Return to Transcripts main page

Reliable Sources

CNN's Sam Feist Previews Meeting With A.G. Merrick Garland; Dr. Fauci And The Return Of The "E-mail Scandal"; Israel Defends Airstrike In Meeting With A.P. Executives; How Did ProPublica Vet "Secret IRS Files" Info?; New Hope For Missing U.S. Journalist Austin Tice; Biden Arrives At Windsor Castle Ahead of Meeting With Queen. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired June 13, 2021 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Brian Stelter, live in New York, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, where we examine the story behind the story and figure out what is reliable.

Right now, a live look at Windsor Castle where in the coming hour, President Biden will meet with the Queen. It's expected around noon Eastern Time. We're watching for his landing at Heathrow airport and we will take you there live when he arrives.

Ahead on RELIABLE this hour, "Arrest Fauci". That is a real headline that ran on the home page. How did Dr. Fauci of all people become a right wing boogeyman? We're going to show you, coming up.

Plus, the destruction from Israel's air attack on that building housing the AP office in Gaza. What was the evidence behind Israel's claims that Hamas was in the building?

We have new information and we're going to take you inside of the meeting between the AP and the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. with reps from both sides, coming up.

Plus, "ProPublica's" bombshell about the taxes of American billionaires, but what about the source of the information? We're going to get into the ethics debate with a top editor from "ProPublica", coming up.

But first, gagging the news media. There is a big meeting coming up on Monday at the Justice Department and it effects all of us because it's about the First Amendment.

For several weeks now, we've been learning about how the Trump era DOJ ruthlessly pursued leakers and spied on the press to do so. First, we learned about the secret seizing of phone records from reporters. And then, we learned about the gag orders against "The New York times" and CNN. And now, there are still so many questions out there.

Recent stories have also shown how Democrats on Capitol Hill were also targeted by Trump's DOJ. So it's obvious why people are talking about this as a Trumpian enemies list of sorts. He set the tone from the top by blasting leakers for four years.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd like to find out who leaked to the papers.

The biggest leakers.

I can't believe it didn't get leaked by some sleazebag.

Leakers that are doing bad things.

It was leakers and liars.

We're going to find the leakers. They're going to pay a big price for leaking.


STELTER: So now what? How is the Biden era DOJ going to right these wrongs, especially considering the gag order against "The New York Times" remains in place well after Biden took office?

Like I said, this affects everybody, because Charlie Savage wrote in "The New York Times" this weekend, the leak prosecutions and the seizures of journalist communications data not only jeopardizes particular sources but it could also frighten others with newsworthy information into staying silent. So the result is you might know less about your government.

And that brings us to Monday. Attorney General Merrick Garland responding to news outlets that requested a high-level meeting about these issues. Garland is going to sit down with some of the people you see on the screen -- officials from "The New York Times", "The Washington Post" and CNN.

One of the attendees will be Sam Feist, CNN's Washington bureau chief, and he is here with me now.

Sam, thanks for coming on. It's always a special occasion when you're here with me.

SAM FEIST, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Morning, Brian. Thanks for having me.

STELTER: We've learned a few days ago -- actually, well, let's go back to last Sunday, I was blowing up your cellphone before and after RELIABLE SOURCES, saying, Sam, were we under a gag order? We know "The New York Times" is under a gag order, was CNN under a gag order?

And lo and behold, a few days later, we learned that CNN's top lawyer, David Vigilante, was indeed under a gag order in the Barbara Starr case where her e-mail records were obtained by the government.

So, what do we know? What did we learn -- what do we know about that situation with CNN? FEIST: So, what we know and what you and I weren't in a position to

talk about last Sunday is that CNN was under a gag order, our general counsel, David Vigilante, for 11 months. The government was seeking an extraordinary trove of records, phone records, e-mail records, personal e-mail of our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

And David knew it, but he couldn't tell us, he couldn't tell me. He couldn't even tell Barbara Starr because of the unprecedented Department of Justice gag order that they had imposed on him.

So he had to litigate this with the government in the dark without being able to share with frankly his clients and we've never seen anything like that before but we knew --

STELTER: It is so astonishing. You know, CNN and the other -- the papers I mentioned, they were calling for a meeting with the DOJ even before we learned about these gag orders. So what is on agenda Monday with the attorney general?

FEIST: So, it's a simple goal. It's to protect the freedom of the press now and in the future. You know, I don't think it's -- I think it's interesting today, this very day is the 50th anniversary of "The New York Times" publication of the Pentagon Papers, June 13th, 1971.


What our goal is tomorrow is to make sure that the Pentagon Papers and other stories of extraordinary public interest can be published in the future. So our job is to protect that and to protect journalists.

