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Trump Says Al-Baghdadi, a "Gutless Animal", is Dead; Will Trump's Fox Force Field Hold. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired October 27, 2019 - 11:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter. This is RELIABLE SOURCES, and this is a breaking news day here in RELIABLE SOURCES.

So much happening here on a Sunday, so let's get right to it.

This photo really summing up the events of the past 24 hours. We see in this photo President Trump watching the raid that resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Now, Trump is describing the raid in graphic detail. His press conference went on for quite a while, taking questions from reporters. My panel is here with reaction to the breaking news.

Plus, who is anonymous and what will they reveal? There's new book coming out with a warning about President Trump. It's making news. And Joe Klein will join me here. He's the one-time anonymous author of this book, "Primary Colors". So, he'll join me with perspective.

Plus, I have brand-new reporting about MSNBC's biggest star challenging NBC News management. All of that is coming up on this jam-packed hour.

But, first, the U.S. military's successful overnight raid in Syria showcases the highs and lows of the shock cycle, really shows the highs and the lows of the Trump presidency taken to a new extreme. Obviously, the president is celebrating the death of ISIS leader al- Baghdadi, describing the violence of the raid then taking questions from reporters, assailing leaks, claiming this moment is bigger than the killing of Osama bin Laden.

It is a significant moment. It is, of course, wall to wall on television. But at the same time, on the very same week, Trump's impeachment in the House appears inevitable. Many reporters, many commentators coming to the same conclusion right here after another week of damning depositions.

There are two thoughts to hold in our heads at the same time. The significant military victory, what the president says will make the country more safe, yet at the same time a growing number of people warning that his leadership is making the country less safe. And, of course, all the alleged abuses of power that we were talking about 24 hours ago are still just as relevant right now, even though this successful raid is briefly filling up screens wall to wall.

Two thoughts to hold in our head at the same time. I have experts here with me to talk about that that great detail.

So, let's get to it. The syndicated columnist for "The Washington Post" and a CNN political commentator Catherine Rampell, former adviser to national security adviser under Obama, and now, CNN national security analyst, Sam Vinograd, and a media reporter out of "The Washington Post," Sarah Ellison. All with me here in New York.

Samantha, overnight, this news of the raid. The president is obviously speaking at great lengths, sharing incredible detail about this mission in Syria. What strikes you? What stands to you?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, this is obviously a major accomplishment. But from a counterterrorism perspective, the president's engagement with the media on this, Brian, is pretty surprising to me. This is a high risk period. Immediately after special operation like this, there's increased risks of retaliatory attacks and risks to human sources on the ground in Syria for example.

The level of detail that President Trump went into in that press conference increases the risk to sources who may still be on the ground. It's really unprecedented when you think about how much detail he went into.

STELTER: Are you saying it's irresponsible?

VINOGRAD: I think it is irresponsible. I think it puts sources at risk and it's unnecessary at this point, he could have much more succinct in what he said.

Typically, you have these talking points scrubbed by the intelligence community to make sure they don't have the unintended impact of inspiring more attacks. He did try to preclude any image of Baghdadi as a murderer by describing him I think as a whimpering dog and a coward in that sort of thing.


VINOGRAD: But it's clear while the intelligence community played a big role in implementing this raid, it does not appear he's listening to them in terms of how to manage this aftermath.

STELTER: But at the same time, I think his speech and his answers were inspiring to many, tens of millions of Americans who want to hear their president talk in visceral terms about the life and death consequences.

VINOGRAD: Sure. But you can do that, and paint a picture of how damaging Baghdadi was from a security perspective, without going into the level of operational detail that President Trump did in terms of what actually happened on the ground, the level of detail we had about this site that our special forces were able to get into. That was unnecessary, Brian. It's calibration, which is not President Trump's strong point.

STELTER: Well, look, look at his question and answer session, he did go too far on a number of issues. He did exaggerate on number of topics while taking questions from reporters.

I will point, Catherine, he talked about the raids on Osama bin Laden, suggested this was more even significant, I'll leave that to the military experts. But he also suggested that he uniquely foresaw bin Laden's threat to the United States in the year 2000 ahead of the 2001 terrorist attacks as if he wrote about it in his book, as if nobody else knew about bin Laden at the time. Now, that is obviously false and kind of crazy, yet he's out there saying it when celebrating a successful United States military accomplishment.


CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, Trump always wants to be the hero of any narrative, whether it's a narrative that's actually relevant to what we're talking about or whether it's one that happens several years ago when a different president was in office. I think there a number of ways, in fact, that he bungled the messaging here.

Look, this is a big win for the United States. It's a win for Trump as well, but it wasn't just about the exaggerations. It was also about going into the oil, the oil, the oil, it's all about the oil, when, you know, remember war for profit is kind of the reason why they don't trust the United States in that part of the world, talking about cutting a deal with Exxon.

Why was any of this appropriate to be talking about when really this was about national security? This is not about, you know, cutting a great financial deal either for Trump himself, which sort of seemed to be the implication, or perhaps the United States.

STELTER: In this moment I want to think about the victims of ISIS. It is an incredible moment, I think probably an emotional moment for some of these families, including the family of James Foley, one of the journalists beheaded by ISIS a number of years ago.

Diane Foley, James' mom, put out a statement in the past few minutes, she says, "I am grateful to our president and brave troops for finding the ISIS leader." "I hope this will hinder the resurgence of terrorist groups and I pray that captured ISIS fighters will be brought to trial and held accountable."

A reminder that this is an ongoing story. This is just an end of one chapter.

But, Sarah, I think it's worth reflecting on that journalists were among the targets of these ISIS terrorists.

SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, I think that's one of the things that's so visceral for the people covering this story, is that the journalists covering it really do feel affected by it.

STELTER: Yes, what did you make of the president's Q&A session? I don't think there's necessarily an expectation he would take questions after addressing the nation this morning.

ELLISON: No, and in fact, there's a big sort of sharp intake of breath when the president says he's going to take questions because things typically go off the rails. And I think this was no exception. And I think that one of the things that we hadn't talked about yet is how this moment is really kind of where the deep state came through in terms of this particular raid.

STELTER: Interesting. So if you accept the president's messaging of the deep state, you're saying career officials, government bureaucracy --

ELLISON: These are people who have been doing their jobs. This is a real bureaucratic win for the United States government. I think that that's -- these are people who have been doing their jobs, gathering intelligence, the CIA helped out. I mean, this is something that is really a vindication for that part of the government that is operating outside of -- you know, certainly this is a win and it's a legitimate, wonderful thing that has happened for the country. But President Trump can't take the win. He has to take it another step further and I think that the Q&A --

STELTER: And then he exaggerated during the Q&A.

Again, highs and lows symbolized by this week. Let's turn to the conversation about impeachment that all the Sunday shows would have been having at this moment in time.

You know, there was the stunt of House Republicans storming one of these depositions. It got a lot of attention, and, of course, that was the point. I think it probably got too much attention, I think.

The real focus, I think now, it needs to be on the Senate Republicans. What are Senate Republicans going to do? Yes, in the House, some of the Republicans are supporting the president. But it's pretty clear at this point there is going to be an impeachment vote in the House.

My question is about Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans and what is ultimately going to happen.

Catherine, do you think there's been enough attention in the press focusing on the Senate part of this? Is that starting to get enough attention?

RAMPELL: Probably not at this point. You're right, that is what will make or break this decision. At this point, obviously, it does not look like the Senate would under any circumstances actually convict this president of whatever articles of impeachment are filed against him. It would be very hard to imagine it.

I mean, Mitch McConnell has sort of indicated that he may not even have a full trial. So yes, we should be talking about that. I will say what was interesting this week was that Senator Lindsey

Graham filed this resolution condemning the impeachment inquiry and not all the Republican senators signed on to it. So I think actually that was telling. It was intended to be a show of force for the president, but in fact, not everybody showed up for that show of force.

So, it does suggest there are some weak links that could deserve more scrutiny going forward.

STELTER: Certainly, "The Daily Caller," of all outlet, a conservative outlet oftentimes pro Trump, called all the offices of GOP senators asking, what will you do about impeachment, will you refuse to vote to convict President Trump in a trial? Only seven of the GOP senators said we will absolutely not convict no matter what.

