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Trump Takes on Mueller; Bernstein: Trump Determined to Shut Down Mueller Probe. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired March 18, 2018 - 11:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: President Trump taking on Robert Mueller.

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.

[11:00:01] Right now, there is breaking news involving the Mueller probe. President Trump's allies in the media have spent almost a year trying to discredit this probe. They have been acting like there is something to hide, but, you know, the lawyers and spokespeople have all preached cooperation up until now. They have said Trump is cooperating. He's going along with it, et cetera.

But now, this weekend, that has changed. They are saying the investigation seems illegitimate. One of Trump's lawyers says he is praying that the investigation gets shut down, and Trump himself is tweeting Mueller's name for the very first time ever, saying the Mueller probe should have never started at all.

Now, the president says there was no crime, even though people have already pled guilty. He also says the special counsel's office is stacked against him.

It feels like we're inching closer to the edge of a cliff. Imagine two trains on two parallel tracks because, right now, I see two very different stories depending on what outlets you're reading and watching.

First, let's look at the pro-Trump media side. Trump's media allies started the week by cheering the House Republican statement that they found no evidence of collusion. Now, the investigators didn't interview key witnesses. But never mind that pesky fact, this was celebration mode.

And then came the news that an FBI internal watchdog thought Deputy Director Andy McCabe should be fired instead of being allowed to retire quietly. Boom, this was more good news for the Jeanine Pirros of the world. They have been lobbying this for months.


JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: This guy, McCabe, needs to be taken out in cuffs. They should not be paid by the American people.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: McCabe is corrupt and he is as crooked as they come. He is one of those deep state actors we have been telling you about.


STELTER: On Friday night, AG Jeff Sessions followed through, delivering a win to the Hannitys of the world, firing McCabe, giving Trump and his fans a huge victory.

Now, Trump cited this on Twitter as proof of lies and corruption inside the FBI, and continued down this track I'm describing and said the Mueller probe never should have started. So, that's one track. Picture that track. Now picture a parallel track where there is no cherry.

On Monday, stories about the House ending its investigation also pointed out that the Mueller probe keeps expanding. On Tuesday, a new book came out titled "Russian Roulette". It instantly became the number one bestselling book in the country.

Co-author David Corn says this.


DAVID CORN, CO-AUTHOR, "RUSSIAN ROULETTE": I think Trump as we say in the book, aided and abetted the Russian attack on American democracy by helping them sort of cover up and confusing the picture about it.


STELTER: On Thursday, "The New York Times" broke the news that Mueller has subpoenaed Trump's businesses, the Trump Organization. Now, according to "The Times," Trump was particularly angry about this revelation, and you know what has happened since. Trump weighed in for the first time directly about Mueller, saying the probe shouldn't have started, once again escalating his attacks against the law enforcement community.

These are two parallel tracks, two different narratives about what's going on in America right now.

Let's talk about the consequences potentially of all this. Jeff Greenfield is here, a long-time political analyst. And also joining me in New York, Alicia Menendez, former anchor for Fusion, now a contributing editor to "Bustle".

I just want to try to chew through these counter-narratives, these dueling narratives that we're seeing, Jeff, about the Mueller probe. It seems to me Trump's allies are cheering about McCabe being fired, they're agreeing with the president that Mueller probe never should have started and yet, I'm seeing a lot of concern from establishment types that the firing of bob Mueller could be back on the table and that could be dangerous for democracy.

JEFF GREENFIELD, POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, this is Groundhog Day.

STELTER: Why? GREENFIELD: Because for a year, we have been basing -- or at least

since Comey was fired, we've been actually talking about the same thing. People alleging serious issues involving the Trump campaign and the Trump presidential behavior --


GREENFIELD: -- and Trump's allies saying, whatever you hear from these sources is fake and is therefore not to be believed. I mean, I feel like you could play a tape of me for the last four times I have been on.

The fact that Barry McCaffrey the other day, retired four-star general, pretty much conservative, said this president is a serious threat to national security. Now in other times, that would have been a shocker, but once again, you're getting the situation where the Trump supporters say, I don't care. We don't believe it. He is corrupt, he is deep state.

And the last part of Groundhog Day is until and unless the people who control the Congress actually find that Trump has crossed a line, that they will hold him accountable for, I don't believe any of this makes much difference.

