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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Bombshell or Buzzkill? Fallout from BuzzFeed's Story; exclusive Interview with BuzzFeed Editor and Reporter; Did Networks Screw Up By Repeating BuzzFeed's Report?; Editor Of Atlantic Shares Impeachment Cover Story; Measuring The Shutdown In Weeks, Not Days. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired January 20, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": -- but for now, he's still locked up in the Hague pending appeal.
[11:00:07] Thank you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Bombshell or buzz kill?
I'm Brian Stelter and this is RELIABLE SOURCES. It's our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works, how the news gets made and how all of us can help make it better.
In a Sunday morning, exclusive, reporter Anthony Cormier and "BuzzFeed" editor Ben Smith are here to respond to Robert Mueller's rebuke.
Plus, how the White House's favorite media mega phones are stirring fears about caravans and prayer rugs.
And later, what Nancy Pelosi and Ann Coulter have in common. That's interesting. We also have Carl Bernstein standing by, Jeffrey Goldberg and much more.
But, first, the question on everyone's mind, is it true, we've all been talking about this story. It's the "BuzzFeed" story that came out Thursday night that said President Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. With a clear-cut impeachable offense being alleged, the story went everywhere within a matter of minutes.
But then on Friday night, Robert Mueller did something incredibly rare, something his office almost never does. His office issued a lawyerly response seemingly knocking down the story, saying "BuzzFeed's" description of specific statements to the special counsel's office and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office regarding Michael Cohen's congressional testimony are not accurate.
Very precise, but significant. So, let's go back to the key question from the story. Did the president tell Cohen to lie? Who's right? And who's accurate in the situation? As I mentioned, let's get to the center of this controversy. Here for
their first sit-down interview, "BuzzFeed's" investigative reporter Anthony Cormier, and editor-in-chief Ben Smith.
Gentlemen, thanks for coming on. I appreciate it.
BEN SMITH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BUZZFEED: Thank you for having us on. We're happy to talk about this story.
And I'm glad you began with the question of the truth of the allegations because ultimately, this is a media show, we're here to talk about process, we're happy to talk about that. But, you know, on your air just an hour ago, Rudy Giuliani gave this extraordinary classic Rudy Giuliani interview where Jake Tapper asked him about that central question. Did Donald Trump talk to Michael Cohen about his testimony?
SMITH: Rudy Giuliani's answer to that was, so what? And Rudy Giuliani, as you know, through this whole sort of amazing saga has, when news breaks gone on TV to try to get ahead of it. I mean, that was -- Rudy made real news around the core of this story. As we go to on to talk about process, which we are happy to talk about, I do want to make sure we also talk about the fundamental core of this story, about a giant construction project in Russia and secret negotiations through the campaign.
ANTHONY CORMIER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, BUZZFEED: That he now seems to have confirmed continued into possibly November, right?
STELTER: November 2016. So, earlier, the claim was nobody was talking about a Russia project in the final months of the campaign. Now the claim is different. Now, Rudy is saying, yeah, they were probably talking about it.
SMITH: Anthony's reporting last year said it went through the summer, which was a big news break at the time. Giuliani seems to have said it went through November. And that is really extraordinary. I don't mean to get away from the process but I did want to dwell on that because that's important and the heart of what we've been reporting.
STELTER: So, let's get to Thursday night and the story that says Trump told Cohen to lie.
Anthony, do you have any new evidence since Thursday night that supports your story?
CORMIER: I have further confirmation that this is right. We're being told to stand our ground. This is -- our reporting is going to be borne to be accurate and we're 100 percent behind it.
STELTER: Who is telling you that?
CORMIER: Oh, I'm not going to talk about my sources. I've got to be honest with you. This morning, Rudy Giuliani seemed to signal that there's going to be a leak investigation. This is a really significant matter and in order to protect our sources and not put them in any risk, we're not going to talk about the sourcing.
STELTER: But you wrote on Thursday night, we can put it on screen, the lead of your story, the blockbuster lead, that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress.
Do you have additional sources beyond the two that you named in the story or just the two sources?
CORMIER: We're not going to talk about the sourcing matters here again, I have to go back --
STELTER: But it sounds like you've gone back to those two sources since Friday and they said the same thing to you again?
CORMIER: I can't talk about the timing of when we've spoken to people but I can tell you that, yes, indeed. The same sources we used in that story are standing behind it, as are we.
STELTER: And the story went on to say, and we can put this on screen as well, you -- Cohen told the special counsel that after the election the president personally instructed him to lie by claiming negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did in order to obscure Trump's involvement.
So, you're saying Cohen told the special counsel. That's been a matter of debate. Did Cohen really tell the special counsel this information? Because that's one of the details Mueller seems to be objecting to. You still both stand by that.
[11:05:00] SMITH: We are eager to understand which characterizations Mueller is talking about there. And, obviously, we take that incredibly seriously.
STELTER: You challenged him on Friday night to come out and say what's wrong in the story.
SMITH: I mean, it was less a challenge than a request for information, like we really would like --
STELTER: Have you heard from the special counsel?
SMITH: You know, we have not. We heard through "The Washington Post" a bit. We haven't heard what -- where the gap is and whether -- you know, where we can continue our reporting to close it.
