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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Trump Pretends to Win While Losing Funding Fight; Sources: Evidence Suggests Smollett Orchestrated Attack. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired February 17, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:13] BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: 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, how the news gets made and how all of us can help make it better.
This hour, brand new reporting on Jussie Smollett. We have brand new information from Chicago PD I'll share with you in just a few minutes.
Plus, meet the man who stopped an attack on the media at Trump's rally. And guess what? He's a big Trump supporter.
And later this hour, new developments in an arrest of Maria Ressa, one of "TIME's" People of the Year. She's out of jail now and she'll join me live from Manila.
But, first, what does President Trump do when he loses? He changes the subject. And he's doing that again this weekend, re-upping his dangerous rhetoric, calling the media the enemy of the people just days after the attack at the rally in El Paso.
He also went onto criticize "Saturday Night Live and suggest there should be retribution and I have no idea what that means and I can't wait to get into that with our panel in a minute.
But I think by any standard, by any measure, as you look at what's happened in the past few days, with the border -- with the budget wall compromise, with the president having this rambling Rose Garden speech, with his mixing it up with the press again, it has been a week of losses for the president. There's a new loss this weekend. Heather Nauert, the Fox host turned State Department spokeswoman withdrawing her name for consideration for U.N. ambassador.
So, there's a lot to discuss. I'd like to bring in four people to talk through all of it. Here in New York with me, Philip Bump of "The Washington Post", Caitlin Dickerson of "The New York Times", CNN media analyst Bill Carter, and in Washington, Susan Hennessey of Lawfare, also a CNN analyst here.
Let's go through all the news and the distractions. Let's start with the news and then we'll talk about Trump's distractions.
Philip, when you look at this week, it is a week of a national emergency, what do we interpret? What is the president's media strategy? PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, his
strategy is sort of par for the course, to keep appealing to his base. It was sort of striking to see on Friday when he was making this announcement of a national emergency that he spent about 5 minutes beforehand making the case for his presidency broadly. Now, I was in Iowa when he came to the state fair in 2015.
Now, I asked him, how are you going to work with Congress? How do you get things passed? And he said, I just make deals. The same way I get past the zoning board in New York City, which was sort of, on its face, a ridiculous comment.
But it was 2015. It didn't seem like he was going to be president. Now he is president. He sees working with Congress is harder than he may have thought if he gave a thought at that point in time.
And what we saw this week was a loss in Congress. He has to make it up to his base. He comes out of the gates and says, look, we're winning on China and trade and the economy and slides in later this national emergency.
STELTER: And most of his biggest supporters in the press, the Sean Hannity, they are still with him, thanks to this national emergency stuff.
BUMP: Yes, Hannity even flipped. Hannity came out of the gate saying that the shutdown deal was no good. We had reporting Trump had actually called Hannity. The next thing you know, Hannity is on board.
So, you know, we're seeing that this is something that has consistently been a successful strategy for Trump. It's appealed to emotion that he makes to his base. That's what he did on Friday.
STELTER: Alternate reality in force.
So, Caitlin, you cover immigration for "The Times". Drag us back to reality. What facts do you feel need to be more front and center in this ongoing fight?
CAITLIN DICKERSON, NATIONAL IMMIGRATION REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, for starters, what has always been true is that illegal immigration to the United States is down. It's been going down for several years. And so, the need for this wall is incredibly hard to justify at this point.
Even Border Patrol agents have said they don't need a wall. I talk to them often about what they like. They want more technology and drones and more centers on the ground. They don't want a physical ground.
Another fact that I think people are forgetting is a lot of people who are arriving at the border today, they're walking right up to immigration agents and they're asking for asylum. A wall does nothing to change that.
While I think there's a way in which declaring this national emergency plays into what Trump's supporters love most about him, his reputation as a disruptor, at a certain point, we are going to have to reckon as a country with the fact that there's really not a whole lot of need for a wall and it's a huge expense that's hard to justify.
STELTER: I think it's really sad when the president denies his own government's data that you've been describing here so well.
Let's go to one other topic, one other real news story before the distractions, and that's for you, Susan. It's the news about Heather Nauert withdrawing her nomination. What is your impression of what happened here with Heather Nauert? You know, a Fox News host who was going to become U.N. ambassador.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, LAWFARE EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes. So, there was always sort of a question about Nauert's being nominated in the first instance and whether or not she was really qualified.
Now, I actually think she's done a pretty admirable job as sort of the State Department spokeswoman. That was a really difficult role. Not clear why -- how that role would make her qualified for being the U.N. ambassador. In fact, she was so transparently not qualified that I think some people even suspected her nomination really was sort of an effort to kind of sideline the U.N. by this administration.
