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Trump's Mueller Inoculation; Is Trump's Mueller Strategy Working?; Are Swing Voters Paying Attention To The Mueller Report?; Controversy Over Prayer At Muslim Rep's Swearing-In; Alex Jones' "Form Of Psychosis" Made Him Call Sandy Hook A Hoax; Ronald Reagan's Would- Be Assassin Freed In 2016. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired March 30, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Mid-april and possibly sooner. That's when the public should get to see a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, so said Attorney General William Barr in a letter to the heads of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees. Barr said his department was well along in making redactions with the assistance of the Special Counsel and that there are no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privileged review and he said everyone will soon be able to read it on their own.
Barr also offered to testify shortly after the report is released, suggesting May 1 for the Senate committee and May 2 for the House Committee. The Democrats still want the report released on April 2nd. Mueller delivered his report last week, which was soon followed by Barr's own four-page report to Congress which included only 74 words from Mueller.
In the meantime, we have witnessed the largest inoculation effort since the eradication of polio. Listen, I need your full attention. I'm going into the weeds on this. The President has aggressively attempted to conflate both the findings of Mueller's report and the origin of the underlying Russian investigation.
According to Barr, Mueller found no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government, a clear and legitimate win for the President, but Mueller reached no conclusion on obstruction of justice and it was Barr, along with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein who then said they found, quote, "The evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction of justice offense."
That's not an exoneration, but the President has been treating it as such. At his rally Thursday night in Grand Rapids, he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And after three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead. The collusion delusion is over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: On the same day that the President spoke those words in Michigan, "The New York Times" broke the story that the Mueller report itself exceeds 300 pages. The length of the report is something AG Barr had not told Congress in his four-page letter. As "The Times" pointed out, that length suggests that Mueller went well beyond the bare-bones summary that was required of him.
Barr's letter told us that Mueller sets out evidence on both sides of the question of obstruction and Barr told us, quote, "The Special Counsel states that while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime. it also does not exonerate him."
And this all suggests that if and when the public ever gets a look at the full Mueller report, it won't be pleasant for the President, but by then, he's hoping to have protected himself with his declarations that this is all about partisanship. not facts. At his first rally since the Mueller conclusion, he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The Democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bullshit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: It's not just the outcome of the Mueller probe which the President seeks to poison, it's also the origin of the Russian investigation itself. On Wednesday night, the President granted a 45- minute interview to Sean Hannity on "Fox News"
(BEING VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: How did it start? You had dirty cops, you had people that are bad FBI folks. I know so many. They're incredible people, but at the top, they were not cleaned, to put it mildly, and what they did to our country was a terrible, terrible thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Who's the "they?" He later pointed to former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
(BEING VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I mean McCabe, his wife got hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was running the FBI and running all sorts of cases and his wife got hundreds of thousands of dollars from essentially Clintons, from Clinton's closest friend. and then he ruled so favorably.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: The President and Hannity sought to spin the beginning of the Russian investigation as the stuff of deep state conspiracy, but as Philip Bump pointed out in "The Washington Post," quote, "McCabe's wife ran for the Virginia Senate in 2015 and lost. She received money from a PAC controlled by former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, as did a number of other candidates. That election was over well before McCabe had any oversight of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails, much less the investigation into Trump and Russia."
And then there was Hannity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[09:04:58] SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR, HANNITY: This is what we know, that in August of 2016, we know Bruce Ohr warned everybody at the DOJ and the FBI that Christopher Steele hated you, that Hillary Clinton paid for the dossier, that it was not verified. But still, in October and then three renewal application warrants approved, they were told by the Grassley Graham memo the bulk of information came from that phony dossier. Even Andrew McCabe said no dossier. no FISA warrant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: But as Philip Bump at "The Washington Post" points out, "Hannity is referring to a FISA warrant obtained against Carter Page who, in March of 2016, was identified as an advisor to Trump's campaign. In July, Page traveled to Moscow where he spoke with a Russian Deputy Prime Minister. His trip was mentioned in a dossier of reports compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
But that October 2016 warrant also had nothing to do with the launch of the investigation into possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia. That investigation is believed to have begun on July 31 of 2016 after the FBI was tipped off by a foreign diplomat that another Trump campaign advisor, George Papadopoulos, had discussed incriminating e-mails in Russia's possession."
