Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Rage Now a Major Topic of Coverage; Pundits Talking to Trump Via TV. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired April 15, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:19] BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: "Fire and Fury", you haven't seen anything yet. I'm Brian Stelter and this is RELIABLE SOURCES, our weekly look at the story behind the story, of how the media really works and how the news gets made.

Ahead this hour, breaking news about James Comey's book. He's throwing a book at Trump, kicking off a tell-all book tour tonight. The edit is still under way at ABC. We have Jennifer Palmieri here to weigh in.

All weekend long, coverage of the strike in Syria, the president tweeting mission accomplished. But some of his top media allies are refusing to support him, not rally around the flag.

And later, one of the president's top legal experts, Alan Dershowitz, he says he's not working for Trump, but he's here to tell us what he's telling the president.

But first, the quote of the week, attacks on our country. After all the week's news, this is the quote I keep coming back to.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a disgraceful situation. It's a total wish hunt. It's an attack on our country, and it's an attack on what we all stand for.


STELTER: An attack on our country. Nearly a week later, the president's rage is still on full display right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president was so angry.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump is clearly outraged.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's bouncing off the walls.


STELTER: Do you remember when the president's moods were not a beat, did not merit news coverage? It was an easier time back then, because here's what we have today, President Trump is a subject of Robert Mueller's criminal investigation, talk of conspiracy and obstruction fills the air. Now, the president's longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, is under criminal investigation here in New York. Cohen is supposed to be in court tomorrow. We know Stormy Daniels says she will be there.

But before all of that, James Comey will be on television Sunday night, challenging Trump publicly, saying that the commander-in-chief who just ordered missile strikes in Syria is unethical, untethered to truth. Comey says this presidency is a forest fire.

In response, Trump's world is trying to burn the book down. Let's go live to Twitter where there are at least eight presidential tweets so far today, the president spending the morning rage tweeting, reacting to TV coverage, tweeting out meme nicknames for Comey, even accusing Comey of crimes without evidence.

Reporters always try to make sense of the president's behavior. It's a natural instinct. But right now, there's no sense to be made. He's just swinging wildly, hoping to land a punch.

If all this is too much to keep up with, well, that's a challenge for us here in the press. Do you feel that we're meeting that challenge? "The Time Magazine" has depicted this really well. This was a cover of "Time" Just one month into the Trump presidency, February 2017, Trump in the center of a storm.

Well, time updated the cover, here you see the water is rising, it's getting stormier as crisis and scandals engulf the White House. It's a great metaphor because we're also all drowning in news, there's been this hyper -- hyperactive, chaotic news cycle, with allegations of corruption, accounts of the president's fury, all of them filling the front pages every day. Even some of his defenders say he's in increasing legal jeopardy.

I mean, take a look at some of the stories we don't have time to cover. Today, this is the only time today I'll mention Paul Ryan, not running for re-election, and all of these other stories that otherwise would probably be the lead of this program.

Joining me to try to process all this news, David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst, a former presidential advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, Patrick Healy, politics editor at "The New York Times", also a CNN political analyst, and Sabrina Siddiqui, a political reporter for "The Guardian". All of this coverage, of course, relentless. I wonder, Sabrina, as a White House reporter, how do you keep up?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: It's extremely challenging because on any given day, you have at least a dozen headlines out of the White House. And I think the key for any reporter is to try and connect the dots because there are recurring themes of this president that he keeps coming back to, this feud with Comey coming at a time when the White House is weighing campaign to discredit Rod Rosenstein, speaks to Trump's perception of the FBI, how he views the Russia investigation and his desire to end it.

You look at Syria, it goes back to the idea he is impulsive. He was publicly weighing whether or not to take action and it reinforces that he really doesn't have a foreign policy doctrine. So, it might seem like these are all unrelated events, but they tell you something about the president's temperament and they tell you about how his temperament affects his decision making process.

[11:05:02] STELTER: So, our job is the connecting of the dots.

You know, we added up all the push alerts from CNN, "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" this week, let's go ahead and show it. It's going to fill your screen.