[11:05:07] You know, that said, the reports now is that she's withdrawing herself from consideration because of an issue related to her nanny's visa, someone who reportedly was in the country legally but didn't have the proper work permit. We've seen this happen before in this White House, this lack of vetting, sort of throwing a name out there for important positions to be confirmed by the Senate, and then later figuring out if people can be confirmed.
HENNESSEY: That said, it's really baffling trying to understand what this White House views as disqualifying and not, right? But this is the White House that employed Steve Bannon. You know, had issues -- past issues with racism or sexism, individuals with documented spousal abuse.
All of that was fine, but suddenly this sort of nanny visa issue, that's a firm line for them?
STELTER: Yes, this must have been more -- there must have been more that we don't know yet, but this apparently was one of the factors. From those stories and other loss for the president to diversions, Bill Carter, this "SNL" tweet, the president I guess didn't like Baldwin on "SNL" last night. We can put them up side by side, show you the similarity.
The president tweeted, how do these networks get away with total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise, for many other shows, it's very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real collusion.
Bill? You've covered "SNL" for decades. BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: I mean, retribution -- what does he
mean? It brings back Nixon. I guess Nixon would have pulled their licenses. That's what he tried to do to NBC back in the day.
But, you know, right now, retribution sounds like he's calling for some sort of action. And who is going to commit this action? His base? I mean --
STELTER: That's what he always does, right? He complains and doesn't do anything about it. He threatens NBC and doesn't do anything about it.
CARTER: It also indicates he's watching. He must have watched it live.
CARTER: He used to say I don't watch this stuff. I don't pay attention.
And the funny is, if you watch that whole bit, about 90 percent of it was basically repeating what he actually did in the Rose Garden. The satire was only slightly a twist on the actual words he said.
STELTER: So, given the losses this week we've been talking about, the president has tried to change the subject. "SNL" is one example.
Another example is the narrative on Fox News about an attempted "coup" against Trump. This is based on Andrew McCabe's new book and the idea that there was 25th Amendment talk in the Justice Department in 2017.
Coup, coup, coup, all over Fox News. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was this a coup?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An attempted coup.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A coup d'etat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A soft coup.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For lack of a better word, a coup.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a low energy coup. It's a coup attempt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An open coup.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Essentially a coup.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was like essentially a coup.
(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: So it's even reached some of the president's family members. Philip Bump, what are they talking about?
BUMP: So, essentially what they're saying is this report from the new book that there was a conversation within the Justice Department shortly after the firing of James Comey to look at the 25th Amendment, which allows for the president to be removed from office under the case that either half of his cabinet agrees that he should be removed from office along with the vice president, or they establish a congressional commission that looks at this thing.
So, this is -- if you're talking about this as a coup, it is a coup that necessitates the involvement of half the people that Donald Trump appointed to the cabinet and Mike Pence coming on board and saying, yes, he should be removed from office.
BUMP: If Rosenstein and McCabe can convince those people of doing that, it's hard to see it as a coup.
STELTER: But the point here, the broader point is that there are people inside the government with concerns about the president's behavior and his stability, there's also spouses of White House aides concerned. Take a look at this from Kellyanne Conway's husband, George Conway. This is, of course, the husband of one of the president's top aides saying on Twitter here that the people should be seriously concerned about Trump's mental stability.
I think we can put the tweet on screen. He's reacting to this report, you know, Trump came out and said Obama was about to start World War III. That's a lie.
So, Conway is saying we should highly question the mental stability of a president of the United States who would lie about something like that.
Bill Carter, your reaction?
CARTER: Well, Conway has really been outspoken. He obviously is not being restrained by the fact that his wife works for the president of the United States. And if he's saying that, you do have to wonder, is she supporting that? Does she contradict him at home or is she tacitly saying, yes, this is a legitimate thing to say?
STELTER: I think we can show what Kellyanne Conway has said about this in the past. She's made comments when reporters, when journalists bring up concerns about the president's mental health. Here's something she's said about that in the past.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: There's no good comes out of people attacking the president's physical and mental states.
(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: So, that's a conversation between husband and wife.
But there is one other White House spouse I want to bring up. That's Darla Shine. She is the wife of Bill Shine, the White House's top communications chief. And she's been tweeting once again these horrible things about vaccines. She's been posting anti-vaccination messages amid the measles outbreak in the United States.
How concerning is this to you that Darla Shine, the wife of bill shine, continues to spread this material, this dangerous material?
[11:10:03] BUMP: I mean, it's sort of baffling, but I think it's -- we see this sort of action a lot from random people on social media, right?