Now, the explanation from "Politico" and other outlets is that these senators, because they're going to be members of a jury, they're not prejudging what's going to happen. But it's striking, Sarah, that we're already at the point where reporters are asking that question. We are already this far down the impeachment road, only one month ago, Nancy Pelosi announced down this inquiry.

ELLISON: No, it's very fast moving and I think that people have identified, the only way that you can report on silence is to keep asking the question sand saying who is willing to answer?


Because otherwise, we're left with a vacuum, where are Senate Republicans, what are we supposed to think about what could happen. That's where the focus should be. But in a vacuum, all you can do is just pick up the phone and keep asking the question.

STELTER: Right, that's how you show the silence, that's absolutely true.


STELTER: Thank you very much, Sam. Thank you.

Everybody else, stick around.

Quick break here, and then we're talking more about how impeachment is being framed through right wing media. You need to know what President Trump is hearing when he turns on the TV. We're going to show you all that rhetoric, next.


STELTER: With President Trump's impeachment in the House now seeming inevitable and attention turning to the Senate, will his Fox News force field stay strong? Will it hold up?

This is a key question. You now, as Dan Balz wrote in "The Washington Post," it is now a question of whether this Ukraine scandal, really is a scandal, of what happened. He says, it is now a question of how the president explains it and how lawmakers, especially Republicans, choose to respond to it.

Well, many Republicans are getting their talking points from here, from Fox News, from these primetime shows, from "Fox and Friends", from other parts of Fox, and right wing radio. And the message is extreme, accusing Democrats of dirty tricks and so much more.

Just take a quick look.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: The Democrats' top secret, their Soviet- style impeachment coup attempt.

GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT AT LARGE: The president is clearly being denied his constitutional due process.


It is a kangaroo court.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: You know I hate to say it so this crassly, but it seems like it's the revenge of the globalists here.

ARI FLEISCHER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: This is a dirty impeachment because it's all being done in secret.


STELTER: Meanwhile, we've got the former chief of staff John Kelly basically saying Trump is unfit for office.

And so, what does the press secretary do? She goes on Fox. She acts more like a propaganda minister than a press secretary, and she slams Kelly as, quote, totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president.

That's a quote from the White House press secretary. Hey, if you're so proud and confident of his genius, why don't you restore the press briefings? Why don't you come out and talk about the president's accomplishments and take questions from reporters? That would be an actually show of strength.

But, look, we're seeing Grisham and many others repeat the president's aggressive language about impeachment, including that comment about "lynching."


STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What is happening on the Hill with this farce of impeachment hearings, it is a mob lynching type of a situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: It is not that kind of a situation, but listen, I think the reason why this matters, the reason this rhetoric matters is because the president is hearing it every day and his supporters are hearing it every day. You've got to understand what's being heard in right wing media to understand this impeachment debate.

Catherine Rampell and Sarah Ellison are back with me. And Andrew Marantz is also joining me. He's the author of the excellent new book, "Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians and the Hijacking of the American Conversation."

Hijacking is the keyword. It's a key takeaway from your book, and some of that is what's happening right now in the impeachment debate.

ANDREW MARANTZ, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": Absolutely. I mean, people focused on the underlying facts, as of course they should, but underlying facts are not at all the main things that matters in terms of narrative shaping. Narrative shaping happens on Fox News. It happens in Congress. It also happens in these, quote/unquote, "fringe" parts of the Internet that a lot of people would prefer not to think about or look at. It's always been a vast ecosystem.

And with social media chopping everything up and turning it into personalized algorithms, the undercurrent of how people are talking about things matters more than the thing itself, whether it's impeachment, whether it's al-Baghdadi, whatever the news event, what matter is memes and phrases. You know, when Mick Mulvaney said, get over it, the Trump campaign is selling T-shirts with that phrase on it.

STELTER: T-shirts.

MARANTZ: So, and it happens so quickly now that we can focus on the underlying facts, and again, we should and we should focus on the underlying facts and call out lies where we see them but the fact is these things can get normalized whether people like it or not just by the force of online chatter about it.

STELTER: Yes, on the left and in the middle, this is a legal impeachment process. That's a fact. On the right, this is an illegal coup. That message has been repeated almost every hour.

MARANTZ: And the fact is, you know, this is kind of how messaging works, this is also how propaganda works. If you repeat something enough times, there will be a kind of "both sides" that occurs, there will be a normalizing that occurs.