As we see all this, Patrick Healey, I wonder, is there really more news? Or does it feel like there's more news because we all have phones in our hands, I have this watch on my wrists, we're all getting these alerts at all times, is there really more news?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, you got hundreds of reporters in the Washington press corps and in Washington who are basically trying to understand what is the president thinking, what is he feeling? How much is this White House unraveling at any given moment and sort of trying to keep up with the pace of a president who has taken communications and made it his own brief. He is basically acting as his press secretary. He's acting as his own chief of staff.

STELTER: Yes, there is no communications director right now.

HEALY: There is communications -- and, you know, for a while, Brian, we were hearing how, you know, it was going to be the week of infrastructure, or the week about the economy, but the reality is in this Washington, the president is just constantly stepping on his own message. And the media, I think we're in a position where sometimes we're trying to just keep up with him.

But we're also, frankly, it's our job, and we're acting as a corrective, so much of the disinformation, so much of the noise that's coming up, just on Comey this week, the RNC put up it's Website about Lyin' Comey --

STELTER: Yes, Lyin' Comey, yes.

HEALY: -- you know, it's very important that it be the media's job to come in and say, this is what's true, this is what's false, to really kind of, you know, call this out. And normally, that would have been the job of the editorial pages and the columnists, and the media wouldn't be fact-checking in the extent that we are. But now, it's a daily -- it's a daily process.

STELTER: What about all this president's moods or his mood swings. You know, we quoted your reporter Maggie Haberman saying, he's bouncing off the walls. There was reporting from CNN's Gloria Borger, the president is angrier than you can believe, angrier than ever before.

Is it appropriate, David Gergen, for all this reporting on really what's in his mind?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's very appropriate because the psychology of Donald Trump is at the heart of this history, who is he and what is he thinking? Why does he think so and normally, why does he act so abnormally?

Ad so, I think that probing that and inviting others to come in and help us understand it and psychiatrists and others I think is very, very helpful.

STELTER: It's appropriate.

Well, how do you handle it Patrick when you have a reporter like Maggie bringing you a reporting from anonymous sources that the president's, you know, going wild.

HEALY: You contextualize. And Maggie is a great reporter. She's -- you know, she gets scoops much more than anybody and what they're trying to do is say to Maggie and others, give us specific examples of what he's doing, how it's different than, you know, what he's done before.

We have seen the stories of him watching cable news five hours a day, or he's watching "Fox & Friends" at 7:00 a.m. and then he's sending out a tweet at 7:04. So, we know that already.

Now, how are you going to build on it? What are you coming to that says sort of like bouncing off the walls? Now, I will say in newsrooms like ours, though, there is some -- we do ask ourselves the question regularly, how can we get beyond being armchair psychologist? That isn't really our job.

We don't want to be, you know, psycho analyzing the president our own. Sometimes going outside psychiatrists can get very dicey in terms of a story.

STELTER: Yes, it's really --


HEALY: You've got to be careful.

STELTER: Sabrina, you've dealt with this in your newsroom as well?

SIDDIQUI: And I think, make no mistake, no one in the media is trying to or should be coming --

STELTER: Diagnosing.

SIDDIQUI: Diagnosing, coming to some sort of conclusion to what the president's state of the mind is. We are trying to peel back the curtain on how his behavior affects his ability to carry out decision making, to how it affects his relationships in Washington, with Republicans on Capitol Hill who consistently express frustration, with his more erratic behavior. And this has been something that has been thematic of who Trump is since he was a candidate.

STELTER: That's the thing, right?

SIDDIQUI: We have had enough rallies and enough campaign speeches to get a sense of his impulses and how it really affects his persona.

STELTER: Fitness for office is a theme of this presidency, whether we want to be or not.

GERGEN: Well, absolutely. His staff is having to figure out his impulses. So, it's only natural that the press will be trying to figure out what his impulses are, because they do affect our, you know, our security and our safety.

This last few days, it's been very apparent that General Mattis have a major impact on the president, on how he was going to strike Syria, and thank goodness for it, it was a much more cautious, deliberative attack than what would have occurred otherwise. So, it is possible you can talk him out of a tree. And that's a good thing. We need to know that and the country needs to know that.

STELTER: There was talk about a Trump doctrine in the wake of the strike. Let's look at what your colleague, Pat, Jonathan Martin of the "New York Times" said about this on "INSIDE POLITICS".


