Flashback: MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell Walks Back Trump’s NBC Paycheck Claim After Lawsuit Threat

HOLLYWOOD - FEBRUARY 3: (US TABS AND HOLLYWOOD REPORTER OUT) (L-R) Writer Lawrence O'Donnell and critic Richard Schickel attend the Q & A at Universal's Screening of "Inside Deep Throat" at the ArcLight Theater on February 3, 2005 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images)
Stephen Shugerman/Getty

MSNBC The Last Word host Lawrence O’Donnell once walked back comments in which he questioned President Donald Trump’s salary for NBC’s smash reality television show The Apprentice after the then-businessman threatened to sue to the left-wing broadcaster.

In a July 2015 segment, O’Donnell claimed President Trump lied about his pay from NBC and referred to him as a “hired hand” that was one of the network’s lowest-paid stars.

“Donald Trump didn’t even make $1 million for his first year,” O’Donnell began. “NBC, the last time Trump said this is how much money, NBC was forced to release a statement saying he is lying.  When he said that he was making $130 million for two years of an NBC show which no one has made and especially in that nonsense category that he is in.”

Upon hearing O’Donnell’s trash talk, President Trump phoned into MSNBC’s Morning Joe to dispute the claims about his salary and challenged The Last Word host to bet a year’s worth of his salary to back up his estimates. He also threatened to sue O’Donnell for his remarks.

That evening, O’Donnell walked back his comments, admitting he spoke on a matter regarding President Trump he possessed little knowledge of.

“I got myself hung up on the least important thing about Donald Trump, the future president, how much money he has earned in TV,” O’Donnell told viewers. “Donald is now bothered by my disbelief that I’ve expressed about how much money NBC paid him as the star of The Apprentice series. And today Donald came up with a better idea than threatening to sue me this time. He challenged me to bet 100 percent of my salary that I am wrong about his NBC income. Now where I come from, no one settled their disagreements with bets because none of us had any money to bet.”

The Last Word host then confessed he made “semi-educated guesses” about how much NBC paid President Trump and claimed, despite dedicating airtime to matter, that he did not “really care very much” about the figure.

“I offered my guesses about it last night on this program and tried to have some fun with it. James Fallows wisely tweeted that Donald’s TV income does not matter and I immediately agreed with him on Twitter,” he added. “I stupidly jumped into talking about it again on Morning Joe today where I, in effect, hijacked a few minutes of the show to talk about this thing that I know doesn’t matter.”

O’Donnell is once again in hot water with President Trump after retracting a dubious report about the president’s loan history.

His public pull-back unfolded quickly in the opening minute of The Last Word, where 24 hours earlier the cable news host said that a source had told him that Deutsche Bank documents showed that Russian oligarchs had co-signed a loan application for Trump.

O’Donnell reported the story, based on a single source he did not identify, even as he couched it with the qualifier “if true” and admitted it had not been verified by NBC News.

President Trump’s lawyer, Charles Harder, had written to NBC Wednesday afternoon, saying the story was false and defamatory and threatening legal action if it was not disowned. Harder said the story could have been disproven with an internet search.

O’Donnell quickly tweeted he made an “error in judgment” reporting the story.

“We don’t know whether the information is inaccurate,” he said later on the air. “But the fact is we do know it wasn’t ready for broadcast and for that I apologize.”

NBC News has not said whether or not O’Donnell faces disciplinary action.

When he initially reported on the supposed co-signing of the loans on Tuesday, O’Donnell said “that would explain, it seems to me, every kind word that Donald Trump has ever said about Russia and Vladimir Putin, if true, and I stress the ‘if true’ part of this.”

The episode exhibited a stunning lack of rigor for a news organization. In a letter to Susan Weiner, NBC Universal’s general counsel, and Daniel Kummer, the company’s senior vice president for litigation, Harder called O’Donnell’s statements “false and defamatory, and extremely damaging.”

Harder said that President Trump was the only guarantor of the loans in question.


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