STELTER: Right. Random people share this stuff all the time. Right.
BUMP: It shows a lack of conscientiousness about the position she now holds. But I will point out one thread that runs through everything we talked about this morning, we started out talking about how Fox News is covering Donald Trump's announcement. We just talked about Fox News again. Bill Shine, former director of Fox News, like he was an executive of Fox News.
There is a thread that we have this media institution which is more than willing to say what it is that Trump wants to hear. I think that is a problematic, even more broadly than Darla Shine.
STELTER: Right. And, look, Caitlin, you're above the fray. You try to stay out of this. You're covering the news, but isn't it true all the people, whether it's the president or whether it's Darla Shine, they have access to the best possible information? The president has access, whether it's immigration or health, to the best information, but he doesn't always believe it.
DICKERSON: It is true. I think what you're seeing is this precedent that starts right at the top with President Trump which is that you can say what you feel. You can see what you think. You don't necessarily have to say what's true and what's borne out by evidence.
And when you're seeing that from your boss, or form your spouse's boss --
DICKERSON: -- you feel empowered to do the same thing. It's not that it's accepted. It's almost supported. It's a good idea, and people like it and the president's supporters like it.
STELTER: Tone starts from the top.
Everybody, thank you.
Bill, please stick around. Susan, please stick around.
A quick break here and then a brand new update from the Chicago PD on Jussie Smollett. Did he make it all up?
[11:15:11] STELTER: An update now on Jussie Smollett, the actor who may have staged a hate crime in Chicago. There are reports in the last 24 hours that he may have orchestrated the assault he said happened against him on the streets of Chicago a few weeks ago. The actor on Fox's "Empire" denies all of this, but the investigation is moving in that direction, moving in the direction of some sort of hoax.
A spokesman for the Chicago PD tells me that as of this morning, they have not yet been able to speak with Smollett about these new allegations. Remember, it's the two men who were brought into custody who were questioned who provided new evidence to the police. That is what spurred Chicago PD to reach back out to Smollett's lawyers on Friday night and say, we need to speak to you again as soon as possible.
Well, here we are Sunday morning. The police have not spoken with him again. He's lawyered up. It seems like a stand off between Smollett and the police on this matter. Here's an important detail just in from the Chicago PD, a spokesman telling me as soon as this is said and done, we're going to lay out every detail of this investigation.
I think the police trying to acknowledge the frustration a lot of people feel about this case, trying to say we're going to get to the bottom of it and explain all of it as soon as we can. But right now, they're waiting to hear back from Jussie Smollett.
As you know, he was on "Good Morning America" a couple days ago, telling his side of the story. It was his first TV interview. He was speaking with Robin Roberts. He was once again claiming that two men accosted him. They described themselves as Trump supporters, said this is MAGA country, and tied a rope around his neck.
But now that those claims are in question, now that people are doubting his story, let's talk about it with Vox Media's Liz Plank, also the co-host of "Fifth Column" podcast, Kmele Foster, and CNN media analyst Bill Carter is back with me.
Kmele, what's your reaction to how this story has unfolded and evolved this weekend?
KMELE FOSTER, CO-HOST, "THE FIFTH COLUMN" PODCAST: Well, I think there were a lot of reasons for skepticism from early on here. If this had had happened in the way that Jussie described, it would have been pretty extraordinary, and what we're seeing now, however, as the story starts to degrade a bit is I do think a lot of sort of frustration on many sides, and even some cheering on other sides, because there was a lot of rush to judgment. I mean, I think a lot of the speculative --
STELTER: From who?
FOSTER: I think in a lot of speculative controversies where the media is reporting on a story. Really, really early when we don't know much, folks have to go with what we suppose. What we knew at the time was the president supporters are racist. Of course, there's a desire almost, a credulousness about a story like this. But we're not sufficiently skeptical when we're confronted with facts that don't really seem to fit together too well.
Two a.m. in the morning, almost the coldest night of the year, you were attacked and someone conveniently had a rope? My heart goes out to anyone who gets attacked, but it's totally appropriate to exercise a bit of skepticism and to exercise a bit of patience in waiting for the facts to develop around this story as they have developed. This story looks different than what most people suspected.
STELTER: The narrative was set so early on that January day, because TMZ first heard about this alleged attack. TMZ was the first to say they heard the MAGA country quote, it came from a source close to Jussie. So, immediately, this was a political fight.
STELTER: Immediately, there were political stakes to this story. Liz, do you think that distorted it?
