The lawyer for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen said he was blaming himself, not CNN, after the network ran a story about Cohen knowing the president had advance knowledge of that Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
In an interview with Howard Kurtz on Fox News’ “MediaBuzz,” attorney Lanny Davis said he thought he was asking CNN to investigate a hunch he had that Trump knew about the meeting with the Russian lawyer, but that he did not make his uncertainty “clear enough.”
“I can understand that they interpreted what I said as a confirmation, and have not blamed CNN,” Davis said. “I have blamed myself for not being more clear that, in my mind, I did not know the details about that meeting, and I should not have encouraged any reporter.”
Davis added: “I do think, for everybody who deals with the media in my position, this is a lesson, maybe a teaching moment. Don’t even float stories on background, which is our expression for anonymously, unless you have a certainty of the facts, and you’re asking reporters to go look to confirm those facts.”
Despite Davis backing off the story, CNN is sticking by its reporting with reporter Jim Sciutto and Watergate legend Carl Bernstein saying they had more than one source for the story.
CNN’s story, written in late July, said Cohen was willing to say that he heard Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tell his father about the Russians’ offer to share material about Clinton, his Democratic rival for the presidency. It also said that Trump gave the go-ahead to take the meeting at Trump Tower. If true, that would contradict what Trump and representatives have long said, that he didn’t know about the meeting until long after it happened.
The network’s original story cited “sources with knowledge” telling the network about Cohen’s claim. The network noted in a follow-up story last Tuesday that Davis had admitted to being one of the sources for its original report. CNN technically didn’t confirm that in the Tuesday story — networks hate to be in a position of revealing confidential sources, as analysts have noted — but the Tuesday report did indicate that Davis said he was a source.
One big apparent problem for CNN: The July story said, “contacted by CNN, one of Cohen’s attorneys, Lanny Davis, declined to comment.”
The controversy over the story has given Trump more ammunition in his battle against so-called “fake news,” in which CNN is a frequent target. “CNN is being torn apart from within based on their being caught in a major lie and refusing to admit the mistake.”
He also launched a personal attack against Bernstein, accusing him of “making up story after story.”
CNN responded with a tweet saying it “stands by our reporting and our reporters.”
Bernstein also tweeted, saying: “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.”
Despite CNN standing by the reporting, in his interview on “MediaBuzz” Davis downplayed CNN’s role and tried to put the blame squarely on his lack of clarity when speaking to the network.
“I disclosed myself as a source, seeking reporters to confirm something that I wasn’t sure about and I was very unclear in that,” he said. “I thought it was important not to blame CNN, not to blame anyone other than myself.”
Fox News’ Howard Kurtz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.