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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Interview with Kellyanne Conway; Discussion of School Shootings. Aired 11a-12n ET
Aired May 20, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:09] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. And it's time for RELIABLE SOURCES. This is our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works, how the news gets made.
Coming up, an exclusive with "The Washington Post's" Josh Dawsey. He'll join me to discuss his brand new reporting. The headline here, Trump personally pushing the postmaster general to double rates on Amazon. The president trying to punish Jeff Bezos? We'll get into that.
Plus, an anniversary that received a lot of news coverage. The one- year mark for the Robert Mueller investigation. That means it's been almost one year of Fox's attack against him. We're going to look very back to the beginning of what Sean Hannity was saying on day one as we look at what year two might bring.
Meanwhile, in Santa Fe, Texas, a city in mourning, a country joining a city in mourning. So, "Columbine" author Dave Cullen will join me to discuss coverage of these massacres and how coverage needs to change.
But, first today, a question for you. This is, of course, all in the eye of beholder. Does President Trump seem confident to you? Or down right desperate?
This morning, you see a half dozen more tweets from the president full of conspiracy theories and resentment and questions about ongoing investigations.
Here's one example. You can look up all the tweets on his page. But he says, at what pointed does this soon to be $20 million witch hunt composed of 13 angry and heavily conflicted Democrat asks and two people who worked for Obama for eight years stop. At what point does it stop?
He says they have found no collusion with Russia, no obstruction.
He misspelled collusion. And then complained about Hillary Clinton and on and on he went.
But I want to use these tweets as a starting point for a broader conversation with Kellyanne Conway. She's counselor to President Trump and she's joining me now.
Kellyanne, great to see you. Thank you for being here. KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Hi, Brian.
STELTER: I want to start on a positive note. Did you like the royal wedding?
CONWAY: Oh, absolutely. Who doesn't love a royal wedding? I thought it was fun. I admit I watched the clips afterwards. I didn't get up at 4:00 a.m.
STELTER: That's OK. It was wonderful on replay also.
CONWAY: It's fantastic. And by the way, two of my children are named George and Charlotte, but we had them first.
STELTER: Oh, you had them first, there you go.
Look, I would love to talk about the royal wedding all day. But I want to ask about the tweets. What is the source for the claim they have found no collusion with Russia? No obstruction? Has he been given a report by Mueller?
CONWAY: I won't tell you that, but I will tell you that over a year into this that there is no evidence of collusion. The president has called this investigation a witch hunt many times.
And yet he and his allies have been cooperative. They turned over thousands of pages of documents. They sat for dozens and dozens of interviews.
I think it's important to note that the public has a right to know, Brian, transparently and fully what is going on here, what are we really looking at? If now, we're looking at the stories that people in the Trump campaign early on who I never even met were meeting with people or were being surveilled by people. That's got zero to do with the winning part of the campaign. It just does.
I have never -- Carter Page was on your network.
CONWAY: -- with your colleague, this is important.
CONWAY: -- that he's never met me. I've never -- I don't recall ever meeting Carter Page or George Papadopoulos.
The point I'm making is, when you talk about the Trump campaign, you've got to break it up. And the winning part was focused very much on the Macomb County, Michigan, and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, not Moscow.
STELTER: I think it's helpful to think about the Russian attack as a shadow campaign, a shadow campaign that's being investigated. But when the president says they found no evidence of collusion, it makes me wonder who is telling him that, who is letting him inside the Mueller investigation? Because the public has not been told that yet.
CONWAY: Here's what the president knows. Brian, you know if there was evidence of collusion, it would have leaked by now. A lot has leaked out.
STELTER: I do not know that. The Mueller team has not been leaking. I wish they would.
CONWAY: I didn't say they did. But there would be many people -- I didn't say that, but as you know, there are people who have access to different information. Obviously, there are different investigations going on.
CONWAY: The House has had one. The Senate has had one. Mueller has one certainly. But --
STELTER: But is he getting this stuff? He tweeted that, quote, the witch hunt has given up on Russia and is looking at the rest of the world. He's citing this remarkable new "New York Times" story.
CONWAY: Maybe he's watching -- maybe he's watching your network where you have sort of shown the screaming graphics about Russia collusion and replaced them with one person's lawyer who has been on your network for 160 times in a short amount of time.
STELTER: But as your colleague Sarah Sanders has said, you can walk and chew gum at the same time. There's an active investigation into Russia's attack on our country. It's a good thing that Mueller is looking at other possible foreign influence. Who is telling the president that --
CONWAY: Brian, respectfully, if you can walk and chew gum and whistle at the same time, then start covering this man's accomplishments. We have a new CIA director, most qualified person to --
STELTER: See, I knew you'd say that. I respect that.
CONWAY: No, you don't want to tell America the truth of his accomplishment.
STELTER: Every American knows about the accomplishment.
CONWAY: No, they don't know if they watch CNN.
[11:05:00] They don't know the unemployment rate is under 4 percent. They don't know growth is close to 4 percent.
STELTER: They do. They do. They do. CONWAY: They don't know that we are renegotiating trade deals with China, with Mexico, with everyone across the globe. They don't know -- no, they don't know that the president was working on prison reform with CNN's Van Jones.
STELTER: My email is bstelter@gmail. If you are watching this program, and you don't know about those accomplishments, I want you to e-mail me.
