One day after hiring a new communications director, President Trump stepped up his war on the media by posting a bizarre message on Twitter where he accused the New York Times of foiling a planned attack to kill the top leader of ISIS.
"The Failing New York Times foiled U.S. attempt to kill the single most wanted terrorist,Al-Baghdadi," the president wrote just before 7 a.m. "Their sick agenda over National Security."
On Friday, the newspaper reported that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis believes Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS who some thought might have been killed during a Russian military strike last month, was still alive.
"I think Baghdadi is alive," Mr. Mattis told reporters in off-camera remarks at the Pentagon on Friday. "I'll believe otherwise when we know we have killed him. We are going after him."
Trump appears to be referring to comments made by U.S. Gen. Tony Thomas on Friday at the Aspen Security Forum, where he told Fox News correspondent Catherine Herridge that special operations team was close to Al-Baghdadi in 2015 but claims they lost him after a lead was leaked to the media.
"That was a very good lead. Unfortunately, it was leaked in a prominent national newspaper about a week later and that lead went dead," Thomas said. A version of the Fox News story aired on Fox & Friends a little more than 20 minutes before President Trump sent out the tweet.
Thomas' comments appeared to be referencing a June 2015 New York Times story which included information how al-Baghdadi operated and attempted to avoid being tracked by coalition forces.
The Times story cited information provided by U.S. officials and quoted several top ranking officials, including Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
"The Pentagon raised no objections with the Times before publishing the story in 2015 and no senior American official ever complained publicly about it until now," Times reporter Peter Baker wrote in his story about the president's tweets Saturday morning. A Times spokesperson added that the newspaper has asked the White House to clarify the president's tweet.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"These attacks on newspapers and networks are even more threatening to our democracy than the Trump/Russia scandal," Richard Painter, a chief White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, wrote on Twitter Saturday Morning. "This must stop."
The Times wasn't Trump's only target Saturday morning. The president also sent out a tweet about a Washington Post report that Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak told his superiors he discussed campaign-related matters with current attorney general Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race.
Trump's tweet about the Washington Post's report is notable because the president doesn't deny what the newspaper actually reported. He also referred to former FBI Director James Comey's decision to leak a memo about a meeting with the president as "illegal," though there is no evidence any classified material was released to the press.
"It absolutely is legal for Comey to share his own private reflections that do not consist of closely held national security secrets with the press, whether by passing on the information himself or through a friend," said Heidi Kitrosser, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, told Politifact.
Trump also asserted the "complete power to pardon" anyone, including himself, in response to ongoing investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The attacks come a day after Trump hired Anthony Scaramucci as his new communications director and promoted Sarah Huckabee Sanders to press secretary, leading Sean Spicer to resign. After accepting the job, Scaramucci deleted several tweets critical of Trump, which the president had an explanation for.