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BuzzFeed Stands by Reports; Unions Warn of Shutdown Consequences; Democrats Court Black Voters. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired January 21, 2019 - 08:30   ET



[08:31:24] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: "BuzzFeed" is standing by its report that President Trump directed his long time personal lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a potential Trump Organization project in Moscow. Information that it attributed it to two unnamed federal law enforcement officials involved in the investigation. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office issued a rare statement, I mean very rare, saying the story contained information that is not accurate.

Joining me now is Brian Stelter, CNN's chief media correspondent, anchor of CNN's "Reliable Sources."

Brian, you had Ben Smith, the editor of "BuzzFeed News" on. You had Anthony Cormier, one of the reporters on the story on. You had them on over the weekend. They continue to stand by it.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Not just stand by it, they are exuding confidence about this story. It's really remarkable to see these two journalists absolutely saying, our sources are correct, our story is correct, and it will be proven out to be true. You know, that's, obviously, a difficult situation for any news organization to be in because there's been so much disputing of this report.

But they stand by it. They say they've checked back with their sources. Their sources have reconfirmed the story. But, John, we still don't have the evidence that would prove this one way or the other. And that's one of the reasons why there is so much uncertainty about this and why, until we see documents or other evidence or testimony, this is going to remain a dispute.

BERMAN: One thing we do know though is that the special counsel's office says it's inaccurate. So as far as I'm concerned, the operative phrase is the story's inaccurate. All we know is that there's something wrong with the story. How much of it I suppose is open to interpretation.

STELTER: Right. The special counsel won't say.

BERMAN: But something's wrong with it.

STELTER: Right. The special counsel won't say what they say was inaccurate. The statement was written in a lawyerly way.


STELTER: These are lawyers after all. But I've had some journalists say to me, don't overthink this. The special counsel never issues a statement, never challenges a story, and they've challenged this one, so there has to be a reason why.

BERMAN: Right. And if we can't match it ourselves what the special counsel's office says is inaccurate, as far as I'm concerned, it's more or less inoperative, is as if it did happen.

We have learned more about the reporting process that happened here, including --


BERMAN: Let me read this. There was an e-mail for comment that was sent to Peter Carr, the spokesperson for the special counsel, from Jason Leopold, one of the authors. Let me just read this, because it is interesting.


BERMAN: This is before the story published. It says, Peter, hope all is well. Anthony and I have a story coming stating that Michael Cohen was directed by President Trump himself to lie to Congress about his negotiations related to the Trump Moscow project. Assume no comment from you, but wanted to check. Best, Jason.

STELTER: It's shockingly casual. You know, I don't know if all of our viewers recognize how this process normally works. Normally you're going to give a lot more detail. You're going to give a lot more information ahead of time when you're asking for comment on such a serious story.

Frankly, I give more detail when I'm writing a silly dumb story about "BuzzFeed." You know, I sent more information to "BuzzFeed" asking for comment than they've done on one of the most important stories of the Trump presidency. So, why? The question is why.

Well, Ben Smith says, this is how it works with the special counsel. They never answer. They never give guidance on stories, so it's OK. I think, however, in the journalism world, this is being looked at as a real problem, that there is not enough of a request for comment. Maybe if "BuzzFeed" had been more detailed ahead of time --

BERMAN: What should they have added? In your mind, what would have been additional, pertinent information here?

STELTER: Well, they could have said, for example, we've been told that Mueller's office was told this information and that Mueller has received testimony about this. And there are documents to prove it. And if you had given those bullet points and given that detailed information, the special counsel's office could have pushed back, could have waved "BuzzFeed" off the story, or could have tried somehow to tamp it down. Obviously, "BuzzFeed" didn't give any of that information and so, as a result, they published and the special counsel's office was surprised, I think. They were taken aback by how much detail was in the story.

[08:35:03] BERMAN: What's "BuzzFeed" going to do the next days and weeks? Are they going to report other stuff like this? Are they -- are these reporters still working on things? Are they going to give daily updates as to what they're finding out about this?