JONATHAN MARTIN, NEW YORK TIMES: There is this impulse I think, understandably, when we cover administrations and American policy, to try to construe some kind of a larger strategy, some kind of school of thought. And you just can't get do it with this administration. There is no Trump doctrine, he's watching TV a great deal and when he sees images that are very disturbing, he wants to attack.

[11:10:02] And the rest of the time, he's not terribly engaged. And I think that this attempt to try to like create a Trump doctrine, it just doesn't exist.


STELTER: So, Healy, you're his editor, how do you deal with that problem?

HEALY: Right. I mean, J-Mart and I talk about this every day, you know? And to not get ahead of the story, like if we come in as sort of "New York Times" and we're kind of imposing the method on the madness, not saying madness, you know, and the DSM sense of word. But try to understand, you know, some broader framework.

A lot of times, it's not there. It's impulsive. We know this about the president. Jonathan and I both covered him for, you know, two years as -- or a year and a half as a candidate, the reality is he believes that it is an effective leadership strategy to be reacting and commenting constantly in a way that is unpredictable and shakes people up.

And I think he also understands that his -- and this goes to his "Apprentice" days. His main power, his main way to sort of affect the debate is firing people, and so, the sense of like, what's he going to do with John Kelly, what's he going to do -- you know, who is he going to bring in as his national security advisor, Tillerson, you know, even, you know, Mattis, I mean, McMaster, others? It's how he sort of sees exercising his power.

But it's not part of some larger doctrine, of sort of saying, OK, I need this one school of thought represented because we're pivoting toward Asia and we need sort of thinkers on that.

STELTER: There's also always the question about diversions or distractions. This came up again about Syria. It's sensitive, but I think we should talk about. Rachel Maddow, though, talked about it just a couple of minutes after the president addressed the nation on Friday night. Here's how she said it.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: The perception that the president may have ordered these strikes in part because of scandal will affect the impact and the effectiveness of these military strikes, unavoidably, even if the tail is not wagging the dog.


STELTER: Is it appropriate, David Gergen, to raise that issue so soon after the strikes when there were still actions being taken in Syria?

GERGEN: I think as we're coming into what potentially could be a crisis stage of all of these investigations. It is especially important that we show a certain amount of caution in our own in judging things and not rushing to judgment until you really see -- I think in retrospect, increasingly, this was not a wag the dog. It may have been twisting the tail, but it was not a wag the dog kind of event.

And so, I also think it's some -- we reached a stage where it's -- a lot of the public thinks we're becoming a wolf pack, you know? And we've got to be very careful about this. At the end of the day when this is all over, it's going to be very important that the public think that the press handled it fairly, it was a vendetta, it was not a coup on the part of the press, to whatever it may turn out to be. The First Amendment -- and protection of the First Amendment is going to be very largely affected by how much people have respect for or disrespect for the way the press has treated it.

STELTER: Sabrina, final thought?

SIDDIQUI: I think it's more important to ask the key policy questions when it comes to Syria. It was just over a week ago that the president was talking about withdrawal of troops from Syria. So, has that position changed? Last year, we were in this position where he similarly retaliated when there was a chemical weapons attack in the interim year. He hasn't really talked much about Syria at all.

So, what is, if any, what is his Syria policy? Does he have a foreign policy doctrine? So far, all indication leads to no.

STELTER: Sabrina, Pat, thank you for being here. David, stick around if you can.

Quick break here, and then, the man that both President Trump and Sean Hannity seem to have on speed dial. Alan Dershowitz is here live right after this.


[11:17:09] STELTER: Hey, welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.

If you have something to say to President Trump then going on cable news is a great strategy. My next guest, Alan Dershowitz, has been a familiar face on Fox News for the better part of a year, especially on Sean Hannity's show. And, of course, in between those appearances, he's had meetings at the White House.

So, let's talk with Alan about that. He joins me now. He's the author of "Trumped Up: How the Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy".

Alan, you've been here on CNN quite a bit as well this week. I want to know first about your meeting at the White House. You said it was pre-scheduled. It wasn't related to your recent appearances on Hannity. But do you find it when you're television, it is the best way to communicate with the president, unless you can see him in person?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, I don't to communicate in any other way. I do not want to be his lawyer. I don't want to give him legal advice. I can't give legal advice on a one-to-one basis. I can only state what I believe are the constitutional issues on national television.

