MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell said Wednesday he made an “error in judgment” in reporting Tuesday night that President Donald Trump’s tax returns showed Russian oligarchs had co-signed loans to his businesses.
O’Donnell issued the statement on Twitter shortly after Trump’s personal attorney called on NBC to retract and apologize for the report, or face legal proceedings.
“Last night I made an error in judgment by reporting an item about the president’s finances that didn’t go through our rigorous verification and standards process,” O’Donnell wrote on Twitter.
“I shouldn’t have reported it and I was wrong to discuss it on the air. I will address the issue on my show tonight.”
Last night I made an error in judgment by reporting an item about the president’s finances that didn’t go through our rigorous verification and standards process. I shouldn’t have reported it and I was wrong to discuss it on the air. I will address the issue on my show tonight.
— Lawrence O'Donnell (@Lawrence) August 28, 2019
O’Donnell led off his show Tuesday with the story, which would have been a major development in the Trump-Russia saga if it were true. He reported a source close to Trump’s longtime bank, Deutsche Bank, claimed that the former real estate baron’s financial records and tax filings showed that Russian oligarchs had co-signed loans for him over the years.
O’Donnell clarified his reporting at the end of his broadcast, reiterating that his story was based on a lone source, and that NBC News had not verified it.
“It’s going to need a lot more verification before that can be a confirmable fact,” O’Donnell said.
The White House disputed the story in a statement on Wednesday. Trump lawyer Charles Harder provided a more direct rebuttal in a letter to NBC Universal demanding that the network and O’Donnell “immediately and prominently retract, correct and apologize for the aforementioned false and defamatory statements.”
Harder addressed O’Donnell’s core claim, saying that only Trump, and not Russians, had been guarantors of loans provided to Trump Organization.
“[A]ctual malice can easily be proven based on your reckless disregard of the truth and unreasonable reliance on an alleged ‘source’ who you will not even identify in your story and likely is seeking to mislead you and the public for political reasons or other ulterior motives,” Harder wrote in the letter.
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