Kellyanne, every viewer in America knows about those accomplishments. But they also know --
CONWAY: They won't know if they watch CNN.
STELTER: They are watching CNN right now and they all know about the accomplishments.
CONWAY: Because I said so.
STELTER: When you said the president call this is a witch hunt, he's describing a federal investigation into an attack on our country. Do you recognize the harm that's being done when the president degrades the FBI that way?
CONWAY: He's not degrading the FBI. He's made very clear.
STELTER: Calling it a witch hunt degrades the FBI.
CONWAY: Hold on. No, it doesn't. Absolutely does not and here's why. This president who went to Quantico with the new director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, a couple months ago addressed them. He and other people speak on his behalf, like me, Brian, consistently say what I'm going to say now, which is the tens of thousands of men and women in the rank and file FBI who do their jobs respectively and diligently every day is not who the president is talking about.
He's talking about specific actors whose names we know now. Jim Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Ohr and his wife, Strzok and Page sexting, I mean, texting each other, about their animus towards President Trump, all the while screwing up the investigation into Hillary Clinton. The president says, where are her 33,000 e-mails if you're going to talk about? Why was she allowed to give an interview --
STELTER: It's his government. It's his government. If he wants his answers, he can get answers.
CONWAY: Excuse me. If you want to talk about the 2016 election, let's talk about it.
STELTER: I don't. I asked about Russia's attack and who is telling the president that the Russia thing is over and there's no collusion. CONWAY: So, Brian, let me ask you a question. Let me ask you a
question because you keep saying Russia's attack, Russia's attack on democracy. What evidence do you or anybody at CNN have that any of that interference, any of that alleged interference played into the election results?
You're trying to conflate it to make America think that somehow Donald Trump didn't win this election fairly and squarely and you know he did. He won states the Hillary Clinton ignored, had nothing to do with Russia.
STELTER: There's a hundred different theories resulted in President Trump's victory, a hundred different things. One of those things was Russia's attack.
CONWAY: You're wrong. Oh, so you're drawing a nexus? Are you telling the world right now that there's a nexus is between that and the result? Because most people are not willing to say that. Is that what you're saying?
STELTER: Sure, that's one of a hundred factors. There are a hundred factors. You were responsible for some of those factors. Clinton's mistakes is some of the factors.
CONWAY: Talk about it on CNN every day.
STELTER: Russia, there were a lot of factors. But let's -- you know --
CONWAY: No, no, I'm not going to let you get away with saying that Russia had anything to do with this election result. What's your proof of that? What is it?
STELTER: OK, the WikiLeaks, the use of WikiLeaks --
CONWAY: Where is it?
STELTER: -- the abuse of the WikiLeaks documents, the stolen e-mails, all of that.
CONWAY: Whoa, whoa, Brian, you're trying to break news here and it's not working. I'm sorry, did you just say something that a lot of people on your side of the aisle are not willing to say?
STELTER: I'm not on the side of an aisle. That's an offensive remark.
CONWAY: Well, tell America. Did you vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? How did your wife vote? Tell America. STELTER: I did not vote for president. I left that spot blank on the ballot that day. It's not appropriate for you to go around asking people who they voted for.
CONWAY: No, it's all appropriate to ask me things but not other people. I think America should know.
STELTER: We asked you to come on the program because you're a representative of the president. Yes, I think that's the point of the interview. Can I ask you about leaking?
CONWAY: And the president thinks that if there's no nexus between any Russian interference and the outcome of the elections, and a lot of folks think that now, which is why they are moving on to someone's lawyer being on your network 160 plus times in a short amount of time. You don't have those screaming graphics anymore of Russian collusion.
Someone on a different network last night ran all these outtakes from people on your network and others where people, Adam Schiff was promising, you know, Russia conclusion. People are promising, we're going to have evidence of this. You confused America and wasted time talking about that instead of things that really matter to America like a great prosperous economy, national security, renegotiated trade deals.
These things matter to people, Brian, and you know it. Look, if you think your job --
STELTER: I agree they matter.
CONWAY: -- is to get the president and not get a story, you ought to just own it, just say it, because I know your viewers expect that now. Look at their comments all the time. Don't have Trump people on. They expect you to be reflexively, invectively anti-Trump. It's problematic.
STELTER: I'm glad you're here. The goal is not to get the president.
CONWAY: I'm happy to be here.
STELTER: The goal is to get the truth. There's a lot of people lying and trying to obscure the truth.
CONWAY: But you're stating as truth now something that people aren't saying, serious people are not saying.
STELTER: No, I'm saying there hasn't been a report yet. So I don't know where the president is getting this claim that they found no collusion.
Can I ask about one other thing tweeted?
STELTER: Five days ago the president tweeted there was a witch hunt.
CONWAY: She blames sexism. I mean, Hillary Clinton blames everything. You know, maybe --
STELTER: I'm trying to find out where the actual president is getting information, not the women that tried to be president.
Five days ago, the president tweeted that the probe was costing $10 million. Today, he said almost $20 million. Again, where is he getting this information from?
[11:10:00] CONWAY: I don't know but people know it's a taxpayer- funded enterprise and that's why they have a right to know. Look, I think that Judge T.S. Ellis a couple of weeks back --
STELTER: Right, but he said $10 million and then he said close to $20 million.
