Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty

Trump campaign memo on TV guests is both ironic and wrong

Updated

Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign has some thoughts on who should – and shouldn’t – be interviewed on television news programs.

Axios’s Jonathan Swan obtained a copy of a memo being sent from the Trump campaign to “television producers,” a group identified with no further specificity. The memo quotes six individuals, four of whom are serving Democratic politicians, making claims about the existence of evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

“Moving forward, we ask that you employ basic journalistic standards when booking such guests to appear anywhere in your universe of productions,” the memo reads. “You should begin by asking the basic question: ‘Does this guest warrant further appearances in our programming, given the outrageous and unsupported claims made in the past?’ At a minimum, if these guests do reappear, you should replay the prior statements and challenge them to provide the evidence which prompted them to make the wild claims in the first place.”

The obvious criticism of a memo like this is the breathtaking irony. If “basic journalistic standards” require news programs to steer clear of prominent figures who’ve been caught making misleading claims, Donald Trump and many of those in his immediate orbit would struggle to ever reach the air.

The president, in particular, has been caught peddling literally thousands of false or misleading claims.

But that’s not what I see as the principal problem.

The memo, sent from Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, pointed to some examples to bolster the argument. From the document:

The list of guests who made outlandish, false claims includes, but is not limited to:

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT):”The evidence is pretty clear that there was collision between the Trump campaign and the Russians…” (MSNBC, “All In,” 10/17/18)

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA):”I think there’s plenty of evidence of collusion or conspiracy in plain sight.” (“CBS This Morning,” 8/5/18)

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY):”There was obviously a lot of collusion. The question is how high. Every day we – every day – every so often we get new information about involvement.” (CNN, “Erin Burnett OutFront,” 10/27/17)

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA):”In our investigation, we saw strong evidence of collusion.” (CNN, “Wolf,” 3/16/18)

DNC Chairman Tom Perez: “And over the course of the last year we have seen, I think, a mountain of evidence of collusion between the campaign and the Russians to basically affect our democracy.” (NBC, “Meet the Press,” 4/22/18)

Former CIA Director John Brennan: “I called his behavior treasonous which is to betray one’s trust and to aiding and abet the enemy and I stand very much by that claim.” (NBC, “Meet the Press,” 8/19/18)

The good news is, Murtaugh’s memo didn’t just complain about these officials generally; it pointed to specific, documented examples in support of a thesis.

The bad news is, the Trump campaign has pointed to “false claims” that aren’t false.

Putting aside the Brennan rhetoric, which was clearly over the top, Murtaugh’s memo makes it sound as if anyone who argued that there was evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia has been proven wrong by the unseen Mueller report.

That’s wrong, not just because there’s no reason to take Attorney General Bill Barr’s word for it, but also because we’ve all already seen plenty of evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

If Barr’s summary is correct, that evidence was insufficient for a criminal indictment. Clearly, that’s certainly good news for Trump World.

But by going after the credibility of anyone and everyone who recognized the significance of the evidence, the president’s campaign is making a strange leap that’s unsupported by the available facts.