Look, this is complicated stuff. It requires a much higher level of attentiveness than I fear most Americans are willing to give, but that's exactly what the President hopes for. The Barr summary over the weekend, it was the vaccine. Trump's response is the building of the immunity in the body and therefore, the public, particularly the base, that it not be infected by the bad news to come. It makes the bad stuff in the report seem like spin.
Rather genius actually, but that's a political bet with no margin for error. The President tried it out in Grand Rapids. Remember, he won Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes, two-tenths of 1 percent, which leads me to this week's survey question at Smerconish.com. By the time the Mueller report is released to the public. will its contents matter? Go vote. Results at the end of the hour.
Joining me now to discuss Philip Bump of "The Washington Post" and Rich Thau. He's the president of the market research firm Engagious. He's studying swing voters. Now, Philip, I want to start with you. So the argument that I hear from the President and Hannity is that the Russian investigation is all fruit of a poisonous tree. It's the dodgy dossier. It's Strzok. It's Page. It's McCabe. what was the defining event that really caused the beginning of the probe? PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: so according to the various reporting that we've seen over the course of the past year or two, the defining event, the crystallizing moment was when this Australian diplomat who's name was Downer, his government actually informed the FBI. After WikiLeaks started to dump documents in July 2016, they informed the FBI and said, hey, you know what? This guy George Papadopoulos told Downer that the Russians had these e-mails. So we don't know if there's a connection there.
That's the point at which the FBI and Strzok in particular launched the probe into collusion, but that said, they were already all of these other warning flags that they were paying attention to. The fact that Michael Flynn had been to Russia on December 2015 and after that there had been an increase in some chatter apparently that the British intelligence authorities had tipped us off about.
That Carter Page was already on the FBI's radar back. In 2013, he'd been flagged as someone who might be potentially flipped as a Russian agent. The FBI talked to him in March 2016, even well before any of this actually began. And then, of course, Paul Manafort who is Trump's campaign chairman had long-standing ties to the Russian government through his work in Ukrainian politics.
So there were all these factors that went into the FBI saying, hey, there's a lot of weird connections here between Trump's campaign and Russia. Apparently it was crystallized at the end of July with that Papadopoulos thing, but there were lots of factors that went into this decision-making.
SMERCONISH: It's presented, though, by the President and Sean Hannity -- I mean, Wednesday night, I watched Hannity'S opening monologue ...
SMERCONISH: ... and the 45-minute interview with the President. Philip, at the end of that hour, I was ready to grab my own pitchfork and go after the deep state ...
SMERCONISH: ... because the way that it's weaved together with a piece of this and a piece of that, at the end it sounds rather compelling, but it overlooks a hell of a lot. That's my point.
BUMP: Yes. Exactly. I mean, it's all cherry picked, right? They start with the conclusion that this was a bad act and then they work backwards to find evidence that supports that conclusion. Now, it doesn't stand on its own, as you pointed out. All this is nonsense that Hannity's saying about this FISA warrant in October against Carter Page, not only was that well after the investigation actually begun at the end of July, but it was after Page had already left the campaign. He wasn't even in the campaign anymore at the time this warrant was actually issued.
So there are all these reasons they focus on that because they like to focus on the dossier, which includes all sorts of unverified information, they like to focus on these text messages between Peter Strzok and this woman Lisa Page in which they do actually disparage President Trump.
[09:10:02] But what they've done is they've picked out those particular things and sort of assembled a way of talking about the genesis of this probe that is both inaccurate, probably intentionally dishonest, but because what they're trying to do is say that the entire probe itself was invalid.
SMERCONISH: The President similarly says, hey, no collusion and no obstruction.
