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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Drowning in News of Trump's Scandals and Struggles; The White House is Losing Hope. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired March 4, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:11] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works, and how the news gets made.

On the agenda today, a White House in crisis and a White House press corps trying to make sense of the chaos. A president now described as unglued, unraveling, uncontrollable. Where are reporters getting these quotes from?

And at the White House with Hope Hicks leaving, is the relationship between the press corps and the president all but hopeless?

Later, we're talking about Fox hosts who are in denial about the damning Russia probe.

And Comedy Central's Jordan Klepper is here. He's using comedy to make a serious point about gun violence.

But let's begin with what many in the media are calling a wild week in the White House and a wild ride for reporters, as well as news consumers struggling to keep up. That's what I would like to talk about, not so much what it's like for the press, but it's like for all of us as viewers, as consumers of the news.

Every hour, it seemed, of every day, there were news bombshells, one after another, after another.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a week so far.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: What a day. A lot of breaking news tonight.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's entirely possible, of course, some other shocking news will break this hour.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: We're following multiple huge stories tonight.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: A year's worth of news to fit in to one hour.

LEMON: And it's a lot, so buckle up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Buckle up, indeed.

We wanted to look at what all these explosive headlines added up to and how we can all as consumers make sense of it. So, we went ahead and looked at the chyrons, that's the term for the cable news banners on the bottom of the screen. And we picked out just some of the banners that appeared on CNN this week.

It's going to take more than three minutes to go through all these. We'll slow it down for you in a minute. But I want you to think about how fast they're going by, how much news is piling up on the screen. I mean, we're barely to the middle of the week at this point. It's Wednesday now, and I'm exhausted. I'm overwhelmed just taking a look at the list.

Doesn't it feel like we're drowning in news? Doesn't it feel like the number of scandals, the number of allegations of corruption, the number of new developments about the Mueller probes, the number of stories about White House infighting, that it's all just too much to keep up with?

And if so, what should journalists do to help? What can viewers and news consumers do to keep up?

I think that's the conversation that we need to have at a moment like this, where it really does feel like the White House is in a rolling, ongoing crisis.

Now, the banners are still going, we're going to come back to those in a minute. But I wanted to show you a search that we did through a service called news bank. We combined the words chaos and some other words to look at Trump, Obama, and Bush's first years in office. This is the first four years for Obama and Bush compared to the first 13 months for President Trump.

These are the number of mentions of the word "chaos" just in the first paragraph of coverage. And here's turmoil. Let's look again at other words we looked at. This is just a sense of how different it feels with this president.

That slide really says it well. Scandal. Or here, dysfunction. You can see President Trump winning, at least in those measurements.

Let's try to talk about this and make sense of it first with Jeff Greenfield, long-time political analyst who's been covering politics for decades.

I want to know from you, Jeff, if this does feel like a unique moment in time. Let me just tell our viewers, we're going to put those banners back on screen. You can go through the entire week with us. But did this feel unusual to you?

JEFF GREENFIELD, POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, in fact, you, Chuck Todd, and about 20 other people are chanting this is not normal, this is not normal out of almost like a horror movie.

And White House staffs are always covered. People are always interested in fights. Donald Regan versus Nancy Reagan.

This is different. What concerns me is just what you touched on, which is in this avalanche, if that's the right word, of stories, what's being crowded out?

And I think there are two things. One are serious policy issues. This may seem wonky, but Trump's refusal to back that rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, maybe not front page news to most of the country. That could have the most devastating impact on the economy of the Northeast of the United States, far greater than a tax bill. It ought to be focused on heavily.

STELTER: That's a story that just broke the other day, that President Trump's withholding support for funding of this gateway tunnel project. These tunnels desperately need to be rebuilt. It is a problem not just for New York but for the country.

And yet, he might be holding it up because he's mad at Chuck Schumer.

GREENFIELD: Yes, which is an interesting -- you know, as opposed to not letting Schumer put a post office in the state.

The other one is, I think this coverage, which sometimes sounds, both on this network and others like -- you know, we're one step away from the feds coming to arrest the president for something. It's overlooking the fact that this administration and the Republican Congress in the first 13 months have from their point of view achieved more than any president.

[11:05:07] I mean, it puts Reagan to shame.

The federal bench being remade, the environmental policies being completely turned on its head, the whole social issues approach 180 degrees from Obama, and the fact the Supreme Court is almost certainly going to deal the most crippling blow to organized labor since the New Deal by saying to public sector unions, you can't force people to pay dues.