CORMIER: We're interested in the construction of that statement. In fact, Jason Leopold has already sent a formal FOIA request to understand any of the comms behind that. We want to know how that was constructed, why the deputy attorney's office was involved there. We're keen to learn -- we want clarity from the special counsel's office and we want to learn about the construction of that statement. Who was involved, when, how, where, why.
STELTER: You mentioned your co-author, Jason Leopold. We requested he'd be here as well. Ben, where is he?
SMITH: He's out reporting. I've already dragged one of my reporters who hasn't gotten a lot of sleep into the studio. I'm here with you. Jason is out reporting.
STELTER: Jason's past has been scrutinized, including by CNN in recent days, because he was accused of making up stories 15-plus years ago. Do you have any concerns about his credibility personally?
SMITH: I have no concerns about his credibility. As soon as this story was published, people started pointing to a real mistake he made and owned -- we're talking 20 years ago.
STELTER: Right, he has -- by his own admission, he's had a checkered past.
SMITH: And he's -- you know, but this is -- we're talking a long time ago.
And let me just, the sort of -- you know, slightly more recent -- in the slightly more recent past, we're talking the last 10, 15 years, he's America's leading expert in the use of Freedom of Information Act. He's been invited by CNN to train your team on the use of the Freedom of Information Act. He is a reporter who used the Freedom of Information Act to get Hillary Clinton's e-mails, which drew him an enormous amount of heat obviously from a different direction.
SMITH: -- into the public eye.
He was a Pulitzer finalist last year for a series of stories about Russian assassinations in the United Kingdom.
You know, Anthony here was a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2016.
STELTER: So, I take your point. What you're saying is you don't think --
SMITH: I think there's a lot to argue, a lot to talk about. I think going after the credibility of these reporters and of this organization is really not -- is a mistake.
STELTER: But that is what the RNC is doing and what Rudy is doing. Rudy said a couple of hours ago, quote: They obviously have a hatred of the president.
SMITH: The White House is very, very eager, and this is not exactly breaking news, to take stories they don't like and turn them into battles between the White House and the media, between the White House and us, to divide the media, to avoid talking about the substance of the story.
That Jake Tapper interview was incredible because Giuliani came on there to attack us. I don't think he made any news about us, but he certainly raised the intensity of the attacks. And Jake repeatedly pushed him into, well, wait a second. There were secret negotiations through the summer of 2016 about this giant glass apartment building, $300 million in revenue, the name Trump, it would have been the tallest building in Europe. I mean, this is not some side project.
And Giuliani twice really broke news. The negotiation went on through the whole campaign. I mean, that's something they were denying, as you know, incredibly, heatedly all through the high-stakes campaign.
STELTER: But no matter how low Rudy's standards are, no matter how often the president lies, we have to keep our standards as high as possible. I know you agree with that.
SMITH: I absolutely agree with that.
STELTER: So, let's talk about the editing of the story on Thursday.
STELTER: How long had this story been in the works, Anthony?
CORMIER: Months. We've been reporting on Trump/Moscow for two years ago.
STELTER: Right. But this story about Trump instructing Cohen to lie.
CORMIER: Months, Brian. Months. You know, we take our time. We are very rigorous in our reporting. We vet and run down every single aspect of this.
STELTER: And on Thursday, the story started to come to a close. You were ready to publish on Thursday?
CORMIER: Well, we've been drafting and editing this for ages. I mean, I don't really recall but weeks and weeks. This is a thing that we've been working on for quite a long time. It's been through the normal, rigorous editing problem.
STELTER: Multiple editors?
CORMIER: Yes, of course.
SMITH: At least three editors. It could have gone a little earlier, it could have gone a little later, but we were -- it was ready to go.
STELTER: Let's take a look at what "BuzzFeed" did to request comment from special counsel. "BuzzFeed" has provided these emails that I'm going to share. This is first e-mail from Jason Leopold, the co- author of the story, sent to the special counsel's office at 1:50 p.m. on Thursday. It says here: Peter, hope all is well. Anthony and I have a story
coming up stating that Cohen was directed by Trump himself to lie to Congress about his negotiations relating to the Trump Moscow project. Assume no comment from you but just wanted to check. Best, Jason.
Ben, to me, this is a shocking casual way to ask for comment for such a serious story. Do you think that was an appropriate and sufficient way to ask for comment?
SMITH: You know, Peter, the spokesman for the special counsel, told "The Washington Post" I believe yesterday or, in fact, people close to him on background, if we had asked differently, he would have given us more information. We absolutely -- I mean, that was not -- we were reaching out to get information. That's why you reach out. That's why you reach out hours and hours before the story is published.
And I don't think an email -- if you got an e-mail from Jason Leopold saying, hey, we're working on a story whose substance is that you were involved in an incredibly high-stakes and incredibly shocking thing, that you would say, no, that's not a big deal.
[11:10:06] I mean, I think that we stated the heart of the story there. Again, though --
STELTER: When I write --
SMITH: -- Peter said that he wished -- had the e-mail come in more formal, with more detail, that he would have responded in more detail, we would have gotten more detail from him. I would say, I think Anthony --
STELTER: Come on, one paragraph? There's a dereliction of duty to send a three-sentence email for comment.
SMITH: I would say, and I think Anthony can speak to this more. We have broken a series of the biggest stories about the special counsel's investigation. We broke a lot of the details of Paul Manafort's indictment --
SMITH: -- soon before the indictment came down. We broke the information around the Trump Tower Moscow that would be the heart of the Cohen indictment months before.
