A full-blown war of words between the first family and CNN broke out late Wednesday on Twitter, with the cable network mounting an unprecedented attack on President Trump in a jarring official statement defending a widely questioned story -- and the president delivering a withering counterattack.
The statement from CNN came after the president mocked Watergate legend Carl Bernstein, who co-wrote the disputed report that Trump’s former lawyer was prepared to give damning information about the president to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
CNN continues to stand by the story despite growing skepticism.
“Make no mistake, Mr. President, CNN does not lie. We report the news. And we report when people in power tell lies. CNN stands by our reporting and our reporters. There may be many fools in this story but @carlbernstein is not one of them,” CNN’s public relations department sent.
Leaving no attack unanswered, Trump hit back even harder early Thursday morning, mocking CNN boss “Little Jeff” Zucker and claiming the network’s “extreme bias” has “clouded their thinking,” rendering them “unable to function.” He went on to slam NBC News and the media as a whole, including “fake books” – which could be in anticipation of Bernstein’s Watergate reporting partner Bob Woodward’s forthcoming Trump book.
CNN's overnight message was a response to Trump’s earlier criticism of CNN for standing by a report on the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting, despite ex-Clinton aide Lanny Davis admitting he was an anonymous source and recanting key details he provided CNN for the story. Davis, the high-powered attorney of Trump’s longtime “fixer”-turned-foe Michael Cohen, admitted Monday he was an anonymous source after The Washington Post outed him as a source for its own version of the story.
Bernstein weighed in late Wednesday: “I have spent my life as a journalist bringing the truth to light, through administrations of both parties. No taunt will diminish my commitment to that mission, which is the essential role of a free press. @CNN stands by its story, and I stand by my reporting.”
Jim Sciutto, Marshall Cohen and Bernstein wrote CNN’s original story that particularly was damaging to the president, and resulted in countless cable news segments that provided ammunition for anti-Trump pundits.
Davis told BuzzFeed News that he regretted being the anonymous source.
The CNN story, which cited multiple “sources,” claimed Cohen said Trump knew in advance about the Trump Tower sit-down. However, Trump repeatedly has denied any advance knowledge of the meeting, and CNN has stood by its reporting amid widespread criticism.
“CNN is being torn apart from within based on their being caught in a major lie and refusing to admit the mistake. Sloppy @carlbernstein, a man who lives in the past and thinks like a degenerate fool, making up story after story, is being laughed at all over the country! Fake News,” Trump tweeted earlier in the day, apparently drawing the ire of CNN execs.
While CNN responded to Trump via social media, the network has remained stone-silent when asked by reporters throughout the industry about Davis recanting his story.
CNN published a new report on Tuesday that acknowledged the changing stories of Davis, but critics were quick to point out that it left several key questions unanswered. Some feel the piece revealed Cohen as a source, while others noticed that the follow-up failed to explain why the original report claimed Davis declined comment when he was actually used as a source.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son, immediately took to Twitter to defend his father in a series of messages.
“CNN you just lied again by saying you don’t lie. You said Lanny Davis declined to comment when he was in fact a source,” Trump Jr. wrote. “Are you kidding me with this BS. Do you have any journalistic credibility at all? I mean seriously??? You’re a joke!!!”
He continued: “This is @CNN. Quadrupling down when even the likes of buzzfeed and the Amazon WaPo have acknowledged the story was #fakenews. Ballsy... Stupid, but ballsy. You do you CNN.”