And, you know, this is one of Trump's great skills. He can set the agenda just through certain words, through throwing red meat to the base and through knowing that it will rile up his opponents. That's also emotional engagement works. An emotional engagement is the lifeblood of the viral Internet.

STELTER: That's what's happening on Facebook. Yes, totally.

So, the question on screen right now, Sarah, will Trump's Fox force field hold? What's the current answer to that question?

ELLISON: Well, I think you've seen some high profile departures. Certainly, Shep Smith's daughter was a big moment. That now feels like ancient history largely because of the dynamics we were just discussing, everything is just a clip and a quick moment. But you do see voices on Fox criticizing the president, criticizing some of the conclusions that various guests have made on air.


ELLISON: And you see almost always an immediate pushback from the president. There's an attack on Twitter on people like Judge Napolitano, certainly Shep Smith was another person.

But I do think what happens during the day at fox and what's important is if you watch individual shows, a host will not be opinionated. A host will ask questions and get answers from the guests. It's the topic selection, it's the guests who come on, and Fox can book Republican guests, they will not appear on other networks.

STELTER: A lot of these GOP senators are afraid to go anywhere but Fox right now.

ELLISON: Correct. So what you get is a very -- obviously a very different view of the universe if you're watching Fox News. But the individual hosts or the anchors don't necessarily need to be asking a crazy question. They're just going to be covering very different topics.


ELLISON: And I think that that's something -- and Fox is very up front about that. They think CNN and MSNBC focus too much on impeachment, they're too anti-Trump. And Fox provides a different voice, and they really sell that. And I think the viewership loves that.

STELTER: Catherine, what's happened in the past week, all these headlines, Stephanie Grisham, being the propaganda minister, Kellyanne Conway berating a reporter for pointing out that her husband opposes Trump and wants the president to be psychologically evaluated, and then the White House is canceling newspaper subscriptions, including to your paper, "The Washington Post".


What's going on?

RAMPELL: I think they're just cowards, right? I mean, as you said, if this administration really had so much to celebrate, that they would be having press conferences. They would be facing questions from the press that are not just softball questions that they would get on Fox News.

I think that they're -- it's like -- it's like Trump is just so incapable of sustaining or listening to any sort of dissent. And he has tried to block out extent dissent from anywhere the administration, from seeping into any agency, canceling newspapers at basically every agency throughout the federal government. It's just about cowardice.

STELTER: How long do you think this is going to last, this claim that they're going to cancel "The Washington Post" in print?

RAMPELL: Trump was already tweeting about "Washington Post" articles like within the next 24 hours to which everybody responded, I thought you canceled your subscription, I thought you put your fingers in your ears and said, la, la, la, I can't hear anything, and yet he somehow managed to hear it, you know?

STELTER: Sarah, you're on the news side at "The Post," what do you think of this?

ELLISON: Oh, I mean, I think that the cancelling of the subscription is a total figure moment, like he's not trying to do anything than have a symbolic --

STELTER: He just wants the headline or something? Yes.

ELLISON: But I think what's interesting, whether it's the Kellyanne Conway response or the Stephanie Grisham response, you can see the pressure on this administration and on this White House, and the ways that -- the way that Kellyanne Conway responded to that 29-year-old reporter and berated her for so long was in such an abusive fashion, that is someone who is under a tremendous amount of pressure.

Stephanie Grisham, I mean, I've talked to former communications directors from the White House, and they say this is someone who needs that kind of adulation and in order for her to survive, she needs to provide that. So, I think that's just something that shows, you have to remember, these people go to work every day and spend time in a fairly cramped sort of West Wing and they need to live there. And that's what -- you know, the other side that have is what we're hearing from them.

RAMPELL: I will say that I am no Kellyanne Conway fans, but she is not unique in calling up reporters and berating them and bullying them. I've had that happen --

STELTER: That's true.

RAMPELL: -- from lots of other government officials, both parties. So --

STELTER: It's definitely true.