SMERCONISH: I'll give him his credit, there was a finding of no collusion, but there was no conclusion on obstruction by Mueller and yet I think it all gets conflated and in the public mind, I don't know if people are going to be able to sort it all out.
BUMP: No, it's a fair point. I mean, look, and not to nitpick, but it's also not the case that Barr or Mueller said anything about collusion as a term. They talked about conspiracy and coordination. Collusion doesn't really mean anything. We all sort of interpret it in our own different ways. We don't really need to go too far down that path, but it's worth remembering that as well.
Not only has Trump, though, tried to use this Barr letter as a way of saying, well, you know, we can ignore anything about obstruction and collusion, he's also used it to talk about all of the other investigations the Democrats in the House have launched, investigations into the Trump Organization, into the inauguration, into the Trump foundation.
There are all these various things that the Democrats are pushing on now that they're in the majority in the House that he's also trying to say none of that's legitimate because Mueller came out and I have this letter from Barr that shows that I'm clean. That, obviously, is taking it well beyond the boundaries of what's fair.
SMERCONISH: My argument here is only for an evidence-based conversation and then conclusion. By the way, I'm reading all your stuff because I think that's where you're coming from. So thank you, Philip Bump.
BUMP: Of course.
SMERCONISH: Joining me now is Rich Thau. He's the president of the market research firm Engagious. He's an expert in swing voters, those who voted for Obama and then went to Trump or Romney and then went to Clinton. He's conducting monthly focus groups in the Upper Midwest and Florida from now until the 2020 election. Richard, yesterday the first caller to my radio program after I discussed some of these events in a monologue, his name was Dan. He was calling from the Villages in Florida and when I took his call he said to me, "I'm just exhausted with all this stuff." I think he's probably typical of many. RICHARD THAU, PRESIDENT, ENGAGIOUS: He's typical of many, but he's also not typical of a lot of other people. the folks I met in Upper Wisconsin were fascinating because they were not paying close attention to what was going on. They didn't know much about the Mueller investigation ...
SMERCONISH: Well, are they -- are they people who are ...
THAU: ... they knew nothing about the Green New Deal. I asked about it. I heard crickets. I asked about Medicare For All. I heard crickets. These are folks who are just low information voters, but they are swing voters and that's the thing those of us who pay a lot of attention to tend to ignore which is that there are a lot of other people out there who just are not paying close attention. For them, news is local news. It's cats playing with yarn videos on Facebook. That's where they're getting their news and we have to be mindful of the fact ...
SMERCONISH: OK. But low information, Rich ...
THAU: ... that not all of America is paying close attention.
SMERCONISH: Rich, low information does not mean low intelligence, right? These folks that you are surveying, they're intelligent. They're just not dialed in on this stuff.
THAU: That's the thing that's so fascinating, Michael. These are folks who I had in my focus group, they all had at least some college education, they were well-spoken, they were intelligent. It's just they live their lives. They're not consumed by politics like the people who are watching "Fox" and "CNN" and "MSNBC" and reading "The Wall Street Journal" and "The New York Times" every day. That's most of America is not consumed by this stuff day in and day out. It's hard for us to forget that, but that's how they are.
SMERCONISH: Here's a snippet from one of your focus groups. This was in Appleton, Wisconsin. Roll the tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're all humans. We all make mistakes and we get it. What are their consequences, deal with their consequences and let's go on to something more important. We don't need to keep rubbing it in people's faces.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Rich, it makes me wonder, when we see the full Mueller report, will it even matter?
THAU: I'm very doubtful as to whether it's going to matter much at all. It'll be a huge tempest in a teapot for the Beltway and people on the coasts, but for a lot of folks in the Midwest, they're concentrated on the economy. They're focused on whether they have a job and whether their incomes are going up, how their families are doing. that's what matters to them. When I was in Appleton, Wisconsin, what they told me was that their view of Trump rose and fell with the economy. They're more supportive of him and his policies when the economy is doing well, as it is now, some of them are feeling it, but they told me that if the economy turns, he's going down. So their feeling really is tied into the economy. A lot of this other stuff is just noise.
