposition to the Time Warner deal. Both things could be true — maybe Trump wanted to use his political power to punish CNN, but career lawyers wanted to pursue the case for perfectly legit reasons. If so, Trump’s completely inappropriate pressure campaign — “I’ve mentioned it 50 times” — undermined his administration’s lawyers.
If the Mayer reporting is proven, “such an attempt to use presidential authority to seek retribution for the exercise of First Amendment rights would unquestionably be grounds for impeachment,” George Conway tweeted Monday. A multitude of other legal experts agreed.
To be clear, there’s a Grand Canyon sized difference between “impeachable” and “he’s going to be impeached for this.” But it’s important to recognize what has been, historically, grounds for impeachment…
FOR THE RECORD
– American Media, David Pecker and Dylan Howard are all on the House Judiciary Committee’s list. The sweeping investigation also includes Cambridge Analytica and WikiLeaks… (CNN)
– Read more of Monday’s “Reliable Sources” newsletter… And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox…
– Max Boot’s latest: “Because so much of Trump’s misconduct has occurred in public, there is a danger that even if Mueller accuses him of obstruction of justice, the reaction will be, ‘Ho hum. What else is new?’ We must guard against a cynical or jaded reaction…” (WaPo)
What is Fox News?
Mayer, partly through some choice quotes from outside observers, makes the case that Fox is a propaganda machine the likes of which the United States has never seen before.
Many of the newsiest parts of Mayer’s article have been reported before. CNN’s Oliver Darcy, for example, revealed last year that Fox shelved its story about Trump and Stormy Daniels before election day. But Mayer pulled many different strands together into a compelling and convincing narrative, using the power of a long-form magazine piece to spark newfound attention in a subject.
Julie Roginsky, formerly a liberal contributor at Fox News, tweeted in reaction, “This story should make you shudder, especially if you’re a Fox News viewer with any modicum of critical thinking ability.”
A Dem debate on Fox?
Fox anchors and some conservatives have been urging the DNC to let Fox host a primary debate. But Mayer’s story spurred a number of prominent progressives to say “NO WAY.”
“The DNC should not be doing any debates on Trump’s state media channel,” former DNC staffer Adam Parkhomenko tweeted. “The DNC should immediately announce that Fox News will not host a debate,” Judd Legum wrote.
Check out this poll result
The newest NBC/WSJ poll of 900 Americans asked about media consumption along with all the usual political questions. Allowing for multiple answers, 50% said they watch broadcast network news regularly; 34% watch Fox News; 32% watch CNN; 25% watch MSNBC; 20% read conservative outlets; and 19% read progressive outlets.
Then the pollsters used the viewership info to examine the divide in what people believe about Trump and Russia. The question: Has Trump “been honest and truthful when it comes to the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and related matters?”
Among the self-described regular Fox viewers, 84% said yes, he’s been truthful. Among MSNBC viewers, only 21% said yes. Among CNN viewers, only 1% said yes.
“Look, these are small samples,” Chuck Todd acknowledged on “Meet the Press,” but “that does tell you something major.” Pollster Fred Yang: “It tells us that you get your reality from what channel you watch.”
A disservice to their viewers
This is why, when talking about Fox’s blindly pro-Trump talk shows, I always return to the same point: The hosts are doing a disservice to their viewers. Sean Hannity’s promos for Trump may make the president feel better, but ignoring Trump’s scandals and inflating his accomplishments is harmful to the rest of the viewing public. Trump obviously hasn’t been honest about all things Russia. Deceit is one of his defining characteristics. By pretending otherwise, Trump’s boosters on Fox misinform their viewers…