These are enormous achievements from the point of view of the right. I think Trump's approval rating and the chaos story tends to overshadow, you know, this has been an enormously consequential 13 months.

STELTER: If there is chaos and there is, and if there are 100 stories competing for our attention, which there are, we just got to Friday on our list of headlines, isn't that benefitting the president or benefitting the people that might be under investigation? You know, talking about these various agencies where there's been exorbitant spending, all these stories about embarrassing scandals in various departments.

And yet, if they don't stay on the banner for more than five minutes, don't those people benefit?

GREENFIELD: Yes, I do think it's the kind of case where, you know, every 15 seconds it seems the spotlight swings somewhere else. And some of the most eyebrow raising stuff, the story that just broke about the United Arab Emirates' attempts to perhaps curry favor with the White House -- with, you know, Kushner.

STELTER: Big "New York Times" front page story this morning.

GREENFIELD: Yes. I mean, some of these stories, I think, really require from a substantive point of view some sustained attention. And yet, every 15 seconds it's like, not that I use this, it's almost like Tinder. You know, we're swiping right and swiping left every 10 seconds for the next hot story.

STELTER: Right, right, that's what I've heard about Tinder.

GREENFIELD: Yes.

STELTER: Jeff, stand by.

Let's bring in two people who may or may not use it, I don't know, some younger guests who are covering the White House every day. Olivia Nuzzi who's covering Washington for "New York Magazine", and Josh Dawsey, White House reporter for "The Washington Post", and a CNN political analyst.

Josh, first time on RELIABLE SOURCES, so first to you. What story mattered most to you amid this flood of news this week?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think the president's comments on tariffs were certainly, you know, widely consequential. You have all sorts of reverberations around the world. You have foreign leaders calling. You have lots of schisms in his own party, and some unions and Democrats who are supporting it.

It was not done through a normal policy process. And, you know, it's something he obviously wants to continue. He continued to say he wants, you know, more tariffs on cars, German cars.

And then you have also gun control. I mean, that got some attention this week. But you had a president who was zigzagging all over the place. Does he want to take guns from people? He's meeting with the NRA. Everyone thinks he's on their side.

And, you know, this is like one of the big political issues of our time. And you have a president who seems whoever he's in the room with at a given time to be on their team. I think that issue deserves a lot of attention as well.

STELTER: Yes, there's one -- one thing that's happening when he's in front of the cameras, then he has these off-camera meetings where he's saying something different.

DAWSEY: Right.

STELTER: And that causes a lot of confusion.

Olivia, how do you cope with this flood of news? And how do you parents, how do your friends cope? How should we as consumers cope? OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHNGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: I'm not coping well, but I am trying.

You know, I think it is misguided to look at all of the different stories about infighting and scandals and say, well, this is a distraction from more serious news, because the fact is, if we want to understand this president's decision-making process, I think it's very important to understand the way that he operates within the White House, the way his most senior aides operate, and what their agendas are.

And I want to point out a very serious story this week from "The Washington Post" about Jared Kushner being possibly corrupted and targeted by foreign governments. That was the result, if you really look at it and go back, that was the result of initially a tabloid story in "The Daily Mail" about two White House staffers dating that then led to us finding out about all this information about security clearances that then led to some fantastic investigative reporting from "The Washington Post" and other outlets.

So, I think, as in this White House especially, the silly stuff turns out to be very serious, very often.

STELTER: I mean, there's sometimes a sense watching and reading all this coverage that the wheels are falling off of the Trump administration. I think that causes some people to tune in because they want to know exactly how bad things are. But then it might cause other people just to tune out. Not want to hear it, not want to try to make sense of it all.

Is that something you've seen in the past, Jeff, or is this -- is this unique?

GREENFIELD: I think there's always a tendency on the part of a president's loyalists --

STELTER: Yes.

GREENFIELD: -- to look at negative coverage and say they're picking on him. But the difference is, first of all, you have a big counterpress. If you think back to Watergate and wonder what would it have been like had there been a Fox News, a "Breitbart", a Hannity pounding away at the press for being biased and liberal and leftist, you wonder whether or not it would have developed quite the same way.

[11:10:10] STELTER: Would it have? Would it have?

GREENFIELD: You know, I write alternate history, but I don't to predictions.

STELTER: OK.

GREENFIELD: I think the combination of a counterpress defending the president and if the Republicans had been in control of Congress instead of the Democrats, as the Republicans are now, Watergate might well have played out very differently. I think the drumbeat of Woodward and Bernstein -- and remember how less there was of coverage.