STELTER: They are very actively working on this. The story is still up on the home page. They still have confidence in it clearly if it's still up on the home page.

But this is a test of "BuzzFeed's" credibility. Obviously the rest of the news media ran with the story because "BuzzFeed" had a good track record on this particular beat. But if this story is wrong, it's a huge blow for the company.

I think what's going to eventually come out is we're going to figure out what exactly happened here. I think eventually "BuzzFeed" will do more reporting on the details. Is it possible that Trump said to Cohen, you know, take care of this? Take care of me. Was it mob-like language? What happened? Right now we just don't know.

BERMAN: No. Although Rudy Giuliani did give us an insight as to some of the events that were going on during that time. He continued to like talk to Michael Cohen for months about the Russia deal and also may have talken to Cohen (INAUDIBLE) --

STELTER: I mean there's smoke there. There's smoke there, but there's not the fire proven yet.

BERMAN: And the story, we are told by the special counsel, is inaccurate.

Brian Stelter, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

STELTER: Thank you, sir.

BERMAN: Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Some airlines workers calling for an end to the government shutdown and they say your safety could be at stake. That's next.


[08:40:09] HILL: If you are at the airport this morning, or maybe making your way there, there's a good chance that you may see and feel the impact of the now 31-day government shutdown. From TSA screeners, to mechanics, air traffic controllers, flight attendants, much of the aviation industry is being impacted by the shutdown and others are warning that the impact is going to be trickling down to them soon.

Joining us this morning, Sara Nelson, who's international president of the Association for Flight Attendants, and Dan McCabe, a representative from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Their agencies signed a joint letter to the president, to Speaker Pelosi, to Mitch McConnell, urging them to bring the shutdown to an end.

And here we are. We heard from the president, of course, on Saturday.

Dan, one of the things that I noticed is there wasn't a mention, though, of the 800,000 furloughed workers. And you're here speaking on behalf of some of them.


HILL: Are -- is that part of the equation, getting enough attention in the shutdown talks?

MCCABE: I don't know. I would have loved to have heard a mention of anything about the 800,000 people, especially the 20,000 that I represent. But, day-to-day, it just gets, when are we going to hear something? When are we going to hear something? It's frustrating at this point because it would have been nice to see something to give us a little bit of hope that something was going to happen.

HILL: Sara, as we mentioned, both of -- both of your agencies, as well as a number of other groups, have signed on to this letter that was sent to both the president and Pelosi and McConnell. And part of what you say is, as the shutdown continues, the entire industry will begin to unravel. That letter was sent on January 10th.

Sara, have you heard anything about those concerns that you have about this trickle down?

SARA NELSON, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS, CWA (AFA): No, we haven't. And, you know, this has got to be resolved. So we have a growing concern for safety and security here. We know all too well what it means when you have gaps in security. The TSA was created after 9/11 when I lost my friends. Our country shut down. Airplanes stopped flying. And we had a massive economic impact from that. We lost over 100,000 aviation jobs. Many people were hurt and it led to the economic turndown that hurt so many people and had so many people out of work.

There is no one that this isn't going to touch. And when you're standing outside and you're suddenly hit with a thunderstorm, you do not wait and negotiate in that thunderstorm and wait for lightning to strike. You get out of the way and then you talk about where you're going to go next. They need to reopen the government, stop holding all of us hostage and putting our safety and security in jeopardy.

HILL: Dan, you've pointed out that everyone has a breaking point. And you've never seen morale as low as you have at this point in your 13 years with the FAA. So where do folks go from here, because I want to point out, too, how many of these dedicated workers -- I mean we talk about some of the increases in calls out sick. There are also, I mean, hundreds of thousands of workers who are still being told they have to go to work, and they're showing up without a paycheck. MCCABE: That's the scary part to me. As you -- there's no gauge as to

where someone's breaking point's at. So is it one paycheck? Is it two paychecks? Is it four paychecks?