CONWAY: But put it perfectly, Judge T.S. Ellis told the Manafort -- told the folks in the Manafort case that you can't use this Manafort investigation to go and try to embarrass the president, like you have to have something else. I think everybody should pull up and see what a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia has to say because --
STELTER: That's the beauty of the media, right? Everybody heard about that. That was big news on that day.
CONWAY: Brian, I think it's really great that the president doesn't allow any of this to distract from being one of the most successful -- the most successful president in his first 16 months anywhere. I was with him at that Republican Senate --
STELTER: All right. That's a good pivot. I respect the pivot. I don't know what he's working on because all he's doing is tweeting about his resentments.
CONWAY: I know what he's working on. I just hung up with him 30 seconds ago before I came on your show. I know what he's working on.
STELTER: And what was his message for you?
CONWAY: Many things.
CONWAY: We were talking about very specific issue we're going to work on later today as a group.
STELTER: What's that?
CONWAY: He's the president of the United States. You think that things look, if it's so easy to get corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and a promise of 20,000 Apple (ph) jobs here, it would have been done by the last administration. If it's so easy to do prison reform --
STELTER: I'm glad the economy became Trump's economy. And it's still doing really well, I'm thankful. But I want to ask you about leaks because that's something --
CONWAY: You should be, because it's helping a lot of Americans.
STELTER: Because that's something else the president tweeted. He tweeted that people that are leaking in the White House are traitors and cowards --
CONWAY: And cowards.
STELTER: Now, putting aside the shocking language, using a term that has legal consequence traitors. Can you tell me staffers have been fired this week for leaking?
CONWAY: I can't reveal that, but I will tell you that the president thinks a lot of stuff is made up and embellished. He knows that many of us get a text or an e-mail or phone call.
Hey, I heard you think the moon is made of cheese. I have two sources. And someone will say, I don't have a problem with the moon and don't think it's made of cheese. And somebody else will say we have three source who is think you don't like the moon and it may be made of cheese.
He understands people make up things and he also knows that the leaks that you're talking about from ten days ago were meant to hurt the people who were involved. So, people like to settle personal scores by talking to the press, et cetera. But he also knows that those of us who have top secret security clearance, those of us who are privy to information that never gets leaked, never gets even discussed frankly, he understands the way the game is played.
And I'll tell you one thing, people --
STELTER: But leaking is a symptom. It's a symptom of a problem, a deeper problem at the White House, right? Companies don't leak.
CONWAY: If there were leak, you could change your chyrons. It could say, breaking news, which would actually be true for once. It would be breaking and it would be news as opposed to --
STELTER: Why the constant attacks?
CONWAY: Hold on, hold on. And you would have the fruits of the leak. How could you don't have any fruits of leaks today? How come you're not showing me the confidential memo someone gave you over the transom? How come you're not talking about a leak --
STELTER: Are you really arguing that there's not that many leaks out of the White House?
CONWAY: Yes, I would argue that. And I would tell you that -- I would tell you that they don't come from the president's comms shop of which I'm particularly not a member. But I tell you, there are hundreds and hundreds of people who work on that complex who --
CONWWAY: -- folks don't know but they have access to a lot of information. The president knows that. He's the president of United States. He's done things that nobody would have imagined in the first 16 months of a presidency. But people do appreciate it. If you want a --
STELTER: Including tearing down our American media and other institutions in ways that are going to --
CONWAY: Oh, don't make this about your again. Oh, poor media. Oh, poor you guys institution.
STELTER: I'm not saying poor media.
CONWAY: You had a low approval ratings before he became president.
STELTER: We should recognize the flaws of your boss as well as his achievements.
Can I ask you about the leak investigation, though? You can't say if staffers have been fired, but it sounds like there's an active investigation. Is that right?
CONWAY: So I believe, yes, there is. And it does -- not just in the president's comms department but it's also been overblown by the media, who apparently can't get fruits of leaks just to talk about the process of leaks.
STELTER: Is the leaking exacerbated by not having a White House communications director? It's been a couple months to that open job.
CONWAY: A lot of the leaks don't come from the president's comms department. The president knows that because he sees who is in different meetings and then the information --
STELTER: Is the president going to hire a new communications director?
CONWAY: The president is a great communications director and he's got wonderful people supporting him. Look, I think the answer to your question --
STELTER: So, he's not replacing --
CONWAY: The answer to your question is very simple and I think you more than anybody will appreciate this, Brian. It's 2018.
There's so many ways to communicate, to send and receive information with the public. The president does that through his considerable social media platform. Hundreds of millions of people I suppose see it there or see it on TV shows like this once he tweets. And so, that number one.
Number two, you're dealing with the president himself who is not a politician at all, never even -- probably never even spent many nights in Washington before he became president. This is a man who is very social media savvy. He's very media centric.
And we're trying to build a structure. I'm just trying to help out the president's comms department temporarily. We're trying to build a structure that accommodates the realities of President Trump media savvy and 2018 where you just have so many more different platforms with which to communicate.
[11:15:03] So, I think fitting us into a structure that helped or I think benefitted presidents right, left and center in the past is just not a realistic view of 2018.
STELTER: The president has not held a press conference at the White House for 400 days. Why is that?
CONWAY: The president talks to people all the time. I saw --
STELTER: But not a solo press conference.
CONWAY: Well, he has, let me read this to you. According to Martha Kumar, the director of the White House transition --
STELTER: My former professor, yes.
