7 min read

The Trump-CNN love story

Donald Trump and CNN are rekindling their on-again, off-again relationship.
The Trump-CNN love story
(Joyce Boghosian / White House)

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, May 10, 2023. The 2024 elections are 545 days away. Read this newsletter in your browser.

A quick housekeeping note: WUTP is going to go on a brief pause while I focus on finishing up my final exams and moving out for the semester.

As you all know, my plan this summer is to work on WUTP full-time — so I’m not going anywhere for long. But I think 10 or so days off will help me make sure I can close off this semester strong, and give me a quick breather before diving back in for the summer. I’ll be back on the week of May 22, with plenty of time to cover the impending debt ceiling deadline and other major stories.

I also know I’ve left a lot of emails unanswered in the past few weeks as my schoolwork has mounted, so I’ll be using this time off to make sure I can respond to your questions and feedback. Plus, I owe many of you new recurring donors water bottles: I’m currently in the process of sending those out, so look out for them soon! (And if you signed up for a $12 monthly donation, this is your last chance to send me your address if you want one!)

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After sexual abuse verdict, Trump returns to CNN

A Manhattan federal jury on Tuesday found former President Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming magazine writer E. Jean Carroll, awarding her nearly $5 million in damages.

After about three hours of deliberation, the jurors — six men and three women — ruled that “a preponderance of the evidence” supported Carroll’s sexual abuse and defamation claims, but not her most serious allegation, rape. Carroll has accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in a Manhattan department store dressing room in the 1990s; he denies the allegation.

Trump is expected to appeal the verdict, which he called a “travesty of Justice” on Truth Social. In a post earlier on Tuesday, Trump claimed that he was “not allowed to speak or defend myself” at the trial, even though he was given multiple chances to testify, all of which he declined. (His defense team called no witnesses.) In a civil trial like this one, unlike a criminal case, jurors are allowed to draw a negative inference about a defendant who declines to testify.

In other words: the leading Republican candidate for president has not only been indicted for business fraud, but also found liable for sexual abuse.

The verdict is not expected to shake his position in the nascent GOP primary field, where he currently commands the support of 53% of Republican voters, according to the FiveThirtyEight polling average.

As has been the case with many controversies over the past seven years, Republican lawmakers largely defended the ex-president after the verdict. Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) told Politico that he doubted that a trial could be fair for Trump “in any of these liberal states.” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) told HuffPost that the verdict “makes me want to vote for him twice.”

It remains to be seen whether Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination will attempt to use the sexual abuse verdict against him. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is considering a run for president, declined to do so in an interview on Tuesday. “I would tell you, in my 4½ years serving alongside the president, I never heard or witnessed behavior of that nature,” he told NBC News.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who is expected to announce a presidential bid soon, has yet to comment on the jury’s decision. DeSantis has so far been hesitant to criticize Trump even as he prepares to challenge him for the nomination. In politics, of course, it is generally difficult to defeat someone if you do not criticize them.  

The verdict significantly raises the stakes for an event that was already highly anticipated: Trump’s return to CNN.

The former president is scheduled to participate in a CNN town hall in New Hampshire tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. Kaitlan Collins, co-host of “CNN This Morning,” will moderate.

It will be Trump’s first appearance on CNN since the 2016 campaign, marking the latest twist in a long-running on-again, off-again relationship.

CNN was widely criticized in 2016 for frequently airing entire Trump rallies, giving him more airtime than his rivals — and occasionally even showing his empty podium, breathlessly waiting for him to take the stage. Like on other networks, Trump was also a frequent CNN guest during his first campaign, including in phone-in interviews that were rarely allowed for other candidates.

“Trump delivered on PR, he delivered on big ratings,” CNN’s then-CEO Jeff Zucker said in October 2016, acknowledging that the oversaturated Trump coverage had been a “mistake.”

Then, of course, during his presidency and since, CNN took a hard pivot towards savaging Trump on the air; Trump, in turn, took to singling out the network as “very fake news.”

Why are the former president and the cable news network rekindling their love affair? Like in 2016, the arrangement offers benefits for both of them. Trump is trying to re-create his 2016 media ubiquity by returning to legacy outlets he largely spurned while in the White House; the CNN appearance also offers him the chance to stick it to Fox News, whose coverage he has lately criticized.

CNN, meanwhile, is trying to regain its credibility with GOP voters. Chris Licht, Zucker’s successor, has made it a priority to book Republican guests and tone down the network’s incessant anti-Trump coverage.

It’s a win-win for both sides.

Is it a win for the viewers? I’ve seen a lot of criticism of CNN’s decision, but personally, I’ll be withholding judgment until, you know, the event actually happens.

It’s true that Collins, the moderator, has her roots in partisan media (she’s an alum of The Daily Caller, a conservative outlet) — but she’s also distinguished herself as one of the network’s toughest and fairest interviewers, gaining respect from both sides of the aisle for her work.

And it would be wrong to say that Trump has always (or even usually) been happy with Collins’ coverage in the past: this is the same correspondent who the Trump White House banned from a Rose Garden press conference in 2018.

Still, there is no question that having Trump, a frequent liar, on the air comes with unique challenges. But it’s also not 2016 anymore: it’s not as though CNN is boosting or helping create an underdog candidacy.

Trump is a former president and the Republican frontrunner now, and he will be both those things no matter if CNN has him on or not. That means little is served or changed by ignoring him — but it does create a journalistic responsibility to hold him to account.

We will see tonight how CNN fares in juggling those challenges and living up to that responsibility.

In other news

(Santos campaign)

Rep. George Santos (R-NY) surrendered to federal authorities this morning after being charged with seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds, and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives.

The freshman congressman, who shocked Washington early in his tenure amid revelations that he lied about nearly every part of his résumé, is set to be arraigned later today. Read the indictment here

President Biden and congressional leaders made little progress on the debt ceiling in a meeting on Tuesday. “I didn’t see any new movement,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said afterward. The group did, however, agree to meet again on Friday; their staffs will continue negotiating behind the scenes until then. President Biden acknowledged Tuesday that he is “considering” using the 14th Amendment to raise the debt limit unilaterally, although he said a congressionally-approved increase is his preference.

More than 10,000 migrants attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border yesterday, the beginning of an expected migrant surge as Title 42, the pandemic-era border restriction, ends on Thursday. The Biden administration, which has deployed 550 troops to the border to help manage the surge, is preparing to issue sweeping new restrictions that will largely bar migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. — a reversal of his campaign promises.

Consumer prices increased 4.9% in April compared to a year ago, a sign of slowing inflation. It is the first time in two years that annual inflation has been less than 5% — although it remains above the Federal Reserve’s 2% target. Prices increased 0.4% between March and April, up from a 0.1% rise between February and March. Read more on today’s CPI report

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) returned to Washington on Tuesday after three months of recovering from shingles at home in California. Feinstein, 89, has faced calls to resign from some Democratic lawmakers.

Today in government

White House: President Biden will travel to Valhalla, New York, today to deliver remarks on the debt ceiling in a vulnerable Republican congressman’s district. Later tonight, he will attend a pair of fundraisers in New York City.

Vice President Harris will meet with the leaders of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, and also swear in the Commissioners for the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics.

Senate: The Senate will vote to confirm four Biden nominees:

  • Colleen Shogan (Archivist of the United States)
  • Geeta Rao Gupta (Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues)
  • Glenna Wright-Gallo (Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services)
  • L. Felice Gorordo (Alternate Executive Director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development)

House: The House will begin consideration of the Secure the Border Act, which would beef up border security, implement new border restrictions, and restart border wall construction.

Supreme Court: The justices have nothing on their schedule.

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