STELTER: Do you expect Garland to be forthcoming? For example, we don't know why the Trump DOJ was going after Barbara Starr's phone and e-mail logs. We still don't know what leak they were pursuing.

Do you expect the DOJ now to tell us?

FEIST: Yes. So, that's one of the most amazing things about the story. We don't know the story. We know that in the summer of 2017, the period that the records cover, Barbara Starr was reporting on Afghanistan, and Iran, and Syria, and North Korea.

But we have no idea what story they were even looking at in this investigation. So, we're hoping that they're going to give us more. We're hoping they're going to tell us more.

We do know that an inspector general investigation has been opened and we welcome that. But, of course, we want to learn more about what they were looking for. And, of course, the most important goal tomorrow is to prevent this from happening in the future, not just by the Biden administration, but by future administrations,.

STELTER: Yeah, let's get to that in a second. But it seems to me, some of the questions that we're not going to get full answers to. Did Trump weaponize the DOJ to target media enemies?

Well, it looks that way to me. But I'm just one guy. It's not like Garland actually has the answer to that, right? Am I right?

FEIST: Right. But, Brian, it's not an accident I don't think that the three news organizations that were targeted by this, by Trump's Justice Department were CNN, "The New York Times," and "The Washington Post." These were the organizations where -- that were at the top of his list of enemies of the American people.

So, for him -- for him, his administration to target the three of us and only the three of us, I think that's unlikely an accident. Whether Merrick Garland knows the details of how that came about, we don't know, but we're certainly going to -- we're going to ask.

STELTER: And just a few weeks ago when this was starting to come out and our colleague Kaitlan Collins asked the president about it, Biden vowed this would stop. It seemed like that was a impromptu answer that led the DOJ to have to address this matter for fully.

So, now, we have this vow from Biden, this vow from Garland. But you're saying, the more important part is, will they codify this? Will they institutionalize this change? So, tell us more about that.

FEIST: Correct. So, Merrick Garland and, of course, the president have already stated that those in the Biden administration are not going to do what the Trump administration did and that's great and we appreciate that and that will cover us, hopefully, journalists, until the end of the Biden administration.

But what can -- what we're asking the attorney general tomorrow is to try to bind future administrations. Don't just send a memo, change policy, change the U.S. attorney's manual.

Update Justice Department policies so that future U.S. attorneys, assistant U.S. attorneys and Justice Department lawyers and attorney generals will have to follow those guidelines. And that's what we're -- that's what we're asking for. We want, frankly, a regulation that will make it more difficult.

STELTER: And more broadly, the question on screen, what can be done to secure media phone and e-mail logs? Reporters are careful when dealing with anonymous sources. We all know that stakes.

But is there even more to be done? Meaning, are newsrooms changing the way they operate because of this concern about logs being swept up by the government?

FEIST: So, newsrooms have already changed the way they operate. Reporters are more careful than ever, using reporting techniques that they didn't use before.

But this is a reminder that the government has vast awesome powers to scoop up not just their work e-mail, or try to, but their phone records, their personal phone records, and in the case of Barbara Starr, also her personal e-mail account, which -- which is frankly unprecedented.

But reporters are aware of this. They know that the government has these powers and reporters are and hopefully even more so in the future are being extraordinarily careful not to -- not to communicate with confidential sources using those more traditional methods.

STELTER: Right. Sam, thanks so much for previewing the meeting.

FEIST: Thanks, Brian.

STELTER: Coming up here, new hope for U.S. journalist Austin Tice who's been missing in Syria for almost a decade. Could the Biden administration broker a deal? That's coming up.

But, first, following the Murdoch money. Hear about the stunning divide between father and son right after this.



STELTER: In one America, Dr. Fauci is trusted and even immortalized.

In the other America, though, he is tarnished and distrusted. Don't believe me? Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Fauci era is officially over.

STELTER (voice-over): Right wing TV has cast Dr. Fauci in the role of villain.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Dr. Doom and gloom, Dr. Flip-flop Fauci.

STELTER: GOP lawmakers are echoing at tack showing the feedback loop in full effect.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): An activist scientist, an arm of the China's propaganda machine.

STELTER: It's as if President Biden is a weak target of the anti- Democrat media, so they are assailing Fauci instead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Fauci has been more politician than physician.

STELTER: Fauci's voter registration shows he's affiliated with no party. He's worked for Democratic and Republican presidents. But now, he's become a Republican boogeyman.

His e-mails are a new excuse. Sean Hannity claiming that Fauci said one thing about the lab leak theory in public and another in private.

HANNITY: These e-mails provide growing evidence. Fauci was warned and Fauci repeatedly, consciously downplayed it repeatedly.

STELTER: Routine e-mails portrayed as scandalous. Where have we seen this trick before?