STELTER: Right, how much less.

GREENFIELD: No cable news. You know, no social media.

STELTER: Right.

GREENFIELD: It might well have played out differently.

STELTER: Yes. Jeff, great to see you.

GREENFIELD: Good to see you.

STELTER: Thanks for being here.

Josh and Olivia, please stick around.

I want to go into more detail about Hope Hicks' departure from the White House. I have some fresh reporting about when she's leaving and why she's leaving. We'll get into that right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STELTER: Welcome back.

One of the few constants of the Trump presidency has been Hope Hicks. She has been most recently the president's communications director, but she announced this week that she's resigning, perhaps leaving for a job in the private sector. I'm told she'll still be staying for a few more weeks, probably around April 1st, that'll be her departure date.

But that is a serious blow to President Trump. He has no one quite like Hicks in his orbit.

One of the other constants of his presidency is his consumption of cable news. We all know that very well, thanks to his Twitter account.

[11:15:02] And this week, the coverage of the White House left him feeling isolated and angry. That's according to an article published in today's "Washington Post." The story says, quote: Trump's friends are increasingly concerned about his well-being, worried that the president's obsession with cable commentary and perceived slights is taking a toll on the 71-year-old.

Quote: Pure madness, lamented one exasperated ally.

Back with me now is one of the authors of that piece, Josh Dawsey of "The Post". Olivia Nuzzi also back with me now.

Josh, who are these sources who are telling reporters that the president is unwound, that he's unspooling, that he's unraveling? In your story, they're questioning his well-being.

DAWSEY: Right. Well, Brian, we speak to, you know, dozens of people in and around the White House for our stories. And one of the things that's different about the story, sometimes when we're pursuing stories about problems in the White House, personnel churn, chaos, not following policy procedures, folks in the White House say to us, you know, you're being a little hyperbolic, it's not that bad, don't be overdramatic.

In this story, my colleagues and I, none of us could find folks in the White House who were really saying things were going well. In fact, several people said to us they thought it was as bad as July when, you know, you had Reince Priebus leave, Sean Spicer leave, you have the 10 days of Anthony Scaramucci, and back in May when he fired FBI Director James Comey.

I mean, this has been a remarkable stretch for the president not listening to people around him, really pursuing things just as he wants, whenever he wants, wherever he wants, and him being really frustrated and isolated.

The departure of Hope Hicks, as you alluded to, is very consequential in this presidency. She stood outside the Oval Office. She was in for hours a day at times.

He trusted her almost like a family member. She wasn't just a normal communications director. It's, you know, a big deal.

STELTER: Right.

Olivia, you profiled Hope Hicks in the past. You've been writing about her again this week for "New York" magazine. Thinking about her departing a month from now, will relations between the press and the president change? Will they deteriorate even further?

NUZZI: Well, I think it will have an effect, I believe, on his mood. Perhaps it will deteriorate further. And I think perhaps he will become even more unpredictable and more volatile than he's been.

You know, I see these reports he's become unglued. If he's been glued until now, I think that's a pretty remarkable fact for us to consider.

I think, you know, as josh just said, she's not just a typical communications director. I've seen some people, some beltway commentators try and say, oh, this is so typical of Washington to blow this 29-year-old communications director departing into this enormous story and it's not really that important.

I disagree. She's the longest serving aide. She's one of the closest people to the president. She's literally the closest person to the president in that her office is five feet from the Oval Office.

And he really does rely on her. I think that he kind of uses her to bounce ideas off of, bounce thoughts off of. She's sort of this familiar presence in a place where he's uncomfortable and unhappy and does not feel welcome in Washington.

STELTER: I should, for example, he -- she was encouraging him to attend the Gridiron Dinner last night, helping him get ready for that dinner. I thought the jokes were genuinely funny.

Let's put one on screen, if we can. This is about Fox and about election night. Here's something Trump said at this off-camera dinner. He said: I've got to be up early tomorrow, 6:00, to listen to "Fox & Friends". He said they actually do a great job.

He went on to say, this is one of the best times I've had with the media tonight. This might be the best time I've had since watching your faces on election night.

Look, I can't deliver that joke as well as he could. I wish it were on camera. But he did seem to have a good time at the Gridiron Dinner. He seemed to be in a good mood.

Makes he wonder if he'll go to the White House correspondents' dinner in a couple months and deliver some of those jokes there as well.

It seems to me, Josh, you know, you look at some of the president's comments at the dinner, he seems to be in good spirits.

