Playbook: How Trump dominated CNN
With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross
DRIVING THE DAY
TITLE 42 GETS EIGHTY-SIXED — NYT: “U.S. Warns Migrants Before End of Pandemic Restrictions That ‘Border Is Not Open’” … WaPo: “Texas uses aggressive tactics to arrest migrants as Title 42 ends” … AP: “Huge number of asylum seekers at US-Mexico border as COVID-19 restrictions end, new rules begin”
BREAKING — “Biden rule tells power plants to cut climate pollution by 90 percent — or shut down,” by Alex Guillén: “The highly anticipated regulation being unveiled Thursday morning is just the latest step in President JOE BIDEN’s campaign to green the U.S. economy.”
ABOUT LAST NIGHT — To call it a shitshow would be generous.
CNN’s New Hampshire town hall with DONALD TRUMP last night may have done more to boost his chances of winning the GOP presidential nomination than anything that’s happened since the 2020 election.
Over and over again, a self-assured Trump lied and rewrote history. He claimed to have finished the border wall. (He didn’t.) He asserted that he’d been “exonerated” from accusations that he attempted to strong-arm Ukraine into digging up dirt on Biden. (He wasn’t.) He refused to apologize to MIKE PENCE for putting him in harm’s way on Jan. 6 and insisted that his ex-VP had the power to overturn the election. (He didn’t.) He called MICHAEL BYRD — the Black Capitol Police lieutenant who fatally shot ASHLI BABBITT while protecting lawmakers during the storming of the Capitol — a “thug.” (He isn’t.) He called Jan. 6 “a beautiful day.” (It wasn’t.) He defended his infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” comments. (Really?)
And the live studio audience — which seemed vocally pro-Trump, as if imported from Mar-a-Lago — ate it up. They cheered when he denied moderator KAITLAN COLLINS’ factual assertion that he took three hours to tell the Jan. 6 rioters to go home. They applauded when he called E. JEAN CARROLL — who one day earlier was awarded $5 million in damages from Trump for his sexual abuse and defamation of her — a “whack job.” They laughed when he called Collins “nasty” and questioned whether she understood what she was talking about.
To her credit, Collins tried to fact-check Trump in real time. She noted over and over again that the 2020 election was not “rigged,” and that judges — some of them appointed by Trump — had in fact tossed about 60 court cases alleging fraud. She balked when Trump claimed that under the Presidential Records Act, he had the right to take classified documents to his Florida resort. (He doesn’t.) She pushed back when he claimed that he never asked Georgia election officials to “find” him the exact number of votes needed to defeat Biden in Georgia. (He did, and it’s on tape.) She rejected his attempts to blame NANCY PELOSI for his supporters rioting at the U.S. Capitol. (She doesn’t control the National Guard.)
But the furious pace of his falsehoods made them impossible to counter in real time. Trump just filibustered. And many of Collins’ fans came away feeling like CNN had put her — a rising star and widely respected journalist — in a no-win situation.
The night underscored how CNN has changed under the management of CHRIS LICHT. Not that long ago, CNN star anchor JAKE TAPPER refused to have GOP lawmakers who declined to certify the 2020 election on his show. Now, the network appears to have done a 180.
INSTANT REGRETS: Before the town hall began, CNN faced heavy criticism for lending Trump its platform, with many critics suggesting that the network was prioritizing ratings above its commitment to the truth. Not everyone saw it that way, of course: JON RALSTON, the CEO of the Nevada Independent, posed a Twitter thread earlier in the day defending CNN’s decision, noting that Trump is the GOP frontrunner and needs to be questioned.
Minutes into the event, Ralston reversed course. “It's a farce,” he wrote. “I am so sad.”
By the end of the night, the reviews were abysmal. The words “disaster” and “disgrace” were plastered all over Twitter. On MSNBC, host ALEX WAGNER called the spectacle an "hour of misinformation, lies and disinformation.” MATT FULLER, Washington bureau chief of the Daily Beast, railed against the forum as “journalism malpractice,” evidence that the media has “absolutely learned nothing.”