ALICIA MENENDEZ, FORMER ANCHOR, FUSION: I want to jump on that last point because I think that's where it becomes the responsibility of journalists to start asking congressional Republicans what that tipping point is, where the red line is, when they're going to be willing to call Trump out. You know, up until this point, there has been this idea that they're not willing to do that because they have midterms coming up, and Trump is very popular among their base.

But as you have this chaos play out, both the turnover and the White House, and the actual policy chaos that we are seeing, where you have the president saying one thing on immigration reform coming out, another day saying something different, 800,000 young people's lives thrown into chaos over that.

[11:05:09] Whether you see the Dow dropping 200 points, punitive tariffs, there are so many reasons that the American public can look at this and say, is this chaos something that I am willing to reckon with in my own life? And the more Americans begin to process, I think the greater likelihood you see of Republicans being willing to question the president.

STELTER: Yes, I think you look at the president's tweets, the new tweets from today about Mueller and about McCabe and the FBI. On the one hand, it's just tweets, right? It's just rage tweeting, right? He's just angry.

On the other hand, he is the president of the United States taking out his anger on the law enforcement community, and I noticed what Jeff Zeleny, our colleague here at CNN, said on Twitter a couple of hours ago, let's put it on the screen, he said, hey, does President Trump know something that we don't? Coming down the pike we don't know about? This morning's tweet storm he said, attacking the investigators seems

to be a sign of something brewing.

GREENFIELD: But I think we have seen this kind of behavior almost from the beginning, in fact, before he was ever elected. I mean, in a sense, when you go back all the way back to the campaign and Trump was saying, if I lose it's because it's rigged, you have an absolute consistent behavior. And what I think has so far worked for him is that for all of this behavior, once again, the people who have the -- only the people who have the power to hold him to account for this are not doing it.

I don't know how many times I have heard Speaker Ryan say about one Trump behavior, and although this is troubling, I'm concerned.

STELTER: Yes, right.

GREENFIELD: But the argument that the president has been making since before he was the president, whatever you hear about me, that is critical by definition is false because these people are lying. What he did in his tweets this morning?

STELTER: About memos. This is about McCabe having memos just like Comey. Trump said, can we call them fake memos?

GREENFIELD: And, by the way, just quickly, Lawfare, a very respectable Website, has said, you know, there might be reasons why the firing of this deputy director was justified. These were career officials who made that choice.

And so, it's very important I think for us as journalists to try to separate what is just angry and false tweeting from issues that might be more serious.

STELTER: Journalists can also sit here until we're blue in the face saying this is troubling, this is concerning, this seems dangerous, and yet the real power lies with Republicans in Congress to be a check on the president. I think that's where this conversation comes back to is, what are we hearing from those people in power, Alicia?

MENENDEZ: Right. I mean, if you have a bifurcated media market where there are people who believe that there is real news and fake news, then you need an established messenger that they believe is a real messenger to come in and actually breakthrough that dichotomy.

You know, today, you had Senator Marco Rubio on "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos, asked about the Mueller probe, saying that he has faith that it will be carried out. Those are the types of questions that need to continue to be asked, and I think that, you know, we will see more of those questions in the next few weeks.

STELTER: And Jeff Flake on "STATE OF THE UNION" which comes up again in an hour, saying, I just hope Trump isn't laying the groundwork to fire Mueller, because it just can't happen.

One more on this, one of the unintended consequences of President Trump's focus on the FBI, on McCabe and fired Director James Comey, is that it seems to be helping Comey's book sales. Check this out, this is the pre-order for "A Higher Loyalty". This is Comey's book that comes out in a month. It's already number two on Amazon, even though the book is still not out.

I think this has a lot to do with the president's tweet yesterday.

Comey responded to the president by saying: The American people will hear my story very soon and they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.

So, Comey's book, number two on Amazon, number four on Barnes & Noble.

Jeff, I think it's a repeat of "Fire and Fury", the president's anger at Michael Wolff actually helped sell copies of Michael Wolff's book.

GREENFIELD: Yes. And you know what it takes to be -- I mean, Michael Wolff's book is unprecedented. It might have sold as many as a million copies, but 61 million people voted for Donald Trump, and the question to be asked is, is any of what you are describing not only going to move the Republicans in Congress, but will it move the people who voted for him and find him their hero?