And I think Anthony can tell you more about our correspondence with the special counsel about that, but I think that it has not been our experience that the special counsel is forthcoming with information.
STELTER: Let's look at the reply, though.
SMITH: He's the one who's doing the report.
STELTER: Let's look at the reply from two minutes. The reply to Jason's e-mail two minutes later from the special counsel's office is why Peter Carr has the No Comment Carr. He simply said, we'll decline to comment.
SMITH: And that was a choice he made, right?
STELTER: Look, but when I'm sending e-mails to "BuzzFeed" spokespeople and I'm about to write about you, it's a bullet long e- mail, everything that's going to be included. I want to make sure everything has been checked first.
Why didn't Jason do that?
SMITH: I mean, again, I'm -- Carr has now said he would have responded in more detail if he had more detail. He could have said that two minutes later, right? He could have said, that's quite a statement. Tell me more. He did not. He said, we'll decline to comment.
That is the correspondence we've had with him over the last two years as we have broken huge stories about his office.
STELTER: You're putting the onus on him. I'm saying the onus on you and Jason and --
SMITH: No, no. I'm saying if we had understood that he would have responded -- he would have been more willing to give us information had we formatted -- had we given him -- we absolutely would have. But I also -
STELTER: I would love that.
CORMIER: Mr. Carr is a lovely spokesperson, we know him, we've dealt with him in the past on a number of occasions. It's never been my experience to get any signal, wave off, go ahead from the special counsel's office through that spokesperson. It's not the first time we've dealt with him. It's not -- certainly will probably not be the last.
SMITH: And you should realize he's speaking as one of the reporters who's broke it.
SMITH: And there hasn't been a lot of breaks out of the special counsel's investigation. We have been on the outside breaking these huge stories that have subsequently been confirmed in the black letter of court filings.
STELTER: That's true. I'm concerned in this case there wasn't enough request for comment, enough detailed conversation with the special counsel's office.
SMITH: I told you what I think about that. But I would say this is a process question -- STELTER: What you're saying is you agree but you don't want to say
SMITH: But this is a process question. We're getting way into the details of process around a story whose substance is not only extremely high stakes and important, but also as we are talking about this, has been moving forward this morning because of what we published.
STELTER: Sure. Process question number two, then.
STELTER: Why publish Thursday night as opposed to waiting for a third source or fourth source, knowing the stakes of this story?
SMITH: We published because we were very, very confident in the sourcing of this story, in the way that you would -- you know, we had been waiting, right? It's not like Anthony walked into my office on Thursday noon and said, I have this.
This is a story that we've been developing over a long period of time, that we've been working on with sources, you know, with a -- and without getting into the details of sources, with a set of sources who were involved in these huge revelations, that have -- where at times we were at times way ahead, at times a little ahead --
STELTER: Sure. Sometimes I write stories and say I have a number of sources. I actually have more than that but I can't reveal how many I had. Is that what you're saying happened in this case? You had more than two sources?
SMITH: We sometimes do that, but it would -- but I think you say what you say in the story and you stand by what you say in the story. I would say that when something -- reporters sometimes do is they describe someone as a senior law enforcement official and they fudge that, and the senior administration official, characterizations can be shady, and then sometimes that identity is revealed and you want to say, come on.
I do want to say that in this story, in this case, these are -- these are very narrow, very strong descriptors. And I think that's really important --
CORMIER: And we really --
SMITH: That is something that people should focus on.
STELTER: So what's going on then? What's going on? Is there a fight between the special counsel's office and southern district of New York and one set of prosecutors are saying one thing and the other is saying another thing? Is that what's going on?
CORMIER: Well, we don't know. We're actively reporting that out. We're trying to figure how to parse this statement from the Mueller team and actively -- what's happening not only behind the scenes at DOJ and the special counsel, but we're trying to get deeper inside the room where this happened.
STELTER: But a lot of reporters look at the special counsel's statement and they say, he issued a flat denial. Yes, it's written in a legal way but they're challenging the premise of your story. What does that feel like as a reporter?
CORMIER: Never great, but actually I'm solid. My sources are solid. This reporting is accurate.
STELTER: So, the people are saying heads should roll at "BuzzFeed".
STELTER: That you're hurting the news business as a whole. What do you say?
CORMIER: I've been -- I've been a reporter for 20 years.
[11:15:00] My first job was on the loading dock at "The Panama City News Herald". They wouldn't give me a job inside because I was too young and green. I've been doing this again and again and again.
The same fundamentals that I learned covering city hall, covering the police, covering courthouses, that stands today, right? That is -- I use those same skills, the same rigor to cover the White House. And we are -- I am -- this is going to be borne out, Brian. This story is accurate.
STELTER: What if -- what if the sources are just wrong?
CORMIER: They're not.
STELTER: Not intentionally.
STELTER: Not trying to hurt you but just -- what if they're wrong?
CORMIER: They're not. They're not. I'm confident.
SMITH: And I think -- you know, it's not -- this is obviously the highest stakes. There is no source like Robert Mueller. There aren't other government officials who say, when this is wrong and we're not exactly going to say how and why, this would produce the sort of reaction you're bringing here.
STELTER: Right, right.
SMITH: I mean, it's an unusual situation.
STELTER: It's a very weird situation.
SMITH: It's a very high-stakes version of a sorry we're all familiar with, where you publish a story, a source says, this is wrong. You say how is it wrong? They won't tell you. And all you can do is continue to report, to nail down the details --
STELTER: But then why not raise the bar further. Because the stakes are so high, raise the standards even higher.