Ah, yes, "Axios" calling Fauci Trump's new Hillary Clinton. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed Fauci's e-mails from March and April 2020.


And one e-mail, out of thousands, show that an executive ties to China Wuhan Institute of Virology thanks Fauci for saying science supports a natural origin of the virus. The origin is still being probed by the Biden administration and Fauci is saying that bad faith actors are taking his words way out of comments.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: You can misconstrue it however you want. I said that I think the most likely origin is a jumping of species. I still do think it is at the same time as I'm keeping an open mind that it might be a lab leak.

STELTER: Keeping an open mind, what an original concept.

These GOP lawmakers minds are made up, as they call for Fauci's resignation, thereby providing more content for GOP TV.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he should be fired.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Fauci has blood on his hands.

STELTER: But Fauci is not taking it all in silence. Fauci is asserting that the hits against him are attacks on science.

FAUCI: Because all of the things that I have spoken about consistently from the very beginning have been fundamentally based on science. Sometimes those things were inconvenient truths for people and there was push back against me.

STELTER: And that, of course, garnered even more scorn.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: He could speak for himself. He's always got a place on Nicolle Wallace's show, which would tell him what a great man he is.


STELTER: So, what is this all about? Are they trashing Fauci to rewrite history and redeem Donald Trump, excusing the former president's pandemic failures? Is it bigger than that?

With me now is Amanda Carpenter, CNN commentator and political columnist for "The Bulwark", and Oliver Darcy, our senior media reporter.

Amanda, is this just creating content with the GOP media machine? What's going on? AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, some of these

attacks are certainly overheated, but there is a vibrant and legitimate discussion about what happened during the pandemic, and Dr. Fauci is the face of the pandemic. People have questions, about the way things were closed down, vaccines, even the lab leak theory.

And I think it is good that Dr. Fauci has been a public messenger, but he has had some missteps that have made people on the right extremely upset.

STELTER: That's true.

CARPENTER: You know, sort of misleading people about masks early on because he wanted to preserve them for first responders, misleading people about the number of people to take for herd immunity.

So, there are some questions. There should be some criticism, and when he comes before the camera, he adopts the posture of, well, you're not criticizing me, you're criticizing science. Well, no, you are a public health official. He can answer some question.

And so, I think when he takes that really defensive posture, that just invites all of the more attacks.

STELTER: Well, criticism fair, but then, Oliver, a headline saying, arrest Fauci, that just shows how fair criticism goes with unfair extreme place.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Totally. And it's one thing to criticize someone and have a debate that's fair. It's another thing to say, like you just played, he has blood on his hands, we should arrest him, we should prosecute him, we should throw him in jail, and throw away the key, and that's sort of what you're seeing really saturating right wing media these days.

STELTER: Yeah, and then you're really in like a fantasy land because that's never going to happen. So, it's like a fantasy.

Is the bigger picture, Oliver, that when Biden attacks don't stick, when attacks against Biden don't stick, the Fox world finds new targets? Because you wrote in our newsletter this week, that critical race theory is an obsession of MAGA media and obsession of Fox, it is talked about constantly in right wing TV. So, is that an example of moving on to a new target?

DARCY: I think that's right. If you do watch Fox, if you pay attention to the right wing media landscape, you see them more likely looking at other targets. It's not so much Biden, it's going after critical race theory. It's going after Fauci.

And, look, like Amanda said, there are some -- room for debate here, you know? It should be debated in good faith. In critical race theory could be one of those aspects.

But the problem is that you don't see that in these -- in right wing media. It's really just about attacking. It's demonizing and it's not conducive to a good debate.

STELTER: Well, Amanda, what is going on with CRT? What is the -- what is the core of this sudden -- I've seen people call it a moral panic?

CARPENTER: Well, you know, listen, it's been very popular, I think traditionally over the past few decades for the conservatives and the right to mount opposition to school curriculum, right? Like we've had uproars over common core and the school curriculum has changed a lot ion recent years, not because of the critical race theory but in sort of adopting more inclusion when it comes to black history.

I've seen this with my children.


CARPENTER: He had no -- I do not think critical race theory is being taught in schools but there is certainly more discussion of race. And so I think when regular people see this on TV, Fox blaring this is a dangerous theory that's being adopted that teaches your children to hate others, they sort of translate it that way.

And so, it is get something traction. We'll see how long it will last. But you do these cultural issues bubble up. I mean, first, it's Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potato Head.


It's critical race theory. It's transgender bathrooms.

These things can be -- can have a flash in the pan quality.

STELTER: I mean, what I hear is a bunch of white people saying don't talk about race, don't talk about race. It hurts.


STELTER: That's what I hear, but that's just me. I don't know.

