As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump used his close alliance with the National Enquirer to attack his enemies. Now that he’s president, he’s continuing to benefit from the tabloid’s support.
This morning in a Washington Post op-ed, Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski disclosed that White House officials offered to spike an Enquirer story about their romance if the pair apologized to Trump for the show’s critical coverage. In recent months, Scarborough and Brzezinski have questioned Trump’s mental state and fitness for office. They elaborated on the op-ed on MSNBC this morning. Morning Joe regular Donny Deutsch said it was “blackmail” for Trump to use a hit-piece in the Enquirer to extract an apology from media critics. Trump then tweeted a quasi-confirmation of the behind-the-scenes conversations, saying that Scarborough called to enlist his help to kill the story. Scarborough called Trump’s version a “lie,” tweeting that he never spoke to the president.
According to three sources familiar with the private conversations, what happened was this: After the inauguration, Morning Joe’s coverage of Trump turned sharply negative. “This presidency is fake and failed,” Brzezinski said on March 6, for example. Around this time, Scarborough and Brzezinski found out the Enquirer was preparing a story about their affair. While Scarborough and Brzezinski’s relationship had been gossiped about in media circles for some time, it was not yet public, and the tabloid was going to report that they had left their spouses to be together.
In mid-April, Scarborough texted with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner about the pending Enquirer story. Kushner told Scarborough that he would need to personally apologize to Trump in exchange for getting Enquirer owner David Pecker to stop the story. (A spokesperson for Kushner declined to comment.) Scarborough says he refused, and the Enquirer published the story in print on June 5, headlined “Morning Joe Sleazy Cheating Scandal!”
The Morning Joe co-hosts decided to talk about the episode a day after Trump inaccurately tweeted that Brzezinski attended a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago “bleeding badly from a face-lift.” (A photo from that evening backs up Scarborough and Brzezinski’s denial of this.) While the Enquirer denies that Trump encouraged Pecker to investigate the MSNBC hosts, Trump himself has pushed the story publicly. Last August, he tweeted, “Some day, when things calm down, I’ll tell the real story of @JoeNBC and his very insecure long-time girlfriend, @morningmika. Two clowns!”
In a statement, Enquirer editor Dylan Howard said: “We have no knowledge of any discussions between the White House and Joe and Mika about our story, and absolutely no involvement in those discussions.”
Note: Gabriel Sherman is an NBC News/MSNBC contributor.