LIZ PLANK, HOST OF VOX MEDIA'S "CONSIDER IT": Right. I mean, the MAGA quote, I remember reading about the story and looking for a real reputable media outlet reporting on that and I could not find one, right? The people who were repeating that quote were not news outlets, were not media outlets. It was repeated by, sure, people who maybe had good intentions of wanting to spread the story and had empathy for what they thought was, you know, a real story. But we can't confuse celebrity tweets with the media and the press.
And, you know --
STELTER: So you're saying actors and activists --
STELTER: -- who were rushing to his side --
STELTER: -- because they were friends with him and they support him are not the same as Chicago reporters who are trying to find out what happened?
PLANK: Exactly. And it is different.
And, look, we don't know what happened to Jussie, but we know is that racism is alive and well in this country. Homophobia is alive and well in this country. 2017 was -- set a record for the number of hate crimes and the president and his rhetoric has been cited by people who -- there is real evidence of people who have done the crimes that cite that the president has inspired them.
STELTER: But is that why people -- (CROSSTALK)
FOSTER: -- part of the problem here.
PLANK: Yes, because it's a trend.
FOSTER: Well, I think this is part of the problem. We're establishing the trend whether or not it's there.
PLANK: We're not establishing it. There's evidence of it.
FOSTER: Again, when you say things like it is alive and well, there is far less racism in America today than there ever has been.
PLANK: There is hate crimes against LGBTQ community, and against Muslims.
FOSTER: When we talk about hate crimes, 15 percent increases in these things. A hate crime is not the sort of thing we simply look at and it is positively a hate crime. There's some supposition about that.
PLANK: So, you don't believe the FBI? The FBI is not an expert? You're an expert?
[11:20:00] FOSTER: There's some supposition about hate crime. Define hate crime. Define hate speech.
PLANK: That's why I let -- I leave it to the FBI to be experts on it.
FOSTER: And I'm suggesting that even FBI statistics, there's a great deal of ambiguity about what makes something a hate crime. There's subjective determination --
PLANK: What makes those actually ambiguous is that most of them aren't reported. So, there's actually more --
STELTER: What Smollett did, if he lied, he's hurt real victims of hate crime.
BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Exactly, no question.
STELTER: We can agree on that.
CARTER: No question.
STELTER: I wonder, Bill, if you think the "Good Morning America" interview was too soft on him.
CARTER: Oh, clearly --
STELTER: Even by the time he sat down with Robin Roberts, there were a lot of doubts about his story.
CARTER: Absolutely, and she had to press that, and she didn't really do it. Interestingly, he's a celebrity besides being a victim. He's an actor. And that was a celebrity interview more than a news person interview.
That's the way it felt like to me, instead of getting to the facts, it was more about him and his -- the effects on him and things like that.
CARTER: Instead of saying, what is this -- what really happened? It was not a news interview. So, he didn't do a news interview.
The media was not able to question him closely about this. And when they did, his story started to fall apart because it was full of red flags.
STELTER: It also contributed in a sense among Trump supporters that there is this campaign against them.
CARTER: Absolutely, and --
STELTER: That there's this -- and we can see it in Donald Trump Jr.'s tweets, I think we can put up on his tweets, from the past 12 hours.
Look, Donald Trump Jr. is a hammer. So, everything he sees is a nail. And everything is about attacking the media. So, he'll attack the media no matter what.
But he's attacking the media today because he says the press fell for this. I just wonder, how much of that we should -- we should acknowledge?
FOSTER: Well, at a minimum -- at a minimum, there were people who I've talked to people off camera, I've talked to people sort of in green rooms who were skeptical, who had questions about this story, were afraid to raise the questions because of the intersectional nature of this particular accusation, and there are plenty of circumstances like that. And that is something we have to be aware of.
When there are stories that involve very sensitive issues of race and sexuality and there are accusations and allegations that are being made, when you raise questions about those allegations, it is often the case that people will raise questions about your motivations.
FOSTER: I am talking about these stories --
PLANK: Why do you think --
FOSTER: -- I'm talking about the merit of a particular charge, and at the end of the day, it's whether or not that charge has merit that matters. And Robin Roberts in that conversation, in that interview, had an opportunity to say, you know, there are practical reasons for someone to ask questions about something like this that have nothing to do with your race or your sexuality. She didn't do that, and there are far too many instances where serious journalists aren't doing that.
CARTER: That's true.
STELTER: And now, Democratic politicians who come out and said this was a modern day lynching --
STELTER: -- will have to be held to account.
CARTER: They jumped too early in this and there's where the real fault lies. I think you can't use your ideology and impose it on a story like this. You're going to get burned. Maybe you won't always get burned, but it's a tremendous risk.