OK, talking about narratives in right wing media. Oliver, Vice President Harris, the narrative for many, many weeks on Fox was, why won't she go to the border? Why won't she have a press conference? This week, that narrative moved over to NBC, moved over into the rest of the media during her trip to Mexico and Guatemala, didn't it?

DARCY: It did. And, look, again, another area where, look, Kamala Harris did not perform well in the interview with Lester Holt. I think she did have some media missteps this week.

But the focus on Fox has been to again demonize her. She doesn't care about you. She doesn't care about the Americans on border and she's not even going to the border.

And this is, you know, every hour they're looking to really demonize her. Not Biden but her. And I think that's -- the media story here is, you know, again, fair -- it's fair to criticize her on this thing but it's really just saturated right wing media in a way that, you know, it places a lot of -- maybe too much emphasize, you know, right on this media misstep instead of some of the bigger issues.

STELTER: This brings to me to a quote from a source that I included in the new paperback version of my book "Hoax". To the very end, it's in a chapter about Biden and being the Biden years. Let's put them up on the screen.

This is what I was hearing from a liberal voice inside of Fox. She said, the Biden team has no idea what they are up against.

And I wondered, Amanda, how would you react to that? Does that sound true? Is it fair? Because, look, the Biden administration, they're polling well. His approval rating is strong.

Does the Biden team know what they're up against with these right wing media narratives?

CARPENTER: Listen, it's not just Fox. Through the Trump years, there is a huge glut of right wing Trump-focused media that built up, that are in desperate need of content. This is why they latch on to the things like CRT, Kamala, whatever they can get to attack. And it's dominant. They push Fox further to the right and it's just -- it's sort of interesting to watch.

STELTER: Now, here is most interesting story that I read this week in the media business world. CNBC reported that while Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert, has been running Fox, the other son, the brother, James Murdoch, has been donating even more money to Democratic candidates or Democratic causes, than we knew. We're talking tens of millions of dollars. The headline there, $100 million from James Murdoch going to fund political causes.

And, by the way, there's even more spending than that. This is just what is showing up in tax records.

Oliver, it's impossible to hear this and not hear the music from "Succession", the idea that the liberal son trying to undermine the conservative brother and the conservative father. Is that what this story is about?

DARCY: It is. And he's using the money made through the Fox machine to undo it.

STELTER: Right, right.

DARCY: That is the most remarkable part about it, right? He's using the Fox money to undo or at least try to undo some of what Fox has put in place, which is astounding.

STELTER: Exactly. And we're going to see more and more of that from James Murdoch.

All right. Last headline to show, this is from "Axios". This is about the father. This is about Rupert, and what he's doing lobbying Congress because Rupert apparently wants Republicans to back these tech anti-trust bills. He wants big tech taken down.

But, Oliver, isn't that just in his business interests?

DARCY: It is. And so any time you see Fox attacking big tech -- again, not that there aren't legitimate criticisms of big tech -- but it's really difficult to ignore that this does place into Rupert Murdoch's own business interest. He has a business interest in demonizing big tech and getting them broken up. And so when you see that on Fox or the "Wall Street Journal," it's difficult.

STELTER: Think about what is going on there. But, Amanda, at the same time, there is a bipartisan consensus growing about big tech. I mean, it's remarkable and Rupert Murdoch is pushing a lot of the same things that a lot of progressives are.

CARPENTER: Yeah. I mean, but the right and the left have completely different ideas as to what to do about it. And in the right you sort of see the push for a preferential treatment. On the left, you just want to see a need to break it up completely.

So, while there is agreement on the problem, they're on completely different planets when it comes to the solution.

STELTER: Oliver, Amanda, thank you both for breaking it down for us.

After the break, remember this video of "AP" reporters evacuating their Gaza bureau before an Israeli airstrike level the building. Well, we are about to go inside the "AP's" follow-up meeting with Israeli officials. Two people who were in the room will join me next.



STELTER: Evidence, that is what is top of mind for "The Associated Press". Nearly a month after the Israeli attack that destroyed the building housing the "AP's news bureau in Gaza. What is Israel's evidence for the claims that Hamas was operating in the building?

Well, this week, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and the U.N. visited the "AP's" New York office to discuss this destruction and said for the first time that, quote, Hamas terrorists were in the building trying to jam the Iron Dome, of course, the critical Israeli defense system. So, that, Israel says, is why it took out the building.

The "AP" still has questions and I'll speak with a top editor there in just a couple of minutes.

But first, Ruth Eglash. She's the chief communications office for the ambassador. Thank you so much for coming on program.

RUTH EGLASH, CHIEF COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, ISRAEL'S AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S. & THE U.N.: Good morning, Brian, and thank you for having me.