One of the reasons I don't want to be his lawyer is because I have no interest in what happened to him before he became president, his business life, his personal life. I'm only interested in the Article 2 issues, the constitutional issues. I'm interested in doing what the American Civil Liberties Union has failed to do, and that is defending the rights of all Americans.

The ACLU, for the first time I think its history, issued a press release defending, justifying, and praising the raid on Michael Cohen's office without alerting the Americans to the risk that happens if you allow invasion into a lawyer, doctor, priest, a spousal privilege. So, I'm the default guy on civil liberties. There's nobody out there.

STELTER: Has the president asked you to be his lawyer?

DERSHOWITZ: I can't ever say who's ever asked me to be his lawyer. But I'd made clear, I don't want to be the president's lawyer.

STELTER: Is that your impression he's having a hard time getting a lawyer?

DERSHOWITZ: No, I think he got a good lawyer in New York. I think he has some good lawyers in Washington. There's a lot of conflict of interests, which make it very hard for him to get lawyers. I know that a lot of good lawyers who wanted to get involved in the case, their law firms won't let them because they have conflicting interests.

But I think the key point is to make sure that in an effort to get Trump, we don't diminish our civil liberties and create bad precedent --

STELTER: Oh, who's trying to get Trump?

DERSHOWITZ: Oh, a lot of people are trying to get Trump, a lot of radicals, a lot of lefties. A lot of people, a lot of my friends --

STELTER: You're throwing out words, you're throwing out words now.

DERSHOWITZ: -- a lot of my friends and relatives are furious at me because they want to get Trump and I'm in there way, and I'm standing in the way of getting Trump by raising Article 2 issues, civil rights issues, civil rights issues. If you don't think there are people out there trying to get Trump, just like they were trying get Hillary Clinton, people were trying to get Hillary Clinton, lock her up --

STELTER: I think many people are opposed to President Trump, but when you say get Trump, it implies to me some coordinated, almost conspiracy, let's go out and get him. Is Robert Mueller trying to get to him?

DERSHOWITZ: When they said get Hillary, there was no conspiracy. Just a lot of people wanted to lock her up. A lot of people want to lock up Trump.

[11:20:01] STELTER: Do you think Robert Mueller is a part of that?

DERSHOWITZ: I think Robert Mueller has a target that he's after. When you're a special counsel, you don't want to come away with nothing after you spend millions of dollars.

STELTER: He's already got plenty.

DERSHOWITZ: So -- no, I don't think he has plenty. I think he has low-hanging fruit, and right now, if he could get Trump, it would be a great feather in his cap, just like Ken Starr wanted to get Clinton. That's what special counsels do. Their object is to get --


STELTER: You're saying it's about ego almost.

DERSHOWITZ: No, it's about reputation. It's about their perception of integrity. In the end, ego plays a role.

But it's the role of the civil libertarian is to make sure that they don't use means to justify their ends that lie around like loaded guns that can be used as precedents against all of us. You know, it was H.L. Mencken who said, first, they go after SOBs and they establish precedents there, and then they come against the rest of us.

That's been my role for 53 years. Whether it was defending Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Democrats, Republicans, I'm not partisan, I only care about civil liberties and due process.

STELTER: Do you think it's a problem that the president seems to watch so much television, react to what he sees on television, including your segments? Is it a healthy thing?

DERSHOWITZ: Look, that's how the president got elected, he tweeted, he watched television. I'm not going to second guess that. My preference would be for Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, who are much more studios, who work hard, he works hard, who are much more substantive in some ways.

That's why I'm a Democrat. That's why I voted for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I didn't vote for Donald Trump.

I'm not here to defend him. I'm here to defend civil liberties and due process.

STELTER: In "New Yorker" this weekend, Adam Davidson has written a column that's getting a lot of shares, I think a lot of liberals reading his column as a fantasy. Let's put part of it on screen. He said, this is a week we know with increasing certainty that we are entering the last phase of the Trump presidency. This doesn't feel like a prophecy, it feels like a simple statement of apparent truth.

Davidson's argument is that Michael Cohen raid, the investigation of Cohen is going to unearth a lot of damaging information about both Cohen and president. Do you believe that's the case that the Cohen raid is going to be very damaging?