My biggest fear is that as people reach their breaking point, they'll begin to quit. They'll look for outside employment. The -- and which will exacerbate a 30-year staffing low that we're already dealing with. And the economic impact to the country at that point is terrible, let alone having controllers that are already in a stressful job come to work, not well rested, not on their "a" game, and it's introducing unmitigated risk into a system that's risk averse.

HILL: The president, last night -- we did point out how he didn't mention the furloughed workers in his proposal on Saturday. He did tweet out, I believe it was yesterday, last night, tweeting out this saying thank you to the folks who are not working. You are great patriots. We must now work together, he went on to say, after decades of abuse to finally fix the humanitarian, criminal and drug crisis at our border. We will win big.

The president is saying thank you, Dan, to you essentially.

MCCABE: Yes, I appreciate that. He's right, we do have to work together. Someone has to step up and be a leader and end this because it is not worth what it is doing to this country in the short term, in the long term. You can't even judge the long term. Someone's got to step up in Washington and be a leader and bring everyone together and put an end to this.

HILL: And I know that that's what you're all asking for, that you're asking both parties, obviously, leaders across the aisle to step up.

And, Sara, you've said -- I know you touched on this earlier -- but just give us a better sense. So you've said that as this shutdown continues, there is absolutely going to be a ripple effect here. There are issues of safety that we can't ignore. Walk us through what you're saying that could be like, even in just the coming days.

NELSON: Well, if these workers can't do their job, I can't do mine. And you -- these federal workers cannot cash thank yous. They can't. They've got stressors on their family. They can't even put a tank of gas in their car to get to work. And as this starts to crumble and unravel, we're going to see mass flight cancellations, we're going to see a system that completely unravels and falls apart. We will not have private jets taking off to get people to the Super Bowl. No one will be able to get to Atlanta. This is going to have a massive economic impact.

[08:45:31] And my numbers jobs are on the verge of facing those real effects, just like the federal workers who have had this on their backs all these -- all this time. They are being held hostage by an effort to try to negotiate under terms that no one has ever done before in the history of our nation. This is not acceptable. This is the longest shutdown that has ever happened. We don't even know the ripple effects of this and how quickly they will come. But I will tell you, we are days away. When the planes stop flying,

our members' jobs are hurt. But packages don't get to trucks that get loaded on those trucks and get to our communities. And medicines don't get to the hospitals to treat people in those hospitals. No one is going to get away from this unscathed.

The people who are flying on our planes today, I'm here to tell you are less safe and less secure. And at a certain point, we can't allow that to go on. This can't be on our backs. And it's being put on our backs all across aviation, all across the federal government. We have 1,500 people who are furloughed from DHS' cybersecurity unit. Think about that. That is -- 1,500 people not doing their job today on cybersecurity to keep us safe.

There are more people who enter this country and immigrate to this country by air than by any other means. And we are weakening the system. We are opening up ourselves for attack. At best, our members are going to lose work. At worst, our safety and security is in jeopardy. And that should be nonnegotiable. That is nonnegotiable. We need to open up the government now.

And let me just say, Leader McConnell, Democrats and Republicans agree, get these bills to the floor today. Get a vote today. We cannot wait for what may happen to us if you do not do that.

HILL: Sara Nelson, Dan McCabe, appreciate you both joining us. Thank you.


BERMAN: All right, potential presidential candidates fanning out across the country on this Martin Luther King Junior Day. Why the voters they speak to could hold the key to their election's success.


[08:51:45] HILL: A big, new entry into the Democratic race for president. Just a short time ago, Senator Kamala Harris of California declaring her candidacy on this Martin Luther King Junior Day. At least six potential candidates will be appearing at MLK Day events today in an effort, of course, to court African-American voters. A group of voters that is critical to securing the party's nomination.

CNN's Victor Blackwell joining us live this morning with more.

Victor, good morning.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, good morning to you.