STELTER: I know both sides say the meeting was constructive. But why couldn't Israel disclose this information sooner? You say Hamas was using the building to disrupt the Iron Dome. So, why not say that on the day of the airstrike?

EGLASH: You know, the Israel army works according to its own timeline. It shares information with the relevant authorities in the United States.


It did took its time to work through what it needed to work through, so that it could share this information with A.P. And the ambassador made a special point of visiting the A.P.'s offices and meeting with its president and CEO. And sharing with them the knowledge that he had, that Hamas terrorists were in that building, trying to jam the Iron Dome.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Is there a journalism lesson here that you all have sources and methods, that you can't reveal right away, let's say perhaps you had a source on the ground in Gaza, and you didn't want to jeopardize that person or that entity. And so, you couldn't tell right away what the backing was. And so, is that what happened here? Is that a lesson for journalism in some way?

EGLASH: I think this is a -- I mean, obviously, journalists who are covering war situations, it's the rules are different for -- different than in regular times. And like I said, the Israeli Army works according to its own own schedule. It has its own way of working through what the information that it has. It doesn't have to reveal it sources to journalists.

And obviously, you know, Israel, values press freedom, and values, you know, the safe -- safety of journalists. And that's -- that was the message that the ambassador conveyed to the A.P. this week. And that's why it was so important for him to go there and share that information and share that goodwill with the A.P.

STELTER: The A.P. says it wants tangible evidence. Will you be providing that?

EGLASH: I mean, you know, I think the evidence has been provided to the relevant authorities in the United States. So, they worked very closely with the Israeli intelligence and the U.S. intelligence. I -- you know, maybe as things progress, we'll see what happens.

The army beats to its own drum. It's a -- it's a military, it's fighting a war. It's not there to, you know, broadcast its actions or get -- be in good graces with journalists, it's there to protect Israeli civilians from thousands of rockets that were being fired into Israeli population centers.

STELTER: And Al Jazeera was also working out of the building. There was an intensifying conflict between Al Jazeera and Israel, a reporter for Al Jazeera was recently arrested by Israeli authorities. Is -- does Israel consider Al Jazeera to be on the other side of the war you're describing?

EGLASH: I mean, I don't think Israel considers any journalists to be on the other side. But obviously, there are media outlets that are being paid for and worked and manipulated by certain special interest groups. And Al Jazeera is one of them. It's funded by the Qatari government.

So, you know, there is -- no, journalism, as we know it, it's not necessarily these, you know, impartial -- not all these impartial media outlets that everyone talks about. Different outlets are -- have different special interests and different -- and different ideologies that they adhere to.

STELTER: Ruth, thank you very much for coming on the program. I appreciate it.

EGLASH: You're welcome.

STELTER: Now, let's hear from the A.P. Ian Phillips is the Vice President of International News for the Associated Press. And he was also at the meeting between the A.P. and Israeli officials. So, Ian are you satisfied about what you're hearing from Ruth and what you're hearing from Israeli officials?

IAN PHILLIPS, VICE PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL NEWS, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: A.P.'s position hasn't changed. We continue to ask for all evidence to be made public and shared with us. We're applying the same principles of scrutiny and transparency that we do to our daily journalism to this actual case.

We listen to the ambassador, it was a positive, it was a forward- looking meeting, it was constructive. He did tell us what Israel believed to be the case about how Hamas may have infiltrated the building. But until we see evidence, that remains an assertion, and that will remain our public and our private opinion.

STELTER: You're taking a journalistic position on this, regardless of whether it happened to you all, it's just, hey, show us the evidence. That's what journalists expect. What was lost last month when the building went down? What was lost in the Gaza bureau?

PHILLIPS: Well, it's still quite chilling to look at those images of the building coming down. It was a very personal loss to the A.P. It wasn't just bricks and mortar. This was a place that was considered a safe haven in a very, very dangerous part of the world.

We worked there. We slept there during wars when it was safe to be in the building. And we also lost an archive. We lost thousands of photographs of negatives dating back decades. We lost thousands of videos that captured conflict and daily life.

We had filmed Hamas missiles headed into Israel. We had filmed Israel firing at Gaza. This is a huge loss to A.P. It's a huge loss to journalism. I would add that it's a huge loss to society and historians looking back at this phase, a Middle East history.

STELTER: How are your teams operating in Gaza now? Do you have temporary facilities? How does that work?

PHILLIPS: We do have a sort of temporary makeshift situation at the moment. We are looking for a new office going forward. We're the A.P., we dust ourselves off, we get up on our feet, and we keep going.


And we have some of the most resilient journalists on Earth. They have suffered a lot of personal loss, personal injury, material loss over the years, but they are incredible. They are resilient. They get going. They continue working.