You know, possibly the most accurate thing the president has ever said is the famous line that I can go out in 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and it wouldn't change my ratings, and at times, I almost think he is trying to semi-test that theory. And so far, one of the questions I would ask my colleagues, anybody else, what could Trump do that would make his base say, ugh, maybe not?

STELTER: So, divide in the media are partly just a symptom of a greater divide in the country --

GREENFIELD: Yes, absolutely.

STELTER: -- involving profound partnership that we're suffering from.



Let's take a break here. Come back with Carl Bernstein, Ben Shapiro, and other voices in breaking news.

We'll also get into a couple of interesting stories that might have been undercovered this week, including -- well, you know, take a look -- the porn star and the president, this new lawsuit that needs to be examined.

[11:10:01] We have new reporting about the "60 Minutes" interview involving Stormy Daniels, and the look at the producer in chief's TV to the White House pipeline.


STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. President Trump's tweets against Robert Mueller, the first time he has mentioned his name on Twitter, it raises a lot of questions about what's to come, whether there is a new attempt to try to remove Mueller and stop the investigation into the Russian interference in the election, and all of the possibilities that come from that, including obstruction of justice.

Let's hear from Carl Bernstein on this. Carl has been out in front reporting on this topic for more than a year, and he joins me now from L.A.

Carl, what is your reaction to the president saying the Mueller probe never should have started in the first place?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He said that all along, and he is determined to shut it down. Those who are closest to him will tell you it's very hard for them to stop his rages, especially in the last couple of weeks about Mueller and they say to me and others that he is determined to shut this investigation down. He hasn't quite figured out how to do it, but he is determined to do it.

And the real question here is, whether the rule of law and the avoidance of a constitutional -- real constitutional crisis which we're really approaching here because he is saying essentially he is not going to be held accountable to the law, that the law does not apply to him, that this investigation is in itself illegal.

[11:15:03] And he believes as Jeff Greenfield has just said, that he can convince his base and a lot of the Republican Party, that he doesn't have to be held accountable because they will be convinced as well that this is a witch hunt, and, in fact, it's anything but, and one of the reasons we're seeing what we are right now is the president, according to those around him, has expressed the belief or certainly the attitude that he thinks this investigation is closing in on him, on his family and on his businesses.

And there is real evidence, circumstantial that this is the case, and certainly lawyers involved in this for other defendants believe that is the case, and also that a set of indictments is just over the horizon. Now high or --


STELTER: How do you know that? You say a set of indictments is on the way?

BERNSTEIN: It's on the horizon. Yes. I think that -- certainly, that other lawyers involved in this belief that a new set of indictments is, if not imminent, very close, but we don't know for sure that that's going to happen, and you've got to wait until something is filed with the court.

But certainly the belief around the president in the White House, those who talk to him, is that he is expressing the attitude that he needs to shut this thing down, he hasn't tried to figure out the way to do it yet, except to appeal to this base because we are in this country as Jeff's comments indicated, in the midst of a cold civil war, a cultural cold civil war, and it predates Donald Trump, but he has exploited it brilliantly and takes advantage of it.

And the other thing that's involved here, and I'll let you ask another question and stop talking here in a second, is that this is very much about lying, that one of the things we have seen even with the prime minister of Canada in the last week is the compulsive or endemic lying by the president of the United States, and he tells us there is no collusion here, there is nothing here.

In fact, we have from the record, you can say this journalistically, as a reportorial fact, whether you're on FOX, CNN, MSNBC, it doesn't matter. The reportorial fact is this president lies and why do we have any reason to believe that he is not lying about the Russia investigation and what's underneath it. We have less reason to believe than we do the witnesses, the journalists and the evidence that we've seen so far.

It doesn't mean that there is evidence yet that we have seen of definitive collusion, but Mueller I think we can say is trying to build a vast narrative of Trump, his business and his political aspirations in dealing with the Russians from the beginning, getting money from people who are Russians, ethno-Russians and then running for office, and how all of these pieces of the puzzle fit together.

STELTER: I could listen to you all day, Carl. But you brought on lies.

BERNSTEIN: I kind of went on there. Pardon me.

STELTER: Let's go through some of the lies from this week.


STELTER: I made a list of these.

There are different kinds of lies, right, Carl? The RNC's talking points for this weekend, for example, I got ahold of the talking points.