So, how do we -- how do we -- how do we jive that with all these reports about his anger and his frustration?

DAWSEY: Right. He often is in good spirits. One of his closest confidants said he talked to him recently, the president was upbeat. He had dinner with Steve Schwarzman, Blackstone CEO, and Rudy Giuliani on Friday night. The reports of that dinner is he was upbeat and remarkably pleasant and funny.

The president is mercurial. In the mornings, he will watch hours of cable television. At night, he'll watch again. Small things, minor slights, White House sources have told us, can really set him off.

So, you have a president who is a good entertainer, by all accounts. Everyone who plays golf with him says he is, you know, funny and cheerful and someone nice to be around, who often at his club is in his most relaxed state and, you know, is having a good time, laid back.

But then during the White House -- I mean, we get, you know, account after account of, you know, the president watching television, calling his friends, getting very angry.

[11:20:06] You know, sessions where he blows up on his --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: So, Josh, you're saying the news coverage causes him to be enraged, then he tweeted about it and there's more news coverage about his rage. Doesn't that -- isn't that a vicious cycle?

DAWSEY: In some ways, it's a media and response presidency, as his former strategist Steve Bannon has said. Nothing really influences the president on a lot of issues like the news coverage of these issues. Like, this week, for example, Brian, the president loved the coverage

of the gun control debate where you had everyone in the room, he was sitting at the head of the table, the assembled legislators, give and take, kept them in for an hour. It was remarkable television by all accounts.

He, you know, really fixates on how he is perceived. In fact, in some senior staff meetings, he will say, folks, you know, how is this going to look on TV, what's the news coverage going to be like.

Sometime, it's less about the substance to the president and more about perception will be. I think in politics, you know, he sees that perception matters, just as it did as a real estate developer and as a television host.

STELTER: When I read these stories and your story this morning is titled "Dark Days in the White House as Trump Shocks and Rages," when I read these stories, I get worried, Olivia. Honestly, completely genuine. I get worried about the country. I get worried about the president.

Do you get worried when you talk to your sources, Olivia?

NUZZI: No, I mean, that's not my concern, right? My concern is to figure out what is going on and why it is happening that way. And that's the way I think about these things.

STELTER: You're able to remove yourself from the emotions of being a citizen?

NUZZI: Nobody is able to remove themselves completely from that, right, but my primary concern is figuring out, you know, what is happening and why it is happening that way. I don't typically -- I do think oftentimes how unusual it is.

I mean, this conversation is unusual, right? We are talking about how we can determine what the president of the United States' mood is. And we all have these different tricks and sources and ways that we figure this out.

That is stunning to me. That is not something that was typical of previous presidents. And the fact that we need to do it in order to gain insight into what he's doing or what he might do is pretty remarkable.

And I don't -- I think it's important to kind of take a step back when we have a conversation like this about, you know, the president being upset watching cable news in the morning and watching again at night and asking about the optics of a meeting with Democrats.

STELTER: Yes.

NUZZI: I think we need to take a step back and realize that this is highly unusual.

STELTER: That we're living through something that is not normal, maybe not right.

I mean, Josh, you have a quote, second paragraph of your story. It says, as one official put it, we have not bottomed out, right? It's going to get worse. We have not bottomed out yet.

Do you ever get worried personally about how this is going to end?

DAWSEY: I share that same concern with Olivia. That my job is just kind of to report and figure out what's happening and tell people the facts for them to make their opinions.

Just want to note, Brian, Peter King at the end of our story today said, you know, the president ran the worst, most chaotic campaign ever. And one election night, he was smiling and grinning.

This is an unorthodox presidency in a sense that he doesn't want to do it like others. He likes pitting people against each other. Some of it almost seems like he wants a made-for-television story line and ratings.

And in some ways, you know, the president's done it this way his whole life.

STELTER: Right, yes.

DAWSEY: I think there are certain decisions where allies are not consulted, policymakers are not included, lawyers are not vetting documents that certainly are concerning. I think some of his tendencies to, you know, go from one policy position to another in a matter of a few minutes leaves people's heads spinning.

But in the same way, a lot of people voted for him. I hate to go back to that, but a lot of people voted for him because they knew what they were getting and they liked it. And I think in some ways, you still continue to see that.

STELTER: Absolutely.

DAWSEY: I don't think it's my job to be concerned or worried. My job is just to report what he's doing.

STELTER: Olivia Nuzzi, Josh Dawsey, thank you for being here.

