- Yana Paskova/Getty Images
- CNN doesn’t intend to reveal its second source on a July story that has sparked controversy this week, a senior CNN staffer told Business Insider.
- The story said President Donald Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, was prepared to tell investigators Trump had advance knowledge of a controversial June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
- A CNN employee told Business Insider earlier this week that the story had two “primary” sources.
- The story has come under fire after the other source – Lanny Davis, Cohen’s attorney – recanted his earlier confirmation.
A senior CNN staffer told Business Insider on Thursday the outlet doesn’t “intend” to reveal the identity of its other source in a July story that has come under fire this week, as President Donald Trump aimed repeated rounds of criticism at the network.
The story said Trump’s former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen was prepared to tell investigators his old boss had advance knowledge of a controversial June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between senior campaign officials and a Russian lawyer.
Trump has denied advance knowledge of the meeting, saying he didn’t find out about it until July 2017.
The CNN staffer requested anonymity to speak about the network’s internal deliberations.
That story has come under scrutiny in recent days after Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, first told other outlets to which he had confirmed the CNN story that he could no longer “independently” verify it. But after initially saying he was not a source on the original July CNN story, Davis told BuzzFeed he actually did confirm the story for the outlet, which he said he now retracts.
“I should have been much clearer that I could not confirm the story,” Davis said in a statement he provided to Business Insider. “I take the responsibility for not communicating more clearly my uncertainty or for any unintentionally misleading comments I made to try to explain. I regret the error.”
In a day that included Trump again calling media the “Enemy of the People,” the president tweeted Thursday that CNN was “working frantically to find their ‘source'” for the July story.
“Look hard because it doesn’t exist,” he tweeted. “Whatever was left of CNN’s credibility is now gone!”
Two CNN employees who spoke with Business Insider earlier this week said the outlet is standing by the story “100%.” They requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
An ulterior motive?
One CNN employees who spoke to Business Insider earlier this week said the network hasn’t found any reason to believe the story is untrue. The person pointed to Davis saying not that the story was false, but simply that he cannot independently confirm it, as bolstering CNN’s argument.
A second CNN employee said Davis was one of at least two “primary sources” on the story. The backlash to the story is “an attempt to delegitimize” CNN, the other person said.
Those people additionally pointed to what they said is an ulterior motive Davis could have for suddenly changing his tune.
Cohen last week pleaded guilty to eight counts of federal felonies, including two campaign-finance violations stemming from hush payments to a pair of women who alleged affairs with Trump.
Afterward, leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a statement saying they “recently reengaged with Mr. Cohen and his team following press reports that suggested he had advance knowledge of the June 2016 meeting between campaign officials and Russian lawyers at Trump Tower.”
“Mr. Cohen had testified before the Committee that he was not aware of the meeting prior to its disclosure in the press last summer,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr and Vice Chairman Mark Warner said. “As such, the Committee inquired of Mr. Cohen’s legal team as to whether Mr. Cohen stood by his testimony. They responded that he did stand by his testimony.”
If Davis, speaking on behalf of his client, stood by his original comments to CNN, Cohen could be opened up to a perjury charge.
In the initial CNN story, “sources with knowledge” told the outlet that Cohen knew that Trump knew in advance about the Trump Tower meeting and was “willing to make that assertion” to special counsel Robert Mueller. The sources told CNN that Cohen was in the room with several others when Trump first learned of the Russians’ offer to meet. A source told CNN that Cohen did not testify that Trump had advance knowledge when he was testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. CNN said that Davis “declined to comment.”
- Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The story sent shockwaves around the political landscape and multiple outlets soon followed up with confirmations of the CNN report, such as The Washington Post and The New York Post. Davis later revealed he was a source of confirmation for those outlets.
The morning after the CNN story was published, MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch said on “Morning Joe” that Cohen told him earlier this year that Trump knew about “everything” going on with the campaign, including the Trump Tower meeting.
At the time, Trump’s team hit back on the CNN story. The president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, called Cohen a “pathological liar” who has been “lying for years.”
Giuliani has shared his thoughts on Davis’s credibility to Business Insider, pointing to the attorney’s past work for former President Bill Clinton. Davis served Clinton as an attorney and spokesman amid the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Last week, nearly a month after the CNN story ran and right after Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court, Davis began to walk-back his earlier confirmations, raising eyebrows. It also opened up Cohen to new questions about his credibility and, experts told Business Insider, it may complicate his ability to cooperate in other investigations.
On Tuesday afternoon, two of the reporters who authored the original CNN piece wrote on Davis’s reversals in an attempt to provide clarity amid the backlash.