CONWAY: That's right. President Trump did 170 short question and answer sessions through April 29, compared to 55 for President Obama.
STELTER: Yes, lots of those short.
STELTER: But those are not press conferences. Reporters have to shout questions, then the aides take them out of the room. It's not a press conference. CONWAY: No, well, press conferences are also people reading prepared statements and then perhaps unknowing which questions are going to be asked, maybe some that aren't going to be asked. But this president makes himself available on the South Lawn.
STELTER: He seems to be hiding from pressers and from interviewers. He's not even going on Fox very often anymore. Why isn't he willing to give interviews?
CONWAY: This president -- of all the words I us would use to describe President Donald J. Trump, in hiding would not be among them. You may not like that he's cut out the middle man, that he tweets.
STELTER: Why isn't he going on Fox, CNN, why isn't he going on those channels? He called in to "Fox and Friends" like a month ago.
CONWAY: You may not like that his social media platform -- I don't know, but don't be jealous of that. Maybe he'll come on your show one day or your network. Don't be jealous of "Fox and Friends" and its ratings.
STELTER: It's very clear that he's choosing not to go on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS. If you want a big ratings, he would go on one of the broadcast networks, he'd get 10 million viewers.
CONWAY: You know what ratings he cares about, he made that very clear when he was asked by someone from a different platform recently, Brian. So, do you think you'll get the Nobel Peace Prize? He made very clear, I want the best result for America. He's not thinking about that. He wants the best.
So, same thing here, the ratings are seen through how people are benefitting from the tax cuts, the regulatory reductions.
STELTER: We know the president cares about ratings.
CONWAY: He's got great ratings. He's the president.
STELTER: But interviews and pressers are accountability functions. And former presidents, they all knew that. They went along with it. They didn't necessarily want to have press conferences, but they did.
Your boss chooses not to do. I want to explore why.
CONWAY: Just so you know, I tell the president all the time, he should go out more because I think he's the best communicator we have, hands down. He won the election because he was out there bringing the message directly to the people every single day unfiltered, not waiting for the middle man.
As president he communicates daily through his social media, through answering these questions in a bilats, the pool sprays. This is a president, Brian, and thank you for CNN covering all hour of it, 55 minutes plus with a bicameral, bipartisan group of members from the Hill talking about DACA and immigration a few months ago. Then the Democrats walked away, of course, as they normally do.
But this is somebody who is very transparent, very accountable. I'd love him to come on your network, or your TV show, but he's happy to send me. We're into 17 minutes now. He's happy --
STELTER: But he does instead is he attacks CNN. He calls "New York Times" crooked and he smears these news outlets instead. I wonder if 20 years from now, if you're going to be proud of that, you know, on a personal level. Will you be proud that he tried to tear down news outlets?
CONWAY: He's not trying to tear down news outlets. He's trying to get some fair and full coverage. I have been clear from day one, Brian, that my main objection will always be full coverage, complete coverage. That we're just missing an opportunity to make sure --
STELTER: Right, that's why we cover the unemployment rate, and the economy and all those very important topics.
CONWAY: OK, but CNN's own Van Jones was in the East Room on Friday when the president and Jared Kushner and other held forth and had a prison reform, moving the ball forward on that issue. Obviously, I'm the point person for the president and the administration on opioids. That's going better now.
CONWAY: But I've got a lot of bipartisan support from Capitol Hill. You just don't want to cover it. These are things that affect Americans. We lost more people to drug overdoses than gun violence, plane crashes, breast cancer.
This is a serious -- all of those are serious matters, but this is too. And my beef will always be incomplete coverage. I don't think anybody should feel proud about obsessive coverage on one or two things to the exclusion of all these issues that Americans tell us in the White House every single day they want to hear more about.
STELTER: You know , there were these stories recently about Sean Hannity as a shadow chief of staff, or shadow comms director. I was wondering if you and Hannity ever coordinate. Can you tell us about that?
CONWAY: I don't coordinate with Sean Hannity. We're both pretty busy. I go on his show once a week or every couple of weeks. I saw Sarah Sanders is on the other day or night.
I've known Sean for a very long time. But there's nothing to coordinate. Why would we need to coordinate? What is there to coordinate?
I have a relationship with the president. I speak with him regularly. Sean is running the highest rated show on cable. And I think there's a reason for that. He's providing information that people can't find anywhere else. Sean would have low ratings if he was talking about everything else
that everybody is talking about. Think about that for a moment. People are starved for unique content and they seem to not be getting it elsewhere. I think his ratings show that and what he covers every night show that.
But he's also dealing with things that are outside of my purview, for example, congressional investigations.
[11:20:04] I don't have access to those materials. I'm glad the country is starting to have access to those materials, Brian, because I think when everybody is calling for transparency and accountability, it ought to cut every single way.
We ought to know the way the other investigation of the person who lost the election and you weren't expecting to, how that investigation was handled. And we're learning more about that now and it is relevant even though she lost, it is relevant because it talks about upper echelons of the FBI and what was going on. And we ought to know, if you're going to give Jim Comey's book time --
STELTER: We should know if he (ph) committed crimes, but that includes in any campaign.
Let me ask you one more transparency question. I'm going to be talking later this hour about Amazon and this "Washington Post" report. The headline is President Trump personally pushed the postmaster general to double rates on Amazon. This looks like he's trying to punish the "Washington Post" owner Jeff Bezos by punishing Amazon.