Let me put it on screen. It says despite the media's fixation with White House palace intrigue, there is no chaos in the Trump administration.

Obviously, that's not true, but that's just kind of a silly lie, right? That's spin.

STELTER: Let me stop you there.

STELTER: There are serious consequences there, though. Look at the ICE official in San Francisco who had enough. He resigned. This is an ICE spokesman who said he couldn't take it anymore. He couldn't spread falsehoods for the Trump administration.

And then as you mentioned, Trump himself saying to fundraisers, at a private fundraiser, that yes, he made up some facts with the Canadian prime minister. There were all these different kinds of fibs or falsehoods we have seen, but some of them have real consequences.

BERNSTEIN: The lying by the president of the United States is what's important here, not by the RNC being craven and backing him up because that is the big question here. Are Republicans as happened during Watergate, going to have some spine and not be craven and say, look, we believe in the rule of law, we support this president and his policies, but we want to know what happened here?

If indeed the Mueller investigation is what Donald Trump says it is, which is a fake and a witch hunt and all the rest, there will be plenty of time after his investigation is finished if he is allowed to complete the investigation, to find everything that he did, Mueller, that is underhanded, illegal, a witch hunt.

I don't think that's going to happen from everything we know about Mueller and he is a straight shooter as we know.

[11:20:04] He is a Republican. He plays it by the book.

But there is every opportunity and Republicans ought to rally around this and say, look, let this investigation go forward. If there is malfeasance or misfeasance by the investigators, we will find out about it after we find out the facts about Russia, about Donald Trump, about his family, about his business organization. Let's get the facts.

But if there has been malfeasance by the investigators, those investigators ought to go to jail, and they ought to be --


BERNSTEIN: -- there ought to be a legal procedure to deal with any malfeasance or misfeasance, real malfeasance or misfeasance, not simple errors that are made in a legitimate investigation. You do that after the fact.

And what we have seen today so far from Senator Graham and from others and perhaps hopefully the beginning of Republicans saying, yes. There is a line we will not cross about the rule of law, the rule of law shall prevail here. We'll find out the facts, we'll deal with the investigators later.

But in this cultural civil war, in this cold civil war, there is real question as Jeff Greenfield has said today, of whether or not it's possible for a legitimate investigation to prevail as opposed to an authoritarian, demagogic president appealing to a base that has the Republican Party so far, held hostage.

STELTER: So, Carl, what is the role of the press as you see it in this difficult moment?

BERNSTEIN: To stay reportorial, to be really rigidly reportorial, not to go beyond what we know, and it's very difficult because when you say that the president of the United States lies and lies repeatedly, that's very difficult to listen to, particularly if you are a supporter of the president and at the same time, it is a reportorial, demonstrable fact that everyone has to deal with here, and it's true of this whole story.

But I think that the less we show ourselves as provocative, if we can keep our tone to being as reportorial as we can, and at the same time, be strict in terms of pointing out what we know, what is fact, what is speculation, we have seen in the last year, the greatest reporting on the presidency of the United States, by a great number of news organizations that we have seen in the last 50, 60 years in this country, by "The New York Times," by "The Washington Post," by "The Wall Street Journal" whose owner, Rupert Murdoch, is a supporter of the president, by some right wing outlets as well, and part of the conservative movement has opposed this president's lying and interference with legal procedure.

You look at what Bill Kristol has said. You look at what Jennifer Rubin has said in "The Washington Post", right wing people, movement conservatives, and not all of them by any means support this president's flouting the rule of law especially.

What we are seeing now is a crossroads this weekend, and that is whether or not the rule of law, the Constitution of the United States, the legitimacy of the Republican Party as an institution that believes in the principles that we have held dear in this country for years, and established in Watergate once again by the Supreme Court and by Republicans in Congress who were brave enough to take on the president of the United States when he said he was above the law.

That's where we are right now, and we are at a moment that is crucial in the history of this country because it is clear that Donald Trump wants to bury this investigation.

STELTER: Carl Bernstein, thank you for the clear-eyed assessment.

After our break here, how the president's legal team is injecting into your life into a different scandal, the Stormy Daniels scandal. Is her "60 Minutes" interview airing and when? We have the answers right after this.


[11:28:51] STELTER: Are the people who talk about policy on TV equipped to actually make policy?