STELTER: As of a couple of days ago, Fox, the studio that makes "Empire" and brought -- the network that brought this "Empire", was standing by. Smollett saying he has the network's support. As of this morning, no new comment from Fox. They've gone silent on this.
Liz, last word to you on what is -- I mean, at the heart of a sad case, no matter what. If he lied, it's sad. If it happened, it's sad.
PLANK: Absolutely. I think it's important to cover this story. I also think it's important to cover the other several stories of hate crimes. Not to say this was a story of a hate crime, but there are real hate crimes that happen in this country, and there's an increase in them against black people, against LGBTQ people, against Muslims.
And the fact that one robbery was faked does not mean robbery is not a problem. The fact that there is one false rape accusation does not mean that there's no rape. We have to cover these issues as trends and as patterns, and not fall into the trap that because one story is not real, that the problem is not real.
STELTER: Or maybe not give the celebrities all the attention.
PLANK: Yes, absolutely.
STELTER: All right. To our panel, thank you very much.
After a quick break here, we're talking about Roger Stone. We're going to unpack his ridiculous lies about this network. Plus, Julia Ioffe and the view of the Mueller investigation from Moscow.
All of that is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[11:28:22] STELTER: Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe says every day in the Trump presidency, quote, brings a new low with the president disclosing himself as a new deliberate liar who will say whatever he pleases to get whatever he wants. That's a taste of how this book tour is going to go. His new book "The Threat "comes out on Tuesday. It's already number three on Amazon's best sellers list.
Keep in mind, there are questions about McCabe's credibility since he himself was fired for allegedly lying to government investigators. McCabe, who's on "60 Minutes", and "Today Show" in the coming days, all part of the growing industry of tell-all books about Trump world and Russia-gate.
"GQ's" Julia Ioffe joins me now from Moscow. And CNN national security and legal analyst Susan Hennessey is back with us in D.C.
Julia, since you're there, I'm really curious about what Russians hear about the American probe into Russian interference? What did they hear about the Mueller probe?
JULIA IOFFE, CORRESPONDENT, GQ MAGAZINE: It's a good question, but they hear pretty much nothing. When it comes to, for example, this explosive interview that Andrew McCabe gave and the excerpts and the reviews we're reading in the American press, it's hardly registering at all in Moscow or in the rest of Russia. And you have to understand that if the Russian government were to publicize it in any way or any of the twists and turns of the Mueller investigation and the evidence and the indictments it's turned up so far, it would give credence and legitimacy to the American acquisitions that Russia helped elect our president.
And even the Russians who are opposed to Vladimir Putin, who are able to access some of our news sources, they still -- you know, they acknowledge that there was some kind of interference, but they think we've all basically most Russians think we've all gone totally crazy and whipped ourselves up into a lather over nothing.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting. Meanwhile, every week, there are new developments. Susan, this week, a judge ruled the Paul Manafort intentionally lied to prosecutors. A judge slaps a gag order on Roger Stone. Stone has been going around claiming that CNN was tipped off to the raid on his home last month. He's out there saying that wherever he can. He's trying to raise money off of that lie.
He's also set it in a new court filing. He's trying to get the judge to take that lie seriously. I suppose now that he's under this gag order, he can't go out there and say it anymore. But Susan, what do you think his motives are? Is it just about raising money for his legal defense fund? Is that -- why is he out there lying about CNN?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So I think it's about sort of a general distraction technique here and attempting to paint himself as the victim here, right, rather than having people focus on the underlying substantive conduct and whether or not he was in communication with WikiLeaks, why, and more and more importantly what information he might have shared with the President and his associates.
You know, this is sort of an effort to say this is the real story. This is the ways in which I've been victimized. You know it is -- it's important to note that Roger Stone himself is actually not gagged by this order. This order actually prevents Roger Stones lawyers from making comments about the case, Roger Stone isn't able to give comments from the courthouse steps.
STELTER: Oh, I see.
HENNESSEY: But because there are really pretty substantial First Amendment issues whatever you do issue a gag order, the judge tried to sort of be really, really restrained here and essentially say you know, sort of direct to Roger Stone, hey I'm trying to tell you for your own good, for your own sake to not go out there and speak. But even under this order, if Roger Stone wants to go on Fox News and continue to spread conspiracy theories, this doesn't prevent him from doing that.
STELTER: I see. OK. So we may hear even more about this. Meantime, there's so much confusion and we can see it in this new Washington Post poll, so much confusion about what Mueller has even found so far, what he's proven so far. Look at this for example. Most Democrats think Mueller has proved that members of the Trump campaign lied about contacts with Russians. Obviously, they did lie about contacts with Russians, but most Republicans don't believe it.
