Accuracy in Media

As he awaited the news on the first indictments in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, President Trump “burrowed in,” according to the Washington Post.

“Separated from most of his West Wing staff – who fretted over why he was late getting to the Oval Office – Trump clicked on the television and spent the morning playing fuming media critic, legal analyst and crisis communications strategist, according to several people close to him,” the Post reported.

The president digested the news with exasperation and disgust, the Post said. He called his lawyers. He listened to cable news commentary. And “with rising irritation,” he watched Paul Manafort turn himself into the FBI.

Trump felt vindicated at first. Charges against Manafort and Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, focused on dealings long before their involvement with the Trump campaign. But then came word that an unpaid adviser on his campaign pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators about his attempts to collect dirt from the Russians on Hillary Clinton.

This meant chaos, “a political storm that Trump could not control.” His chief of staff, his lawyers and others became “private sounding boards for his grievances.” His anger “was visible to those who interacted with him, and the mood in the corridors of the White House was one of weariness and fear of the unknown.”

As the president “groused upstairs, many staffers – some of whom have hired lawyers to help them navigate Mueller’s investigation – privately speculated about where the special counsel might turn next.”

“The walls are closing in,” the Post quotes an unnamed official as saying. “Everyone is freaking out.”

That official was a “senior Republican in close contact with top staffers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly.”

“This portrait of Trump and his White House on a day of crisis is based on interviews with 20 senior administration officials, Trump friends and key outside allies, many of whom insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters.” None of the sources was named. 

Some of these 20 people were fretting in the West Wing for Trump to show up, but they somehow knew what shows he was watching, what he was thinking, whom he was mad and not mad at and how much anger he felt.

These 20 people also offered – on condition of anonymity, so they can speak frankly – that Trump consults wife, his top staff and his daughter and son-in-law, who are White House advisers.

But here’s another version of events – equally viable and having the benefit of people who will put their name on their quotes.

That version holds that Trump expected Manafort to be indicted but does not perceive himself as threatened by the probe — instead, Trump is busy performing presidential duties such as appointing Federal Reserve chairman, promoting the Republican tax reform bill, preparing for a 12-day visit to Asia, which begins Friday, and greeting young trick-or-treaters at the White House Halloween party. 

“This has not been a cause of great agita or angst or activity at the White House,” Cobb told the post. The president is “spending all his time on presidential work.”

And the president has no plans to fire Mueller – fevered speculation to the contrary notwithstanding – or to pardon Manafort or Gates.

“Nothing about today’s events alters anything related to our engagement with the special counsel, with whom we will continue to cooperate,” Cobb said. “There are no discussions and there is no consideration being given to terminating Mueller.”

It would be easier to believe the White-House-under-siege mentality if even one of those 20 people would step up. Absent that, what the Post has is speculation that perfectly fits the narrative it puts forward every day. Why does it run speculation on its news pages?

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