SMERCONISH: I think it's a good message for not only for the public, it's a good message for those who are seeking the presidency, it's also a good message for the media because I can tell you, I'm fixated on all of this Mueller and Barr business and it's a wake up call to hear from you that out in the country, there are a lot of people who are just totally disengaged from it. Richard Thau, thank you for being here. I appreciate your time.
THAU: Thank you, Michael.
[09:15:01] SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I will read some responses throughout the course of the program. What do we have? From Facebook, "I don't think it will matter in that it won't change anyone's mind."
Well, Laurie, you see the effort at inoculation that the President is involved in. Again, I'm not taking anything away from the finding of no collusion. I happen to think that's great news for the country. I was pleased to hear that result. I don't want to think that the President of the United States or his campaign has colluded with the Russians, but I think that for so many of us now. our opinions are baked in. We haven't even read the report.
One more if I've got time. "2.5 years for nothing. Of course people are exhausted." Hey, Dave, wait a minute. When you say for nothing, you are overlooking the 37 individuals and entities indicted by Mueller for screwing with our election. I mean, that's part that's gotten lost in all of this. In the no collusion finding, let us not forget, that Russia screwed with our election. That's not to be overlooked and for that finding alone, the Mueller probe has absolutely been worth it.
Remember, I want to know what you think go to my website at Smerconish.com. Answer this question. By the time the Mueller report is released to the public, will its contents matter?
Up ahead, new deposition video of Infowars host Alex Jones in the lawsuit by the families of the Sandy Hook School massacre for repeatedly claiming it was a hoax. What's his defense?
And the swearing in of the first Muslim woman into the state legislature here in Pennsylvania started with a prayer repeatedly invoking Jesus, 13 times as a matter of fact. I'll ask her did it feel like just a prayer or something else?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANIE BOROWICZ, POLITICIAN: So thank you for this honor, Jesus -- God -- Jesus -- Jesus -- Jesus -- God -- Jesus -- God. I claim all these things in the powerful mighty name of Jesus, the one who -- at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: The first ever Muslim woman elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature was sworn in this week, but the customary opening prayer that kicked off the session became a political lightning rod. About to be sworn in was newly elected state representative Movita Johnson-Harrell and 55 of her friends and family were on hand including dozens of fellow Muslims.
Everyone was greeted by a prayer delivered by her soon-to-be colleague GOP representative Stephanie Borowicz. Borowicz invoked Jesus' name 13 times, Lord and God six times each. Her message struck many as problematic. Here to discuss is Representative Movita Johnson-Harrell and the President of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins.
Representative, I want to start with you and I'd like to play an excerpt of the prayer for our audience and have you watch along with us. Roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOROWICZ: God, forgive us. Jesus, we've lost sight of you. We've forgotten you, God, in our country and we're asking you to forgive us, Jesus. God, I pray for our leader, Speaker Turzai, Leader Cutler, Governor Wolf, President Trump, that we're blessed because we stand by Israel and we ask for the Peace of Jerusalem as your Word says, God. We ask that we not be overcome by evil and that we overcome evil with good in this land once again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: I think that was about a 30-second excerpt of a prayer that was 90 or so seconds in length. As you watched before you were sworn in, what were you thinking?
MOVITA JOHNSON-HARRELL, PENNSYLVANIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, initially I wasn't bothered by it because I have friends and family from different religious backgrounds and I'm used to going to church and I go to synagogue and initially I did not really know that it was a problem until it continued and then I became very disheartened and very -- I felt very disrespected.
SMERCONISH: Did you think that it was directed at you? In other words, I'm not one who normally believes in coincidence. Did you think, hey, it's my day to be sworn in as the first Muslim female in the history of the commonwealth. Of all days, why this particular prayer? Or did you think that it just happened so? JOHNSON-HARRELL: Absolutely, Michael. It did not just happen. It was intentional, it was deliberate and it was planned.