Coming up later, the Robert Mueller X-factor. But, first, a late- night median takes the gun debate really seriously. Comedy Central's Jordan Klepper joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:28:31] STELTER: The Time's Up Movement will share the red carpet at tonight's Academy Awards with another movement. Look closely here. You'll see that some celebrities will be wearing this orange flag pin to bring awareness to gun violence.

We are now 2 1/2 weeks after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. And the student survivors have somewhat successfully, maybe very successfully, kept the media spotlight on the school and on the issue of gun violence.

My next guest says the reason they've been so successful is because the students took control of the media narrative and took it away from Donald Trump. Quote: They were able to beat Trump at his own game.

Joining me now is Jordan Klepper. He's the host of "The Opposition" on Comedy Central.

Normally, you're a guy that, look, plays like an Alex Jones-style conspiracy theory character.

JORDAN KLEPPER, HOST, "THE OPPOSITION" ON COMEDY CENTRAL: Yes, a real likable guy.

STELTER: That's your shtick. I had to go on with you. It was pretty intimidating.

KLEPPER: Yes. I think --

STELTER: I had to face-off with you.

KLEPPER: But I can be a very intimidating guy.

STELTER: But here you are being serious about gun violence. Why is it this issue that you've tried to bring to the forefront and not just joke about?

KLEPPER: You know why? I covered a lot of the gun debate at "The Daily Show." I went through the process of what it would take for a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. I talked to people on both sides to the Dickey Amendment and the argument with funding the CDC, and quickly realized that in America, there is so much more common ground. It was really frustrating because that wasn't the narrative that was getting out into the public.

And so, I did a special that was focusing on that, as somebody who comes from Michigan, I have a lot of gun folks in my family and my surroundings.

STELTER: Gun folks, meaning people that own guns and want to ensure there isn't gun control -- more gun control.

[11:30:04]

KLEPPER: Well, yes.

I think, like, where guns mean something different than what they mean in New York.

STELTER: I see.

KLEPPER: I would say where hunting is an issue.

STELTER: Right.

KLEPPER: And so I -- for me, I felt like I was so frustrated because I got to talk to people who -- who had guns and people who didn't have guns, and saw that there was a different narrative here that wasn't being covered. And so I'm a comedian.

STELTER: What is the common ground that you find?

KLEPPER: I think the common ground, whether -- whether you are -- whether -- if you have a gun, you don't want somebody to have a gun who can do some harm with that gun.

And I think that's a very basic, basic thing. And I think the NRA takes this narrative and they make it all about grabbing guns. They make it about all these hyperbolic elements, where you see the discussion that is happening this week.

And the majority of people agree on the same thing with the gun issue. And I think, like, there's not enough attention paid to what the majority wants. It's just, with this very small minority that feels like a majority, that this gun lobby has a much louder voice than it needs to.

STELTER: Is this for you kind of like Jimmy Kimmel has with health care?

He's talked about health care on his show in a very serious way. Do you view gun violence that way for you as a comedian, that maybe you can get through to people in a way that others can't?

KLEPPER: For me, it is something that I have been involved with covering with "The Daily Show," with my special, and with this. And it keeps happening.

And so, as somebody with a platform, we want to follow the conversation. And right now, I think it's a really interesting, powerful conversation with these students from Parkland, that...

STELTER: You had a couple of them on your show too.

KLEPPER: We did, yes.

Again, like, finding comedy in this is difficult, but I think a spotlight on some of these heroes, we -- we had a couple students who came on. And they talked about what they wanted to do with this movement. And I think, like, they were able to beat Trump at his own game.

As we talked about earlier, like, they're not cynical. They're passionate. They're able to reach out to other students who feel this way as well. And they're able to own the media narrative in a way that I haven't seen since Donald Trump's become president.

And for me, that was really exciting to see people look at this debate through new glasses.

STELTER: There's also something about the word survivor, meaning that every student in that school was a survivor. But I'm not sure the Columbine survivors were talked about that way

almost 20 years ago. I'm not sure, even at Virginia Tech, the students were talked about that way. Being a survivor means that you have something that you have lived through that hopefully no one else ever will that gives you an opportunity to talk.

I just think there's something about the language that's been used in this coverage that's different. It's also different that the students have been so available for interviews.

KLEPPER: Yes.

Well, and they also now have the social media platform that they're so well versed in, that they can get their voice out. They can see themselves as a survivor, but they also see themselves now as activists. And they're not going to sit on the sidelines anymore. And that's really remarkable to watch.

