In January of 2018, after the New York Times reported that President Trump had ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump responded in characteristic fashion.
"Fake news, folks," Trump said at the time. "Fake news. A typical New York Times fake story."
The White House disputed the accuracy of another explosive story from the Times, published in May 2017, that said Trump had asked for former FBI director James Comey's "loyalty." Trump, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (then acting as deputy press secretary) said, "would never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty, only loyalty to our country and its great people."
Contrary to the denials, those stories, among several others, were corroborated Thursday with the release of a redacted version of Mueller's report on the results of his investigation.
With regard to the Times' report on Trump ordering Mueller's firing, which was also reported by outlets like CNN, Mueller's report said that the president did ask former White House counsel Don McGahn to do just that.
"After the story broke, the President, through his personal counsel and two aides, sought to have McGahn deny that he had been directed to remove the Special Counsel," the report said. "Each time he was approached, McGahn responded that he would not refute the press accounts because they were accurate in reporting on the President's effort to have the Special Counsel removed."
And as for the 2017 Times story about Trump's request for Comey's "loyalty," the report said that "substantial evidence corroborates Comey's account of the dinner invitation and the request for loyalty."
The divergence between the White House's contemporaneous denials and the conclusions detailed in the Mueller report have opened up a new front in the information war between the press and the administration that has defined Trump's presidency.
Throughout Mueller's investigation, Trump and his allies were steadfast in their dispute of reporting pertaining to the probe, routinely lashing out at the journalists and news organizations behind the stories. Last month, after Attorney General William Barr said in a letter that Mueller did not find evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the president went as far to say that outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post should be stripped of the Pulitzers they won for their reporting on the investigation. But while there were certainly some errors made by outlets in their reporting on these issues, most of the reporting that Trump and his allies have derided was accurate, including the stories that won the Times and the Post the top prize in newspaper journalism.
After the report was released Thursday morning, a number of reporters went on Twitter to memorialize the discrepancies, which places the White House in an awkward position: the administration has been quick to trumpet Mueller's finding that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but doing so implicitly acknowledges that the report undermines the president's credibility.
"As the president now embraces this report and says it exonerates him, it's worth noting that the report confirms a lot of the reporting by NYT, [Washington Post] and others about the president's actions, many of which he or his advisers denied in real time," said the Times' White House correspondent and CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman, one of the co-authors of the 2018 story about Trump ordering Mueller's firing.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
The Times was not the only outlet to have its reporting backed by Mueller's team. A January 2017 story published by the Washington Post said that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had communicated with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, on the same day in December 2016 when the Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for efforts to meddle in the election.
The Mueller report details that Flynn directed K.T. McFarland, who was tapped by Trump to serve as deputy national security adviser, to "kill the story," which was written by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. According to the report, McFarland complied with Flynn's request, calling Ignatius to tell him that there was no discussion of sanctions on the call with Kislyak.
"McFarland made the call as Flynn had requested although she knew she was providing false information, and the Washington Post updated the column to reflect that a 'Trump official' had denied that Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions," the report said.