SMERCONISH: Have you thought through the consequences if you similarly had stood in that position reciting from the Quran?
JOHNSON-HARRELL: I would have been condemned by the speaker and by the right. I think it was intentionally made to me -- made to make me feel like I was not included in that space, but the people of the 190th legislative district invited me to be included in that space and my presence, I knew, would draw attention and would draw some criticism especially with the pandering of white supremacy masked by white nationalism coming out of the White House. I knew that I would have to engage in these conversations. I just did not know that members of the House would intentionally attempt to harm me and my family on the day that I was being sworn in.
SMERCONISH: So your colleague, Representative Borowicz, has been quoted as saying -- I can put it up on the screen -- that she will not apologize for praying. I don't think, Representative, that she's being asked to apologize for praying. I mean, to me, I'll weigh in myself, I was raised by my parents to believe in time and a place. This, to me, was not the time and place for that particular prayer, but you go ahead and react to her saying, hey, don't ask me to apologize for praying.
JOHNSON-HARRELL: So I did not ask for the rep to apologize. I think that the rep has more of an apology to the constituents of the commonwealth because we need to realize that the commonwealth is diverse in nature and that when we are elected to represent the commonwealth, we are represented to elect every person in the commonwealth, not just particular groups of people.
SMERCONISH: So how should these matters be handle? I mean, what -- you just arrived in the legislature, but if I gave you the magic pen, what level of prayer and whose prayer is it are we going to permit to open a public session of the people's business?
[09:25:03] JOHNSON-HARRELL: So we need to do one of two things, Michael. We need to either make the clear divide between church and state by eliminating the prayer altogether or if there is going to be a prayer, we need to include everybody to participate in that prayer, even non-believers.
SMERCONISH: So -- and that's a subject of controversy, by the way, in Pennsylvania because non-believers, Speaker Turzai, does not permit them and he's being challenged in federal court right now. So that someone who's agnostic or atheist and had a good message for you legislators as you start your day, they wouldn't be permitted to speak in Pennsylvania at present, right?
JOHNSON-HARRELL: Right. So here we are back at the same conversation, Michael, that we need to include in the conversation everyone that lives in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and that includes the non- believers as well. SMERCONISH: Hey, before I let you go, Representative, I just want to make clear what you're not saying. You're not saying you can't stand in the well and refer to Jesus. I mean, at some point between one reference and 13 lies where this should have been. True?
JOHNSON-HARRELL: True and also we need to recognize that there is so much ignorance in the world and that a lot of people don't even realize how significant Jesus is in Islam.
SMERCONISH: Good luck with your new responsibilities and congratulations.
JOHNSON-HARRELL: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Tony Perkins is the President of the Family Research Council. Tony, what do you make of this?
TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, Michael, I mean I know this is your home state of Pennsylvania, but we have associates there in the legislature who do (ph) other states and I think you just made reference to it. It's not uncommon to have the name of Jesus invoked there in the state legislature. I've opened legislatures. I've opened the Congress praying in Jesus' name.
I think the real story here is that -- in fact, by the way, I want to make sure that it's clear that an imam prayed in that ceremony as well. So there was a Muslim prayer there invoking the name of Allah.
So I think the real story here is that in a country, according to Pew, where over 70 percent of people identify as Christian, about 1 percent as Muslim, that we actually have Muslims that are holding office, we have Muslim prayers in public. You know, I would -- I would ask you, Michael, what country in which 70 percent of the population is Muslim do we afford Christians or other religious minorities the same benefits? I think what's unique here is that in America, we can do this.
And I can tell you, I've traveled the world meeting with leaders in Muslim countries, advocating for religious freedom and I actually think we're undercutting our ability to promote religious freedom when we are sending a message that the religious majority has to somehow be sequestered or silenced in order to allow the minority religions to publicly ...
SMERCONISH: But nobody -- but nobody is saying -- but come on, nobody is saying be sequestered or silenced. I'm putting myself in the position of that ...
PERKINS: No, but we're making a big deal out of this. This is not ...