So Julia, to the folks that say what is taking so long, why have we gotten to the bottom of this yet, and once we -- once Mueller does this news report people aren't going to believe it anyway? What do you say to those skeptics?
IOFFE: Well, I think you know in some ways it really mirrors and dovetails with the Russian approach which shows us the evidence. Well, not that evidence. OK, show us evidence. OK, that doesn't count either. Give us evidence. And then the more -- you know, the more it comes out the less accounts. And I think the President and people like Roger Stone getting back to this conspiracy theory he's spreading about CNN, it's all about kind of undermining the very premise of the investigation, about who is doing the investigation.
You know, Donald Trump constantly saying Mueller and his 13 angry Democrats. So that when it does come out, you know, you can say well, that doesn't count, that doesn't count, that doesn't count, therefore the President and his -- and his people are cleared of it even though they in fact are not.
STELTER: It reminds me of that book about Russia titled Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. And I really hope that's not where we are in America. all right Julia and Susan, thank you so much. Coming up here, the story you have not heard about this disturbance at Trump's rally the other day. Meet the man who intervened when the press was attacked. He's coming up next.
[11:35:00] STELTER: Welcome back. By now you've probably seen this video.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lowest level in the history of our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: This is the moment when a screaming man at Trump's rally in El Paso breached the press pen and shoved several camera operators. This is video from the BBC. But you've not heard the full story about this incident. A Trump supporter at the rally was the one who intervened it, restraining the aggressor and muscling him off the media platform.
You can see him here in this video bringing the man out of the press pen, bringing him to security. The man's name is Ben Bergquam. He's a conservative radio host and live streamer from California. He was covering the rally in Texas that day and he's joining me now -- live now.
Ben, hats off to you. Without you, this bad situation would have been even worse. What did you see happen in the press pen?
BEN BERGQUAM, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: Thanks, Brian. So I heard a noise first. I was up there filming and I looked to my right. I heard a commotion and I started seeing cameras falling down and people falling over, and I saw a guy running towards me, falling, tumbling towards me, with a mag a hat on and so I just -- at first, I mean it took me a second to figure out what was going on and then I realized he was the aggressor and something needed to stop him before he you know, did anymore. So that was --
STELTER: Why did you decide to be the one? Why did you decide to restrain him?
BERGQUAM: Well, so I agree with President Trump sentiment that there is a lot of fake news out there. But what I told him too as I was taking him off the stage was it's not all fake news. I'm up here for one. You know, frontline America and what we've got going on we're up there. There's a lot of other important news outlets up there and it just doesn't do any good. What he -- you know, what he was doing just made President Trump look bad. It made all MAGA hat wears look bad.
So I was glad that I was actually there with the MAGA hat, with the Trump -- as a Trump supporter to be able to restrain him and tell him, hey, idiot stop doing this. You make us look stupid.
STELTER: Yes. And thankfully he was escorted out thanks to you, thanks to security. He was removed and then Trump did ask to make sure things were OK afterwards. Do you think that his enemy of the people rhetoric causes people to commit these kinds of acts of violence? BERGQUAM: No, I don't. I think the -- what President Trump calls fake news tends to be fake news. I think there's there is a growing concern in the public with what's coming out of the media and President Trump is just tapping into that. I don't think President Trump has ever called for violence against the media and I don't think he ever will.
But they need -- people need to be held accountable to their words especially in the media, especially with the protections that are given through the First Amendment. We have to be very careful with what we say. But I definitely don't --
[11:40:09] STELTER: What do you mean we have to be careful with what we say? Isn't that the -- that's the contradiction of the First Amendment isn't it?
BERGQUAM: Well, I should say, we should be very careful with the accuracy of what we say. If we're intentionally using misleading things -- I mean look at what's going on the last couple years of attacks on our president. Now, whether or not you like him or don't, there has been a lot of false information out there and I would -- you could say on both sides.
But you know, I think he's right. I support President Trump and I don't think that he has called for violence. I don't see him inciting violence. I just think there was one crazy person. I still don't know who the guy is. I still want to find out who the guy is that was wearing a Trump hat that I still had the tag on it. I'm still concerned about that.
STELTER: There were suggestions and he was a plant. It sounds like you might think he was.
BERGQUAM: I don't know. I always -- I always -- until I have the evidence, I'm not going to say one way or the other. But what I did see was there -- it was coordinated with the other demonstrations that were going on. The timing of it, it came right at the end. It was the most flamboyant or the -- had the biggest impact, and it tends to line up with the media narrative.
And so if you were going to plant somebody, that would've been a great place to do it. But until we actually have evidence of that, I wouldn't say that.