DERSHOWITZ: I have always thought and I said it months ago that the greatest danger that President Trump faces is not his alleged obstruction of justice or collusion, but his pre-presidential, private life, if he were to testify in any of these women cases -- we don't know what Cohen has, we have no idea, but he doesn't have the same constitutional defense if they were to find material. Also, he's vulnerable because if they find material they can go after him for state charges and he can't pardon in state charges, he can only charge in federal charges.

So, I do think that his lawyers ought to be focusing a lot of their attention on the Southern District of New York, the state attorney general of New York and less attention on Mueller, although the Mueller matter is connected to New York, he's much more vulnerable on what he did before he was president, than what he's done as president, because what he's done as president has constitutional protection. The other does not.

That's why they got Bill Clinton, before he was president, you know, the women. They didn't get him for -- when he was president, except that the perjury that grew out of what he had done previously. That's the vulnerability.

STELTER: Since you were with the president this week, do you sense that he knows how bad a fix he is in?

DERSHOWITZ: The president didn't talk about that kind of thing with me. I was there to talk about the Middle East. I've been there at three times to talk about the Middle East. My hope is that he can help bring about a peaceful resolution of the Middle East and I want to help him.

I tried to help President Obama. I tried to help President Clinton on the Middle East. That's my passion. That's why I was invited to the White House and that's why I will continue to go back to the White House, no matter who's president, to try to help fix the big problems of the Middle East.

STELTER: Did you see him particularly angry this week when you were there?

DERSHOWITZ: I was only with him for an hour and a quarter. I was a very informal dinner with a group of people, he seemed upbeat. He wanted to talk about, you know, the Netanyahu issue in Israel. He wanted to talk about the Gulf and Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

You know, I'm a stranger to him. I'm not his friend or his --

STELTER: Oh, I can't imagine you're a stranger.


STELTER: He's seen you on television so many times, you've had a relationship for decades.

DERSHOWITZ: No, we don't. I mean, I met him like twice before he was president, mostly for handshakes and one phone call. We're not friends. I have never been in a social setting with him at all. And so, he would never show me his feelings.

I'm somebody brought in from the outside to help on the Middle East and then go home. In fact, at the dinner, they basically threw me out when they wanted to talk about confidence, as they said, all right. We're finished with dinner. You leave now. And they continue to talk about confidence.

I am not an intimate. I am not a supporter. I am not a defender of Donald Trump the person. I'm a defender of civil liberties and basic due process and that's why I'm here to continue to do because that's been my life's calling.

STELTER: That's for being here, Professor.

DERSHOWITZ: Thank you.

STELTER: The book is "Trumped Up."

And coming up, after a quick break here, the countdown, the countdown to James Comey's first interview. George Stephanopoulos spent nearly five hours with Comey.

[11:25:02] What did he say? Well, that's next.


STELTER: Someone is making book sales great again. Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury" has sold more than 2 million copies since January, 2 million. And now, the same publisher McMillan is about to release "A Higher Loyalty" by James Comey. Bookstores will be stuck on Tuesday with 850,000 copies.

McMillan President Don Weisberg tells me: This is the largest first printing we've done so far this year. And I'll be ready to print more.

President Trump's tweets against Comey last month helps spur pre- order. And now, the president is attacking Comey again, ahead of tonight's big interview on ABC.


This is a list of just some of Comey's book tour stops, to give you a sense here. He will be on CNN with Jake Tapper this Thursday, also back for a town hall a week later.

So, there's already been so much scrutiny of this book and of the ABC interview.

A couple new details I can report to you right now. The folks at ABC are still in the edit. They're still working on cutting this down to a one-hour special for prime time because the interview went for almost five hours.

And ABC is going to release the full transcript, meaning all the parts that don't make the television broadcast will be published so people can say.

Now, that, of course, is an effort in transparency. There's so much controversy already around this book, and we have heard a lot of voices on FOX News dismissing its importance.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": The other thing that surprises me, frankly, is how bitchy the book as.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's more like mean girls gossip than blockbusters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The real headline from Comey's may be, there's not much new or damaging for President Trump.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: Maybe the most shocking fact of all is how banal he is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's a big snore.

WALLACE: Yes, people are talking about bombshells. There are none.


STELTER: No bombshells? The book is the bombshell.

I mean, have we ever seen a fired former FBI director write a tell-all book only a year or so into a person's presidency? This entire situation is remarkable.

