Earlier this morning, President Donald Trump launched another attack at The New York Times, branding the publication "a true enemy of the people."
The president's tweet soon merited a response from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who assailed members of the Republican Party for "screeching on calling everything 'socialism'" as they "happily cheer on an authoritarian President and defend the destruction of American democracy."
Ocasio-Cortez's point is a salient one.
Right-wing media outlets, particularly Fox News, have dedicated significant airtime to criticizing Ocasio-Cortez's "socialist" agenda. Their coverage of her is so extensive, in fact, that it prompted CNN to declare that “Fox News has found a new ‘villain’ in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” in an op-ed dated November 25, 2018. (In recent weeks, for example, Fox News personalities Jeanine Pirro and Laura Ingraham have attacked Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal and "socialist" wealth tax proposals.)
By contrast, the Republican Party has been heavily criticized for doing little to curb the president's most irrational impulses and has, for the most part, remained uncomfortably silent as the president attacks the pillars of the Fourth Estate.
The president has a penchant for decrying the media as “fake news,” a mantra which many believe galvanized a gunman who killed several people at the headquarters of Maryland’s Capital Gazette while already embroiled in a lawsuit against the paper. More recently, many have suggested that the president’s rhetoric inspired a man to send a string of mail bombs to prominent Democrats and to the headquarters of CNN.
Nor was Ocasio-Cortez the only one to criticize the president for his rhetoric. Prominent media figures weighed in, saying there is plenty of evidence to suggest that his attacks on the media provoke attacks against journalists.
The president's latest remarks against the New York Times come after the paper reported that the president asked his then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker whether he could put ally Geoffrey Berman in charge of the Southern District of New York’s case against former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.
According to Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, if the report is accurate, then the president is guilty of showing “corrupt intent” and potential obstruction of justice. Whitaker himself could also be in trouble, he said.
“There’s two potential crimes here for Matt Whitaker,” Napolitano said. “One is actual perjury, lying to the Congress. The other is misleading. Remember, you can be truthful but still misleading.”
But things look especially bad for the president: “That is an effort to use the levers of power of the government for a corrupt purpose to deflect an investigation into himself or his allies,” Napolitano said.
Asked by Fox News anchor Shepard Smith if the news amounted to obstruction of justice, Napolitano had this to say:
“Yes. Well, attempted obstruction. It would only be obstruction if it succeeded. If you tried to interfere with a criminal prosecution that may knock at your own door by putting your ally in there that is clearly an attempt to obstruct justice.”
Trump has denied that he ever had a conversation with Whitaker about intervening in the federal investigation into hush money payments Cohen made to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.
“No, I didn’t,” Trump told reporters at the White House earlier yesterday. “There’s a lot of fake news out there.”
But the report nonetheless amplified concerns that the president obstructed justice and opened Whitaker up to further criticism.
On February 8, speaking during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Whitaker denied he ever had any conversations about reassigning or firing anyone with the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office.
“At no time has the W.H. asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel investigation or any other investigation,” he said at the time.
The news prompted Representative Val Demings (D-FL), who asked Whitaker under oath if he’d spoken to the president about the Southern District of New York’s case, to call for Whitaker to “clarify his testimony.”
The Justice Department, meanwhile, issued a statement that did not directly address whether Whitaker and Trump had ever discussed installing Geoffrey Berman on the New York investigation but noted that Whitaker “stands by his testimony."