As we speak right now, they're on the streets, they're talking to people. I can't disclose too much, obviously. But we are doing a lot of aftermath stories about society in Gaza, about the way forward, about the toll on people of all ages.

STELTER: And looking ahead, do you expect further meetings with Israeli officials? I believe the ambassador offered to help finance or help rebuild Israel's presence in Gaza. Are going to take him up on that offer?

PHILLIPS: Just to be clear, there are no finances here. We do not -- we do not look to take finances from governments. We cover governments. We have to keep a safe distance, if you like. And, you know, anything that comes close to a conflict of interest, we steer clear of.

We are the A.P. We are an extremely unbiased news organization, fact- based, we're very careful about what we do. But we do look forward to more meetings. Just a couple of hours ago, I spoke to a senior Israeli official who oversees logistics at the border with Gaza.

The ambassador kindly gave us his contact details because we need to rebuild. And that's not as straightforward as it might seem. We are obviously a text and photo operation. But we are also a giant in video news gathering. And that involves having a state-of-the-art office with all the high-end electronics that T.V. studios require.

So, we need to get equipment into Gaza. And that is very complicated. I spoke to this official this morning to ask for assistance in getting all of this equipment in. We're talking robotic cameras. We're talking network processing gear, video processing gear, all sorts of equipment, lighting, cables that would normally get stopped at the border.

In recent times, we tried to get one router into Gaza, and it took about six months, and a lot of bureaucracy and phone calls, because the Israelis feel that some of this can be dual purpose equipment that if it fell into the wrong hands could be used against Israel. So, we -- we're fully aware of all of those concerns.

We understand them. But what we're trying to achieve is a streamlined process so we can get our gear in quickly, go through all the necessary checks and balance -- necessary checks and balances. But get up on our feet again and continue covering the news as we do.

STELTER: And you're helping us understand the infrastructure. All the aspects of news gathering that people usually take for granted, but that are very difficult in some parts of the world. Ian, thank you very much for doling it out for us.

PHILLIPS: Thank you for having me in.

STELTER: Coming up here on RELIABLE SOURCES, a crucial update on the case of missing journalist Austin Tice. Plus, ProPublica's secret tax trove bombshell has sparked a debate over the sourcing. Editor in chief Stephen Stephen Engelberg is here with answers of those questions next.



STELTER: Moments ago, President Biden landing at Heathrow on the way to meet the queen. He's about to become the 12th sitting president to meet the Queen during her reign. As Kevin Liptak (INAUDIBLE) he's about to join a legacy of American leaders by paying their respects to a global icon and a living piece of history.

You see the President and the First Lady. disembarking here. They both have a formal audience scheduled with the Queen at Windsor Castle in just the next few minutes. This is going to be the Queen's first one- on-one engagement with a world leader since the coronavirus pandemic began.

In fact, it's also one of among her first public engagements since her husband, Prince Philip died at 99 earlier this year. So, we see the President and the First Lady on the way to Windsor now, they will be there in just a few minutes. We're expecting to see a bit of pomp and circumstance when they arrive, and then we expect to bring that to you live or as soon as we can here on CNN.

Now, back to RELIABLE SOURCES, when ProPublica published its tax bombshell, dubbed the secret IRS files. The publication's president called it the most important story they have ever published. The report details how the 25 richest people in the U.S. pay little or no income taxes.

It all calls to mind that old adage that the real scandal is what's legal. Right? The fallout has been making news all week long, and ProPublica still has lots more important to do all thanks to a document dump. So, what happened is someone handed over secret confidential tax records.

ProPublica says it doesn't know who, does not know the identity of the source, doesn't know the motive either. And all that makes this a unique situation, with some critics already claiming that the leak was intended to, quote, serve the left's agenda.

Now, here's the thing. When sources are anonymous, we talk about this all the time, right, anonymous sources. When sources are anonymous, reporters and editors know who they are, and agree to conceal their identities. But when sources are unknown, even to the reporters and editors, how can the information be vetted?

That is one of the questions for Stephen Engelberg. He is ProPublica's editor-in-chief, and he's kind enough to join me now. Stephen, it's a heck of a scoop. And you all are rolling it out on your Web site, but can you tell us when you obtained these documents, and how you knew if they were legit?

STEPHEN ENGELBERG, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, PROPUBLICA: Well, we don't want to talk too much about timing or chronology or interactions in any way. But let me say very quickly, that, you know, even when you know the source, unless you have sort of magic powers of mind reading, you don't really know their motives, you might have some sense of what they're thinking.

I've been a reporter and an editor for almost more than 40 years and cover the intelligence community and I can assure you, I did not know in any way shape or form the full motives of the people I was talking to back in the day. As for something like this, there are a number of ways to check this, you can look at public documents in some cases and check numbers to make sure that they match numbers that were filed to the IRS, which we did.


