F for Effort: NPR Badly Mangles Trump Jr. Testimony, Forced to Correct

December 3rd, 2018 8:26 AM

When it comes to the media's obsession with "collusion" between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, most errors come from over-interpreting danger for the Trumps. Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist hammered National Public Radio for a false online report on November 30 claiming that Donald Trump Jr.’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017 conflicted with an account given by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen. Here was NPR’s false write-up of that testimony:

Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017 that although there had been negotiations surrounding a prospective Trump Tower in Moscow, they concluded without result ‘at the end’ of 2014.

‘But not in 2015 or 2016?’ Trump Jr. was asked.

‘Certainly not ’16,’ he said. ‘There was never a definitive end to it. It just died of deal fatigue.’

Trump’s account contrasts with the new version of events given by Cohen on Thursday in a guilty plea in federal court. In that new version, Cohen says the discussions with at least one Russian government official and others in Moscow continued through June 2016, well into Trump’s presidential campaign.

Wrong. Reporter Philip Ewing conflated Donald Jr.'s testimony about a different Russian proposal. Hemingway noted that a full 100 pages before the portion Ewing quotes, Trump Jr. explicitly contradicts NPR’s false claim when he gives a clear answer to the following question: 

Q. It’s been reported that in late 2015 or 2016 when now President Trump was running for office the Trump Organization was pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow. Is that accurate?

A. Yes.

Then 100 pages later, the exchange clearly shows Trump Jr. was being asked about a different project. Here’s the full exchange:

Q. In this same time frame, 2015 or 2016, when Mr. Sater and Mr. Cohen were exploring a possible deal, do you know if anyone else was also exploring a deal simultaneously with the Trump Organization to build in Moscow?

A. I don ‘t believe so.

Q. We’ve discussed the Agalarov family, Emin and his father Aras. Do you know if they were also exploring building a Trump Tower in Moscow?

A. We had looked at it earlier than that, but it sort of faded away I believe at the end of ’14.

Q. But not in 2015 or 2016?

A. Certainly not ’16. There was never a definitive end to it. It just died of deal fatigue.

Hemingway explained: "As is obvious from the context, the quotes Ewing used weren’t about the Cohen efforts, but the Agalarov efforts. What makes Ewing’s error so surprising is that the very next two lines make abundantly clear that the discussion is not about the Cohen efforts but the Agalarov efforts."

It took five hours for NPR to post this Editor's Note on the piece

An earlier version of this report mischaracterized an answer Donald Trump Jr. gave to Senate investigators in 2017 about the prospective projects his family was negotiating with people in Moscow....

Trump Jr. did not address what Cohen has now admitted — that talks about such a deal continued at least into June 2016, longer than previously known and well into the presidential campaign.