“Does CNN count that as an in-kind campaign donation?” asked DAN RATHER.
Even network talent and talking heads participating on CNN panels following the event seemed shell-shocked. And sources inside the network confided their deep regrets.
“It was a complete disaster,” one CNN employee told Playbook, arguing that the format — specifically, stacking the audience with Trump supporters who cheered his lies — was a “strategic error.”
“It made it seem like CNN was endorsing that behavior,” the employee said. “Incredibly disappointing.”
CNN did not respond to requests for comment about whether they regretted giving Trump a platform — nor did they answer questions about whether Trump or his team had a say in selecting audience participants.
In a statement, network spokesperson MATT DORNIC defended Collins as a “world-class journalist” who was able “to arm voters with crucial information about his positions as he enters the 2024 election as the Republican frontrunner. That is CNN’s role and responsibility: to get answers and hold the powerful to account."
WHAT GOP LAWMAKERS WILL BE ASKED ABOUT: Of course, the event did show viewers an unvarnished view of the former president who’s leading the GOP presidential field. It also elicited real news — news that unhappy GOP lawmakers will be dodging questions about for weeks.
- Trump said he was “inclined” to pardon “many” of the Jan. 6 rioters.
- He encouraged congressional Republicans to allow the nation to default if they don’t get the spending cuts they want — failing, of course, to mention that as president, he raised the debt ceiling without cuts several times.
- He pushed back on suggestions that a default would create an economic calamity. “It’s psychological,” Trump said. “It could be very bad. It could be maybe nothing.”
- He laughed off a civil jury finding him liable for sexual battery and defamation, bragging about how his poll numbers were growing because of it.
- He said he was “honored” to have paved the way for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. “Good things are happening,” he said — though he refused to answer questions about whether he would support a nationwide abortion ban.
- He left open the possibility of again separating migrant children from their parents to try to stop illegal immigration.
- He wouldn’t say if he believed VLADIMIR PUTIN is a war criminal, or even if he wants Ukraine to win its war against Russia. "I don't think in terms of winning and losing,” he claimed.
THE BIG PICTURE: Over in Trump land, the former president’s aides were “thrilled,” according to NYT’s Jonathan Swan. “They can’t believe he is getting an hour on CNN with an audience that cheers his every line and laughs at his every joke.”
Of course, there was one other person who came out ahead: President Joe Biden.
Biden aides were positively giddy about the fodder Trump provided for Biden’s re-elect. A source familiar with the campaign’s thinking said they were already pinpointing segments to use in campaign ads, including Trump’s 20-minute diatribe about “rigged” elections, his ownership of the end of Roe, his praise for the Jan. 6 rioters, his cheering for default, and his refusal to say if he’d accept the outcome of the 2024 election.
“It was quite efficient,” said one Biden advisor. “Weeks worth of damning content in one hour”
Or, as Biden himself put it in a tweet last night: “It’s simple, folks. Do you want four more years of that?”
Good Thursday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.
DIFI RETURNS — Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-Calif.) made her long-awaited return to Congress yesterday following a lengthy absence while recovering from shingles. The scene: “‘Where am I going?’ she could be heard asking, as she slowly settled into the wheelchair. Her hand was visibly trembling as she took her seat. ‘I’ve got something in my eye,’ she said, as her eye appeared bloodshot,” HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery writes.
‘MAGIC MUSHROOMS … AND DIANNE FEINSTEIN’S DOG’ — This morning, WaPo’s Ben Terris is out with another excerpt from his new book, “The Big Break: The Gamblers, Party Animals, and True Believers Trying to Win in Washington While America Loses Its Mind” ($27). In a POLITICO Magazine piece, Terris tells the story of JAMARCUS PURLEY, the former Feinstein aide who got fired, loaded up on mushrooms — then shocked Washington by taking a video of himself smoking a joint at her desk.