STELTER: Which brings up this question we have started to see in the television coverage this week. Is this time really different? Is there actually going to be action as a result of another massacre? What's your guess?

KLEPPER: I really hope that it is.

I mean, we have seen -- we have gone through this before, but we haven't gone through it with these voices that are uncynical and who are really starting to hold these folks in positions of power, hold their feet to the fire.

And it felt like, in the past, sadly, these narratives have gone by, and four, five days later, they have passed away. And I feel like what we have now with these Parkland students is, they're keeping the narratives there. It's something we're rallying around.

And I do have optimism that this has a new face and a new energy.

STELTER: As for your other work on the opposition, you know, playing this bombastic conspiracy theory believer, do you think you give more attention to Alex Jones than he actually deserves?

You know, Alex Jones, host of Infowars, full of lies on his Web videos show. This week, he's in the news because of YouTube. Let's put on screen the story about YouTube. YouTube is starting to take a closer look at his channel and they're thinking about maybe blocking his channel.

This headline here says he's two strikes away from being banned. Would it be a good thing for him to be banned from YouTube and have less talk about Alex Jones?

KLEPPER: I think -- I think if we can stop some of the bile that he excretes out into our media landscape, I think that is a good thing.

We see him with this shooting as well creating these ideas of crisis actors and putting that out. And suddenly that was a narrative that took hold, and people started pushing back against these survivors to try to delegitimize their experiences.

STELTER: Right.

KLEPPER: And I think that is -- I think that is vile and disgusting.

And I think, for us, what we try to do is, we try to shine a light on what is affecting the narrative and try to poke some holes in that.

STELTER: Right, right.

Great to see you. Thanks for being here, Jordan.

KLEPPER: Brian, thanks for having me.

STELTER: And one more know about the students, about the school there in Florida.

There's this crowd-sourcing campaign you might want to check out to help the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to document the aftermath of the tragedy for their school paper and for their yearbook. Both the paper and the yearbook are self-funded.

We have a story up on CNN.com about the crowdfunding campaign. As of this morning, they have surpassed their goal. And now they have upped the goal to $50,000.

You can find that on GoFundMe.

Up next here on RELIABLE SOURCES: As Robert Mueller's investigation picks up its pace, Trump's defenders, they're having to find new ways to protest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:39:04]

STELTER: Robert Mueller's probe seems to be broadening in various countries and at the same time tightening in on members of President Trump's family.

But the more Mueller discovers, the more Trump's TV boosters have to deny, deny, deny. The worse things look for Trump's inner circle, the worse the deflections get.

For example, look at this new CNN poll. It finds that 61 percent of Americans believe the Russia investigation is a serious matter. But if you're watching FOX, you're hearing the opposite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: We have been hearing about Russia nonstop, literally nonstop, for more than a year. Almost no information has come out to justify the obsession. None has come out to justify the claim that there was collusion.

And most Americans are no longer interested, if they ever were. (END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Do you see the banner he's using on screen there? Tucker's banner says "Americans don't care about Russian meddling."

[11:40:01]

But, again, the CNN poll shows that's just not true. This is brand- new poll data. It shows that 72 percent of Americans are very or at least somewhat concerned about foreign interference in U.S. elections; 70 percent are concerned specifically about Russian-backed disinformation campaigns, the kind of campaigns that are still going on today.

But again, Greg Gutfeld over at FOX claims, nobody cares.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREG GUTFELD, FOX NEWS: Everybody wants this story to move on, except for the people who don't want it to move on. It's the election losers. But now this is their Benghazi, right? This is their thing. It's paper-thin, but they're clutching at it hard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: I think that's fascinating. Paper-thin? Again, only if you're not looking at the paper. The paper is piling up, Greg, in the form of indictments and subpoenas.

This is just an incomplete list of what's happened so far. And every day there's new stories about what Mueller is finding, et cetera, et cetera.

I don't know. Maybe that's why Sean Hannity has fallen back to this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": Now, remember, this whole witch-hunt was supposed to only be about Trump-Russia collusion. That evidence does not exist all of this time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Someone, please, show Sean the original letter from the attorney general's office appointing Mueller as special counsel. It doesn't say the word collusion.

But it says Mueller is charged with investigating any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with campaign of President Donald Trump and -- this is key -- any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.

So, this is an important story, these ongoing developments. And Mueller is certainly hard at work. There's a lot we don't know about what he's finding. But just in the past few days, take a look at all these new headlines, all these stories about what Mueller is asking in these meetings of the various people he's interviewing, what he might be finding. There's a new story in "The New York Times" this morning about these developments.