You know, with Gary Cohn out, and Larry Kudlow in, the TV to White House pipelines are gaining a lot of attention and scrutiny right now. But Kudlow is not the first. There is Heather Nauert, who was the host of "Fox and Friends", who has been promoted to a top job at the State Department. And Mercedes Schlapp, who was a Fox News contributor, now, she is working in the White House press shop and she could replace Hope Hicks.

Kudlow is just the latest. He's going from CNBC now taking over the National Economic Council.

So, you have the hires coming from TV, where it seems the president is using TV appearances as job auditions. But then there's also this, Trump's TV advisers, all of these folks from Rupert Murdoch on down who were said to give advice to the president, neither through the TV or more importantly, in phone calls after the show.

Let's talk more about it with Alicia Menendez. She's back with me, from "Bustle". And also here, political analyst Jeff Greenfield.

The latest talk, Alicia, is Pete Hegseth, the "Fox and Friends" weekend host, maybe taking over the V.A. Now, he's a veteran, who then led a conservative vets group, but doesn't have the traditional experience you would expect.

Am I old fashioned to care about old fashioned credentials?

MENENDEZ: I mean, it is a 400-thousand person operation, so not having that type of management experience, not having health care experience, you would hope that he would then have the right team around him if this actually comes to fruition.



MENENDEZ: But it's not really surprising that the president would look to cable news to hire members of his team.

As you said, there is already history of him doing it. And in some ways, it creates this positive feedback loop. If you love the president, if you love FOX News, then his hiring from FOX News validates FOX News' credibility and it also validates the president's great taste, right?

It works both ways. I think what it might paper over, though, is a question about whether or not people who are undeniably credentialed to take these jobs, want these jobs are willing to put their credibility on the line to join an administration that has seen the level of turnover and chaos that this administration has seen.

JEFF GREENFIELD, POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, speaking as a future director of NASA...


GREENFIELD: ... I do find that somewhat odd.

Yes, I have no problem with going outside traditional sources of employment. There are times when that's actually a good idea. There are times when bringing in people with a fresh face who may not necessarily be mired in the past is a good idea.

Now, when you look at Mr. Kudlow, who, you know, back in 2007, pooh- poohed the whole idea of a recession, said the housing market was going to be in great shape, it's certainly appropriate important to challenge the specific credentials of the president that he is -- that the president is reaching out for.

But let's remember, Trump is supposedly said to have told his people, look, he conceives the whole presidency as a reality TV show where everyday he wins and somebody else loses. So, if your perception of your whole presidency is a TV show, in some

perverse way, this makes sense.

STELTER: Let's turn to a TV soap opera with potentially serious legal consequences. This is the Stormy Daniels scandal.

Let's show the cover of "The New Yorker" that is coming out on newsstands tomorrow. It's going to raise a lot of eyebrows, I think. This, of course, showing President Trump exposed. I think this story is the perfect nexus of the president, the press, a porn star, and it does seem like Stormy Daniels' lawyer has been incredibly media savvy.

We know that he arranged an interview with Anderson Cooper. It's going to air on "60 Minutes," Cooper, of course, working for both CNN and CBS.

This interview has been taped. And the lawyer has been out there all over cable TV, maybe except for FOX, talking about the interview, teasing the interview, describing the interview.

Now, what we don't know officially from CBS and when the interview is going to air. But sources say it will air this time next week, next Sunday on "60 Minutes."

I wonder, Jeff, if Stormy Daniels and her lawyer are actually beating President Trump at his own game, like that Trump has finally met his match in terms of someone with so much P.R.-savvy.

GREENFIELD: Well, it seems to me that they have pushed this story, both Ms. Daniels' lawyer and Trump's people, from the, did the president have an affair with this woman while his wife was just, you know, a new mother, to the level of, well, was the president's lawyer paying $130,000 out of his own money to keep her quiet about something that never happened?

In other words, it's raised the stakes. But I keep coming back -- I guess I'm beating a dead horse -- to this. Who will this affect? If Trump supporters were able to get past the "Access Hollywood" tape, and the accusations of 13 women that in various ways he was behaving as a predator, then that's sort of straining the gnat and swallowing a camel.


GREENFIELD: In context, I'm not sure that this is going to make any difference, unless it raises particular legal questions about campaign finance law.

