This Scarborough/Enquirer saga doesn't sound like blackmail

An update to this morning’s drama from Gabriel Sherman, who’s no Trump booster and has no incentive to take sides against Joe Scarborough given that he’s a contributor to MSNBC himself.

This doesn’t sound like blackmail, although much depends on who reached out to whom first and which side brought the Enquirer story into the conversation.

According to three sources familiar with the private conversations, what happened was this: After the inauguration, Morning Joe’s coverage of Trump turned sharply negative. “This presidency is fake and failed,” Brzezinski said on March 6, for example. Around this time, Scarborough and Brzezinski found out the Enquirer was preparing a story about their affair. While Scarborough and Brzezinski’s relationship had been gossiped about in media circles for some time, it was not yet public, and the tabloid was going to report that they had left their spouses to be together.

In mid-April, Scarborough texted with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner about the pending Enquirer story. Kushner told Scarborough that he would need to personally apologize to Trump in exchange for getting Enquirer owner David Pecker to stop the story. (A spokesperson for Kushner declined to comment). Scarborough says he refused, and the Enquirer published the story in print on June 5, headlined “Morning Joe Sleazy Cheating Scandal!”

That reads to me like Scarborough went to Kushner for help with the Enquirer story and Kushner responded by essentially saying, understandably, “Why should the president do you any favors?” If so, that’s not blackmail. That’s refusing to do a solid for a friend turned enemy. Another White House source gave a similar story to the Fox News:

Scarborough called senior adviser Jared Kushner, with whom Scarborough has a friendly relationship, to ask about a National Enquirer article slated to run in early June regarding the relationship between Scarborough and Brzezinski, who have since announced their engagement.

Scarborough asked Kushner if there was anything that could be done about the article, the source said, given Trump’s friendship with David Pecker, the chief executive of The Enquirer’s parent company, American Media. Kushner allegedly told Scarborough that the former Republican congressman needed to talk to the president himself about the issue, to which Scarborough replied that Trump was angry at him. The source said Kushner answered: “Well, then maybe you should apologize.”

It ain’t blackmail if that’s how it went down. (This may be the first time Fox News and Gabriel Sherman are in sync on a Trump story, too.) Two complicating factors, though. One: If Kushner brought up the Enquirer story before Scarborough did, obviously the dynamic changes. Then the request for an apology from Scarborough starts to feel more like an offer of a quid pro quo, which is more like blackmail. That’s what Scarborough claims happened, in fact. In this morning’s op-ed, he says it was White House staffers who “warned” him that the Enquirer story was in the works, a charge he repeated later today on “Morning Joe.” If he first learned of the story through Kushner or some other Trump deputy then the charge of extortion is sturdier.

Two: Even if Scarborough learned about the Enquirer story independently, he may have suspected — not unreasonably, given Trump’s history — that the White House was behind it, a bit of revenge for months of Scar-zinski’s vicious daily attacks. If that’s true then the apology request looks more sinister, a ploy to silence a high-profile critic in the media by feeding dirt to a tabloid as leverage over him. But how would Scarborough prove that Trump put the Enquirer up to it?

Here’s Kellyanne Conway performing the latest thankless task.