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Lowell Native Reporter Shares Travails of Covering President Trump

January 10, 2019
Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire speaks at UMass Lowell on Wednesday. PHOTO/ Tory Wesnofske for UMass Lowell Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LOWELL -- It took 10 and a half hours and a 4,000-mile airplane ride before Associated Press reporter and Lowell-native Jonathan Lemire learned the full impact of the questions he asked President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The thing about Airforce One is no wifi, at least for the press,” Lemire said during a talk Wednesday morning at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

In one of the school’s auditoriums, Lemire discussed his experience questioning the presidents about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election during a joint press conference in Helsinki last summer.

To Trump he asked who do you believe -- Putin, who has denied inteference or U.S. intelligence agencies that have concluded Russia did intefere.

He also asked Trump to tell Putin, “would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?”

Trump’s answer, which Lemire characterized as “rambling,” touched on Hillary Clinton’s emails and Putin’s offer to have Russian investigators help.

“I have President Putin,” Trump said during the press conference. “He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Lemire then asked Putin about Crimea and if he had any compromising information on Trump or his family.

“First of all he kind of chuckled,” Lemire said. “I must say it’s an unnerving feeling when Vladamir Putin chuckles.”

Putin answered the question of Crimea and then turned to the second part of the question.

“He never says no and his answer was more based on it would be logistically hard rather than we don’t do this,” Lemire said. “But that’s as close as we may get to knowing so far as to what may or may not exist.”

Lemire left the press conference and boarded Airforce One, where spotty internet access meant he didn’t know about the reaction in the United States to the presidents’ answers until hours later.

“It was only 10 and a half hours later when we landed back in Andrews Air Force Base when my phone comes on and with signal that I realized things had changed,” he said. “That, yes, I picked up 30,000 Twitter followers and these articles were written about me.”

Lemire said he received congratulatory emails from colleagues and notes from regular people thanking him for asking the questions. He also received plenty of hate mail.

Lemire believes Trump’s response that day may be one of only a handful of incidents a typically scandal-resistant president won’t be able to shake off.

Lemire now lives in New York City, but he spent his childhood in Lowell. He attended St. Jeanne d’Arc School for grade school and later Central Catholic High School in Lawrence.

Student at Columbia

As a student at Columbia University, he wrote sports and news articles. When he graduated in May 2001, he said he received one internship offer: the New York Daily News.

He was still interning for the paper in September 2001 when planes hit the World Trade Center, throwing his work schedule into overdrive.

“I proceeded more or less to work around the clock for four months,” he said.

The experience was a “proving ground” and he was hired full time for the New York Daily News, where he worked for about a decade before moving to the Associated Press.

He covered the 2013 New York City mayoral race, perhaps most remembered for the sexting scandal involving unsuccessful declared Democratic candidate Anthony Weiner.

“At the time in 2013, I said to myself, ‘I’ll never cover a campaign crazier than this,’ ” he said.

A few years later he was assigned to cover Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Lemire said as a longtime reporter in New York City, this was not the first time he crossed paths with Trump.

He recalled a time early in his career when Trump tried to set him up with a fellow reporter, because they both had red hair. Lemire said he also saw Trump in the early 2000s in a movie theater with a date -- possibly Melania Trump. The couple snuck in their own snacks, he said.

Lemire is now a White House reporter for the Associated Press and a political analyst from MSNBC and NBC.

The lecture at UMass Lowell was hosted by the UMass Lowell Learning in Retirement Association.

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins

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