And it also tells us, by the way, how things have changed. A few years ago, 70-something percent of evangelicals say it was very important for a political leader to have personally morally high standards. The last time those people were polled, the number had fallen to 20-something percent.

Why? Because their champion is Donald Trump. STELTER: His base may not care, but I don't think the president or

his wife wants to see Stormy Daniels on national television. I would think that has consequences, Alicia.

MENENDEZ: You also have her attorney out there telling cable news -- and we will whether or not this comes up in the "60 Minutes" interview -- that -- saying that she has been physically threatened by people within the Trump orbit.


MENENDEZ: So, we will see whether or not that accusation bears out.

But that -- again, it widens the circle of what it is we're talking about. Right? As you said, it's no longer about just about whether or not there was extramarital affair. It was about whether or not this triggers finance campaign laws, which might bring in Mueller, if Mueller's team decides that that's something that they are interested in bringing into the scope of their investigation.

And it also raises questions about intimidation, about suppressing information and suppressing people's ability to tell their own version of the story.

STELTER: Right, silencing someone. And despite Trump's newest move in court, the interview is moving forward. It's been taped. Supposed to air this time next week.


GREENFIELD: Well, I guess the one thing worth saying is the idea that Trump's people were going to try to somehow block CBS from airing this interview, this is an instinct that the president has had long before he got into politics, of threatening lawsuits, of threatening libel suits.

And the threats never seem to evolve into actual reality. But it tells you something about a president, I think, and a personality for whom disturbing and unsettling and bad news by definition can't be true, which is why I have always thought, it may not be that the president lies at all, that when he says something, he believes it, no matter how much the evidence says no.

You know the old line, who are you going to believe, me or your eyes?

STELTER: On that note, that's interesting.

Jeff, Alicia, thanks for being here.

After a quick break here, leading conservative editor Ben Shapiro, editor in chief of The Daily Wire, joins me right after this.



STELTER: Hey. Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

President Trump and his tweets about Robert Mueller, the potential for Mueller's firing, it is a story that's dominating news coverage, including here on CNN, once again this weekend.

I have heard a lot of cries, a lot of calls on social media and on TV that this is not normal, none of this is normal.

And yet some conservative media critics say that all of those -- all that commentary, all the people pointing that out are actually undermining the media's own credibility.

Let's talk about media credibility in this unique moment in time with Ben Shapiro. He is the editor in chief of The Daily Wire.

Ben, great to see you.


STELTER: You have argued in the past the media shouldn't go around pointing out how abnormal these circumstances are.

Why is that?

SHAPIRO: Well, I think it sort of depends.

This stuff over this weekend was not particularly normal, so it's hard for me to argue the media shouldn't be saying that the president is acting in non-normal fashion with regard to the Russia investigation.

That said, I think because the media had been saying not normal so often for so long, for over a year, for two years at this point, at a certain point, it becomes the boy who cried wolf. Even when something is not normal, as it has been this weekend, I think there are a lot of folks who go, well, that is just the media is spouting off. How are we supposed to trust them after two years of saying everything the man does isn't normal?

STELTER: Isn't that partly because there has been a decade-long movement on the right to discredit the media, well before President Trump came along?

SHAPIRO: Yes, I would be surprised if it's just a decade.


STELTER: Decades-long. Yes.

SHAPIRO: Yes, on the right for as long as I have been alive, there has been a lot of questions about media objectivity.

And I don't think that those questions are ill-founded. I think this is why, as I have been saying, it's really incumbent on the media to do as much reporting of the facts as possible and leave a lot of the hyperbole out of it. I know that's really difficult at a time when the hyperbole seems to not only get ratings, but also to jog people's kind of amygdalas. But the fact is that the more the media underplays, I think the better they will do in terms of people trusting them, because at this time, what's happening right now is everybody is breaking down into tribal affinity.

President Trump says fake news. A lot of his people say, OK, well, if the president says it, the media are fake on a lot of topics, or at least they are biased on a lot of topics, so why wouldn't they be biased here as well? The media sort of need to bend over backwards to prove that they aren't biased, especially in cases like the Russia investigation.

Again, I think what that the president has done this weekend is not normal. I think if the president were to fire Robert Mueller, it would precipitate some really devastating politics in the country, for sure. And it should.

But I think it's important that the media hold their fire until the point here something really terrible has happened. I'm sorry, but the firing of Andy McCabe, for example, on Friday, that was recommended by the OPR. That is not something that is wildly out of bounds.