STELTER: Ben, I appreciate you being here and I'm starting to wonder if we're going to need more security at these rallies, what do you think?
BERGQUAM: Yes. That was probably the work -- I mean, that -- when I -- the takeaway from that was the fact that this guy could get up there so easily, I absolutely think we need to consider how we you know, how we barricade those areas up and make sure that everybody at the event is protected.
STELTER: Yes. Ben, thanks again for being here. I appreciate it. And I want to mention there was another physical altercation involving members of the media later in the week. This was in Washington. Police on Capitol Hill reportedly blocked and pushed reporters to keep them from interviewing senators during the big budget vote.
A very unusual situation, there's usually really open press access on Capitol Hill. A witness told CQ Roll Call that it got really ugly and that he'd never seen it happen before. The Capitol Police say they were trying to ensure that senators were able to safely traverse the crowds in order to go and vote but that doesn't add up based on what we've seen in the past. And so now a group representing Hill reporters is pursuing the matter trying to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Up next, he returned to a much more serious violation. Maria Ressa's fight to stay out of jail while her government tries to shut her up. We will speak with her live in just a moment.
[11:45:00] STELTER: For many years, Maria Ressa ran CNN's coverage in Manila, Philippines. Now she's the CEO and executive editor of the Philippine news web site the Rappler. There she was a few months ago on the cover of Time magazine, one of the people of the year honoring her work supporting press freedom and demanding independent news coverage in the Philippines. But this week she's spent a night in jail, the result of a cyber-libel charge for an old article on her Web site. This is the latest example but she calls political harassment by the government of the Philippines.
Maria is out of jail is for now and she's joining me live from Manila. Maria, what happened the other day?
MARIA RESSA, CEO AND EXECUTIVE EDITOR, RAPPLER: Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation, that's our version of the FBI came to our office and issued an arrest warrant and demanded that I go with them to be processed, to be arrested. It was a shock.
STELTER: They've been doing this for over a year, right? They've been doing various things to try to threaten you. You've been indicted. But was this the first time you'd actually been thrown in jail?
RESSA: The first time and for the most ludicrous charge. It's cyber- libel of an article we posted -- we published seven years ago before the actual law that we supposedly violated was even enacted. So it's -- they're applying a law retroactively. It's unconstitutional. And that's part of what's shocking about all of this.
The lawyers of the National Bureau of Investigations through this case out did not recommend that it move forward and yet miraculously a week later there it was at the Department of Justice and an arrest warrant issued.
STELTER: What do you believe is behind all of this harassment by the government?
RESSA: I think it's definitely intimidation for me to spend one night in detention. Did they want me to feel the power of the state? I definitely feel it. In less than two months I've had to post bail six times on ludicrous charges but this one, in particular, is the worst. I came out of that night thinking you know, this is now a travesty of justice.
STELTER: And when the president of Philippines says hey, I you know, I have nothing to do with this. Do you believe that? Do you believe him?
RESSA: I think you have to -- actions speak louder than words. This particular case was filed against me by a businessman. Well, against me and Rappler and the people who actually wrote it and had something to do with it. All of our board of directors were included in a cyber-libel case. That's unusual. And then in the end, the actual arrest warrant was issued to me. I was taken into detention and yet you know, a day and a half later, the person who actually wrote it was able to post bail. Not that I would want him to go through what I went through.
You know, again, it just shows you so many irregularities. The government seemed bent on making sure I spent the night and was processed as a criminal. Again, if they think that will scare me, all that does is it gives me first-hand experience of how far they will bend the law against perceived enemies.
STELTER: And your Web site, everyone can go to, it's rappler.com, of course, is covering the Philippines and the world in an independent way. Journalists around the world have been championing you and they've been concerned about these attempts by the government to shut you up. What is your message to other journalists around the world who find themselves in similar situations where press freedoms are being rolled back?
[11:50:17] RESSA: You have to hold the line. Because every time you allow the government to cross it, you erode your own powers. So I think for me it's about impunity. And the last time I was there with you, we talked about impunity of the government and the -- and the brutal killings that are happening in the Philippines and as well impunity on social media. That is what enables a lot of these real world actions.
So journalists are getting squashed between this on the ground. The online attacks on social media that's manipulating reality and then authority coming down above them. We've got to fight it back.
STELTER: We sure do. Maria, thank you. We will stay in touch and stay on top of your case. And speaking of Facebook ---
RESSA: Thanks so much.
STELTER: -- some fresh reporting about what the company is doing or not doing to combat misinformation. That's right after the break.
