The fallout from Trump’s Twitter attack yesterday on TV hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzenzski (mostly the latter) continues, and it doesn’t go well for Trump. The couple wrote a devastating op-ed in WaPo, the title of which says it all:
They are quite right — Donald Trump is not well. I question whether he ever was. But it is what they said this morning on their show that caught my interest, and the interest of many others:
MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski claim President Trump and his White House used the possibility of a hit piece in the National Enquirer to threaten them.
But President Trump has a very different account of what happened. “FAKE NEWS,” he tweeted during “Morning Joe” Friday morning.
The editor in charge of the Enquirer, Dylan Howard, said “we have no knowledge of any discussions between the White House and Joe and Mika about our story, and absolutely no involvement in those discussions.”
Meanwhile, Scarborough says he has proof of the White House threats — “I have texts from your top aides and phone records.”
Scarborough and Brzezinski are essentially alleging a form of blackmail.
The accusation came during a wider discussion about the president’s offensive tweets targeting the co-hosts. It piqued the attention of journalists because it implies that the president is using a friendly media outlet to punish his opponents.
What’s definitely true is this: Trump and the publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, are friends and allies. Jeffrey Toobin documented the mutually beneficial relationship in this week’s edition of The New Yorker.
The Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid, frequently promotes the president’s agenda.
Here’s exactly what the co-hosts alleged on Friday’s “Morning Joe.”
“We got a call that, ‘Hey, the National Enquirer is going to run a negative story against you guys…’ And they said, ‘If you call the president up, and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike this story,” Scarborough said.
Scarborough didn’t name names, but he said “three people at the very top of the administration” called him about this.
“The calls kept coming and kept coming, and they were like ‘Call. You need to call. Please call. Come on, Joe. Just pick up the phone and call him.'”
In other words, grovel to the president and he’ll make the mean story disappear.
Scarborough did not immediately respond to a request from CNN for more details.
But he and Brzezinski also described the alleged discussion in a Washington Post column on Friday.
“This year,” they wrote, “top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked. We ignored their desperate pleas.”
Scarborough and Brzezinski are now engaged. The negative article was about their past marriages and the beginning of their relationship. It was published in early June.
Dylan Howard, the chief content officer for the Enquirer’s parent company American Media, said “we accurately reported” the story, but “at no time did we threaten either Joe or Mika or their children in connection with our reporting on the story.”
Brzezinski suggested otherwise.
“Let me explain what they were threatening,” she said. “They were calling my children. They were calling close friends.”
She said “these calls persisted for quite some time, and then Joe had the conversations that he had with the White House where they said ‘Oh, this could go away.'”
In response, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that he is “not aware” of White House officials pressing Scarborough to call up Trump and make nice.
Here’s the video:
The president himself weighed in via Twitter a few minutes later.
Watched low rated @Morning_Joe for first time in long time. FAKE NEWS. He called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no! Bad show
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 30, 2017
Scarborough responded quickly to Trump’s tweet with one of his own:
Yet another lie. I have texts from your top aides and phone records. Also, those records show I haven’t spoken with you in many months. https://t.co/TZWiElo6Gs
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) June 30, 2017
It get worse.
Redstate talked to Scarborough and asked him about it. This is what Scarborough reportedly said:
“NBC execs knew in real time about the calls and who made them to me. That’s why Mark Kornblau wrote about contemporaneous texts. I showed him and executives as they were coming in to keep them advised.”
Scarborough also said the calls about the National Enquirer story started in late April and early May but that he never placed a call to President Trump, contra Trump’s tweet. “I never called the President about this,” he said. “I challenge him to reveal any phone records showing that I called him. He can’t because I didn’t.”
Blackmail is a very serious charge. The administration will likely face questions about in their latest press briefing and how they respond will be telling.
UPDATE: NY Magazine has news on this, with sources. This seems to be the story — it contradiction that Joe called him to discuss the Enquirer story.
According to three sources familiar with the private conversations, what happened was this: After the inauguration, Morning Joe’s coverage of Trump turned sharply negative. “This presidency is fake and failed,” Brzezinski said on March 6, for example. Around this time, Scarborough and Brzezinski found out the Enquirer was preparing a story about their affair. While Scarborough and Brzezinski’s relationship had been gossiped about in media circles for some time, it was not yet public, and the tabloid was going to report that they had left their spouses to be together.
In mid-April, Scarborough texted with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner about the pending Enquirer story. Kushner told Scarborough that he would need to personally apologize to Trump in exchange for getting Enquirer owner David Pecker to stop the story. (A spokesperson for Kushner declined to comment). Scarborough says he refused, and the Enquirer published the story in print on June 5, headlined “Morning Joe Sleazy Cheating Scandal!”
The Daily Beast (which apparently published just before NYMag) has basically the same story.
UPDATE: A Vanity Fair story adds come color. This is Mika’s perspective…