Do you know if that is the case? That Trump has been pressuring the postmaster general?
CONWAY: I know it's not the case he's trying to punish Jeff Bezos or has him in his mind when he's talking about this. The president has made very clear whether it's trade with China, whether it's renegotiating with Mexico, whether it's the E.U., the NATO, and Amazon, he wants a more fair playing field for everyone and equal playing field for everyone.
And the mom and pops don't have the sweetheart deal. Apparently, the president told me that Amazon has a five-year sweetheart deal. It's sealed. People can't get access to it, speaking of the lack of transparency.
And the Post Office is losing money on every package that it sends out on behalf of Amazon. The president's point, too, is without the Post Office, Amazon would probably need to create its own infrastructure. So, it does great in the big cities, right? I mean, my daughter orders things all the time, I'm sure from Amazon.
But if you're talking about some of our rural communities, the Post Office was there first. And they have the infrastructure and the access. And so, the Post Office and Amazon have been working together, but the president's entire point is, we're still losing billions and billions of dollars each year and he just wants a playing field that is more fair to the mom and pops.
It's exactly what he's saying about China, about Mexico, about dues at NATO, when he talks about the E.U., when he talks about with respect to illegal immigration, that for years, this country has been asking what's fair to the illegal immigrant. What more can we do for him or her. He's now saying, hey, what's fair to the American workers and these factories that are closing?
So everything that he has talked about goes back to this issue of fairness, and this is no different.
STELTER: Kellyanne Conway, thank you so much for being here.
CONWAY: Thank you, Brian. It's a pleasure. Take care.
STELTER: We're just getting started this morning. We have an all- star panel standing by to talk with the week's news and a preview of next week. Stick with me.
[11:26:35] STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
We were just speaking with counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway. I think it's always worth unpacking interviews with presidential aides these days.
So, let's bring in our panel with me here in New York. John Avlon, editor in chief of "The Daily Beast", Max Boot, a CNN global affairs analyst and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Sabrina Siddiqui, a political reporter for "The Guardian".
Lots to discuss about the week's news as well, about the leak hunts and things like that. John, was there anything about Kellyanne Conway's rhetoric that stood out to you first of all?
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, she's a partisan warrior. She's the apostle of alternative facts.
A couple things struck me. First of all, she reiterated that line the president has been using lately about how this is the most successful first 16 months of a presidency. That's just by stroke of comparisons not true. You can do that any number of different ways. FDR's first 100 days, LBJ, JFK having an approval rating much higher, Reagan having a greater legacy of accomplishment, that's important.
She also said alleged Russian interference. That jumped out at me too. Now, whether that's her audience of one or not, it also comes the week after the Senate Intel Committee released a bipartisan support says there was -- not only was Russia interference, but it was designed to help Donald Trump. So, I think those are significant things. She's absolutely fair to say we should and do acknowledge 3.9
employment. Extraordinary. I think he deserves credit for North Korea and negotiations coming up.
But you can't spin your way out of other things like Robert Mueller having charges against 22 individual and companies, five guilty pleas. Those are stats and facts. You have to do both.
STELTER: The other presidential surrogate on television has been Rudy Giuliani. He's on CNN with Chris Cuomo the other day. He's been on Fox several times. Is he acting as the president's comms director at least with regards to legal issues?
What's your impression, Sabrina, of the Rudy Strategy or, I guess I should say, is there a strategy?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, there's no question that as with many people in the president's orbit, he's performing primarily for an audience of one. It's clear he sees himself as the public face of the president's legal team, which is striking because he was brought on allegedly in more of a limited capacity. He was supposed to as act a mediator between the special counsel and the president's legal team.
He has clearly already expanded his role far beyond that. And if anything, he seems to have hurt the president and undermine the message of the president's legal team because he's full of contradictions and been wildly loose with the facts.
STELTER: But that seems to work for the president's surrogates, right?
SIDDIQUI: The president likes people who are aggressive and that's what Rudy Giuliani is.
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: There's a contrast between Rudy and Kellyanne Conway, because I would say that Rudy is kind of Trumpian in that. He just goes out and he says random stuff and makes headlines and then has to walk half of it back. Whereas, Kellyanne is much more I would say, a kind of disciplined spin meister/liar in a kind of classical Washington --
STELTER: When you say lie, what lie?
BOOT: Well, I mean, I lost count. But there was six or seven lies that she came out within the course of your interview.
STELTER: I just (INAUDIBLE), it's popular for people to say, oh, she's a liar. I just want to know. BOOT: I mean, let's -- I mean, for example, she says the president
doesn't allow any of this to distract him. This was on a day he tweeted six times about the Mueller investigation.
STELTER: Fair point.
BOOT: She says there's no evidence of collusion. In fact, there's a lot of evidence of collusion. There was 75 meetings between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
She says the Democrats walked away from the DACA deal. That's not true. Trump walked away from it.
She says that Trump is not trying to tear down news outlets, and yet he tears down news outlets every single day with a fake news tags and trying to take away Amazon's deal with the postal service.
It's lie after lie, essentially. But she does it in a very disciplined, robotic fashion that appeals to her client, President Trump, whereas, as I say, Rudy all over the place, not disciplined.
SIDDIQUI: She reinforces this idea that the entire Russia investigation is a witch-hunt, when there have been 19 people and three companies indicted over the past year.