SMERCONISH: But let -- let me finish this. I promise, you know you'll get to respond.
SMERCONISH: I'm putting myself in the position of that newly minted state legislature surrounded by friends and family with garb associated with their faith and I'm saying how would I feel if I'm watching State Representative Borowicz invoke Jesus' name 13 times? There's something not right about that, Tony. It was excessive.
PERKINS: But are we saying, Michel, that we should somehow dial back our public expression of our faith because someone might be offended or someone might not agree? I don't think that's what makes America work.
SMERCONISH: Yes. Yes, I am. Yes. No, I am.
PERKINS: Well, I'm not.
SMERCONISH: In this particular case, I am.
PERKINS: I think that what makes America work is the fact that the Judeo-Christian foundation of this country is the only one that allows a recognition of choice where people can freely choose to believe or not believe, worship the way they want and if we uproot the tree, we lose the fruit and you cannot point to another country on the planet that allows the type of freedom that we allow in this country for 1 percent of the population.
I celebrate the fact that we're a diverse country, but I in no way would in any way suggest that as Christians that we should have to dial back our faith or somehow hide it because someone might be offended by it.
SMERCONISH: I'm not asking it to be hidden and I'm -- and I'm not asking you to be totally reined in. I'm just saying 13 times is too many. Let me ask this question. There were 5,000 comments appended to "The Washington Post" coverage of this discussion and I read many of them, Tony, and many folks takeaway is to say this is why there shouldn't be any kind of a prayer that begins a public session.
PERKINS: Now -- yes, I just ...
SMERCONISH: We really should have a separation of church and state. Respond to that if you would.
PERKINS: Look, we're a people of faith. You go back to the very beginning, our Congress opens with prayer every day since Benjamin Franklin suggested that it happened so that there could be a coming together.
Look we are a country of faith, a Judeo Christian foundation in this country which again gives freedom to others to have religious freedom. We are the only country that has the tolerance as we do. I think that's what should be celebrated, not the fact that someone is offended by the expression of our Christian faith.
SMERCONISH: Tony, thanks for coming on. I appreciate it.
PERKINS: Michael, thank you for the invitation. SMERCONISH: By the way, no disrespect to Tony, he was my second choice. State Representative Borowicz was my first choice. We invited her. She declined.
What's come in, Katherine (ph)? What do we have?
Smerconish, those who attack this prayer are attempting to undermine speech-freedom due to personal motivations, her expression of personal faith wasn't Islamophobic either (ph) by implication nor by -- you know what I think? I don't think -- Robert, I don't think it was Islamophobic. I just think it was in poor taste.
There's no problem with Representative Borowicz on that particular day standing up and invoking the name of Jesus. Have I made that crystal clear? No sweat but 13 times and the well of a body politic that says a non-believer -- why can't a non-believer come in and encourage them all to nevertheless be morally grounded in how they approach the people's business?
It was excessive. It was in poor taste. Unlawful, no nobody is saying that. But it was too much. It's like Potter Stewart said, I know it when I see it.
Up ahead, today marks the 38th anniversary of the assassination attempt on the President Ronald Reagan. Well, the man who shot him today is now 63 and living free in Virginia. What's John Hinckley's life like?
Plus, "InfoWars" host Alex Jones gave a video deposition attempting to explain why he spent years falsely claiming that the Sandy Hook school killings were a hoax. Did he fall back on his former defense of being a performance artist?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX JONES, FOUNDER, "INFOWARS": And I, myself, have almost had like a form of psychosis back in the past where I basically thought everything was staged.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: A form of psychosis, that's what "InfoWars" founder Alex Jones is saying caused him to believe events like the Sandy Hook massacre were staged. During a recent sworn deposition as part of a defamation lawsuit against him, Jones said that the trauma of the media and corporations lying made him believe that everything was a conspiracy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: And I, myself, have almost had like a form of psychosis back in the past where I basically thought everything was staged, even though I'm now learning a lot of times things aren't staged. So I think, as a pundit and someone giving an opinion that, you know, my opinions have been wrong, but they were never wrong consciously to hurt people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: You remember in the past, Jones' divorce lawyer tried to sell the fact that his on air persona was just and act. But according to Jones, he was really trying to get at the truth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what I'm getting at is, this stuff we are looking at today, kids going in circles, schools closed, e-mails, EMTs not in the building, porta-potties, these aren't comedy skits, this is journalism.