The piece sheds light on the “whip-smart” Stanford and Oxford grad who followed up his outrageous protest by disappearing from Washington without so much as a whisper. Working a grueling job on the Hill — particularly for Feinstein — smothered something inside him to the point that he ended up lashing out, Terris writes.
Another juicy nugget in the excerpt: A story about Feinstein appearing to mistake Sen. TIM SCOTT for RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-Ga.). The South Carolina Republican reportedly went along with it to avoid an embarrassing confrontation. Yikes.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: CROWLEY’S CONFLICT — The musicFIRST coalition is parting ways with chair JOE CROWLEY and his firm Dentons after the former House Democratic Caucus chair registered as a lobbyist for TikTok, two people familiar with the matter told Daniel Lippman.
The coalition viewed Dentons’ work for TikTok as a conflict of interest given that its members have tangled with the app and other tech companies over fair compensation for the use of music on their platforms, according to the same two people.
Crowley, a longtime singer and guitarist who became known for serenading his House colleagues, became chair of the coalition of artists, labels and other recording industry interests almost two years ago and was part of a team at Dentons that billed the group $90,000 last quarter. Earlier this year, Crowley registered on behalf of TikTok with two other Dentons colleagues, reporting $70,000 in Q1 billings.
In a statement, the coalition thanked Crowley for “his lifetime of leadership and fierce advocacy on behalf of artists” and said he had led them “to unprecedented heights and significant legislative progress.” Crowley, in turn, told Playbook in a text that the parting “wasn’t a bad break up” and noted that he’d “delivered some pretty big wins for the group.”
He added, “If you know me, and know my passion for music and musicians’ rights, you’ll know this isn’t the end of my work on these issues.”
Joining the coalition as co-chairs are former Sen. MARK PRYOR (D-Ark.) and former Bush DOJ official WILL MOSCHELLA, both of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
CONGRESS STRIKES BACK — SPOTTED at POLITICO’s Turning the Tables event at the Observatory at America’s Square, where Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) fired their toughest questions at Elana Schor, Burgess Everett, Sarah Ferris, Olivia Beavers, Jordain Carney, Daniella Diaz, and Nick Wu: Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), Doug Andres, Mitchell Rivard, Roy Loewenstein, Kate Currie, Jayce Genco, Anne MacMillan, Annie Clark, Sam Runyon, Jesse Hunt, Roz Leighton, Matt Gorman, Daniel Black, Scott Bell, Diana Marin, Benjamin Mullany, Matt Corridoni, Rodericka Applewhaite, Daniela Campos, Valeria Ojeda-Avitia, Matt Kaminski, Jennifer Haberkorn, Caitlin Emma, Alex Isenstadt, Adam Cancryn, Will Dunham, Jacques Petit, James Adams, Kristen Morris, Alexandra Bell, Michael Decker, Jonathan Martin, CJ Warnke, Kristen Joseph, Genevieve Suplee, Baker Landon, Jon Marcus, Chris Daloinai, Bryce Matthews and Scott Sloofman. Pic … Another pic … One more … Read this morning’s Huddle for a full recap
PHOTO OF THE DAY
EYES EMOJI — In an appearance yesterday on WBHM, an NPR station in Birmingham, Sen. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-Ala.) was asked “if he believed white nationalists should be allowed to serve in the military,” AL.com’s Paul Gattis writes. Tuberville’s response: “They call them that. I call them Americans.”
After the story took off on Twitter, Tuberville’s office issued a statement saying that his comments simply voicing skepticism about “the notion that there are white nationalists in the military, not that he believes they should be in the military.”
THE TALENTED MR. SANTOS — Rep. GEORGE SANTOS (R-N.Y.) officially pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud, money laundering and theft of public funds, our colleagues Erica Orden, Julia Marsh and Olivia Beavers write. Santos was released on a $500,000 bond after surrendering to authorities. “I’m going to fight the witch hunt,” he said. His next court appearance will come on June 30.
