UPDATED, 1:17 PM: Score one for Donald Trump and the threat of legal action.
Less than 18 hours after proclaiming that Russian billionaires close to Vladimir Putin co-signed big Deutsche Bank loans to Trump, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell is walking back the potentially crippling claim.
Not long after NBCUniversal received a hard-hitting letter from Trump’s personal lawyer Charles Harder demanding a retraction and an apology, the Last Word host has taken to social media to eat humble pie:
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
Tonight should be something to see.
PREVIOUSLY, 12:07 PM: Using the same lawyer that scored Hulk Hogan a multimillion-dollar payout over a sex tape, Donald Trump today is aiming to body slam NBCUniversal and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell to “retract, correct and apologize” for claims made last night on-air and online that “Russian billionaires” co-signed multimillion-dollar bank loans for the former Celebrity Apprentice host.
“These statements are false and defamatory, and extremely damaging,” frequent Trump personal attorney Charles Harder wrote Wednesday in a letter to NBCU’ EVP and General Counsel Susan E. Weiner and SVP Litigation Daniel M. Kummer, over O’Donnell’s allegation that pals of Vladimir Putin have been helping to prop Trump up financially for years with Deutsche Bank loans.
“The only borrowers under these loans are Trump entities, and Mr. Trump is the only guarantor,’ Harder adds in the two-page correspondence. “Numerous documents for each of these loans are also recorded, publicly available and searchable online. Thus, actual 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.”
“Please confirm in writing within twenty-four (24) hours of the transmission of this letter that Mr. O’Donnell and NBCU will immediately and prominently retract, correct and apologize for the aforementioned false and defamatory statements,” Harder demands of the former West Wing producer and the Comcast-owned company in a move almost unprecedented for any POTUS but Trump, who was once employed by NBC. “Failure to do so will leave my clients with no alternative but to consider their legal options which could include immediate legal proceedings against Mr. O’Donnell and NBCU.”
Neither Weiner or Kummer, nor anyone at NBCU, responded to request for comment on the letter, its implications and their next steps. In one of those Hollywood’s quirks of fate, O’Donnell is represented by Ari Emanuel, the WME boss who used to be Trump’s agent before his client moved on up to the White House.
Here is the teasing tweet O’Donnell sent out last night before his The Last Word show aired with the supposed scoop:
A source close to Deutsche Bank says Trump’s tax returns show he pays very little income tax and, more importantly, that his loans have Russian co-signers.
If true, that explains every kind word Trump has ever said about Russia and Putin. @TheLastWord 10pm
— Lawrence O’Donnell (@Lawrence) August 28, 2019
And here is an edited version of O’Donnell’s claims at the top of his show about the redacted Deutsche Bank loan documents, which have been requested as part of a congressional investigation, and those “Russian billionaires.”
“The source close to Deutsche Bank says that the co-signers of Donald Trump’s Deutsche bank loans are Russian billionaires close to Vladimir Putin,” longtime Trump critic O’Donnell claims he has been told. “If true, that would explain every kind word Donald Trump has said about Vladimir Putin, if true,” the host throws in there to truly raise the stakes and the result of the 2016 election.
During Tuesday’s Last Word, someone likely called the control booth because at the end of the show, a stern O’Donnell backpeddled on the claims, kind of.
“Now, I want to stress, that’s a single source,” the host told his primetime audience regarding where the claims of Russian backing for Trump came from. “This has not been confirmed by NBC News, I have not seen any documentation from Deutsche Bank that supports this and verifies this. This is just a single source who has revealed to me, and that’s where that stands at this point. It’s going to need a lot more verification before that can be a confirmable fact.”
That’s one way of putting it.
Also, to throw more sobering cold water on O’Donnell’s potentially explosive claim, the booking producer for MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning tweeted out that Deutsche Bank has been silent and the info itself hadn’t been road tested with anyone else:
Deutsche Bank is declining to comment on Lawrence O’Donnell’s reporting that Russian oligarch’s co-signed Trump’s loans. The information came from a single source who has not seen the bank records. NBC has not seen those records and has not yet been able to verify the reporting.
— Michael Del Moro (@MikeDelMoro) August 28, 2019
Deadline reached out to the White House for comment on the Harder letter and its legal implications, but we did not hear back by the time of publication.
Having said that, stay really tuned on this one.