MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell apologizes, retracts report on Trump finances

MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell on Wednesday retracted his reporting that claimed Russian oligarchs had co-signed for Deutsche Bank loans to President Donald Trump, and he apologized for not adhering to professional standards.

“Last night on this show I discussed information that wasn’t ready for reporting,“ O‘Donnell said at the top of his show Wednesday night. “I did not go through the rigorous verification and standards process here at MSNBC before repeating what I heard from my source. Had it gone through that process I would not have been permitted to report it. I should not have said it on air or posted it on Twitter. I was wrong to do so.“

“Tonight we are retracting the story,” he added. “We don‘t know whether the information is inaccurate. But the fact is, we do know it wasn‘t ready for broadcast, and for that I apologize.“

O’Donnell said at the outset of his weeknight news broadcast on Tuesday that a single anonymous source close to Deutsche Bank told him the German lender had obtained Trump’s tax returns, which “show that the president pays very little income tax.”

He said the source also told him that Trump‘s “loan documents there show that he has co-signers. That’s how he was able to obtain those loans. And that the co-signers are Russian oligarchs.”

O’Donnell concluded: “That would explain, it seems to me, every kind word Donald Trump has ever said about Russia and Vladimir Putin, if true — and I stress the ‘if true’ part of this.”

Before O’Donnell issued his retraction and apology on Wednesday, a lawyer claiming to represent Trump demanded that NBCUniversal and O’Donnell retract the report.

“These statements are false and defamatory, and extremely damaging,” attorney Charles Harder wrote in a letter dated Wednesday on behalf of the president and the Trump Organization to Susan Weiner and Daniel Kummer, in-house attorneys at NBCUniversal.

“The only borrowers under these loans are Trump entities, and Mr. Trump is the only guarantor,” Harder wrote in the letter, obtained by POLITICO. “Numerous documents for each of these loans are also recorded, publicly available and searchable online.”

In his letter, Harder requested that O’Donnell and NBCUniversal “immediately and prominently retract, correct and apologize for the … false and defamatory statements.”

If they do not confirm their intention to do so within 24 hours, Harder warned, his clients will be left “with no alternative but to consider their legal options which could include immediate legal proceedings against” O’Donnell and NBCUniversal.

“Should that occur, my clients would pursue all available causes of action and seek all available damages and other legal remedies to the maximum extent permitted by law,” Harder wrote.

Before his on-air apology, O‘Donnell had already tweeted early Wednesday afternoon that he regretted the report.

“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,” he 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.”

Asked to respond to Harder’s letter and O’Donnell’s reporting, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement: “This is one of the reasons that a majority of Americans have lost trust in the media. Instead of applying ethics and standards to their reporting, journalists and left-wing outlets have weaponized the media, using it to attack and harass people with little to no regard for the truth.”

Grisham directed reporters to the president’s private counsel when asked to confirm whether Harder is representing the president in the dispute.

Trump himself leveled a familiar attack against the media on Wednesday night, without naming NBC or O‘Donnell specifically.

“There has never been a time in the history of our Country that the Media was so Fraudulent, Fake, or Corrupt!“ he tweeted. “When the ‘Age of Trump‘ is looked back on many years from now, I only hope that a big part of my legacy will be the exposing of massive dishonesty in the Fake News!“

Representatives for NBCUniversal did not respond to a request for comment.

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