JONES: Yes. Well, this is punditry, because I wear a journalist hat, punditry hat, satire hat, just reading news, just being a news reader, I mean, I do that as well, so I do a lot of things, but when I was covering Sandy Hook, I was genuinely trying to get to the truth of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Punditry, put aside the fact that the reality of Sandy Hook is not an opinion, they're real victims, real families that are still struggling with grief.
Look, these media provocateurs like Jones, they know that passion sells, that's what this is all about. They need people to pay attention to them and the best way to do that is to be shocking, many times with disregard of decency and of course good governance. And it worked for Jones, he made a pretty penny off the fringe ideology that he represented on his radio program carried on more than 160 stations, thousands of listeners.
Alex Jones' persona is confirmation of everything I have been saying about the mostly men with microphones. Namely that so much of it is total B.S. The only people that I meet, that I see that I speak with who see the world entirely through conservative lenses or liberal lenses are talk radio hosts and cable television personalities, because for the rest of us, the issues are a mixed bag, conservative on some things, liberal on others. But these media provocateurs like Jones, they present themselves out of the fringes because they know this works.
They are far more interested in lining their own pockets and getting people to pay attention to their Web sites and their A.M. talk radio programs and cable TV shows. But the eight lawsuits that he is now facing, it may be a sign that his words are finally catching up with him.
I want to remind you to make sure you are answering the survey question today at Smerconish.com.
By the time the Mueller report is released to the public, will its contents matter?
Still to come, 38 years ago today, Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt just two months into his presidency. And the man that shot him is today free and living with anonymity in Virginia. We will hear how that came to past and what his life is like next.
SMERCONISH: Thirty-eight years ago today, the president of the United States was shot and the person who fired the gun today is a free man. March 30, 1981, Ronald Reagan had only been president for two months as he exited the Washington Hilton following a speech 25-year-old John Hinckley Jr., was waiting with a revolver and fired six times, among the injured, a police officer, secret service agent, and press secretary James Brady who was shot in the head and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
President Reagan was struck by a bullet that ricocheted off a limousine. It lodged in his chest. He was rushed to the hospital. He ended up recovering.
Hinckley was charged with attempted assassination, but to the surprise of many at the time the jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity, his motive, he was obsessed with then teen actress Jodie Foster, who started in a movie called "Taxi Driver" as a prostitute. In the movie Robert de Niro's character comes close to committing a political assassination.
After numerous attempts to contact Foster and stalking her Hinckley decided the only way to impress her would be to kill the president. After the verdict, Hinckley was confined to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington where he remained for more than 34 years. Eventually doctors determined him to be in complete remission and no longer a threat to himself or to others.
In September of 2016, John Hinckley Jr., was released to live with his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia. Today he is 63-years-old so what's his life like now?
Joining me now is Del Quentin Wilber. He wrote this piece in the "L.A. Times." He is also the author of "Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination Of Ronald Reagan." Del, how does he spend his time?
DEL QUENTIN WILBER, AUTHOR, "RAWHIDE DOWN, THE NEAR ASSASSINATION OF RONALD REAGAN: You know, he's a busy guy. As a free man down in Williamsburg, he lives with his mom in a kind of a modest house on the golf course with his brother. And he shovels them around.
He got his driver's license and became the family chauffer. He has a lot of doctor's appointments, therapy appointments, and he runs an antique business out of an antique's mall. He sells books and (ph) the antiques. So he's actually kind of a busy guy. SMERCONISH: What can't he do?
WILBER: He's not allowed to go on the internet without permission. He's not allowed to travel beyond 75 miles from Williamsburg without notice. And he's precluded also from like, he is an artist. One of the things that has frustrated him the most over the last, you know, decade or so is that he's a songwriter.