What is out of bounds obviously is the president talking about firing Mueller or if he would actually fire Mueller.

STELTER: Where do you see the most egregious media bias right now?

SHAPIRO: Well, over the last three weeks, obviously, the coverage of the gun debate has been absolutely egregious.

I don't want to single out your network, but CNN has been pretty bad on this, from a conservative perspective. The idea that, when there is a mass shooting, that the media feel the necessity to put on TV not only survivors, but specific survivors, that there is a certain subset of survivors who make it on TV a lot, a lot, and there are certain other survivors who don't.

And that they decide out single out certain events and not other events in order to make a particular case, or they allow certainly people to go on TV and suggest that folks like Dana Loesch or people at the NRA are evil, don't care, they are terrorists, and there's no pushback from the anchors?

This sort of thing makes a lot of people on the right feel that the media are really using this as an opportunity to push gun control, rather than objectively covering the legislative efforts that are going on in Washington, D.C.

STELTER: So, your view is it should be 50/50? Even if most of the students are urging gun control measures, you want it to be 50/50 or...

SHAPIRO: No, I think 80/20 would be fine. Anything but 95/5 would probably be a good thing, and I think it's also pretty obvious that -- listen, everybody -- this is my opinion about journalism -- everybody in journalism has their own political views.

We all vote, obviously, or at least most of but do. And it's not a pleasant thing when people in the media pretend their political views are not influencing their coverage, when it's so obvious that those political views clearly are influencing their coverage.

STELTER: But is it political just to want fewer gun death? That's not political.

SHAPIRO: Well, obviously, it's not political to want fewer gun deaths. Nobody wants more gun deaths.

I think that what is political is allowing certain people to go on TV, and without any sort of follow-up question say things like their political enemies don't care about human lives.

Like, I remember CNN got very upset when Dana Loesch said at CPAC that people in the media didn't care enough.

STELTER: CNN doesn't get upset. Certain anchors or reporters may challenge something. That's not a network-wide thing.


SHAPIRO: Well, OK, but reporters need to challenge.

But, again, the reporters are the representatives of the network. When I tune in and there is a reporter on CNN, and the CNN insignia is in the bottom corner of the crawl, there is nothing I can do, as an observer, but say, OK, well, CNN may have a bias here, especially if that bias all runs in one direction.

It's not like some of the members of the CNN are pushing a particular agenda and some are pushing another agenda. There is always -- if there is a bias, it is universally to one side, and that's what people on the right are seeing.

STELTER: You think the agenda that is being pushed is gun control by interviewing students who are scared to go back to school? Is that how you perceive it?

SHAPIRO: NO. I think the agenda being pushed is gun control if there, again, is no pushback on questions that would be asked to any other guest.

I think the tragedy is obviously a terrible thing, but it doesn't necessarily confer expertise. And that's one of the big problems here.


STELTER: You are very popular, Ben. Do you want to grab that?

SHAPIRO: Yes, exactly. Goodness gracious.

STELTER: It happens to all of us. SHAPIRO: Sorry about that.

STELTER: I wanted to ask you, though.

Your Web site, The Daily Wire, a lot of other conservative media sites that have criticism of the press, I sometimes worry you all are trying to tear things down, as opposed to make them better.

It's one thing to critique and want journalism to be better, but sometimes I feel like you're just trying to get rid of journalism altogether. Is that unfair?

SHAPIRO: Questioning the motive, I don't think, is a useful thing.

If you can point out to me where the critique is wrong, I think that is one thing. If the suggestion is that the critique is invalid because the movie is invalid, that's another. So, again, I think that if you don't like the motive, then ignore the motive and take the critique, insofar as it's effective. Right?

We all have motives. But the fact is, listen, I don't want CNN to disappear. I don't want "The New York Times" to disappear. I don't "The Washington Post" to disappear. I want them to do what they say they are supposed to be doing.

I want them to perform objective journalism, if that what they say they're going to do, and opinion journalism if they want to say that they are opinion journalists. That's fine.

My problem is when -- this is why my critique of, for example, "The New York Times"' op-ed page is far less than my critique of "The New York Times"' objective journalism. There's a difference between op-ed and journalism.

