“It’s a shame what they’ve done to the name CNN, that I can tell you,” Mr Trump told supporters at the $35,00-a-plate fundraiser, according to audio obtained by The Intercept. “But as far as I’m concerned, I love it.”
He added: “If anybody’s a lawyer in the house and thinks I have a good lawsuit — I feel like we do. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
CNN had recently retracted an article alleging ties between a Russian investment fund and Trump administration officials. The piece, which was distributed on CNN’s website and social media channels, was removed shortly after publication. It was later replaced by an editor’s note saying that it "did not meet CNN's editorial standards and has been retracted”.
The network accepted the resignation of three seasoned journalists connected to the piece, and apologised to one Trump associate who had been named. The associate, former transition team member Anthony Scaramucci, tweeted that CNN “did the right thing”.
“Apology accepted," he tweeted. "Everyone makes mistakes. Moving on."
The Trump administration, however, continued to use the piece as an example of media bias around the Russia investigation, and of the proliferation of “fake news” in general.
“Wow, CNN had to retract big story on ‘Russia,’ with 3 employees forced to resign,” Mr Trump tweeted the day after the resignations. “What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!”
Responding to a question about the story on Tuesday, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders bemoaned the “the constant barrage of fake news directed at this President”.
“I think that we have gone to a place where if the media can’t be trusted to report the news, then that’s a dangerous place for America,” she continued. “And I think if that is the place that certain outlets are going – particularly for the purpose of spiking ratings – and if that’s coming directly from the top, I think that’s even more scary and certainly more disgraceful.”
The press secretary also referenced an unverified video of a CNN employee purportedly calling the network's Russia coverage "bull****,” and encouraged those at the press conference to watch it. The employee in the video is a CNN health editor who is not involved in the network’s Russia coverage.
Mr Trump, in his Wednesday-night tirade, also referenced covert recordings of CNN employees. The President drew attention to commentator Van Jones, who was recently recorded calling allegations of Russian collusion a “nothingburger”.
Mr Jones later said he intended the comments as a suggestion to Democrats to “deal with bread and butter issues,” instead of focusing on Russia.
Still, Mr Trump used the tape to further his point that media are “really dishonest people”.
“Van Jones – you see this man?” Trump asked the audience. “These are really dishonest people. Should I sue them? I mean, they’re phonies.”
The President has previously referred to the news media as the “enemy of the American people,” and called the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
On the campaign trail, Mr Trump promised to “open up our libel laws” to make it easier to sue journalists.
“I'm going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” he said.
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