The plot thickens. A less than presidential tweet about a bloody "face-lift" has now turned into a full-blown "blackmail" scandal. After President Trump took to Twitter Thursday to slam Morning Joe hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, the duo came out swinging on Friday, declaring Trump mentally unfit and alleging that people from his administration effectively tried to blackmail them into more positive coverage of the president via an unflattering National Enquirer article. Trump, the White House, and the tabloid have now responded to the accusation.
On Friday morning, the MSNBC hosts referenced a potential blackmail attempt by the Trump administration in an article for The Washington Post and a follow-up on-air discussion. Here's what Scarborough said on MSNBC Friday morning (video below):
Scarborough: I think we have to talk about it now because it explains the relationship and his really strange obsession with this show, and in particular, his really disturbing obsession with Mika.
We got a call that, "Hey, the National Enquirer is going to run a negative story against you guys, and Donald, the President is friends with the guy who runs the National Enquirer." And they said, "If you call the president up and apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike this story."
I will just say I had three people at the very top of the administration calling me. The response was like, "Are you kidding me? I don’t know what they have. Run a story? I’m not going to do it." The calls kept coming and kept coming, and they were like, "Call, you need to call, please call, come on Joe, please just pick up the phone and call him."
Asked by Red State's Jay Caruso about the accusation, Scarborough said, "NBC execs knew in real time about the calls and who made them to me. That’s why Mark Kornblau wrote about contemporaneous texts. I showed him and executives as they were coming in to keep them advised."
The Kornblau reference was to this tweet:
So Scarborough is claiming to have hard evidence that his accusation is true. But President Trump says the National Enquirer incident happened the other way around.
"Watched low rated @Morning_Joe for first time in long time. FAKE NEWS. He called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no! Bad show," Trump said in a tweet Friday morning.
Scarborough quickly responded to Trump's tweet, writing, "Yet another lie. I have texts from your top aides and phone records. Also, those records show I haven't spoken with you in many months."
Caruso said that Scarborough told him that he had not spoken with Trump since after his congressional address. "The last time I talked with President Trump was after his address to Congress," said Scarborough. "I spent five minutes in the Oval Office with him, and three other people were in the room with us. There was never a moment I was alone with him."
Scarborough said the calls about the National Enquirer story started in late April and early May, and underscored that he "never" called Trump about it. "I never called the President about this,” Scarborough told Caruso. "I challenge him to reveal any phone records showing that I called him. He can’t because I didn’t."
The White House has also responded to the accusation, Sean Spicer told reporters that he is is "not aware" of any White House officials attempting to pressure Scarborough on Trump's behalf.
The National Enquirer also denies any knowledge of a "blackmail" situation and refutes Brzezinski's allegations that they were "threatening" her family and friends. CNN reports:
The editor in charge of the Enquirer, 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." ...
[Howard] said "we accurately reported" the story, but "at no time did we threaten either Joe or Mika or their children in connection with our reporting on the story."
The National Enquirer, "blackmail," bloody face-lifts, and charges of "lies" and "fake news." What more could the news cycle ask for? One question via Ben Shapiro: If they really believed the Trump administration was trying to blackmail them into positive coverage, why in the world didn't "Morning Joe" and NBC executives blow the whistle on this earlier?