That includes several senior officials from the Trump campaign, some of whom have pleaded guilty, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, to lying to the FBI about the nature of their communications with the Russians.
Some of those individuals are, of course,cooperating with the special counsel. But, again, this is primarily designed to appease the president.
STELTER: And her argument is, if there was collusion, it would have leaked by now. I find that interesting, using leaks to their advantage.
BOOT: And It has leaked. Of course, there's lots of -- you pick up "The New York Times" or "Washington Post" and every single day there's more evidence of Russian-Trump contacts.
And now we're seeing a lot of contacts between the Trump campaign and the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. It's leaked.
But I think, look, the strategy overall is at least trying to go for a split-screen, where there are negative stories over here, but they're trying to create an alternative cast of characters to create an equivalence.
STELTER: You mean a Democrat, evil Democrat.
AVLON: Exactly, the Democratic conspiracy.
The really -- conspiracy is the Democrats. It's the FBI. It's rotten to the core. It's law enforcement. And that -- distracting from the real reporting and the ongoing investigation, which is not completed and not completely transparent at this point, by its nature.
STELTER: It's kind of like when the volume is really loud in one room, you turn up the volume in the other room as well. Like, you're trying to not have to hear what's really going on.
BOOT: Muddy these lines.
SIDDIQUI: It always bears repeating that Robert Mueller is a longtime Republican. James Comey was a Republican. Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, is a Republican.
SIDDIQUI: Christopher Wray, of course, who is the director of the FBI, is also a Republican.
But they are trying to discredit the investigation and color the public's perception of whatever it is that Robert Mueller will ultimately...
BOOT: And they are also reviving these discredited allegations against Hillary Clinton about how she supposedly sold the nation's uranium, on and on and on.
And, at the end of the day, I don't think they really expect anybody except their hard-core partisans to believe this stuff. But they are basically trying to do is to throw a bunch of information out there, a bunch of claims, and have people just say, I don't know what to believe anymore.
STELTER: Right. And Rudy has been effective at that.
STELTER: Two other pieces here.
I noticed Kellyanne going after Michael Avenatti a little bit without saying his name.
STELTER: I think there's a legitimate question about whether Avenatti has been overexposed by being on television almost every day, by coming up with new storylines every day, by using Twitter so effectively.
I know there's been an argument that this has been working for him. But is there an argument also, John, that maybe it's starting to backfire?
AVLON: I think the question whether he gets over his skis and things start blowing up in his face, I think is he an advocate for his client, Stormy Daniels, or is he trying to take on a larger role?
AVLON: Him putting out what appears to be SARs documents on Michael Cohen's investigation, that led to a significant new development in the story.
Unclear if, how or at all related to his client, Stormy Daniels. I think you always have a danger with an Icarus problem with some folks when they put themselves out. You get a little -- fly a little too close to the sun, and then you fall.
But he's been an active antagonist and very effectively playing a lot of Trump's own tactics against him. That's one of the interesting things about the game he's been playing.
BOOT: Yes. Yes.
STELTER: The story a couple days ago about a UTA agent pitching a show without Avenatti and Scaramucci, it got a lot of eye rolls. I also think it might be great television.
So, there's attention there. It's not on the front burner, but it is an idea on the back burner. And here's the two men hanging out at a party a few weeks ago. We will see if that show ever comes to pass.
But I do think there's been some critical coverage of Avenatti in the past few days that's new, both from right-wing media and from pretty down-the-middle outlets.
STELTER: Just questioning whether this is still working.
BOOT: Yes, but I think -- as John says, I think he has been pretty effective in using basically Trumpian tactics against Trump.
And he has turned into a real tormenter for the White House. And I think he has, as John also alluded to, broken some significant information about Michael Cohen, the president's lawyer.
And this is a huge part of this developing scandal, with Cohen trying to get money out of people who want to influence the White House. This is a big story.
AVLON: In the distract and deflect strategy, which Trump has used very effectively since the campaign, and his folks have learned, there's something else that's really important.
AVLON: This attempt to cast the Mueller investigation as being all Democratic, as Sabrina said, Robert Mueller, Republican.
There are Republicans over and over. There are a lot of Republican critics of Donald Trump back among them. And so I think that they are trying to cast all critics as leftists and lefties, and conservative media has played some of them sort of anti-anti-Trump game, trying not to alienate their base, for economic reasons, which I think is an abandonment of principle, I think really does undercut the extent to which we need to be able to have a conversation in this country about facts, about political principle, and not simply get derided into the us-against-them debate, which they have gravitated to, because that's been Trump's calling card rhetorically from the beginning.
SIDDIQUI: And the other important piece to remember about the distract and deflect strategy and this idea that we are not covering positive news from this administration, is that it's the president who has been so fixated on the Russia investigation.
He's the one who is constantly tweeting about it. One could argue there would be no special counsel had he not fired James Comey in the first place.
SIDDIQUI: When's the last time you heard the president out there talking about the unemployment rate or tax reform?
He's been singularly focused on this cloud that is the investigation, how it affects his perception among the public. He's not actually talking about his agenda on a day-to-day basis.
BOOT: Right. And there's in fact reporting that he's not preparing for his summit with Kim Jong-un, because he's so self-confident that he can master it.
What is he spending his time doing?