The first official event of the day here at the King Center starts in about an hour. This is celebrating what would have been his 90th birthday. And where there will be Democrats at King Day events across the country, there will be Democrats looking ahead to 2020.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE). Give us a call, 783-9936-783-WWDM. Our topic, Democrats are in the House --

BLACKWELL (voice over): The 2020 presidential election is more than a year away, but it's already the hottest topic on Cynthia Hardy's call- in show in Columbia, South Carolina.

CYNTHIA HARDY, HOST, ONPOINT! WITH CYNTHIA HARDY: In a very odd way, the current administration and the current president has lit a fire under African-American people.

BLACKWELL: And Democrats are introducing themselves to black voters at Martin Luther King Day events across the country today hoping to capture that heat. Senators Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker will attend Columbia's annual King Day at the Dome. The South Carolina's primary election is the first major test of candidates' strength among African-American voters who accounted for more than 60 percent of Democratic primary votes in 2016.

JAMIE HARRISON, ASSOCIATE CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: So goes the African-American vote, so goes the Democratic Party.

BLACKWELL: Jamie Harrison is associate chair of the Democratic National Committee and former chair of the South Carolina state Democratic Party.

HARRISON: Part of the success that we saw in 2018 in the -- in the midterm elections came as a result of African-Americans mobilizing and getting the vote out. The cohesion and unity of the African-American vote has been the real engine and the driver of the Democratic Party.

BLACKWELL: At Zion Baptist Church, when President Donald Trump was compared to a biblical tyrant, the congregants shout "amen."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: King Herod had one purpose and that was to build a wall.

BLACKWELL: They are ready for change.

BLACK WELL (on camera): And who do you like?



HALL: Because I like him. I like his principles and what he stands for.

BRENDA CLARK, CHURCH ATTENDEE: Biden would be one person I would be interested in.

TONETTA KILLENS, CHURCH ATTENDEE: I do like Kamala. She is a voice as a black woman. I think that it is time for one of us to step up to the plate.

BLACKWELL (voice over): Senator Kamala Harris will travel to Columbia Friday to speak to more than 2,000 members of her majority African- American sorority. MAYOR STEVE BENJAMIN (D), COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA: You've got to get

out there and work. Earn votes one at a time. The interactions that Senator Harris had here last year, that Senator Booker has had here in the past have all been -- left very positive feelings with the citizens here. But they'll be lots of other very credible candidates. So I would take nothing -- leave nothing to chance.

BLACKWELL: All Democratic hopefuls are making seemingly passionate pitches.

JULIAN CASTRO, FORMER SECRETARY, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT: We've had too many instances where young black men, especially, have been the victims of state violence.

[08:55:06] SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The government itself has systematically discriminated against black people in this country.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: You are never going to accomplish any of these things if you don't take on the systems of power that make all of that impossible, which is taking on institutional racism.

BLACKWELL: Local experts say the key to earning votes here, tone. And striking the wrong tone could be more effectual than getting it right.

HARDY: You know how sometimes you might not know what you want but you know certainly what you don't. And that helps you to determine how you're going to examine the candidates. I think that's what we're going to see.


BLACKWELL: Now, all the Democratic energy we're seeing in South Carolina is focused on the primary because the last Democrat to win the state in a general election was Jimmy Carter more than 40 years ago.

We also know that the president was very optimistic in 2016 as a candidate saying that in four years he would win more than 95 percent of the African-American vote. The latest poll shows approval rating at 9 percent with black voters.

One more thing, the latest edition of the president and the vice president's public schedule today has no events, no acknowledgment of the King Day holiday. We'll see if that changes a little later today.

Back to you, John and Erica.

BERMAN: All right, Victor Blackwell for us in Atlanta. Victor, thanks so much for that report.

As Victor was saying, a major announcement in the race for president just a short time ago. That as we all wait to see if any progress is made to end the longest shutdown in U.S. history. New developments, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)