You can have confidential conversations with people who may be in your acquaintance, who are very, very wealthy, and asked them whether line 27a says what it says. And then, most importantly, when we wrote about people in this piece, we contacted as many as possible with the numbers, a couple of people chose not to engage on this.

But people like Warren Buffett said, Yes, the numbers are correct. And by the way, I think we should change the tax code. So, you know, there are a number of ways where you can check the accuracy of something like this and the completeness of it. And we have gone to extraordinary lengths to do that.

STELTER: We know of famous whistleblowers throughout history, Daniel Ellsberg, and Edward Snowden and others, but in this case, it -- this might have been a whistleblower, but we don't know the identity. So, did you all ever consider not publishing? Once you have this document dump, did you ever think about not publishing because you didn't know the source's identity?

ENGELBERG: You know, we considered lots of different questions on this. I don't think I spent a lot of time -- we spent a lot of time on that. I think the bigger question was, how can we be certain, as certain as you possibly can be that the information is complete and accurate, and that perhaps somebody hasn't tried to slip in here?

You know, some false piece of information to embarrass somebody. So, that was our main concern. You know, I think this has come up before in the history. You know, we know some of these whistleblowers, through happenstance, Chelsea Manning, for example, never intended to be known, and had on some strange things happen along the way he -- she wouldn't have been.

So, you know, we have had situations in journalism, where news organizations have dealt with things like this. And I think the crucial question is, what is the news value of this? How do you handle that? How do you be fair and accurate to everybody on all sides of it.

STELTER: And I appreciated that you all spelled out your reasoning in an editor's note for -- that's on, so everyone can read that. One of the issues that was raised in that editor's note is the possibility this was hacked material, that this wasn't just a leak, that it was a hacking, possibly a state actor, did China or Russia break into the IRS, steal all these tax documents to sow -- to sow discord in the U.S.? Because the more that the rest of us know about the billionaires, the more class conflict there is.

So, that's a possibility is it not? We don't know that could have happened, right?

ENGELBERG: It certainly could have happened. And if -- let's remind your viewers, it's happened in the past. As we point out in that note, the North Koreans didn't like a particular movie, the Kim -- made fun of Kim Jong-un. And so, they hacked into Sony studios and posted a whole bunch of material.

And a number of news organizations read through that material found some of it newsworthy, including us, and then went out and verified it and wrote stories about it. And, you know, I can understand what people would say, well, aren't you being manipulated?

And certainly, that's a fair question. And I think the answer to that is to do journalistically fair stories, and to be sure that whatever the provenance of the information, you treat it in a way that is -- it weighs -- it weighs fairness, and appropriately gives everybody a chance to speak up.

STELTER: I've heard you're out there recruiting folks to go through these documents. You have a lot more to come that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. Is that true?

ENGELBERG: Well, I don't know about recruiting. I've got a staff full of very capable journalists, they're hard at work. We have not recruited anybody else so far outside our staff to do this. But you can imagine the number of people ProPublica, who are eager and willing to put the time in on this very arcane material is quite high. We're certainly, you know, going to continue to work on it.

STELTER: You have a lot more to come based on what we've seen so far. Is that fair?

ENGELBERG: That is fair. That is fair. This is a -- this is a very complex area, Brian, as you know, it's very arcane. And you've got to really educate yourself before you say anything about it.

STELTER: And the Attorney General Garland, we talked about him earlier in the hour with his meeting coming up with The Times and The Post and CNN. He is vowing to investigate this leak. What happened to the IRS? How did this get out? What is your feeling about the government pursuing leakers, including in the case of the secret IRS files?

ENGELBERG: Well, it certainly is hard to argue that they don't have a right to ask themselves what went wrong here. But I would also point out that the attorney general -- the Justice Department's very clear in recent days, they do not intend to use official processes to bring whole reporters in to reveal sources. So, we take a good deal of comfort from that. I think it's really important that the administration has said that, and I think it's kind of a game changer.

STELTER: And in this case, you don't know who the source was anyway. So, grabbing your records wouldn't help them, I guess.

ENGELBERG: Well, nonetheless, we would prefer they not grab our records.

STELTER: Right. Not even try. Stephen, thank you so much. The full report is up on And as he said, there's more to come. Coming up here, what can President Biden do to broker the release of American journalist Austin Tice. He's been captive in Syria for nearly 10 years. There's an idea out there for what Biden could do and I have a guest coming up with answers.



STELTER: Here are two facts that may be able to link up in a really important way. Number one, the Biden administration believes that Austin Tice is still alive. Tice is the journalist who went missing in Syria nine years ago. So, they believe he's still alive. And number two, the Biden administration has yet to set its Syria policy.

