One of MSNBC’s hosts walked back Wednesday an incendiary claim he had made the previous night about President Trump being controlled by the Kremlin.

Lawrence O’Donnell retracted his claim that Russian oligarchs had co-signed Mr. Trump’s loans with Deutsche Bank, saying the claim hadn’t been vetted and was based on hearsay.

“The source says that Deutsche Bank is in possession of loan documents that show Donald Trump has obtained loans with co-signers, and that he would not have been able to obtain those loans without co-signers,” Mr. O’Donnell said on fellow host Rachel Maddow’s show. ‘The source close to Deutsche Bank says that the co-signers of Donald Trump’s Deutsche Bank loans are Russian billionaires close to Vladimir Putin.”

On Twitter, teasing the segment, Mr. O’Donnell wrote that “if true, that explains every kind word Trump has ever said about Russia and Putin.”

A source close to Deutsche Bank says Trump’s tax returns show he pays very little income tax and, more importantly, that his loans have Russian co-signers. If true, that explains every kind word Trump has ever said about Russia and Putin. @TheLastWord 10pm
— Lawrence O’Donnell (@Lawrence) August 28, 2019

But on Wednesday, after threats of lawsuits from the president’s lawyers and some admissions by NBC News officials, Mr. O’Donnell said he shouldn’t have aired the claim.

“Last night I made an error in judgment by reporting an item about the president’s finances that didn’t go through our rigorous verification and standards process. I shouldn’t have reported it and I was wrong to discuss it on the air,” he wrote.

Last night I made an error in judgment by reporting an item about the president’s finances that didn’t go through our rigorous verification and standards process. I shouldn’t have reported it and I was wrong to discuss it on the air. I will address the issue on my show tonight.
— Lawrence O’Donnell (@Lawrence) August 28, 2019

Even during the Maddow segment though, Mr. O’Donnell was cautious about how thin the trail was.

“Now, I want to stress, that’s a single source,” he said Tuesday night. “This has not been confirmed by NBC News. I have not seen any documentation from Deutsche Bank that supports this and verifies this. This is just a single source who has revealed that to me.”

By then though, the story was starting to unravel and was getting significant pushback.

MSNBC’s widely-watched “Morning Joe” program struggled with the issue until Michael Del Moro, one of the show’s producers, conceded that not only was there a single source and that NBC hadn’t seen the paperwork of the supposedly co-signed loans, but clarified that the source himself hadn’t seen the paperwork.

“Deutsche Bank is declining to comment on Lawrence O’Donnell’s reporting that Russian oligarchs co-signed Trump’s loans. The information came from a single source who has not seen the bank records. NBC has not seen those records and has not yet been able to verify the reporting,” he wrote.

Deutsche Bank is declining to comment on Lawrence O’Donnell’s reporting that Russian oligarch’s co-signed Trump’s loans. The information came from a single source who has not seen the bank records. NBC has not seen those records and has not yet been able to verify the reporting.
— Michael Del Moro (@MikeDelMoro) August 28, 2019

Donald Trump Jr. suggested that the reason NBC hadn’t verified Mr. O’Donnell’s report is “likely because he totally fabricated it.”

Likely because he totally fabricated it. https://t.co/DDz37xxaqE
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) August 28, 2019

Others on Team Trump were less snarky and more official in their growls.

Attorney Charles Harder, in a letter to NBC News executives posted online by the Daily Mail, called the report threatened a libel suit against NBC News unless Mr. O’Donnell and the network “immediately and prominently retract, correct and apologize for the aforementioned false and defamatory statements.”

Mr. Harder said Mr. Trump’s Deutsche Bank loans, supposedly co-signed by Kremlin oligarchs, had no such parties.

“The only borrowers under these loans are Trump entities, and Mr. Trump is the only guarantor,” Mr. Harder wrote. “Numerous documents for each of these loans are also recorded, publicly available and searchable online.”

This proves the “actual malice” required for public figures to win libel cases in the U.S.

“Thus, actual malice can easily be proven based on your reckless disregard of the truth and unreasonable reliance on an alleged ‘source’ who you will not even identify in your story and likely is seeking to mislead you and the public for political reasons or other ulterior motives,” he wrote.

© Copyright (c) 2019 News World Communications, Inc.

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