SMITH: Our standards on this story were extremely high. And, again, you know, obviously, the limitation around --
STELTER: You're saying it's not about -- you're saying it's not about quantity of sources, it's about quality. Am I perceiving that correctly?
SMITH: That is obviously extremely, extremely important. It is also true that we, and particularly with the president's lawyer on television demanding a leak investigation.
STELTER: But what about documents? What about getting documents?
SMITH: There are a lot of limits around what we can say. Like I think that we have said a certain amount --
STELTER: Right, I respect that.
SMITH: -- about what we have, what we have, we have some in the story, we said some things on television. We stand by all of it. But I think what we've discussed this morning in the context of the president's lawyer calling for a leak investigation, we're being extremely careful.
STELTER: He also said you should be sued. Are you concerned about legal challenges?
SMITH: You know, we're obviously prepared to defend ourselves and to defend the story in every form.
STELTER: And you've been doing that for the last two years after publishing the dossier.
SMITH: Yes, that's correct.
STELTER: Let me ask you about documents like the dossier. Anthony you said on CNN Friday you have not seen the documents you describe in the story. Jason Leopold said on MSNBC, we have seen documents.
Can you explain that to us?
CORMIER: Yes, we can't really get into like the details there. We're really at this point because of the calls for a leak investigation and the sort of sensitivity around that matter, we really can't go any further at all in order not to jeopardize our sources. We make a commitment to them and we're going to honor that commitment.
STELTER: Let's talk about "BuzzFeed's" credibility because this is out in the culture now, Ben. Look what "SNL" said about you last night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, "BuzzFeed", I think it's great. We all think it's great that you want to help, but this isn't really what we need from you. Y'all are "BuzzFeed". You do memes and lists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: "BuzzFeed's" reputation on the line. How do you react?
SMITH: I mean, that is a wonderful job. It's a joke they've been making for seven years.
STELTER: It's a very dated joke because "BuzzFeed" has a news division for almost a decade now.
SMITH: Right. I mean, you know, we will no doubt be sending gifts of that segment around internally tomorrow. That's a good joke. It's a joke that we love, that we embrace.
"BuzzFeed" obviously includes a very, very wide range of media, including very silly entertainment. And I think unquestionably very, very serious journalism.
We've gotten people out of jail in Chicago. We've changed the way sexual assault is prosecuted in the United States, and we've had a series of revelations about the investigation of the -- of Donald Trump's relationship of Russia from the same two reporters who published this.
STELTER: Yes, and you've been breaking news about it. But if this story turns out to be wrong, do you feel your job on the line?
SMITH: You know, I think we're very confident in this reporting --
STELTER: Because I worry about "BuzzFeed's" brand as a whole. If this story is wrong, "BuzzFeed" news as a whole is in trouble.
SMITH: I appreciate your concern.
STELTER: But are you concerned? Forget about me. Aren't you concerned about that?
SMITH: You know, we're confident in the story and we are -- and I think he we also do think that while there is right now and understandably a focus on the media story and on the process story, the important story here is about the relationship between the Trump administration and Russia.
STELTER: I agree with you. So let's talk about what you think happened here.
SMITH: And our reporting has been central to that and will continue.
STELTER: Is it -- forget the cameras are on.
SMITH: It's hard.
STELTER: It is hard. What really happened, is it that Trump said to Cohen, take care of me, don't screw me? Is it mob talk? Is that what happened here?
CORMIER: We'll get there eventually, Brian.
STELTER: It wasn't directing him to lie. It was telling him, don't screw this up, Michael.
SMITH: Do you have notes --
STELTER: That's what I'm wondering.
CORMIER: I mean --
STELTER: But you guys tell me, is that what actually happened?
CORMIER: We don't know. We're trying to get the exact language that was used. We'll get there one day.
We continue to report like mad, as we always do, but what we reported, the president of the United States directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress is accurate. That is fundamentally accurate. We're going to get inside the room where it happened and bare it out.
We've taken this to ground. Here we'll go further to get inside that room.
STELTER: Are you fed up, Ben, that the Mueller investigation is taking this long and we don't have answers to these questions?
[11:20:02] SMITH: No, I understand Mueller's -- I mean, I understand the amount of stress and pressure they are under. We are certainly not trying to write the Mueller report. We're not trying to project inside his head, inside his office's head. We're writing about the evidence and what our sources have told us about the evidence.
But I think, you know, we -- it's difficult, I think, in this media environment. You know, I say this as somebody who came up in this environment and very much a part of it --
SMITH: -- to say we don't know everything. We know what we know, we know what we know is accurate. The words you were talking about before, that you were speculating what he might have said.
STELTER: What he might have said.
SMITH: You know, there is a transcript. You don't have it and I don't have it. Every reporter in the country is chasing it right now.
And I think that -- you know, that we are confident that our reporting is going to bare out but I understand -- you know, you're on television 24 hours a day, on the Internet 24 hours a day, it's hard to say, wait for Mueller's report, wait for more reporting. But I think that is obviously what we're all doing.
STELTER: Anthony, is there anything I'm leaving out? Anything I haven't asked you?
CORMIER: That's the best reporter question, right? It's what you end your interview with.
No, I really appreciate you having us on. I mean, we're here to talk about our work. I'm glad to do it.