So, could these two facts taken together create the conditions to get Tice back home to the U.S. That is certainly what the Tice family is hoping. They have not seen Austin since 2012 when he disappeared while covering the war in Syria. The Trump administration pled for his release, tried to get him out, but did not succeed. So, now, this is on Biden's plate.


So, here's the question, should Bashar al-Assad offer up Tice as a gesture of sorts to set a new course for the U.S. and Syria? Is that even possible? Let's bring in Mike Holtzman. He's a strategic communications professional who serves as managing partner at SEC Newgate public relations, Holtzman previously served as an ambassador -- sorry, as an advisor in the U.S. Department of State -- almost promoted you there -- specializing in Middle East affairs.

And he once led a U.S. public diplomacy project between Washington and Damascus. He also has experience gaining the release of American journalists held captive elsewhere, overseas. Mike, that's your experience to bring to the table. Thanks for coming on.

MIKE HOLTZMAN, MANAGING PARTNER, SEC NEWGATE: Thank you, Brian, for having me, and keeping a spotlight on this cause.

STELTER: Is it your belief that Tice is alive in Syria? And if so, why hasn't there been proof of life? HOLTZMAN: Well, first, let me say that Austin Tice is an American son,

he was an Eagle Scout born in Texas, an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, and an award-winning journalist who was working in Syria to bring news to the American people of a very complicated conflict in a very dangerous place when he disappeared.

Proof of life came in 2012, as you know, there was the release of a 47-second video that in which Austin was blindfolded, held at gunpoint, but was clearly alive. And there's obviously been three successive presidential administrations in the United States that have affirmed their belief that Austin is alive. And that is why we should be doing everything in our power to determine his whereabouts and to get his safe return home to his family.

STELTER: If you had a message for Assad live here on CNN around the world, what would it be?

HOLTZMAN: It would be that the Biden administration has dedicated itself to a values-based foreign policy and what could be more demonstrative of values than returning Americans home. Assad has a moment where he can establish confidence with the United States by connecting with the American people in a very direct and personal way by returning one of our missing children to their family.

And I think that is the essence of diplomacy. I think politics and diplomacy fail when they do not protect their people. And by returning a missing American home, the Syrian President can demonstrate that goodwill to the American people that's so necessary as the basis of diplomacy.

STELTER: I hope someone's listening right now. Mike Holtzman, thank you very much for coming on. We will continue to stay on top of this case, the case of Austin Tice. Right now, live to the U.K. President Biden arriving at Windsor Castle ahead of his meeting with the Queen.

You can see Marine One landing as we speak. CNN's Max Foster is right outside, he's on the scene to help us set up what's about to happen. So, Max, President Biden about to meet the Queen I believe only for the second time in his life.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): It's actually the third time now.

STELTER: Third time?

FOSTER: Because he met her as a senator back in the 1980s. We don't know much about that meeting apart from his mother said do not bow to her. That's what we know about that. Then they met on Friday in Cornwall, and now the -- this is their formal one-on-one as it were. You may remember when Donald Trump visited in 2018, he went to Windsor Castle.

There's a bit of a fairy part, he was in front of the Queen. The media made quite a lot of that. It looked very similar to that event. So, he'll be taken down to the quadrangle here at Windsor Castle where the Queen has her private apartments. And you'll see a Guard of Honor there.

They'll play national anthems. The President will be invited to inspect the guard there, and then they'll go inside the -- there, you see the Grenadier Guards lined up and the Queen will be in the Dyess there, you can see in the far corner of the quadrangle.

After the formalities there, they'll go in for tea. We won't hear anything about what they discussed in that tea, because that's strictly off limits. But much has been made, Brian, about how Biden isn't the Anglophile that perhaps Trump was, or Obama, or Reagan before him. But actually, what these two heads of state do have in common is Irish peace.

He identifies as an Irish-American, and the Queen has credited with playing a key part in reconciliation between Ireland and the United Kingdom with her state visit back in 2011, which she handled so expertly. The first British monarch to visit Ireland. So, there's some speculation that that might be some common ground that they can discuss in their tea together.

STELTER: It's also notable it's the Queen's first meeting with the world leaders since the pandemic, and of course, it is with the U.S. President.

FOSTER: Yes, and as you said, he is the 12th U.S. -- sitting U.S. President that the Queen has met during her reign. She did actually meet Truman, but that was just before her reign even though he was in power when her reign began. So, she's actually met 13 presidents, and she also met President Hoover after he had left office. So, this is someone that's seen everyone on the world stage.

STELTER: Amazing. All smiles and fist bumps there at Windsor. CNN's coverage continues now with Dana Bash in "STATE OF THE UNION."