President Trump unleashed his usual tweetstorm on Wednesday morning, this time complaining about The New York Times, which he claimed doesn’t call his office to check facts and is the true “enemy of the people.”
But this time, the Times’ White House Correspondent Maggie Haberman was on-air with CNN to dispute him in real-time: “That’s a lie.”
Trump alleged that “the press has never been more dishonest than it is today” and that “stories are written that have absolutely no basis in fact. The writers don’t even call asking for verification. They are totally out of control.”
Just hours earlier, The New York Times reported that Trump had attempted to make his ally Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, head of the federal investigation into hush-money payments made during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
Berman had earlier recused himself from the investigation concerning Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen, but the president allegedly wanted to see if that could be “undone,” Haberman told CNN on Wednesday.
Whether Trump was directly criticizing that piece or not, Haberman defended it on CNN, flat-out denying Trump’s assertion that writers “don’t even call.”
“That’s not true,” she told New Day co-host John Berman. “That’s a lie. I don’t know if he knows it’s a lie or whether he is telling himself this is true, whether his staff doesn't tell him we are reaching out.”
She explained: “We reached out to them on Friday. I sent several emails that went unanswered until yesterday. We went through a detailed list of what we were planning on reporting. They chose not to engage and then afterward the president acts surprised. Now, whether his aides are not telling him what we are looking at—or whether this is a game, and he knows what it is and he’s pretending that he doesn’t—I can’t read his mind.”
It remains unclear exactly how then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker responded to Trump’s question about Berman, but the Times reported that the president ultimately “soured” on Whitaker, who was replaced last week with the confirmation of William Barr.
Trump has also specifically denied asking Whitaker about any recusal matter involving the Southern District of New York, noting: “No, I don’t know who gave you that.”
In response to Trump’s tweets, Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger released a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
“In demonizing the free press as the enemy, simply for performing its role of asking difficult questions and bringing uncomfortable information to light, President Trump is retreating from a distinctly American principle,” Sulzberger wrote.
“The phrase ‘enemy of the people’ is not just false, it's dangerous. It has an ugly history of being wielded by dictators and tyrants who sought to control public information. And it is particularly reckless coming from someone whose office gives him broad powers to fight or imprison the nation’s enemies,” he added.