You know, it's been two years. We've broken some of the biggest parts of this story. Again, I'd like to go back to the fundamental sort of part of it.
During the heat of a presidential campaign, a candidate said he had no business dealings with Russia. Later turns out he did. His attorney goes to Congress and said these negotiations ended in January. We were the first to report that, no, that happened in June.
Now, this morning, Rudy Giuliani is making even more news. He's saying, well, maybe it wasn't June, now, it's November?
I mean, the core of the story is the president of the United States has a business deal that he and the people around him wanted to keep quiet from the American public. That's -- that's where we're reporting and we're going to keep going.
STELTER: And for our viewers in the United States, that interview is going to re-air in 40 minutes. You can watch it here on CNN.
I greatly appreciate both of you being here and being transparent. I think it helps viewers understand how these stories happen, how they work.
CORMIER: Right. That's really important.
SMITH: And we really appreciate the opportunity to come on.
STELTER: Come back soon.
Ben, Anthony, thank you very much.
CORMIER: Thanks, Brian.
STELTER: Quick break here. We're going to chew over all of it, talk about what it means and about how the rest of the news networks in America ran with the story as soon as it was published. Carl Bernstein is standing by to react. There's much more straight ahead, right after a quick break.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:26:11] STELTER: And we're back now on RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.
We're talking about "BuzzFeed's" story which could be a smoking gun if it's true. But those two words, if true, they're two of the most dangerous words in journalism.
A lot of reporters have been through what those "BuzzFeed" reporters and editors are going through now. A story comes out. It could have profound consequences, but it could be wrong, according to a key spokesman?
Think back to Watergate. Think about the time this happened during Watergate and let's talk about it with a man who was there, who was living it, Carl Bernstein. The legendary journalist is joining me now to sort through all of this.
Carl, I was hoping you could just react first to this "BuzzFeed" controversy. You've been in this situation before.
CARL BERNSTEIN, LEGENDARY WATERGATE REPORTER: I think it's going to take time before we fully understand what the exact truth is here in terms of the facts relating to Mr. Cohen and whether or not the president directed him to lie. And the facts regarding the attribution in the story that "BuzzFeed" ran in which they attribute part of it not just to sources but also to documents the special prosecutor has, et cetera, et cetera. We don't know where we are with this story right now. And it's going to shake out perhaps and I hope in Cohen's testimony coming up on the 6th, 7th, 8th of February.
STELTER: When the story came out on buzzfeed.com in the 10:00 p.m. hour on Thursday, virtually every news outlet in the country ran with it. CNN ran with it, MSNBC, even Fox News a little bit. I wonder, Carl, even though all of us, including you, kept saying, be cautious, be skeptical, we have not confirmed, did we all make a mistake by running with "BuzzFeed's" story?
BERNSTEIN: No, I think we had to report it and attribute it to "BuzzFeed". And as I said on our air, we don't know whether or not this story is accurate, contextual, true, and it needs to be run down.
But "BuzzFeed", indeed, has been at the front of this part of the story. I think you also need to look at what the pattern has been in terms of the reporting of the Russia story by all of the press. And that is that it is the press that has been accurate throughout this. Hundreds of thousands of stories by the "A.P.", by "The Washington Post," by CNN, by "Reuters", by all the major news organizations, "The Wall Street Journal," that have turned out to be true and the president has, it has turned out, has been telling one truth after another in regard to Russia.
His conduct has been the issue here. Not the conduct of the press, which he would like it to be. The record of the press in reporting the Russia story is actually pretty spectacular. And when there have been mistakes made --
STELTER: Trump's allies point to the mistakes. They point to big mistakes that happen at CNN and elsewhere. Is what you're saying that, you know, we're not batting a thousand but we're batting pretty close? Is that what you're saying?
BERNSTEIN: What I'm saying is the reporting on the Russia story and the Trump presidency has been excellent, by and large. And, yes, look, reporters make mistakes. News organizations make mistakes. In Watergate, we made a mistake, a very serious mistake in terms of how the press and "The Washington Post," Bob Woodward and myself were perceived for a few days because we reported that the assistant -- the principal assistant to the President of the United States, his Chief of Staff had directed the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Watergate burglars and other undercover activities against the opposition, Democrats, according to grand jury testimony.
Well, it turned out the grand jury testimony did not exist because the prosecutors didn't have the grand jury asked about it and we surmised from something a source had said that the grand jury had. It -- we -- took us two days to figure out what the mistake was. We were right. The Chief of Staff controlled that fund and then the Watergate report of a special prosecutor and in the hearings, it was established that he directed $350,000 just as we had said to be spent. And it was apparent within two days that we were right.
Now, it might not be apparent in two days in this instance, who is right, what the exact context is. We're going to have to wait to find out. It's clear that from the Mueller statement that some part of what BuzzFeed wrote, the special prosecutor believes was in error. Is it the substance of Cohen saying that he was directed by the president to lie or is it about how the special prosecutor came to know such a thing if indeed that is what happened. So we're going to have to wait. I keep saying the same thing. We don't know. What we do know is though that Donald Trump has been claiming from the beginning that he is the victim of a witch hunt by Mueller.
