New York (AFP) – Three CNN journalists have resigned following the retraction of an article that claimed the US Congress was investigating links between members of Donald Trump’s administration and a Russian investment fund.
The US president seized on the incident to renew his repeated attacks on the cable network as a purveyor of “fake news.”
Thomas Frank, the author of the article, editor Eric Lichtblau and Lex Haris, who headed the newly-created investigative unit that produced the story have all quit.
The article was posted on CNN’s website on Thursday before being pulled on Friday. It was not picked up or mentioned on air by the network.
Trump, who has singled out the channel for criticism since the 2016 election campaign, was quick to react.
“Fake News CNN is looking at big management changes now that they got caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories. Ratings way down!” he tweeted Tuesday morning.
“So they caught Fake News CNN cold, but what about NBC, CBS & ABC? What about the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost? They are all Fake News!” he wrote.
The CNN report had claimed the Senate Intelligence Committee was investigating ties between the Trump administration and an investment fund controlled by Russian bank VEB, which has been subject to sanctions by the United States and Europe since the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia.
Citing an anonymous source, the report said the US Treasury Department was believed to be investigating Anthony Scaramucci, a businessman and member of the Trump transition team, said to have met the director general of the fund on January 16.
Trump’s young administration has been consumed by allegations — under investigation both by Congress and the FBI, and furiously denied by the Republican president — that members of his campaign team colluded with a Russian effort to tip the electoral scales in his favor.
According to CNN’s media correspondent Brian Stelter investigative unit members were told in a meeting Monday that the retraction did not mean the facts of the story were necessarily wrong. Rather, it meant that “the story wasn’t solid enough to publish as-is.”
All three journalists were highly respected and their resignations were said to have come as a surprise to their colleagues. Lichtblau, a New York Times veteran, won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 2006.
The development is a blow for CNN, which announced at the start of the year the creation of a new investigation unit in order to compete with the New York Times and Washington Post, as well as Politico and the Wall Street Journal which have beefed up their investigative teams to cover the new Trump administration.