CNN thought it had President Trump caught in a potentially impeachable offense – lying about prior knowledge of the infamous Trump Tower meeting during the 2016 presidential campaign.
But its source has proven unreliable.
Their source was Lanny Davis, attorney for Michael Cohen, the former Trump private attorney who pleaded guilty last week to charges unrelated to Trump or the campaign. Davis said Cohen told him he witnessed the conversation between Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr., in which Trump Jr. told his father about the meeting, in which a Russian attorney had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Davis since admitted Cohen did not make such a claim and that he is unsure whether the president knew about the meeting beforehand.
Last week, Davis told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Cohen “does not” have any information that Trump knew about the meeting in advance.
“The reporting of the story got mixed up in the course of a criminal investigation,” Davis said. “We were not the source of the story.”
Davis said he did not lie, he “unintentionally misspoke” and “made a mistake.”
“I’m glad to take ownership of the mistake. Now I’m taking the heat, and it’s justified.”
But another aspect of the story suggests he should not be taking the heat alone.
In the CNN piece, written by Jim Sciutto, Marshall Coleman and Watergate legend Carl Bernstein, CNN used Davis as a background source to confirm the story. The story also quoted him in the piece saying he had no comment – which suggests CNN misled about whether Davis commented for the story.
But CNN has not retracted or corrected the story “in any way,” according to Newsweek.
“We stand by our story and are confident in our reporting of it,” the network told BuzzFeed.
“CNN’s defense appears to be that they were only reporting on the claims of their sources and not the underlying truth of those claims,” the Daily Caller wrote. “However, CNN has refused to update the story with any of Davis’ recent statements so that readers can judge whether or not the claims hold water.
“CNN also did not write any separate headlines about Davis admitting Cohen had no information about when Trump knew of the meeting with the Russians, raising even further questions about transparency.”
The Hill’s Joe Concha tweeted: “Very difficult to see how CNN can continue to stand by its July 27 Michael Cohen/Trump Tower story given its own formerly anonymous source is now openly admitting to lying about it on the network. Retraction seems to be the only recourse here.”
The day after the story broke, CNN asked Bernstein how he got the story.
“Well, I talked to sources,” he said. “As did Jim Sciutto. It became very apparent the former attorney to the president of the United States was going around and telling people that the famous Trump Tower meeting, which indeed was convened for the purpose of collusion. Which is to say, it was convened by Don Jr., to accept information from the Russians about dirt on Hillary Clinton that, indeed, Cohen was saying that Donald Trump, candidate for president of the United States at the time, had authorized the go-ahead for the meeting to take place with his son.”
What has become clear is that if Sciutto and Bernstein indeed had sources other than Cohen, they need to explain who and how. Because right now it looks as if CNN was fed information by a lawyer, ran it without checking and refuses to back off because a veteran reporter’s reputation could be tarnished.