The most disconcerting part of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski’s response to President Donald Trump’s Twitter insults is their claim that White House officials called Scarborough to say that if they called and apologized to the president, he would have an unflattering National Enquirer story spiked.
Scarborough said on “Morning Joe” Friday that “three people at the very top of the administration” called him to urge him to contact the president.
“And they said, ‘If you call the president up, and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike the story,’ Scarborough said. He and Brzezinski made the same claim in their Washington Post op ed before the weekend.
Scarborough said that he refused to call, but “the calls kept coming.” He said that the unnamed administration officials would say, “come on Joe, just pick up the phone and call him.” Someone on the show then said, “It’s blackmail.”
Trump, responding to the accusation on Twitter, said that he “watched low rated @Morning_Joe for first time in long time. FAKE NEWS. He called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no! Bad show.”
But Scarborough responded that Trump’s claim was a “lie,” and that he has “texts from your top aides and phone records. Also, those records show I haven’t spoken with you in many months.”
“Why do you keep lying about things that are so easily disproven? What is wrong with you?” Scarborough tweeted to Trump.
Mark Kornblau, senior vice president of communications for NBCUniversal News Group, backed Scarborough’s claim up, tweeting, “#Contemporaneous texts.”
The White House pushed back on Scarborough’s claim, with sources denying to a number of news outlets that there was any kind of “quid pro quo” and that it was the “Morning Joe” host who was seeking advice on what to do about the pending National Enquirer piece. The Daily Beast, quoting unnamed White House sources, reported that Scarborough talked to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and he recommended he contact the president.
Trump and David Pecker, the publisher of the Enquirer, are friends, and the tabloid has been blatant in its favorable coverage of Trump throughout the campaign, as well as some of the unfavorable coverage it has given to some of his foes. In the lead up to the debut of Megyn Kelly’s new NBC show earlier this month, the tabloid ran an unflattering cover story on her. When she was a Fox News host, Kelly famously sparred with Trump at the first presidential debate in August, 2015.
Dylan Howard, chief content officer and vice president of American Media, the publisher of the Enquirer, said in a statement that “at no time did we threaten either Joe or Mika or their children in connection with our reporting on the story. We have no knowledge of any discussions between the White House and Joe and Mika about our story, and absolutely no involvement in those discussions.”
He noted that the Enquirer ran a story at the beginning of June where “we accurately reported a story that recounted the relationship between Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the truth of which is not in dispute.”
Scarborough said on air on Friday that Trump had a “strange obsession” with “Morning Joe” and a “really disturbing obsession with Mika.”
Brzezinski said that the Enquirer was calling her children and friends, and “they were pinning the story on my ex-husband, who would absolutely never do that, so I immediately knew that the story was a lie, because they had nothing. These calls persisted for quite some time, and then Joe had the conversations he said he had with the White House, where they said, ‘Oh this could go away.'”
Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard, said on Twitter that if administration officials told the “Morning Joe” hosts that the Enquirer “would smear them” unless they laid off Trump, “that wd be a crime.”
He cited a statute that bars any government employee from committing or attempting to commit an act of extortion.
“If Trump told staffers to extort, he too has committed that serious crime,” Tribe said.