STELTER: But they will just say the reporting is fake, right, and it's untrue.
AVLON: And then we will find it out in real time.
But there is an obligation on the part of journalists, though, to give credit where credit is due when those things occur, without shying away from calling out things that are -- cross the line, because that feeds into normalization.
STELTER: To our panel, thank you very much.
After a quick break here, a look at the coverage of the shooting in Santa Fe. Is the coverage at some point too much? Should we talk about how to reassess these shootings?
We will be right back.
STELTER: We in the press have gotten too good at covering these mass killings.
And I'm not saying that's a good thing, obviously. It's downright disturbing. Right? There's such a script or a formula that you can see in the coverage of these massacres.
But there are aspects of the news media coverage of a massacre like the one in Santa Fe the other day that I do think we should assess and maybe rethink.
So, to do that, let me bring in Dave Cullen. He's the author of the book "Columbine." It's a definitive work on the Columbine killings in 1999.
Dave, good to see you, although I know that you're always on television after these killings. It's a strange thing. And you have told me in the past it's very emotional for you, when you see something break and you know you're going to have to be on TV for days talking about another one of these.
DAVE CULLEN, AUTHOR, "COLUMBINE": It is.
And it's closer -- the closer I get to the survivors, I sort of feel it through their eyes. And I texted a couple of the Parkland kids Friday. And one of them said he was shaken up.
And I know they are retraumatized. And it's really horrible for them.
STELTER: Is less more? Meaning, is the amount of media attention that these spectacle murders actually get part of the problem?
CULLEN: Yes and no.
I always thought that it was, and especially our focus on the killer, because that's always the big thing and the burning question is, why did he do it? But I have found, over the last three years, there has been a change. I always used to get asked. That was the whole thing, why, why, why? And it really changed to, how is this going to end? When is this going to stop and how?
And that -- I think because that happened before Parkland, the country -- we wouldn't really see that. It was already bubbling up. They were so ready for the Parkland kids, because they wanted that. So, I think we need more coverage on, what are we going to do about this?
STELTER: But less about the killer.
CULLEN: The killer.
STELTER: It's striking, because, the last few years, we have seen that no notoriety movement, parents of gun violence victims saying, don't name the killer, don't show his face.
It's really had an impact. We're seeing less coverage about these killers.
And I did -- spent all day Friday doing TV. So many anchors and correspondents actually sort of apologized about using the name and said, we're only going to say this once, and we need to get the name out there and then we will stop.
So that's really seeped in.
But I think the bigger thing is, the Parkland kids flipped the script, because you and I have talked about how the idea is good of diminishing the killers and putting the emphasis on the survivors. But how do you make them interesting enough, because, frankly, everybody is fascinated by killers?
STELTER: Most of them don't want to be on television. They would like privacy, understandably.
STELTER: But some of the Parkland students demanded we look and see what had happened at their school.
CULLEN: They did. And they have changed, because we have gotten tired of the killers and what they have done as a society.
STELTER: You say that casually. We've gotten tired of them. What do you...
CULLEN: We have.
People used to be dying to know -- the Las Vegas shooter is the worst in American history. I bet most viewers out there, I bet most of you don't know his name. We have stopped wondering...
STELTER: Yes, I cannot remember it.
CULLEN: Right. I can't.
This particular A-hole, why he did it, like, who cares? It's like we used to be fascinated, and now we're like enough of those jerks and what they are doing. What are we going to do?
Everybody knows Emma Gonzalez's name, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg. These -- they have flipped the script by, like, being more interesting than their attackers.
And I think they have sort of done the story for us. That may turn out to be the biggest single change of taking the power away from the killers without even being what they intended to do. That might be as important or more than what they are doing on guns, which is fantastic, obviously, as well.
STELTER: Recognizing the survivors' stories.
Dave, good to see you. Thank you for being here.
CULLEN: Great. Thanks for having me.
STELTER: After a quick break here, a huge story alleging presidential abuse of power. But this story has fallen under the radar because of the killings in Santa Fe and because of the royal wedding coverage too.
So, we're going to dig into it with Josh Dawsey of "The Washington Post." He will join me with the details in just a moment.
STELTER: President Trump using his power to punish one of his rivals, one of his rivals who owns one of the nation's biggest papers?
If you have become numb to this, snap out of it. This is a report from "The Washington Post," which is owned by Jeff Bezos.
The report on Friday is titled, "Trump Personally Pushed the Postmaster General to Double the Rates on Amazon and Other Firms."
Amazon, of course, is run by Jeff Bezos. So this story has the appearance of a president using his power to punish a newspaper owner.
According to "The Post"'s own reporting here, some administration officials say several of Trump's attacks aimed at Amazon have come in response to articles in "The Post" that he didn't like.
Earlier, you heard Kellyanne Conway denying there's a link between "The Post" and the Amazon stuff.
But let's talk about it with one of the reporters who broke this story, Josh Dawsey. He is a White House reporter for "The Post" and a CNN analyst.
Josh, a little awkward, I assume. You're having to write about your owner in this situation.
JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, but we're just sticking with the facts and reporting what happened in these meetings between President Trump and the postmaster general.
He asked for the rates on Amazon and other firms, to be clear, to be doubled. He sees the Postal Service's finances.
