Fake news? Not according to the Mueller report

 

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump and his team love to deride unfavorable stories as "fake news," but it's clear from Robert Mueller's report that the special counsel isn't buying it.

While there are a few exceptions, Mueller's investigation repeatedly supports news reporting that was done on the Russia probe over the last two years and details several instances where the president and his team sought to mislead the public.

"The media looks a lot stronger today than it did before the release of this report," Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, said Friday.

RELATED: William Barr releases Mueller report

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William Barr announces Mueller report release
Attorney General William Barr speaks alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, and acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O'Callaghan, left, about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Special counsel Robert Mueller's report, with redactions, as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Four pages of special counsel Robert Mueller report on the witness table in the House Intelligence Committee hearing room on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Thursday, April 18, 2019.. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Attorney General William Barr speaks alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, and acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O’Callaghan, left, about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Attorney General William Barr speaks alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The four page letter from Attorney General William Barr regarding special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report is photographed Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report that includes written answers from President Donald Trump as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report that includes written answers from President Donald Trump as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
Photojournalists photograph four pages of report by special counsel Robert Mueller on the witness table in the House Intelligence Committee hearing room on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Thursday, April 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
UNSPECIFIED - In this screenshot taken from the U.S. Department of Justice website, a page from the Mueller Report is seen on April 18, 2019. (Photo by Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - In this screenshot taken from the U.S. Department of Justice website, a redacted page from the Mueller Report is seen on April 18, 2019. (Photo by Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 18: The gavel of chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is seen as media films a few pages of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election which was printed out by staff in the House Judiciary Committee's hearing room on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 18: Attorney General William Barr appears on a television in the Capitol subway to Rayburn building while conducting a news conference at the Justice Department on special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 18: TV crews work outside of the Senate Judiciary Committee's office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 2019. Today the Department of Justice released special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on Russian election interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 18: TV crews work outside of the Senate Judiciary Committee's office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 2019. Today the Department of Justice released special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on Russian election interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
A photo illustration dated April 18, 2019 in Washington, DC shows an editor looking at a photograph of US Attorney General William Barr (L) speaking about the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report, juxtaposed with US President Donald Trump's latest tweet (R) 'Game Over,' using a 'Game of Thrones' style montage that pictures him standing in dramatic fog. - Trump, backed by his attorney general, declared himself fully vindicated Thursday in the investigation into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion with his campaign -- even before the American people and lawmakers see the full probe report. (Photo by Eva HAMBACH / AFP) (Photo credit should read EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images)
William Barr, U.S. attorney general, center, speaks as Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, right, and Ed O'Callaghan, principal deputy assistant Attorney General, listen during a news conference at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, April 18, 2019. Barr is set to release a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report today, and the document could leave everyone unsatisfied, President Donald Trump, lawmakers and the public. Photographer: Erik Lesser/Pool via Bloomberg
William Barr, U.S. attorney general, left, speaks as Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, listens during a news conference at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, April 18, 2019. Barr is set to release a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report today, and the document could leave everyone unsatisfied, President Donald Trump, lawmakers and the public. Photographer: Erik Lesser/Pool via Bloomberg
US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (R) listens while Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference about the release of the Mueller Report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. - US Attorney General Bill Barr said Thursday that the White House fully cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian election meddling and that President Donald Trump took no action to thwart the probe. 'There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,' Barr said ahead of the release of the Mueller report. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (R) listens while Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference about the release of the Mueller Report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. - US Attorney General Bill Barr said Thursday that the White House fully cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian election meddling and that President Donald Trump took no action to thwart the probe. 'There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,' Barr said ahead of the release of the Mueller report. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Trump's supporters believe that Mueller's determination that there was not enough evidence to show that the president or his team worked with the Russians to influence the 2016 election delegitimizes the attention given to the story.

Fox News Channel's Laura Ingraham message to the news media: "You owe us an apology."

But the news stories were, for the great part, accurate.

For instance, Mueller's report shows The New York Times and The Washington Post were correct when they reported in January 2018 that Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to make sure Mueller was fired, and that McGahn decided to resign rather than carry that out. When the Times first reported the story, Trump described it as "fake news, folks, fake news."

The Mueller report also showed that Trump directed a series of aides to ask McGahn to publicly deny the story, and ultimately asked himself, too. McGahn refused, saying the story was accurate, the report found.

In a July 2017 story, the Times reported that the president personally wrote a statement in which he falsely said that an election year meeting between some Russians and his son, Donald Jr., was about the adoption of Russian children, rather than about obtaining potentially damaging information on Hillary Clinton's campaign. Trump's counsel repeatedly responded that the president had no role in writing the statement, yet months later testified under oath to investigators that Trump had dictated it.

Mueller's report also backed up the newspaper's stories, which the administration denied at the time, that Trump demanded loyalty from then-FBI Director James Comey at a private dinner, and that Trump had asked Comey to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

"The Mueller report confirmed again and again that stories in The New York Times for the past two years were the opposite of 'fake news,'" said Elisabeth Bumiller, the paper's Washington bureau chief. "They were meticulously reported, carefully sourced and accurate stories that told readers what was really going on at the White House."

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported before Trump's inauguration that Flynn had talked to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions placed on Russia by the outgoing Obama administration. Mueller said that Trump put out word that he wanted Flynn to kill the story, and that Flynn ordered aide K.T. McFarland to deny it to the Post, "although she knew she was providing false information."

Others in the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, also denied it. Flynn resigned when the truth became evident.

Trump repeatedly said during the 2016 campaign that he had no business dealings in Russia when, even as he uttered the words, his company was seeking to build a Trump Towers office building in Moscow. When Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, privately pointed out that the denial was untrue, the future president said "why mention it if it is not a deal?" the report said.

Mueller also determined that a statement by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders that Comey had been unpopular with rank-and-file members of his agency "was not founded on anything." Sanders said on ABC Friday that her statement was "a slip of the tongue."

Mueller, however, did shoot down a BuzzFeed News report that Trump had directed Cohen to lie to Congress about the timing of the Moscow project. Mueller said that while it appeared Trump knew Cohen was lying to Congress, "the evidence available to us does not establish that the president directed or aided Cohen's false testimony."

BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith said the organization's sources, who were federal law enforcement officials, "interpreted the evidence Cohen presented as meaning that the president 'directed' Cohen to lie. We now know that Mueller did not."

Smith said BuzzFeed will continue to pursue the story through Freedom of Information requests and in court.

Mueller also contradicted a McClatchy news service story alleging that Cohen had traveled to Prague, in the Czech Republic, in summer 2016 to meet with Russians involved in the effort to influence the election. Mueller's report said that Cohen had not gone to Prague.

McClatchy attached an editor's note to its story reporting Mueller's conclusion but adding that his report "is silent on whether the investigators received evidence that Mr. Cohen's phone pinged in an area near Prague, as McClatchy reported."

CJR's Pope said so many of the stories surrounding Trump had been made foggy by denials and "fake news" claims over the past two years. He said he was surprised so much of Mueller's report backed up journalists, although it's too soon to tell whether the findings will influence two very divided political camps.

"I think it casts the coverage of him in a much different light," he said.

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