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MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell claims President Trump co-signed loans with Russian oligarchs — then admits he has no proof

His own network was unable to confirm his story

Michael S. Schwartz/Getty Images

UPDATE: at 4:10 p.m. ET Wednesday: MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell has issued a tweet retracting his claim that President Donald Trump co-signed loans with Russian oligarchs. O'Donnell called his own reporting "an error in judgment" and apologized for not going through his network's "rigorous verification and standards process."

"I shouldn't have reported it and I was wrong to discuss it on the air," he admitted. "I will address the issue on my show tonight.

Trump's lawyers had demanded that O'Donnell and MSNBC's parent company, NBC Universal, retract the story.


The original story continues below

MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell claimed Tuesday that President Donald Trump had co-signed foreign loans with Russian oligarchs, only to admit later that he was unable to prove these sensational accusations.

What's the background?

On Tuesday, Deutsche Bank said in court filings that it had at least some tax returns related to Trump's family but did not specify whose those were. Democrats in Congress have been trying to subpoena the German bank in an attempt to find incriminating information on the president.

It was already known that Trump has had dealings with Deutsche Bank, but the bank has refused to reveal if it has any of Trump's tax returns. This is all the information we know for certain.

What did O'Donnell claim?

On Tuesday night, O'Donnell told fellow MSNBC host Rachel Maddow that a "single source close to Deutsche Bank has told me that Trump — Donald Trump's loan documents there show that he has co-signers. That's how he was able to obtain those loans. And that the co-signers are Russian oligarchs."

"If true, that would explain every kind word Donald Trump has ever said about Russia and Vladimir Putin. If true," he continued on his own show later that night. "If true, that would be a significant factor in Vladimir Putin's publicly stated preference for presidential candidate Donald Trump over presidential candidate Hillary Clinton."

O'Donnell reiterated his claim in a tweet Tuesday night, which stated: "A source close to Deutsche Bank says Trump's tax returns show he pays very little income tax and, more importantly, that his loans have Russian co-signers. If true, that explains every kind word Trump has ever said about Russia and Putin."

O'Donnell himself thought it was worth reiterating that the accusations are unproven

O'Donnell was correct in saying that "if true" this news would be huge. But his evidence was shaky enough that his own, decidedly not pro-Trump network was not willing to get on board with it.

MSNBC producer Michael Del Moro tweeted that Deutsche Bank had declined to comment on this story, and that O'Donnell's information had come "from a single source who has not seen the bank records."

He added, "NBC has not seen those records and has not yet been able to verify the reporting."

At the end of his show on Tuesday night, O'Donnell admitted that the entire story was based on "a single source" and had "not been confirmed by NBC News."

And, before we go tonight, I want to go back to where we began at this hour when we added some elements to the reporting about Deutsche Bank's filing in court today, about the possibility of Deutsche Bank having copies of Donald Trump's tax returns. As I said at the beginning of this hour, and I want to say this carefully: A source close to Deutsche Bank revealed to me — a single source close to Deutsche Bank — that Donald Trump's tax returns show that he pays very little income tax, and more importantly that his loans with Deutsche Bank have Russian co-signers.

Now, I want to stress, that's a single source, this has not been confirmed by NBC News, I have not seen any documentation from Deutsche bank that supports this and verifies this. This is just a single source who has revealed that to me. And that's where that stands at this point.


Lawrence O'Donnell Walks Back Incendiary Trump-Russia Claim youtu.be

Attorney for Trump demands a retraction

In a letter dated Wednesday, attorney Charles J Harder, whose firm represents Trump and the Trump Organization, demanded that O'Donnell "immediately and prominently retract, correct and apologize for the aforementioned false and defamatory statements."

Harder promised "immediate legal proceedings against Mr. O'Donnell and NBCU" if these demands were not met.

One last thing…
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