He sees the Postal Service's finances. He says they're bleeding. He said doing this could ameliorate some of the problems, the financial problems there. And that's been pushed back by his advisers, who say, no, we can't just double the rates on companies unilaterally and quickly. There's a regulatory commission. We have to go through lots of different steps to make this happen.
So, it's a complicated situation for the president, but I don't think it's one that's abating any time soon.
STELTER: The White House did not deny your reporting. And I noticed that Conway did not really deny the substance of these meetings that have happened.
You reported that in some of these meetings with Trump and the postmaster general, there's been a presentation of the facts, but still the president doesn't believe it?
DAWSEY: The president doesn't it.
The president sees Amazon as kind of this behemoth company who is just making too much money off mom-and-pop shops, as Kellyanne Conway said earlier. That's a phrase the president issues repeatedly.
The president thinks Amazon has too lucrative and too sweet of a deal. Obviously, that's up for debate by others, but the president sees that. As we have reported too, the president often complains about "The Washington Post" that is also owned by Jeff Bezos, and sometimes complaints about Amazon come after "Washington Post" stories that he doesn't like.
But the president in these meetings are saying, it's nothing about "The Post," it's nothing about the reporting. I just think the Postal Service is getting ripped off. That's what the position he's put to his advisers on a number of occasions.
STELTER: And you don't have to trust "The Post" on this. No offense, Josh. Look at PolitiFact. Look at all other fact-checkers who have looked into the president's claims about Postal Service. You can see here PolitiFact identifying it as a Pants on Fire lie to suggest that Amazon is not paying any taxes or that these deals -- what does it say here? The Postal Service isn't losing a fortune on Amazon, those sorts of issues.
STELTER: Sorry. Go ahead.
DAWSEY: And, as we reported in our story, a number of the president's advisers do not think Amazon is a problem, and have told him that, Gary Cohn, obviously, chief economic adviser who left last year. He's talked about this with Steven Mnuchin, obviously the postmaster general.
He has had several meetings in the Oval Office about these shipping costs on Amazon, and he seems to be the main person in the administration that thinks that Amazon is a problem and want to raise rates on Amazon and other firms who ship.
STELTER: Josh, thanks for being here. And I recommend checking out the full story on "The Washington Post" Web site.
DAWSEY: Thanks for having me.
STELTER: Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES, putting the president's comment about animals in context.
STELTER: So the president holds a roundtable to rail against sanctuary cities.
He starts out by condemning sadistic MS-13 gang members. The conversation continues. And one of the panelists, one of the participants brings up MS-13 in one of her questions for the president.
Trump responds by saying, these aren't people, they are animals. He doesn't say MS-13 in his answer, but it seems like that's what he's referring to.
It's not entirely clear, but that's what it seems like. So, some news outlets might have taken him out of context. There were splash headlines and tweets and Facebook posts with the video, not showing the MS-13 question, only showing the president's answer.
And you know what happened next. FOX and the president's allies in the press railed against the news coverage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The headlines were all that Trump called -- President Trump called these immigrants animals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't just one outlet. It was every single mainstream media outlet out there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any person with half-a-brain, reading the full paragraph, rather than the inflammatory sentence that everybody broadcast, can see what he was trying to convey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The media has to cover him and make sure they triple-check to make sure they don't take him out of context.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: That is true.
But the president also has a history of dehumanizing language and disparaging language towards all sorts of immigrants.
Let's talk about it with the panel.
John Avlon, Max Boot, and Sabrina Siddiqui are back with me now.
Sabrina, I do think some newsrooms made poor choices here. I also think it was blown out of proportion by Trump's allies. What should the lesson be for the press from this episode?
SIDDIQUI: Look, the comments are important to report in context.
But rather than look for the next sensational headline, I think the media needs to shift gears and look at what's driving this administration's agenda on immigration. And so fear-mongering around MS-13 ignores that the roughly 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the country account for less than 1 percent of the 1.4 gang members in the United States.
The immigrant population is less likely to commit violent crime. That has remained true, according to most studies, even as immigrant population has risen. And so they are trying to fear-monger in order to dramatically restrict immigration laws. And I think that is where the focus should be.
STELTER: John, is it appropriate for a president to ever call anyone an animal, even if they are sadistic gang members?
AVLON: Yes, I think that's something to watch out for.
The history of political leaders dehumanizing opponents, even criminals, and using animal metaphors is a dangerous one. That is not something that we should accept from an American president.
Yes, comments should be reported in context. But I think, as Sabrina is also saying, look at the real stats. Don't just look at the style. Look at the substance. Actually, deportation of undocumented workers without criminals -- accusations against them are up dramatically under Trump.
That is significant. Also, beware of bullies playing the victim card. Don't fall for that. It's our job to impose context, but it's also the context of his actions and rhetoric around immigrants over time.
STELTER: Max, last 30 seconds are yours.
Just keep in mind, this is an old game that the White House plays. Trump says something that is incredibly offensive, and then he comes out and says, it's fake news, it was taken out of context, it was just a joke or something.
So, he gets to slam the media, as well as getting his offensive comments out there to his base. Don't fall for it.
It is -- and remember -- the final point I would make is, whatever the so-called context of his animals remark, what people heard was very different. It's that he is stigmatizing and dehumanizing immigrants. That's the message that he wants to send out there.
So, I think, fundamentally, the coverage was basically fair.
STELTER: All right, to our panel, thank you for being here.
To our viewers at home, we will see you this time next week.