Last week, Donald Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower complex in Moscow. Cohen told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Trump Organization stopped pursuing the project in January 2016, but in pleading guilty Cohen stated that he continued to pursue the Trump Tower project into June of that year. Cohen claimed he lied out of loyalty to Trump and to be consistent with then-candidate Trump’s political messaging.
Following Cohen’s surprise guilty plea, the media and critics of the president wasted no time pushing collusion narratives, conspiracy theories, and outright falsehoods. Here are the top eight examples of the fake news being peddled.
1. Donald Trump Jr. Lied To Investigators
NPR’s Friday morning reporting of the development provides the clearest example of the mainstream media pushing fake news in response to Cohen’s guilty plea. After summarizing the details of his plea, NPR pivoted to Donald Trump Jr.’s role in the Moscow Trump Tower negotiations, and claimed the younger Trump lied about the timing of his involvement in the project.
“Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017 that although there had been negotiations surrounding a prospective Trump Tower in Moscow, they concluded without result ‘at the end’ of 2014,” the NPR story said, adding that “Trump’s account contrasts with the new version of events given by Cohen on Thursday in a guilty plea in federal court.”
But as The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway explained on Friday, NPR confused Trump Jr.’s testimony concerning another Russian deal, which fell apart in 2014, with the Trump Tower negotiations, which the younger Trump stated ended in 2015 or 2016. Thus, contrary to NPR’s breaking story, Trump Jr.’s testimony mirrored the details contained in Cohen’s guilty plea.
NPR later corrected its story, but only after the “Cohen’s plea proves Trump, Jr. lied to Congress” narrative circulated broadly. Further, even NPR’s correction was not completely correct.
NPR rightly explained that it had erroneously reported that Trump Jr. had testified that the Trump Tower negotiations had ended by 2014, noting that Trump Jr. was discussing a different project. But NPR then stated “Trump Jr., did not address what Cohen has now admitted—that talks about such a deal continued at least into June 2016.” However, Trump Jr. had indeed told Congress that the discussions concerning the Moscow Trump Tower had continued into 2015 or 2016.
2. Trump Senior May Have Lied Too
NPR at least issued a correction to its story. This contrasts favorably to the approach The New York Times took when its reporting proved problematic: The newspaper of record merely removed the questionable passage.
The deleted passage came in the Times’ initial version of the Cohen story, and ran as follows: “The fact that Mr. Cohen’s admission in a deal with prosecutors came so soon after Mr. Trump returned his responses to Mr. Mueller’s questions raised concerns among the president’s legal team that Mr. Mueller was laying a perjury trap—waiting for the president to explain his understanding of events before presenting evidence to the contrary to show that he lied, according to people close to the president’s legal team.”
The implication from the passage the Times removed on the sly? That President Trump may have lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller concerning the Moscow Trump Tower project. Sure enough, Trump critics picked up on the point, suggesting the “President’s lawyers think it was unfair for Mueller to ask questions of the President without first informing the President that he should tell the truth because Mueller might have evidence to show false answer were false.”
But, after floating this narrative, and following thousands of retweets of the passage, the Times deleted the reference without explanation. The current version of the Times’ article also makes it clear that “Cohen’s new account of the Trump Organization’s abortive hotel project in Moscow essentially matches what Mr. Trump himself stated in written answers.” In fact, Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani told the Times that “The president said there was a proposal, it was discussed with Cohen, there was a nonbinding letter of intent and it didn’t go beyond that.”
The damage was done, though, when the Times ran its first iteration of the article, which raised the specter that Cohen’s plea implicated Trump in lying to the special counsel.
3. Cohen’s Plea Implicates Trump…In Everything
The Washington Post took a different tack. Rather than hint that Cohen’s plea might raise legal issues for Trump, the Post presented Cohen’s deal as proof that Trump is a central figure in Mueller’s investigation into “whether Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign.”
Claiming to speak the “parlance of criminal investigations,” the Post brands Trump “as a major subject of interest, complete with an opaque legal code name: ‘Individual 1.’” Never mind that the criminal charges do not accuse “Individual 1” of any wrongdoing, Cohen lying to Congress is somehow evidence that Mueller’s team has zeroed in on Trump himself as the Russian connection—the individual personally responsible for colluding with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
4. A Cohen-Trump Conspiracy
Then there was former federal prosecutor and current NBC News and MSNBC legal analyst Mimi Rocah’s hot take. In response to Trump tweeting that he had “lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia,” Rocah responded: “Conspiracy law doesn’t care about light vs. heavy.”
True. But conspiracy law does care about whether there is an agreement to commit a crime, and nothing in Cohen’s plea (or in the two years of Mueller’s investigation) indicates any such agreement involving Trump.
5. Cohen Has the Goods on Trump
Well, maybe there isn’t anything connecting Trump to criminal conduct now, but just wait, because Cohen has the goods on Trump, according to CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
“Michael has the goods,” Borger relayed of an unnamed source’s claims on the cable network last week. “He has extremely valuable information,” Borger claimed, suggesting Cohen’s yet-to-be-disclosed evidence “clearly goes beyond the Trump Tower Moscow.” “I think Michael Cohen, who was the man who said he would take a bullet for the president, has now become Brutus to the president,” Borger added in a literary flair.
Of course, we’ve been hearing a similar narrative for two years now, and usually coming from similarly unnamed sources.
6. Cohen’s the Tip of the Iceberg and Shoe in the Warehouse
Others played Cohen’s plea as the beginning of the end for Trump. Former CIA Director John Brennan painted Cohen’s mea culpa as the tip of “the iceberg of lies, deceit, corruption & criminality.”
In The Atlantic, attorney and former federal prosecutor Ken White suggested Cohen was just the tip of a toe, writing: “Cohen’s plea is only one shoe dropping in a boot warehouse. Who else lied to Congress about the pursuit of a hotel deal in Russia? Donald Trump Jr.? Did the president himself lie about it in his recent written answers to Mueller’s questions? (His lawyers claim that his answers matched Cohen’s.)”
This narrative should also sound familiar, since “this is the beginning of the end for Trump” has been re-upped by the media every time the press pushed a new conspiracy theory meant to ensnare the president.
7. Trump Won’t Serve Out His Term
CNN’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin went further, saying, after news of Cohen’s plea broke, that “today’s the first day I actually thought Donald Trump might not finish his term in office.” “I mean, I think this thing is enormous,” Toobin told host Anderson Cooper.
8. There’s No Proof of Collusion, But It Sure Is Smokey
CNN colleague and editor-at-large Chris Cilizza saw things differently—not a big deal, but adding a lot more smoke to the scene. From Cilizza’s perspective, that’s the problem.
Sure, there’s no proof “that members of the Trump orbit colluded with the Russians to help him win” the 2016 election, Cilizza writes. And, okay, Cohen lied to Congress, not Trump. Technically, Trump didn’t even lie to the American people about his investments in Russia, Cilizza even concedes. “But, boy oh boy, is there a lot of smoke. So much smoke that it is choking the Trump administration’s ability to do almost anything,” Cilizza vents.
The CNN editor is right about the smoke: There’s a lot of smoke wafting about these days, but it’s emanating from the hot air being blown by the MSM.