These developments come on a daily basis.

So, let's talk about it with two experts in this subject matter.

Natasha Bertrand works for "The Atlantic. She's covering national security, covering these investigation. And Steve Brill is the founder of Court TV, the founder of "The American Lawyer." And he has a new venture we're going to talk about in a couple minutes.

Natasha, first to you on the developments this week. I saw a lot of headlines about Mueller asking various questions to various individuals. Did we actually learn anything new about the probe?

NATASHA BERTRAND, "THE ATLANTIC": Where do we even begin?

We learned a lot this week about the scope of Mueller's investigation and how it's actually expanding, even as many of Trump's defenders say that it's just a witch-hunt and that nothing has been found.

So we learned that Mueller is now investigating whether Jared Kushner's policies that he pushed in the White House were linked to any of his financial interests that he had before, of course, he entered the administration.

We also learned that Mueller is examining whether or not Trump himself knew about the hacked Democratic e-mails or about whether or not they were going to be released before they were actually released to the public by WikiLeaks, whether or not that former campaign aide George Papadopoulos ever told anyone in the Trump campaign that he had been told by someone linked to Russia that they had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of e-mails.

So now this actually goes back to the collusion question. Everyone thought that perhaps Mueller was just homing in on the obstruction of justice question because it was easier. But that, of course, was the public-facing aspect of his investigation.

Now we know based on the reporting from last week that he actually still is pursuing very aggressively the collusion -- the question of whether or not the Trump campaign knew about the dirt on Hillary Clinton and whether or not that famous line from Donald Trump during that press conference, Russia, if you're listening, find those 30,000 missing e-mails, actually was tied back to his knowledge or not.

STELTER: So, when you see someone like Greg Gutfeld saying it's a paper-thin case, how do you react?

BERTRAND: It's astonishing that they're still saying that, even after 19 people have been charged with crimes, after five of them have pleaded guilty. It's just -- it's very clear, as of right now anyway, that this is not

just a witch-hunt. And, actually, Robert Mueller made that clear a few weeks ago when he indicted 13 Russian nationals for their role in interfering in the election.

That made it clear to everyone around Robert Mueller, and even his critics, that he was not just going after the president. He was actually actively investigating Russia's election interference.

STELTER: Where do the leaks come from? Because all those headlines I was showing, they're based on leaks. Is it Mueller's team? Do you have any reason to believe his office is leaking?

BERTRAND: There's no reason to believe that it's Mueller's office. If Mueller's office was leaking, then we would not be completely surprised and shocked every time he dropped an indictment.

STELTER: The new indictments, yes.

BERTRAND: Exactly.

We would have known beforehand, for example, that he was going to charge Michael Flynn with pleading guilty, with lying to the FBI, which he then pled guilty for. We would have known that George Papadopoulos, this virtually unknown campaign aide, had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and was now a cooperating witness.

So the leaks are primarily coming from people who have already been interviewed by Robert Mueller and who are telling the press what questions were asked, so that we can all get a better idea of what the scope of his investigation is.

[11:45:04]

STELTER: So I'm reminded again, Steve, how little we actually know about Mueller's probe. If we're only finding out what questions are being asked inside these meetings, we don't know the answers, and we don't know what Mueller already knows.

STEVEN BRILL, FOUNDER, COURT TV: Well, that's the problem that President Trump's defenders in the media have, which is they can't -- it's not a two-sided debate, because unlike the Ken Starr investigation of President Clinton, where he was holding press conferences, constantly leaking -- you know, he literally held press conferences outside his office for months.

STELTER: We can show the video, I think, once at his driveway or something.

BRILL: Yes. For months, reporters who were covering the Mueller investigation literally didn't know where his office was, and many don't.

So the problem that the president's defenders have is, they have nothing to argue against, and every time Mueller does something, it comes as a complete surprise, which gives it much more drama. STELTER: More power.

BRILL: Because nothing has been leaked. It's a total surprise.

STELTER: These are pictures of Ken Starr back in the day. Let's show that famous cover of your old magazine, Steve, "Brill's Content."

This is a cover of Ken Starr surrounded by reporters. And the title there is "Pressgate."

And you had some critiques of the press really back then that Ken Starr was driving the coverage of the Starr inquiry. It sounds like it's very different this time.

BRILL: Yes.

Now, the fact is that every reporter worth his salt, me included, when I used to write about the Teamsters union and organized crime, loves to get leaks, especially leaks of grand jury proceedings. It is illegal for prosecutors to leak that.