He has been attacking Mueller day in and day out. He can no longer say with any credibility that this is a witch hunt because the Special Prosecutor has taken this opportunity to say I want to be clear on the facts and in my view, in my view a Special Prosecutor there is some error here that needs to be clarified or corrected by my office in knowing that this will be something that will stop some of the talk on the Hill about impeachment, etcetera, etcetera, as well as play to the President's favor. So that witch-hunt aspect is pretty much out the window about Mueller at this point.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Can I ask you one more question before I have to go. The idea of a smoking gun. You know, a lot of Trump critics reacted to the BuzzFeed story and said there it is, the smoking gun. But is that the wrong way to look at this all together?
BERNSTEIN: Well, I think one of the unfortunate legacies of Watergate was that there had to be a smoking gun to establish that Richard Nixon was a criminal president because it had already been established by many of the tapes by John Dean's testimony, by a preponderance of absolutely certifiable circumstantial evidence that was mountainous. There was no doubt as to his guilt. And so he was very successful in establishing this standard. Unless you have a smoking gun I should not be removed from office.
Well, it turned out that on the tapes there was a smoking gun that confirmed what John Dean had said. So we were left with that legacy. I think that in what we're dealing with Donald Trump you have a similar situation. We have a President of the United States and we need to wait for the Mueller report. It is absolutely we essential that we all take a deep breath and wait for the Mueller report.
But in the meantime, from available sources, including filings by Mueller and the -- and the Southern District of New York, we have established, the press has established that the President of the United States, his family members, people closest to him in the campaign have lied at every turn in almost everything having to do with Russia including largely on this Trump Tower business when in fact the president of the United States said no such thing was happening at the time and it did.
You know, it's his family members who said long ago we get a tremendous amount of money from our business in Russia and from Russians while Donald Trump was saying no, we didn't get any money from Russia, and Russia. So the issue here goes back to the truthfulness of the President of the United States which --
[11:35:17] STELTER: Which is a big story.
BERNSTEIN: -- manifestly, we have learned on truthful. And so one of the problems we have in the press is I hear myself sort of jumping backwards when I say that out loud on television. I'm not used to saying out loud the President of the United States lies serially over and over and over. It sounds so pejorative
STELTER: But that was comfortable to say. But we have to tell the truth.
BERNSTEIN: And so -- and what -- and -- but yet it's truthful. And one of the things that has gotten lost in this story by Trump making the conduct of the press the issue, the same reporters and news organizations including CNN, including the Washington Post and New York Times, including me, including Bob Woodward, including all these reporters that Trump attacks, he loved us during the primaries when we were reporting on Hillary Clinton's e-mails. We could do no wrong.
So this idea of fake news, we are reporting real news and Donald Trump knows that.
STELTER: He does. He knows it. He knows it. He just has to lie --
BERNSTEIN: But it is -- but the question that is at issue is we have a President of the United States who lies and this is historically demonstrable, reportorially factual, contextual, a President of the United States who lies serially, routinely, compulsively, such as never has happened in our modern history of the presidency. And that is a huge part of the story.
STELTER: It's a problem. It's a problem that's getting worse.
BERNSTEIN: And what -- and what happens to the President of the United States?
STELTER: Yes. On that point, Carl, thank you so much for being here putting this in context for us.
BERNSTEIN: Good to be with you.
STELTER: I want to turn now to another of America's best-known journalists on that very subject. The Atlantic Magazine, you might have seen this, it's leaving no doubt as to where they stand on the next steps of the Trump presidency. This new cover says, of course, impeach in big bold red letters. This is the March issue but it's out really early. The cover story stresses that it is time for action in order to bring the debate about Trump's fitness for office to Congress. Jeffrey Goldberg is the Editor in Chief of the Atlantic and he's joining me now.
Jeffrey, I wanted to ask you about BuzzFeed, but first, why did you release this cover several weeks before you were planning on releasing it?
JEFFREY GOLDBERG, EDITOR IN CHIEF, ATLANTIC: It seemed -- we released it earlier last week. It seemed as if the news was demanding that we released this, the new Democratic Congress, people talking about impeachment already. The shutdown which is unprecedented as so many things are about this presidency, and the real active debate -- this is the thing that actually moved me the most. The real live debate in this country about whether the President of the United States is a witting or unwitting Russian intelligence asset which sounds so bizarre, obviously.
GOLDBERG: It's like we're living on Earth-Two or something. I thought you know with all of these things going on, the pieces are carefully constructed, written piece by Yoni Appelbaum who's a historian of American institutions, knows his stuff and I thought the argument in this for beginning and impeachment process was very strong. And I thought since it was finished already, people ought to see it sooner rather than later.
STELTER: And I wanted to bring you in on this BuzzFeed conversation because obviously the BuzzFeed report, it made impeachment talk even louder on Friday. But obviously, your story was written before then. It was out before then. What do you think are the consequences of this BuzzFeed dispute about how accurate the story was and whether it was wrong? How do you think that plays?
GOLDBERG: I don't know. Nothing lasts long term these days, right? The cycle is so frenetic. And the truth of the matter is BuzzFeed is -- has a proven record of getting these stories right. I mean, let's not -- let's not miss some important underlying facts here. One of the underlying truths of this incident to me is that if you -- if you ask me is -- does Ben Smith, the editor of BuzzFeed have a deeper commitment to truth than Donald Trump, I would say Ben Smith, obviously.
GOLDBERG: I think part -- you know, part of this is you have two different systems at work here. You have a system on the Trump side that doesn't take issues of truth and lying seriously and you have another system in the mainstream media where when we get things wrong, we try to figure out why we got it wrong. We excavate these things. We talk about them in public. We have shows like yours to talk about these things.
