Trump Says ‘New York Times,’ ‘Washington Post’ Journalists ‘Reluctant’ to Cover Clinton Meeting. Is It True?

Updated | President Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday that reporters from The Washington Post and The New York Times “were reluctant” to write about the controversial meeting that former President Bill Clinton had during the 2016 presidential campaign with the attorney general at the time, Loretta Lynch.

Though Trump did not immediately expand on the claim on Tuesday, he was referring to emails between members of the press and the Department of Justice regarding the Clinton-Lynch meeting. Trump had previously retweeted a link to an article about the emails, which were published on August 4 by the American Center for Law and Justice.

Related: Lynch reacts to Trump’s claim about Russian lawyer

The ACLJ is a not-for-profit religious corporation whose chief counsel is Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s legal team. Sekulow is listed in tax forms as its principal officer, and his son Jordan and brother Gary are involved with the operation too. The corporation obtained at least 413 pages of the records through Freedom of Information Act requests, part of a federal lawsuit that the corporation filed before the election seeking information about the Clinton-Lynch meeting.

The so-called tarmac meeting took place in June 2016, when Clinton boarded Lynch’s plane as it sat on a runaway at an airport in Phoenix. At the time, the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email system. That July, James Comey, then director of the FBI, said during a press conference that the bureau had completed its Clinton investigation and would not be recommending that the Justice Department pursue charges. Such an announcement was unusual—so much so that new FBI Director Christopher Wray has said he “can’t imagine” making it.

People on the political right, including Trump, believe the emails between the press and the Justice Department show that reporters were eager to downplay the meeting. In one email, a reporter for the Post wrote to the agency’s press office, “Any chance one of you could give me a call for another, hopefully quick, conversation on this AG-Clinton meeting? My editors are still pretty interested in it, and I’m hoping I can put it to rest by answering just a few more questions about how the meeting came about.” In another request, a reporter for the Times wrote, “I’ve been pressed into service to write about the questions being raised by the Attorney General’s meeting with Bill Clinton.”

08_08_Clinton_Lynch_meeting Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks at the New-York Historical Society on June 20. President Donald Trump has accused the media of not wanting to cover the 2016 “tarmac meeting” Lynch had with former President Bill Clinton. Spencer Platt/Getty

On his blog, Zach Haller, a media personality who is critical of Hillary Clinton, called the emails “truly shocking.” John Daniel Davidson, a senior correspondent at The Federalist, a conservative-leaning website, wrote, “The documents reveal what many conservative observers noted throughout the Obama administration: the media’s reluctance to cover anything that might damage the president or the Democratic Party, to the point of ignoring what would have been considered major scandals in a Republican administration.”

Others aren’t so sure. “What you can’t get through email alone is the tone,” says Kelly McBride, an expert on media ethics and vice president of the Poynter Institute. “Is it, ‘Hey, I’m trying to reassure you that I’m not trying to sensationalize or blow this out of proportion,’ or is it, ‘I’m with you, I really don’t think this is a big deal’?”

Journalists sometimes fall into the trap of becoming overly familiar or sympathetic with sources, according to McBride, or they might try to appear so in order to get information. Sometimes “they don’t even believe what they’re writing. They’re trying to ingratiate themselves,” she says. But when it comes to the two emails from the Times and the Post, she adds, “I definitely don’t see it as evidence that they are of the same mind as their sources.”

The Post also disputes the claims about its reporter. “Contrary to President Trump’s characterization, the email in question shows our reporter committed to the Lynch-Comey story and working to report it as comprehensively as possible,” Scott Wilson, the Post’s national editor, says by email. “Our coverage was vigorous and aggressive from the moment we learned Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch met more than a year ago in the Phoenix airport. Saying otherwise is factually wrong.” Wilson pointed to at least five stories the newspaper published about the meeting. In one article, correspondent Dan Balz wrote, “Bill Clinton has made a mess. It was either out of foolish indifference or plain foolishness, but it has created a terrible moment for his wife and the Democrats, and for President [Barack] Obama and perceptions of the integrity of his administration.”

On Monday, The Daily Caller uncovered that Lynch was on emails with the Justice Department press team about the meeting, under the alias Elizabeth Carlisle. An attorney for Lynch later confirmed her use of the alias, according to the ACLJ.

Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, Comey said under oath that Lynch had told him to refer to the Clinton investigation only as “a matter,” a request that he said gave him a “queasy feeling” and “concerned me because that language tracked the way the [Clinton presidential] campaign was talking about the FBI’s work.” Lynch has expressed regret over the tarmac meeting.

Republican lawmakers have called for a federal investigation into Lynch’s conduct as attorney general. In July, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein requesting a special counsel review Lynch’s actions. That special counsel would supplement the existing one, Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.

This article has been updated to include comments by Scott Wilson of The Washington Post.

Correction: This article previously incorrectly referred to Zach Haller as a conservative. He does not identify that way.

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