Sarah, let me turn to one other story, Rachel Maddow, MSNBC's biggest star, in an incredible moment on our own show, challenging NBC management for the mishandling of Ronan Farrow's reporting about Harvey Weinstein and those non-disclosure agreements with women who had accused Matt Lauer of wrongdoing. All of this, of course, revealed in Farrow's new book "Catch and Kill." I've been speaking with sources at NBC, some of them agree with Maddow

that this has been a blow to morale, another person said they just want to move on from these controversies, and a third person said this is a growth moment, not a burn it down moment, meaning if the network is more transparent, if there's more scrutiny that can be a good thing to help restore some integrity and confidence in the news division.

What is your sense of the impact of Farrow's reporting?

ELLISON: Oh, I mean, there's no question, it's the only thing people can talk about inside that building, and that's what they've been doing for weeks. And there is a -- I mean, it's such blanket kind of coverage inside that -- inside that place. I think people are tired and they want to move on.

At the same time there are people who feel that even this comment, even this statement that NBC came out with to release some women from their nondisclosure agreements, doesn't quite -- it's too cryptic, it makes them ask for permission from NBC to be released from their NDAs. It's a big step forward, there's no question, releasing people from NDAs is important, but there are people who feel it's not far enough.

So, the bottom line is that NBC has been dealing with Ronan Farrow for over two years and I don't think they are done with him. I don't think he is done with them. I think this is an ongoing story.

STELTER: I liked Maddow's suggestion, what she suggested without saying so was, an external journalistic review of these issues, to give the news division more confidence. That seems to make a lot of sense to me.

To the panel, thank you very much for being here.

Here's a question for you at home. Is the anonymous author sitting in this room? Is he a cabinet official? Is she a White House aide? Who is it?

I have new reporting about this book plus perspective from "Primary Colors" author Joe Klein, next.



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

Guess what is the number one bestselling book on Amazon right now? It's "A Warning". That's a title of the book by the same anonymous senior official who penned that infamous New York Times op-ed last year.

Now, the book is actually not coming out for another three weeks, November 19th is the publication date. But the book is finished, printed, available for preorders. That's why it's selling so well already.

And the author has a key loud message. The author says the president is immoral, reckless, and a danger to the country.

So who is anonymous? Is it one of these cabinet officials? Or a national security aide or someone lower level?

Well, actually, I think that's the wrong question. What matters most is not who but what. What is the person alleging?

Now, the publishing world source tells me the accounts of Trump's misconduct in this book are specific and shocking, taking you in the room with the president. The author, quote, "felt that they had a duty to write the book."

Of course, it's easier to evaluate a person's claims when you know the person's name. But the author does know that he or she may be unmasked during this book process. So how is the book rollout going to go? How important will a warning actually be?

Let's ask Joe Klein. He knows a thing or two about writing a book anonymously, or trying, anyway. And he authored "Primary Colors," the bestselling political satire based on Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, and Joe's identity eventually did come out.

Joe, it was a good thing for you publicity-wise, right, to be out there anonymous at first?

JOE KLEIN, AUTHOR, "PRIMARY COLORS": Well, it was shocking. Nobody expected the book to do very well. I mean, Random House kept dropping the printing week after week, I was told it was hard to sell a book without an author. But then it went -- exploded like a bomb.


JOE KLEIN, AUTHOR, PRIMARY COLORS: -- and I was told that it was hard to sell a book without an author but then it went -- exploded like a bomb.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think that's what's happening here as well, is a warning getting more attention because the author's anonymous, then it would if, let's say, it was an under-secretary of something coming out speaking out against Trump.

KLEIN: Well, of course, that's part of it. But I think that you also have the track record of the column a year ago which I thought was a courageous act. And it was an act I assumed on the part of one of those who have seen as the guard rails against Trump going off the rails.

STELTER: Yes, one of the adults in the room. Do you still think this person is courageous?

KLEIN: No, I think that that the guardrails are off and now is the time for people of good faith to stand up, identify themselves, and tell the story. I mean, you have a steady parade as the father of -- a proud father of a Foreign Service officer. You got a parade of Foreign Service office professionals going in identifying themselves, risking their careers. And I think, you know, now that Trump is clearly way off the rails,

it's time for everybody to put their cards on the table.

STELTER: And be public not be anonymous.

KLEIN: And be public, yes.

STELTER: Look, I hear people saying this, this author is a coward. I guess my counter-argument to that is wait, we don't know why they feel they have to stay anonymous.