And so -- and so you know, I would attach myself to the comments of Carl Bernstein is that that you know, in the long run it is the press that has been accurate about the unique qualities of this presidency and also there is a record of BuzzFeed getting these things right. On the particulars of the story, I'm not going to comment because I don't know enough about the sourcing, I don't understand enough about the construction of the story. These are credible reporters though and I think it's important to state that.
[11:40:27] STELTER: Back to your impeach cover, the March issue, you've also rolled out this big new feature called unthinkable. Because today is the two-year anniversary of the Trump presidency, you've had 50 writers way on 50 different examples of unthinkable behavior and stories and scandals involving Trump. Which -- what's your favorite? Or what's your least favorite? What's your pick?
GOLDBERG: Well, the story we made number one. And let me be very careful here to point this out. We tried to make this nonpartisan in the following sense. We only picked incidents from the first two years that we could not imagine either a Democratic president or a Republican president, George W. Bush or Barack Obama for example, would have done in office, things they would not have done in office.
The number one on our list is the family separation policy and the more baroque aspects of the family separation policy. And then there is the number two is Charlottesville, the reaction to Charlottesville and the neo-Nazi march. There -- you know, it's a great exercise and I hope people read it on the Atlantic Web site because it reminds you of things. Like I said, everything goes by so fast these days that you forget what's been said, what's been tweeted, what's been denied, what's been done. And so -- and so we have -- it ranges from the -- from the momentous to the absurd --
STELTER: Well, that's the thing I wanted to ask you about. Yes, you focus a lot on the big stuff, do you think the small stuff matters too? I mean, Trump misspelling hamburgers this week. Trump tweeting that he's fined in Nashville not New Orleans. Trump suggesting there's a border wall in San Antonio. Jeffrey, I worry about that stuff. But is that stuff too small to concern you?
GOLDBERG: No. A, an editor I care about spelling so let's just leave -- make that clear. I believe in grammar. And no, I don't think so because they all add up. Each one of those signifies something deeper about a commitment to truth, about a commitment to two principles and norms that have governed the way presidents behave. We made our number 50, our lowest one, the moment in Saudi Arabia with the orb -- remember the magic glowing orb with the King of Saudi Arabia?
STELTER: The magic orb, I did forget about that.
GOLDBERG: Just for the sheer weirdness of it. Just for the sheer weirdness of it, but yes. No, I mean these tweets in which -- in which he behaves as no other president would behave. I do think they add up to something. And then you know, the list is 50 but that's because you know, we run out of time. The list could have been 300. It's really remarkable the number of improbable things that have happened just in the first two years if this presidency.
STELTER: Happy two year anniversary. Jeffery, thank you so much for being here. I greatly appreciate it. A quick break here and then to the shutdown. I want you to meet a White House reporter who's not getting paid because of the shutdown. That's coming up right after this.
[11:45:00] STELTER: And we're back now on RELIABLE SOURCES. A lot more to get to now that the government has been shut down for 30 days and counting. Let's bring in New York Magazine Washington Correspondent Olivia Nuzzi, Baltimore Sun Media Critic David Zurawik, and Voice of America's White House Bureau Chief Steve Herman.
Steve, first to you. You were there at the White House covering the President's speech on Saturday but you're working unpaid I believe. Many staffers of Voice of America have either been furloughed or are working unpaid because Voice of America is funded by the U.S. government. You know, I got to ask you what it's like as a reporter that's actually be affected by the shutdown. I know you're not speaking for anybody else at VOA, but what is this like to be a victim of the shutdown while covering the shutdown?
STEVE HERMAN, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, VOICE OF AMERICA: It is a bit unusual, of course, to be covering a topic that so personally affects you, but just like any other topic that I would be covering, you put that aside, you go ahead you do your job, and it's not affecting the way that I do my job actually except for the days that I'm furloughed, other days I'm unpaid here at the White House swapping out with one of my colleagues.
STELTER: Is this the first time that you've kind of personally experienced or lived through a story and felt the effects?
HERMAN: Most certainly to this degree, but really I was down at the Federal Credit Union the other day where I'm a member and the banker there was telling me she's had grown men in that seat where I was sitting crying because of the effects that it's had on them. So I'm a little bit more fortunate than perhaps many other of the hundreds of thousands of federal workers affected. STELTER: Yes. And I know journalists, they don't want to make story
about themselves. None of you at VOA have even mentioned that you've been furloughed. I was looking on your Web site, it hasn't even come up once. Let me turn to the shutdown more broadly. Olivia Nuzzi, this idea of the State of the Union being postponed, these other effects, do you think President Trump will go ahead and have some sort of speech because today he tweeted and said Nancy Pelosi, I'll have more for you soon.
OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Right. I wasn't quite sure how to interpret that tweet as is often the case with the President's tweets. I'm sure that this will play out as some kind of protracted drama as tends to be the case with the President. I mean, look in previous years, the State of the Union address was postponed for a week under Reagan after the Challenger disaster. I guess the question for the President is how much does he want to make it look like we are in a state of chaos and disaster or would giving this speech give the impression that perhaps he does have some part of the government under control.