[11:55:00] STELTER: New reporting from CNN sheds light on a viral video company targeting Millennials on Facebook that was backed by -- wait for it -- the Russian government. You can check this out. It's on cnn.com. The story is by Donie O'Sullivan and several of his colleagues and Donie is here with me now. What did you all find?
DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN BUSINESS POLITICS AND TECHNOLOGY REPORTER: So there's a group of Facebook pages that if you were to come across them on your Facebook newsfeed they'd look like sort of any Millennials startup that could be run from Brooklyn.
STELTER: Yes. Lots of viral videos. We can put a couple of them up on screen to show you.
O'SULLIVAN: Yes. So great viral videos, great design, you know. And the content was pretty critical of the U.S. government, of US mainstream media, but nothing that would be totally out of the ordinary necessarily.
STELTER: A lot of leftist arguments against you know, U.S. foreign policy, stuff like that?
O'SULLIVAN: Yes. A lot of legitimate arguments. But as we started digging into it we did find that the company which set up these pages over the past six months began employing people in Los Angeles out of a WeWork in Los Angeles was actually backed by RT. 51 percent of it was owned by Russia today, the other half was owned by a former or RT presenter.
STELTER: So why are they doing this? Why are the Russians spending money to try to create videos that -- to get you and me to watch them? What's the motive?
O'SULLIVAN: Well, I mean, it's certainly a good way of pushing forward their narrative and getting you know, true viral videos into millions of people's Facebook feeds.
STELTER: They make our politics even uglier and make us hate each other even more. Is that the idea?
O'SULLIVAN: Well, possibly. I mean, I think a lot of -- you watch these videos, a lot of the points are -- you know, they're making our points that will resonate with real Americans but we know that that is what RT does. I guess what's interesting about this you know, program was that we've seen the covert Russian trolls that have been indicted by Mueller in 2016.
O'SULLIVAN: We know of the over you know, Russia RT, Sputnik, etcetera that's operating here in the U.S. This -- these pages sort of were in a gray area right? They were -- you know, they weren't necessarily really hiding their Russia --
STELTER: Wait, they're not really hiding but they were kind of hiding?
O'SULLIVAN: Yes. I mean, look, as much as I'd like to say we did a ton of digging on this, if you were to you know, start googling these pages, you could quickly sort of work it back to see. But that -- obviously that's not how most people interact with content --
STELTER: Right. Not at all. So when you all caught -- called for comment, when you called Facebook, Facebook ended up suspending several of these pages. Did they fight -- did they violate a rule? Did Facebook say these pages violated a policy?
O'SULLIVAN: In short, no. And that's part of the problem as well. So these pages, they didn't say they were tied to Russia. They didn't say they were backed by RT, but there isn't a rule in place on Facebook to say that you have to do that. After RT was made register as a foreign agent here in the U.S. after the 2016 election, YouTube did bring in a policy where if you go to even a BBC video now, there is a disclaimer box under that saying this is in some way funded by the state, same with RT.
Facebook, for all the steps and all the criticism that they've taken over the past two years haven't brought in those sort of labeling requirements. So we asked Facebook, we asked them in the context of these pages you know, do you guys have any labeling policy, any plans for doing that? And we actually brought -- we asked questions Facebook on Wednesday and they issued us would a response which was basically sort of saying, well, we're contemplating, doing something about labeling state-funded media.
STELTER: So they're thinking about it. So it's the media and in other case it's politicians that are like alerting Facebook to these problems. I mean, here's a headline about something else this week. Adam Schiff writes that -- writes to Facebook, says, you're allowing a lot of horrible anti-vaccination information live on Facebook.
And now Facebook says they are considering how to reduce the spread of anti-vaccine content. So whether it's these Russian funded pages or anti-vacs lies, it feels like Facebook is making it up as they go along.
O'SULLIVAN: Well, you know, I mean, we've -- they've constantly telling us how many people they've hired, all the steps they've taken to you know, combat election meddling. But you're right. I mean, something like this, state from the media or something like vaccination you know, disinformation on the platform, this is something that's been going on for years.
STELTER: It's been going on for years. And I'm glad the company is trying to do the right thing but it does feel like they are trying to figure it out as they go along. Donie, thanks for being here. Great to see you. The full story is on cnn.com.
And one reminder here, a programming note. Monday night, CNN is having its next town hall with a presidential contender. Amy Klobuchar will on stage with Don Lemon in New Hampshire Monday 10:00 p.m. Eastern time here on CNN.
Thanks for joining us. We'll be back next Sunday 11:00 a.m. Easter time. Let me know what you thought of the program today. Look me up on Facebook. I'm @BrianStelter.