KLEIN: Absolutely.

STELTER: They may have a very good reason that we're not going to find out until we read the book.

KLEIN: That may well be true and we'll find it out. And one thing that we do very well in the media is talk an awful lot about things that we haven't seen yet. And in this case, you know, there may be six smoking guns in there. But the one thing I would point out is that whoever this is has successfully remained anonymous for a year now --

STELTER: Yes, you come out talking to a publisher.

KLEIN: -- which is -- which is something I couldn't do. And everybody -- and you know, the President of the United States Bill Clinton seek the press corps after me saying you find out everything, can't you find out who wrote this book.

STELTER: You think Trump will do the same thing?

KLEIN: I think Trump has tried to do the same thing. By the way, I think that there's an incredible story today in the Washington Post about what the Republicans in the hearing room are doing. And there was an implication in that piece that the identity of the whistleblower is known. And --

STELTER: Yes. And the Republicans are fishing --

KLEIN: Trying to -- trying to -- listen, I would say that the whistleblower under the law has the right to privacy.

STELTER: And that's different from an anonymous author --

KLEIN: Right.

STELTER: -- who didn't file a whistleblower complaint.


STELTER: Now about that whistleblower --

KLEIN: Unless the anonymous author is the whistleblower which would be hilarious. STELTER: That's mind-blowing. The lawyers for the whistleblower in

the Ukraine scandal have said this client's identity no longer matters. It does not matter at all because the account that he or she provided has been largely confirmed. Do you agree that it no longer matters, this person's identity, the whistleblower's identity?

KLEIN: I would agree and I would hope that this person would get some privacy because as far as I can tell, the atmosphere out there is real dangerous. There are a lot of nuts who are supporting the President and also opposing the president. But in this case, this person's life could be in danger.

STELTER: That Washington Post story you mentioned is excellent by the way. It's on Washington It has a dozen sources all making the point, the Republicans are very involved in the impeachment inquiry.

KLEIN: But the amazing thing as you were saying in the previous segment is that most Fox viewers and in fact many moderate Republicans I know don't know that the Republicans are sitting there in the hearings.

STELTER: That is an incredible thing. And that's something we need to keep pulling the facts and put out front and center for something like that. Joe, thank you. Great to see you.

KLEIN: Good to see too.

STELTER: Thanks for being here. Up next here, my sit-down with CNN President Jeff Zucker. We're going to have a frank talk about CNN's relationship with the Trump White House. Plus what we should know about impeachment from the history books. Vox's Ezra Klein has a really unique perspective and that's coming up right after this.



STELTER: This week after working at CNN for almost six years, I had a chance to do something I've always wanted. I've wanted a televised interview with this man, the head of CNN Jeff Zucker. He's the President of CNN Worldwide and the chairman of Warner Media News and Sports.

We talked on stage at CNN's citizen conference about a whole lot including about President Trump and the President's relationship with CNN. So take a listen.


STELTER: Sometimes I get e-mails, complaints from our viewers who say why are we airing his events live? You know, you've said we're not airing the rallies live every time because they're the same thing every time. But we do show his pool sprays and cabinet meetings and I think there's an argument that we shouldn't show that at all because there's so much misinformation being spread. JEFF ZUCKER, CNN PRESIDENT: Yes. So look, I think this is a -- this is a difficult issue and, you know, I get -- I get those e-mails as well. I get a lot of internal conversations about that within CNN. Should we be taking the cabinet meeting, should we be taking the chopper talks that he does in the absence of any press briefings or anything like that?

I think this is a very complicated issue. On one hand, I understand those who think we shouldn't take it because we should just turn it around and only play the newsworthy parts, that we should take the time to fact check it before he says it.

You know, my view of this to this point has been he is the president of the United States, and when he speaks that is newsworthy, and that is important. And frankly, you don't always know what he's going to say or where he's going to go.

And I also think it's equally as important for people to see in real- time, in fullness, what he's saying, how he's saying --

STELTER: How he's saying it.

ZUCKER: -- what his verbiage is and the like. So look, I understand that sentiment of people who don't think we should take it. I to this point have been of the opinion that when he speaks, he is the President of the United States, it's our job in real-time -- look, we've taken to fact-checking him in real-time. We put up on the screen the other day, you know, the Constitution of the United States when he was saying that the Emoluments Clause wasn't real. Well, then we put it up on the screen because it's real.