I think the White House is going to be thinking about this strictly from an optics perspective and I can't imagine that on something like this that he does have some control over that he would want to appear like he is caving to Pelosi and the Democrats in any way. But the shutdown is extremely unpopular as you know. CNN had a great piece yesterday summing up six recent polls from various credible polling institutions across the board that's unpopular, and across the board the president is blamed for it so he may try and use this speech as an opportunity to kind of rewrite the narrative.
[11:50:39] STELTER: David Zurawik, we only have a minute left, unfortunately, but I'm going to ask you about the caravan sequel. Because Fox News is talking about a brand new Caravan again raising fears of immigration. Your reaction?
DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, BALTIMORE SUN: Change the narrative. It's change the narrative time. They started that after Rudy Giuliani's interview with Chris Cuomo, the incredible mess he made of what he was trying to say in that and they were on their heels. And then came the BuzzFeed story. They were on their heels. It's a way for them not to have to report the stories everyone else is reporting that re negative about the President and have a different story to tell. It's shameless the way they whipped this story and they play to fear and loathing about immigrants to this country, but that's exactly what was going on and you can look at the timing and see it.
STELTER: You mean as soon as the news got even worse for Trump, Fox pivoted.
ZURAWIK: Exactly. And that's where they went. That's the well. That's where they go to, same place Trump does.
STELTER: It is -- it is effective in the short-term. I think in the long-term it does their viewers a disservice.
ZURAWIK: You are right. STELTER: Thank you, everybody, for being here. I'm grateful for your time. I want to take a quick break here and then tell you about a really important program. It's like AmeriCorp for journalism. We'll have that right after this.
[11:55:00] STELTER: In the United States we have Teach for America, AmeriCorp, The Peace Corp, and now there's also Report for America. It is stepping in to help with the crisis of local news where ad revenue is being lost philanthropy, nonprofits, foundations are filling in some of the gaps. Charles Sennott and Steve Waldman are the cofounders of Report for America. They started up last year with about 13 reporters, now they're trying to scale up to 60 and in a few years, they want to get up to 1,000. Here's what they told me about how it's going so far.
CHARLES SENNOTT, CO-FOUNDER, REPORT FOR AMERICA: We begin in Appalachia, in really central Appalachia, in West Virginia, and Eastern Kentucky, so two newspapers. And that's exactly what we're hoping to do is to be in these places that are -- that are forgotten, where people haven't felt heard. And it's not just the liberal elite media on the coast that hasn't heard them, In some cases it's the Lexington, it's Lexington Herald. It's a culture in Western Kentucky that is completely different from Eastern Kentucky. And we're seeing that.
We're seeing even within states that are in the middle of the country or that are not part of those coastal elites, those communities themselves are not listening to each other either and there's a need to sort of think about local journalism as a binding agent for our democracy or our communities, or as Will Wright has done excellent work on water. So the access to clean water is a huge issue in Appalachia and Kentucky. And he's done great reporting on it. Who knows or who cares if you're a Republican or Democrat when it comes to whether or not your community has clean water. All you care about is how you get it fixed.
STEVE WALDMAN, CO-FOUNDER, REPORT FOR AMERICA: And a month later the person who's in charge of the water district gets forced out, and a month after that the state legislator mysteriously finds $5 million to help fix the problem. What's constructive to us about that was like this was not a six month long investigative project. This was a second week on the job. He was --
SENNOTT: Basically showed up at the commissioners --
WALDMAN: Well, to give him a little more credit than that, he showed up in the meetings and then followed up and went to people's houses and had them turn on --
STELTER: Asked for the glass of water and tell the water was dirty.
WALDMAN: Exactly. You know, I mean, really good -- SENNOTT: Really good street reporting.
WALDMAN: Really good local reporting but it was not a yearlong investigative project. And it -- I mean, unfortunately, it shows is that these gaps are so severe that if you put even a young reporter in an area, you can really have a big impact.
STELTER: The business model here is essentially philanthropy.
SENNOTT: Look, there's a new era of journalism where non-profit is playing a bigger and bigger rule right? So --
WALDMAN: And has to.
STELTER: But should journalists be skeptical of that? And more importantly, should the public be skeptical that it's essentially billionaires and their foundations that are founding journalism?
SENNOTT: I think we should be as skeptical as we are as big corporations who have given corporate advertising. And we need to be attentive to the way corporate influence comes in through advertising, similarly with the foundations. The difference I think with the foundations is we have really good standards how to create these walls. Like PBS does this very, very well and they are very caring about how they do it.
STELTER: You use the same standards as that?
SENNOTT: We really do. We want to replicate that.
STELTER: What about the Facebook money and the Google money, too? Google last year announced $300 million over three years for journalism. This week Facebook announces $300 million over three years for journalism. Some of us look at this and say they're just throwing crumbs at newsrooms because they've done so much damage to the news industry. They've sucked up advertising revenue, they've taken away audience, and now they're just throwing crumbs. What's your reaction to that?
SENNOTT: Well, I think the idea that they've hurt the landscape of journalism in our country is true. I think that they did that through business models that are really successful, that weren't intended to hurt the landscape of journalism.
STELTER: Right. They weren't trying to hurt --
SENNOTT: Right. It was inadvertent. But I think when they offer an opportunity to find a way to create new models of journalism, I don't think we should rule that out and say you can't be part of repairing the landscape. You can always recognize you did a lot to damage it, and we hope they'll do a lot more. I agree with you, they can do more and we think they will do more, and we want to be part of that.
STELTER: If you want to be a part of this program -- END