Related read: “George Santos: An Accused Con Man Who Happened to Trade in Politics,” by NYT’s Nicholas Fandos
FWIW: Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY “said he will not support Santos’ reelection,” CNN reports, adding that the speaker also “confirmed that if the Ethics Committee determines Santos broke the law, he would call for him to resign.”
WHO’S AT DEFAULT — “Debt anxiety falls a little on the Hill. It might not be enough,” by Sarah Ferris and Burgess Everett: “The minor signs of progress that are visible in the Capitol are leaving some lawmakers to wonder whether they’re meaningful or more of a mirage as the deadline to avoid a full-blown economic crisis draws nearer.”
ACCESS DENIED — “FBI declines Comer’s request for a document some Republicans claim will show Joe Biden was involved in an illegal scheme,” by CNN’s Sara Murray and Evan Perez
DOES DeSANTIS NEED A NEW TALKING POINT? — Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS is consistently touting his handling of Covid as he tours the country and prepares to enter the GOP presidential primary field. But the U.S. is largely moving on from the coronavirus, turning the proverbial page on the pandemic. “Now the governor will find out if he can sustain that strategy as he prepares to campaign more than three years after the pandemic began,” Arek Sarkissian writes this morning.
THE AGE OF VIVEK — GOP presidential candidate VIVEK RAMASWAMY has a novel proposal for his nascent campaign: Later this week in Iowa, the 37-year-old biotech entrepreneur will call for raising the voting age to 25, “unless a citizen 18 or older is enrolled in the military, works as a first-responder or passes the same civics test given to immigrants seeking American citizenship,” our colleague Natalie Allison reports. “In separate conversations with POLITICO, [his] staff expressed discomfort with the proposal,” Natalie writes.
Related read: “Corey Lewandowski spoke with Vivek Ramaswamy Super PAC about role,” by Alex Isenstadt
JUST POSTED — “Virginia could be key to abortion access in the South. Its laws could hinge on this Democratic primary,” by The 19th’s Mel Leonor Barclay in Petersburg, Va.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — The Next 50, a Dem-aligned organization, is announcing its first slate of 2024 endorsements today, including Kentucky Gov. ANDY BESHEAR; Rep. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-Mich.), who is running to replace retiring Sen. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-Mich.); Rep. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-Ariz.), who is running to unseat Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-Ariz.); and Reps. YADIRA CARAVEO (D-Colo.) and GABE VASQUEZ (D-N.M.). See the full list of endorsements
The Next 50 is also announcing its 2023-24 Leadership Council, which includes House Democratic Caucus Chair PETE AGUILAR (D-Calif.), Michigan state Sen. MALLORY McMORROW, Delaware state Sen. SARAH McBRIDE, SHANIQUA McCLENDON and BAKARI SELLERS.
THE WHITE HOUSE
BIDEN GOES ON OFFENSE — Biden took his anti-MAGA message on the road yesterday, tearing into Republicans over the debt limit negotiations while appearing in a GOP-held district in New York that Biden carried in 2020. His remarks “reflected a hardening posture from both him and his team” in the debt-limit fight, our colleagues Jonathan Lemire, Lauren Egan and Danielle Muoio Dunn write from Valhalla, N.Y. “Having gone months without stepping in a GOP-held district, his team is already considering similar trips to pressure swing seat Republicans to defy their party leadership.”
FOX IN THE COURT HOUSE — “New Defamation Suit Against Fox Signals Continued Legal Threat,” by NYT’s Jim Rutenberg and Steven Lee Myers: “The suit was filed on behalf of NINA JANKOWICZ, the former executive director of a short-lived Department of Homeland Security division assigned with coordinating efforts to monitor and address disinformation threats to national security. Right-wing pundits and politicians falsely portrayed her group as part of an Orwellian bid to control the speech and thought of ordinary Americans.”