So I think it's our job to fact-check as close to real-time as we can, to certainly come after he speaks, and to dissect in real-time and fact check it. So you know, I think that that's where I come out. I do understand the other sentiment, but he is the President of the United States and his words do matter.


STELTER: What about his aides or his fans, right? Sean Duffy is a new contributor on CNN and some of the same complaints are being made about his appearances.

ZUCKER: So I get that as well. Look, I think that -- I think there is a lot -- listen, there's a lot of emotion around this president and this presidency. People ask why do you have -- why do you pay people to come on and support him. That's what you're referring to. The latest one is five-term congressman Sean Duffy out of Wisconsin who we just added to our roster of Trump voices on CNN.

I get a lot of criticism from folks who want to know why do you pay people to come on and talk in support of the president. It's my belief that we should represent out there what those who support Donald Trump think. Now, they say, well, you know, just have them come on as a guest and don't pay them. Look, it is hard -- it is hard to find people who will come on and

support the president's point of view. And so my view has been we have several very ardent pro-Trump supporters on because we're running CNN U.S., we're running CNN International, we're running HLN. We need -- we need those voices and I think there's a place for them.

I acknowledge there are people who disagree with me on that. I feel strongly that their point of view should be heard.

STELTER: Should be heard. There was this letter last week from one of the President's lawyers Charles Harder threatening a lawsuit, claiming bias and you know setting CNN is responsible, this is a publicity stunt. Do you actually think there could ever be a lawsuit like that?

ZUCKER: No. Look, that letter was ridiculous. It was a publicity stunt. They were just trying to, you know, needle us and antagonize us. You know, the president historically has threatened lawsuits against thousands of people. He always says he's going to sue and it never happened. I'm not concerned about this one.

We're not -- we're not -- we don't set out to be pro-Trump, we don't set out to be anti-Trump. We set out to be pro-truth. Now, I understand in this day and age why being pro-truth can be construed as anti-Trump but that's not our problem, that's not our fault. We're just here to ferret out the truth.

STELTER: Shepard Smith shocked me by quitting Fox all of a sudden less than two weeks ago. And the immediate question for people like you was do you want to hire him? So do you want to hire him?

ZUCKER: I think Shep is a great journalist. I understand he's not able to take any job for the foreseeable future. But when he's available, he is somebody who I think is incredibly talented and I would be very open to talking to.

STELTER: I think Sunday at 11:00 is a good time slot for Shep, right?

ZUCKER: Well, that's what I was thinking.

STELTER: Thinking about making an upgrade?

ZUCKER: That's what I was thinking. That's so weird, you were thinking that too.

STELTER: Yes, I guess --well, at least I have a few more months maybe until he's available.

ZUCKER: I don't know when he'll be available but he's an immense talent and we're always in the looking for great talent.


STELTER: Very interesting there. Now, Zucker also said that Fox News is conspiracy T.V. We got into it and you can check out the full interview on YouTube. Check out CNN's YouTube page for the complete interview with CNN's president. A quick break here on RELIABLE SOURCES, and then the one and only Ezra Klein.



STELTER: You know, impeachment is usually portrayed by the press and as politician as a worst-case scenario, a trauma, a stain on the country, a scar. But Ezra Klein says the process is only traumatic if we all decided this. Two years ago, he argued for the normalization of impeachment saying, hey, this is exactly what the Founders intended all along.

Klein says most people can be fired for their jobs for poor performance. And President Trump was able to get to where he is today in part being on the apprentice and saying you're fired. His point is an impeachment shouldn't be viewed as this emergency that's going to do terrible damage to the country that's actually a helpful process, a helpful part of our system of checks and balances.

So we talked about that and I also asked Klein who's the founder -- co-founder and editor-at-large at Vox media about Trump's need to control media coverage.


STELTER: -- President Trump, how do you think he's trying to control media coverage right now?

EZRA KLEIN, CO-FOUNDER, VOX MEDIA: The fundamental insight Donald Trump has always had about the media is that our definition of newsworthiness realize incredibly heavily on the idea of outrageousness. So it is like new, plus outrageous, equals newsworthy. It's not just new, it's not just important, it's like new -- like maybe plus important, but definitely plus outrage equals newsworthy.

