The New York Times's latest scoop reads, at first, like the product of yet another leaked account of a private conversation involving President Trump. Here's the lead:

President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”

This time, however, the Times did not hear about Trump's remarks from a third party; reporters heard the remarks from Trump himself, in an interview.

That's right. The president who routinely accuses the “failing” New York Times of publishing “fake news” handed a big, exclusive story to the object of his fury — the newspaper that just last week exposed a campaign-year meeting in which Donald Trump Jr. expected to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a woman described to him as a Russian government lawyer.

Why would he do that?

MSNBC's Chris Hayes is onto something here:

Recall that Trump, during the transition period between his election and inauguration, seemed to make an effort to improve his relationship with the Times. He met privately with the paper's publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and also spoke on the record with reporters, whom he attempted to flatter.

“I will say the Times is — it’s a great, great American jewel,” Trump said. “A world jewel. And I hope we can all get along. We’re looking for the same thing, and I hope we can all get along well.”

To Trump, getting along would mean friendly treatment by the Times. That has not happened. Yet he continues to grant interviews to the paper and seems to consider Maggie Haberman, one of the reporters with whom he discussed Sessions on Wednesday, particularly important. CNN's Dylan Byers described Haberman as the “reporter Trump can't quit” in an April article.

Here's an excerpt, featuring an extremely telling quote from former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg:

“She's always going to have a special place with the president,” said Nunberg. “She's one of the most influential political reporters, and it's the New York Times. It may be 'the failing New York Times,' but it's also the crown jewel, and he loves it.”
There may be no reporter Trump respects, and fears, more than Haberman. He may bash and beat up on the Times, and her, but he inevitably returns to her to share his thinking and participate in interviews. He does so because, in addition to having known her for so long, he knows that she matters, that she will not treat him with kid gloves but not be unfair either, that she commands the respect of the political communities in both Washington and New York.

On Twitter Thursday, Haberman offered her own thoughts about Trump's willingness to talk:

All of these factors probably played into Trump's decision. “Engaging” with the media is a kind of sport for him, and he does enjoy it. Power and influence exert a magnetic force on Trump, and the Times certainly possesses those qualities.

Trump loves defying conventional wisdom — including that of his own aides. A businessman with a transactional view of the media, he still thinks he can soften Times coverage by offering access.

Whether Trump aides would agree he should have said what he said to the Times — or even agreed to the interview in the first place — is debatable. But Haberman is right; he knew what he was doing.