He plays music. He paints. He even takes a lot of photographs. But he can't display them with his name. He has to do it anonymously.
He hadn't been allowed to do that before but now under the judge's most recent order, with the help of a therapist, he's allowed to do that anonymously to see what people think of his work.
SMERCONISH: I take it that the guiding principle is that he can't be perceived as profiting based on this crime.
WILBER: Exactly. And he has a narcissistic personally disorder too. And what they don't want anything to do to trigger that to make it worse. And so he has -- that he can't engage, like for example, I think he would really like to engage like most artists or most musician would like to engage with their audience, hey, did you like? What did you like about this? What did you like about that?
In comments or whatever, he can't engage with those who see his artwork, because of his narcissism and what you noted, he's not -- he can't profit. He's not supposed to profit from this terrible crime he committed.
SMERCONISH: Has he met with any resistance as far as you know in the community where he resides?
WILBER: You know, over the years, people down in Williamsburg who were quite concerned that the former assassin or would be assassin was living in their neighborhood, their neck of the woods, but he has kept such a low key profile.
When the judge issued his order in November, giving him more freedom from his conditions of release, even more frequently, he relied on the psychological report in which Hinckley was interviewed by doctors. And Hinckley made a point of saying, hey, I keep a really low profile out here. I don't want really -- everyone knows my name, but no one really knows what is I look like anymore.
And the number of people I interviewed, for example, at his grocery store where he often goes had no idea he lived in town, no idea what he looked like. It took me three hours to find someone who remembered, knew what he was like and said, oh, he was very quiet. He opened the door for me, and that's what I could find.
SMERCONISH: Was the Reagan family, is the Reagan family, are they cool with the laxity with which the system has treated him? I'm particularly interested, she's gone, of course in Nancy Reagan's outlook on John Hinckley, if you know? WILBER: Well, you know, throughout the years, I interviewed agents, secret service agents who protected Nancy Reagan. She had a secret service detail until she died. And they said that she was always asking questions about Hinckley, where he was, what he was doing.
You have got to put yourself back in 1981, this was the worst day of Nancy Reagan's life, the absolute worst day. And when my book came out in 2011, Jerry Parr, the agent -- the secret service agent who saved Reagan's life not once but twice on March 30th, 1981, he was with me.
And 30 year later we're having dinner with Nancy Reagan and she turned at Jerry and put her arm on his shoulder and said, Jerry, thanks for giving me my life back. And I swear to you, it was like it was still present for her. Like she still was reliving that day.
So members of the Reagan family are not happy about Hinckley. The doctors who have examined -- Hinckley is one of the most closely studied psychological patients probably in U.S. history. And he -- they are convinced he's in remission, he is not a danger to himself and others. He is 63, has hypertension, he's obese, he walks with a limp, he has arthritis.
He's not -- I don't think he is going to be chasing anyone down as a 63-year-old guy. He obviously can't buy a firearm. So I think the world is probably safe from John Hinckley.
SMERCONISH: Del, "Rawhide Down," the definitive account of the Reagan assassination.
We almost lost it and many of us didn't realize that at the time. Thank you for being here.
WILBER: Thanks for having me.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And we'll give you the final result of the survey question.
By the time the Mueller report is released to the public, will its contents matter? Go vote.
SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question at Smerconish.com.
By the time the Mueller report is released to the public, will its contents matter?
Survey says 10,119 votes cast, 77 percent say yes, it will matter.
I think the answer is it depends how long it takes for the full report to get out.
Here's some of what you thought during the course of the program. What do we have?
Won't change anyone's mind. Those that oppose him will see a cover up and those that support him will see no collusion.
Well, you heard Rich Thau, my guest, say and a lot of swing voters they're not even paying attention to it.
One more if we've got time.
How is he trying to poison the outcome? He was completely exonerated.
See what I'm talking about. Sam, no collusion but there was no finding on obstruction. We need to read the report.
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