So Donald Trump was able to get not us all but many of us to spend a day talking about whether or not he was right to use the word lynching and then to -- well, somebody else use the word lynching in the 90s around Bill Clinton. And in doing, he was able to get us to have a conversation or at least to frame a conversation that would not have been otherwise possible for him, which is, is the media, is the political system treating him unfairly by starting up an impeachment process around his actions trying to extort Ukraine to interfere on his behalf in the 2020 election.

Now if you just come out and said I don't think it's fair for Congress to impeach me or for the media to report on it, nobody would have cared. But because he was able to create a meta-conversation around was it unfair for him to use the word lynching, was that offensive? Then Lindsey Graham comes in and does the same, it got a lot of coverage.

Similarly, when the House Republicans massed outside the classified hearing room, by creating a media spectacle, they got coverage for something that if they just send out some press releases they wouldn't have before.

So as the impeachment inquiry escalates and the situation for Trump becomes more dangerous, more politically dangerous, he is going to act out in ever more outrageous ways as he attempts to turn the conversation back to him because what he gets and is always gone is it doesn't matter if the coverage is bad, it just matters if he controls it.

Donald Trump would always rather control coverage that is negative towards him because the media being negative towards him is actually his brand. It's not bad for his brand. Then lose control of the coverage even if it in some ways is more positive.

The facts of the story that is leading to impeachment here are so overwhelming and intense and fast-moving that I think they've been more than able to dominate the news cycle. And I don't think we've been overwhelmingly getting the balance of that wrong but I think you have to expect that we're going to see this strategy play out and the different things Donald Trump might do to make this strategy play out including, who knows, moving at DOJ inquiry to a criminal one, right?

I don't trust a lot that is coming out of this White House right now, and the kinds of things they may try to do to wrench back the narrative could become quite dangerous to the system. I expect that in their reaction to this, you were going to have more impeachable offenses emerge, and that does make me quite worried.

Donald Trump is never more dangerous than when he's cornered. And given what he understands about the media and the political system, the kinds of things he does when he's cornered can be quite corrosive to our democracy.


STELTER: And the cycle you described with this new and outrageous, right-wing media is right there with him. I mean, look at what the Federalists wrote on Friday. Let me quote from it. "What we are facing now is not partisan warfare, it's not a mystery novel, it's not politics as usual. We are facing an attempt to tear down the foundations of our republic by corrupt unelected bureaucrats who decided the will of the voters is subordinate to their will to power. It represents a fatal threat to our system of government. And if this coup succeeds, the nation will cease to be a constitutional democratic republic."

E. KLEIN: For an outlet called the Federalists, to write something like that is shameful. It is shameful. Federal 65, Alexander Hamilton gives this whole argument for impeachment, why it's going to be in the Senate, what it's done. And it is -- it is a process, he says, to manage political offenses. Offenses that by their very nature are an injury to society.

Impeachment is not a coup, it is the opposite of a coup. It is the exact process the Founders have built into the country so we wouldn't have coups, so we would have a way when a president had become lawless or began abusing power. We would have a way in between elections to hold them accountable.

Whatever happens in impeachment, whether Trump is impeached in the first place, whether he is acquitted or he is convicted in the Senate, it is the constitutional process working exactly as intended, something constitutional conservatives are expected, have always suggested that they are in favor of.


STELTER: My full conversation is Ezra is up on the RELIABLE SOURCES podcast. Find it at After the break here, the latest on these devastating wildfires in northern California.



STELTER: And before we go to an update on those ferocious fires in California, a big story that will remain a big story in the days to come. Conditions are specially fierce in Northern California right now in Wine Country. Sonoma County has more than 180,000 people evacuated. Strong winds, 80 mile per hour gust are causing these fires to flare-up in Northern California.

Power outages -- power shut downs are also a major story. Power out to nearly a million customers in California right now across 38 counties. At least five evacuation centers are open, but at least one of those evacuation centers had to evacuate earlier today.

CNN will continue the coverage of these fires as well as the breaking news about the ISIS raid. Jake Tapper is up next live from Washington in just a moment.