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Mueller Report: How Truthful Has The Trump Administration Been?


President Trump loves to complain about fake news. Well, if anything is fake, it may be some of what we have heard from his White House. That's part of what we're learning from special counsel Robert Mueller's report. It details times when administration officials sought to mislead reporters and the public and moments when others were pressured to do so. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us this morning from New York City.

Hi, David.


GREENE: So what does this report suggest about how truthful this administration has been?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's paid even casual attention to the Trump White House that truth is not a core value from that first day when Sean Spicer came out and essentially lied knowingly about the crowds on the mall. But nonetheless, when you look at the report, there are a number of instances where it seems as though lying and trying to deceive folks was a reflexive action in times of crisis.

You had times where the - Sean Spicer, where the deputy - former deputy national security adviser K. T. McFarland and the president's current spokeswoman - then a press aide - Sarah Huckabee Sanders all knowingly misled reporters and the press and with intent to mislead the public. And there were other efforts to force other senior officials to mislead reporters and thereby the public. And those instances - those officials refused to do it.

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, just looking at this report - all these pages - I mean, there are times when the president's advisers gave their accounts to the special counsel. I mean, they had to tell the truth. It would be a crime to lie, so they were pressured to tell the truth. And their statements to Mueller were very different from what we heard from them in public.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, take Sarah Sanders. Key moment - spring 2017, the president has fired James Comey as head of the FBI. As he later tells Lester Holt, the president was induced to do so by the investigation involving Russia. But the White House was intent on showing this as a Justice Department decision. And Sarah Sanders - and we'll hear this in the clip ahead - on several moments gone out of her way to indicate that she had gotten great support from FBI agents for the president's - for what was not being depicted. But for the president's decision to fire Comey.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I mean, really? Like...


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I mean, really? So are we talking...

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Between, like, email, text messages, absolutely.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sixty, 70. I mean, like...

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm going to - look, we're not going to get into a numbers game. I mean, I have heard from a large number of individuals that work at the FBI that said that they're very happy with the president's decision.

FOLKENFLIK: You know, Sarah Sanders made basically the same statement in an interview with a reporter. She did a number of times. And yet she later acknowledged to the special prosecutor's team that there was no basis for that claim.

GREENE: What are we learning from the Mueller report about press coverage of the president, which, you know, President Trump complains about a lot?

FOLKENFLIK: I think we're learning that major scoops by major news organizations - look at the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and others - really hold up. Most of the stories that we learn - most of the huge revelations we already knew; the plea from the president to Comey not to investigate former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the tensions between the president and his then-attorney general Jeff Sessions or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Trump Tower meeting summer of 2016 and the president's son - all of that really held up. All of that really served the public very well. And the president and his team denounced that as fake news.

GREENE: I mean, is there anything for critics of the media to point to? - any scoops that the Mueller report, you know, has cast doubt on?

FOLKENFLIK: Yes, there are several that really were cast out on by the report - perhaps most notably the idea the president's former personal attorney Michael Cohen went to Prague to meet with Russians to try to explore some sort of collusion. That was knocked down and a few others as well. But I think most of the criticism really comes down to the tenor of kind of punditry speculation that you saw online on social media and particularly on cable news rather than, you know, a small handful of big stories that had to be pulled back.

GREENE: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik in New York.

Thanks a lot, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.