It's why my critique of MSNBC sometimes is a lot less strident, I think, than my critique of CNN, because CNN purports to be objective. MSNBC really does not purport to be objective in the same way.

STELTER: Part of me thinks that you and your colleagues at The Daily Wire should get try to jobs then at "The New York Times." If you don't like the coverage, try to be a part of the solution, as opposed to complaining about it.

SHAPIRO: I don't know. Would you hire me? I really doubt that. And not only that, I'm not sure you guys would pay me. I will be frank with me. I make a lot of money, so...


STELTER: I wanted you as a guest for many months.

I was wondering. The Daily Wire has been growing. Your profile has been blowing up. There was talk about you maybe taking over Glenn Beck's The Blaze? Can you tell us if that's true and where you see your media company going in the future?

SHAPIRO: All I can say about that is that we're always looking for opportunities to grow, and we are very much fans of what Glenn does.

Any opportunity we have to work with Glenn, like a lot of other folks, we're happy to take.

STELTER: All right, interesting. Interesting tease.

All right, Ben, great to see you. Thanks for coming on the program.

SHAPIRO: Thanks so much.

STELTER: After the break here, FOX News and Infowars are both being sued, totally separate lawsuits, but both suits involving conspiracy theories.

We will talk about with one of the plaintiffs against Infowars right after this.



STELTER: Slain DNC staffer Seth Rich has been the subject of twisted conspiracy theories.

At one point last year, FOX News posted and promoted a story connecting Rich's unsolved murder in D.C. to WikiLeaks and the election.

The story was featured prominently on Sean Hannity's program. And it was later retracted and pulled off the FOX News Web site.

Now his parents are suing FOX.


MARY RICH, MOTHER OF SETH RICH: I want the people who started the lies, who are responsible for the lies held accountable.

This has got to stop. We lost his body the first time, and the second time, we lost his soul. They took more from us with the lies.


STELTER: There was another lawsuit this week targeting people that promote conspiracy theories.

It involves Infowars and the host of Infowars, Alex Jones. Already, Infowars is at risk of losing its YouTube channel. And now this lawsuit is trying to take Jones and Infowars and others to court, saying they're responsible for promoting hoaxes that actually are defamatory toward the people involved.

Let's talk about this lawsuit with Brennan Gilmore. He's the plaintiff in the case. He says he was a target of Jones' conspiracy theories. He's also joined by his lawyer, Andrew Mendrala.

I appreciate you both for being here.

Brennan, I don't have much time, so I want to tell me what the case is, what you say was defamatory in all the talk about you on Infowars.

BRENNAN GILMORE, SUING INFOWARS AND ALEX JONES: Well, the defamatory statements were legion, and they were very egregious.

People said that I was a CIA asset who was sponsored by George Soros, or Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or you name it, to help orchestrate the violence that we saw in Charlottesville last August.

They took my service to the United States as a Foreign Service officer and twisted it into a long story of lies that had me culpable for what we saw last year in Charlottesville.

STELTER: So, you're challenging Jones and a number of other people in court.

Andrew, there are obviously strong protections for media organizations, even ones that are revolting, like Infowars.

So, how do you expect to win?

ANDREW MENDRALA, ATTORNEY FOR BRENNAN GILMORE: Sure. Well, I think the case for defamation is strong.

I mean, you know, Alex Jones and these people sort of feel like they have impunity to say whatever they want and hide behind the First Amendment and claim that any challenge to the lies that they spread are protected speech.

And we think that the Fourth Amendment does not protect speech that is demonstrably false, that in many ways has ruined Brennan's life. And it's incited violence and harassment against him. So, we think the case is clear.


STELTER: Brennan, Jones loves to use clips from this show. So, if he's watching, what do you want him to know?

GILMORE: I mean, I don't -- we will have the court process to go over the claims that he made against me. And we will show in court that they're all baseless.

And I think -- I'm looking forward to that process, because there are laws that we believe govern responsible journalism. And they do not abide by them. They don't abide by journalistic ethics.


GILMORE: They don't abide by the legal code.

STELTER: So, you're using the court process to challenge conspiracy theories. It's really interesting.

We will keep an eye on your case.

GILMORE: I'm using -- I'm using the...

STELTER: I'm sorry. I'm up against a hard break. But we will try to keep an eye on your case.


STELTER: And we thank you both for being here.

We will see you back here on RELIABLE SOURCES this time next week.