WHAT THE TUCK — “Tucker Carlson’s Twitter Show Complicates Elon Musk’s Bid to Win Back Advertisers,” by WSJ’s Suzanne Vranica, Patience Haggin and Alexa Corse
Tim Scott pulled off an A+ photobomb.
Tucker Carlson told Insider he is running for president in 2024, then claimed he was joking.
OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED: The U.S. government’s top courtroom advocate, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, confessing she recently lost an oral argument — over whether her 12-year-old son could get an iPhone for his birthday. “We told him that he’s too young,” she told federal judges and lawyers at a conference in Philadelphia Wednesday night. “He basically demolished us. He out-argued us. … We got him the phone.”
— SPOTTED: Asa Hutchinson and a campaign staffer having dinner with GOP strategist Michael Biundo at O Steaks & Seafood in Concord, N.H. yesterday evening.
— SPOTTED at a party hosted by Tammy Haddad, Susan Neely, Heather Podesta and Juleanna Glover on Wednesday night at Glover’s house to toast the Consumer Brand Association’s new president and CEO David Chavern: Denise Couture, Josh Dawsey, Genna Gent, Hastie and Amir Afkami, Steve Rochlin and Christina Sevilla, Rachel Horn, Michael Hirsh, Erin McPike and Nina Rees.
— SPOTTED at an event to honor Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at Festa Italiana at the Yotel on Tuesday night, where AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered a video message: Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Chris DeLuzio (D-Pa.), Paul Pelosi, John Calvelli and Bob Blancato.
MEDIA MOVE — Oma Seddiq is now a tech reporter at Bloomberg Government. She most recently was a politics reporter at Business Insider and is a POLITICO alum.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Raj Shah, head of the Rockefeller Foundation, this morning is announcing his forthcoming book, “Big Bets: How Large-Scale Change Really Happens,” ($28.99) which will be published Oct. 10.
— Igor Volsky is joining Groundwork Action as executive director. He previously was executive director at Guns Down America.
TRANSITIONS — Emily Barkdoll is now strategic and policy design analyst in the Office of Policy at the Energy Department. She previously was Northeast regional director for resilient communities at the NRDC. … Madi Eden is now CTO at Movement Labs. She previously was the Democratic candidate for the 17th state House district in Texas and is co-founder of Civitech and Register2Vote.org. … Ryan Keating is now federal government affairs director at Duke Energy. He previously was deputy chief of staff for Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). … Tiffany Stecker-Gustavson is now a PR specialist at Ropes & Gray. She most recently was California correspondent at Bloomberg Government and is an E&E alum.
ENGAGED — Chelsea Cirruzzo, co-author of the Axios D.C. newsletter, and Josh Gaines, a teaching assistant in Washington, got engaged on Sunday. The couple, who have been together since attending high school together in Long Island, got engaged at Breaux Wineries in Virginia. Pic … The ring
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Justin Vail … Karen Skelton … David Castagnetti … WSJ’s Daniel Nasaw … GMMB’s Danny Jester … Sarah Schmidt … Bethany Little … Angie Alfonso-Royals … José Cunningham … Matt VanHyfte of the House Small Business GOP … Logan Gibson of Booz Allen Hamilton … Patrick Kane of the British Embassy … Microsoft’s Fred Humphries … retired Gen. John Kelly … former Reps. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) and David Young (R-Iowa) … Brian J. Walsh … Alex Dease … Michael Pregent … POLITICO’s Allison Davis and Haley Siddall … State Department’s Chris Landberg … Alden Schacher … Andrew Binns … Alex Wagner … George Hadijski … Cami Connor … Jo Ling Kent … Vince Stewart … Time’s Olivia Waxman … DAGA’s Emily Trifone … Austin Stevens of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office … CyberScoop’s Tonya Riley … Julie Trute of Liberty Mutual
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