Veteran investigative reporter Jane Mayer has another blockbuster report detailing the relationship between the Russian asset in the White House and Fox News. Within the larger story about how Trump has turned Fox into state media, there’s disturbing insight into Trump’s attitude toward all media and the First Amendment.
According to one of Mayer’s “well-informed source[s],” Trump ordered his chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, to intervene with the Justice Department to force it to sue to stop AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner to spite CNN, a Time Warner property. Mayer writes that “Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, ‘I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!'” The source told Mayer that “as Cohn walked out of the meeting he told Kelly, ‘Don’t you fucking dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way.'”
Presumably Cohn understood, as Mayer writes, that it would be “highly improper” for the White House to intervene in the business of two companies “as a reward for a competing news organization that boosted him.” In other words, Fox. A former White House official confirmed that Trump “vented” his “frustration” over CNN and blocking the merger, but that he “does not understand the nuances of antitrust law or policy,” and just “wanted to bring down the hammer.” The Justice Department did sue to block the merger, and lost in federal court last month.
Trump’s supposed ignorance about the “nuances” of intervening, however, doesn’t hold with his public statements. Mayer writes that the day after the Justice Department filed that suit, Trump said that the merger was “not good for the country,” but that he personally was “not going to get involved.” That suggests he knew he wasn’t supposed to be getting involved, but did it anyway by using White House staff to pressure Justice.
If it’s proven that Trump’s Justice Department intervened in this merger on Trump’s order, that’s a problem. That’s using the office of the president seek retribution against a perceived enemy, which is bad enough. It’s worse in this case because it’s retribution against a media outlet for its exercise of First Amendment rights.
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