So reporters love to try to get it. But you have to, with any perspective, admire a guy like Mueller, who you wouldn't dream of asking him or his staff to leak that stuff, because they don't. Ken Starr, very different story. They leaked like a sieve.

STELTER: Interesting.

Steve, stick around.

Natasha, thank you for being here.

BERTRAND: Thank you.

STELTER: A quick break, and then, on the other side, a new venture to take on fake news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:51:17]

STELTER: If you get your news on the Internet -- and, at this point we all do -- you know, I know, we all know it's a mess. It's a mess out there.

This week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey kind of issued an apology for all the abuse and harassment and trolling that happens on Twitter. He says he wants to create a healthier Twitter.

Meanwhile, Facebook had to apologize when one of its fact-checking programs went awry and it threatened to punish a site for a funny piece of satire.

These companies are struggling to figure out, when it comes to news, what exactly is a reliable source and how to help people know what to believe. These companies are struggling.

So, here with a potential solution is Steve Brill. He's back with me at the table.

So, Steve, you're announcing tomorrow this company called News Guard.

BRILL: Correct.

STELTER: What are you trying to do? What are you trying to guard against?

BRILL: Well, we're trying to do is look at the problem that all the platforms have, and that they have so far been not able to solve, you know, using algorithms.

The best example -- you just cited it -- where they almost took down a satire. And we're going to solve that problem using, guess what, human beings.

STELTER: That's so old-fashioned of you. You're going to employ journalists?

BRILL: We're going to hire dozens of journalists to read the 7,500 sites that are responsible for 98 percent of the news and information consumed online by people in the United States.

And they're going to do very simple ratings. Most are going to get a green. You know, we're not going to decide, is "The Boston Globe" a little more reliable than "The Baltimore Sun" or something.

But, you know, legitimate news operations, and think tanks, and magazines are going to get greens. Some will get yellows if they don't disclose the sources of their financing, you know, if they're propaganda, if they're secret Web sites of a trade association.

And the obvious fake ones will get red. Basically, what we're doing is no more and no less than telling people the difference between "The Denver Post," which is a real newspaper.

STELTER: Right.

BRILL: And "The Denver Guardian," which broke a bunch of, you know, completely fake stories...

STELTER: A hoax site.

BRILL: ... right before the election.

STELTER: Yes.

BRILL: It's a hoax site.

Now, in some ways, the people watching your program, and certainly you, don't need this protection the way the average reader online does who's looking at, you know, the Facebook feed that they get, and the only thing they see are headlines. They don't know if the headline is from "The Denver Post" or from "The Denver Guardian."

"The Denver Guardian" will have a red.

STELTER: Well, look, I struggle with this myself.

Yes, I have a hard time, I think, like everybody else. And if it's my job, and I'm supposed to know what is real...

BRILL: I mean, if you do, then we're in real trouble.

STELTER: Then we're in trouble.

BRILL: Yes.

STELTER: But my understanding is, you're trying to get Google and Facebook to license your rankings.

BRILL: Right.

STELTER: Do you have any sign they're going to pay?

BRILL: Yes, we do.

And we're asking them to pay a fraction of what they pay their P.R. people and their lobbyists to talk about the problem.

STELTER: Hmm.

BRILL: We're going to solve -- we're not going to solve all the problems of the world, but we are going to take a first cut, because the simple fact is that, sometimes, human intelligence is better than artificial intelligence.

STELTER: I like that you're trying to address people that are trying to get it right, vs. sites that are trying to make it up.

BRILL: Right.

STELTER: That's the issue...

BRILL: Yes, we're not going to get into the nuances of...

STELTER: ... is at least "The Boston Globe" or "The Sun," they're trying to get it right.

BRILL: Yes.

We're not going to grade every article, because the way we achieve scale is looking at sites, not articles. And, as you well know, you know, within every brand, there are mistakes, there are articles that are wrong.

We're not solving the problem. We're solving the basic problem "Denver Guardian" vs. "Denver Post," a Web site called What Is Fracking, which is sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, vs. a CNN article on fracking. [11:55:03]

STELTER: Steve, great to see you. Thanks for being here.

BRILL: Great to see you.

STELTER: I will have a story, more about News Guard, at CNN.com.

Thanks for tuning in for this week's RELIABLE SOURCES. Make sure you sign up for our nightly newsletter at RELIABLESOURCES.com.

And we will see you right back here on television this time next week.