Let's talk about it with Jennifer Palmieri, the former communications director for Hillary for America, also a former Obama White House communications director. She has some strong thoughts about Comey.

And she has her own book out now, "Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World." And David Gergen is back with me as well.

Jennifer, congrats. You are the number one "New York Times" bestselling book in the country right now, although James Comey is probably about to take that title.


STELTER: How does that feel for you?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: It is -- I'm just -- I'm grateful that I got my week before he comes in to crush my dreams again. But...


PALMIERI: ... I'm really -- again.

But it is -- I'm just -- I'm glad I had -- my book has been out for two weeks ago, so I had a little bit of a head start. And I'm just really grateful that there's been a good reaction to it.

We definitely did not print 850,000 copies. So, I'm just grateful...


STELTER: At least not yet.

PALMIERI: Not yet.

STELTER: But they have had to print more. PALMIERI: Yes. We did have to print more.

STELTER: So, we will get into your feelings about Comey in a moment.

But I want to ask, you as a former coms director, the White House, though, does not have a communications director right now, wouldn't the advice be to beg the president to stop tweeting about Comey?

PALMIERI: Well, sure, but that's just never -- it's quite evident that is not going to -- that's not going to happen.

And it -- he is the president of the United States, and we have to pay attention to him. But he honestly doesn't interest me that much.

I think what matters is how is -- going forward, when my Mueller comes with his report, if the president takes action to Rosenstein, what's really going to matter is how everyone else around him and in Congress manages that and reacts to that.

But we know who Donald Trump is. We know how he's going to behave. And what I focus on is, how are the people around him going to contain him and how Congress, who has been woefully lacking in conducting effective oversight -- that's their job, it's written right there in the Constitution -- and how will they handle it?

STELTER: Let's quote from part of Comey's book. We will put on screen an excerpt that stood out to me.

He said: "As I found myself thrust into the Trump orbit, I once again was having flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the mob, the silent circle of assent, the boss in complete control, the loyalty oaths, the us vs. them world view, the lying about all things."

Is that, David Gergen, why this book ultimately matters, what his experience was personally with President Trump?

GERGEN: Brian, I'm really glad you put that quote up, because it is true there are no bombshells in the book that we can tell.

There are no big -- we're always looking for inside accounts that tell us something we never knew before. But I think the -- and that's not here.

But the significance of the book is, it may change the narrative about what we're dealing with. It's been really hard to put all the pieces together in our minds about, how does this all add up?

And Comey comes along and says, this reminds me of prosecuting the mob and essentially a mob boss that I'm having to deal with. And he's got all these tentacles and circles out there of people, networks of people who are doing bad things.

And that's what -- if that becomes the narrative, sort of the dominant narrative, that's going to affect our politics, it's going to affect the way historians see this, so forth. So I think that...

STELTER: But the White House will he's disgruntled.

GERGEN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

And I think people have to choose. He's disgruntled. He can be a showboat, as the president has said. But it's also true that he speaks from a deep ethical place, and he's saying some things that he thinks the country needs to say and needs to hear.

STELTER: To me, it matters because he's an insider. We hear from outsiders all the time, this is a forest fire. This is a -- he's actually someone who's lived it.


GERGEN: It is not only that he's an insider and has seen it, but that he has a moral compass.

And that is -- everybody who was known him in the past, including people like Newt Gingrich, who praised him when he was first appointed, know that he has a past of being a truth-teller, that you may not like some of his showboating, but, at the core, he is a deeply offended American who is worried about the country.

STELTER: And, Jennifer Palmieri, back to you one on one other element of this, the attempt to discredit James Comey and make him out to be anything but an ethical American who is worried about what's going.

This is what Ronna McDaniel said to Jake Tapper in an interview the other day:



I think, when you read it, he discredits himself. I think the very fact...

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Have you read it?

MCDANIEL: No, I haven't read it.


STELTER: You know, that's pretty funny, I have to admit.

Rule number one is, you have got to read the book first, or you are going to get caught.

But, that aside, that embarrassment aside, will these attacks be effective?

PALMIERI: I think they will be effective for people, for Trump supporters who want to find a reason to not believe bad things that people say about Donald Trump, including Jim Comey's book.

But I think David is right in that it -- for the rest of us, for Americans who don't support him or are questioning and concerned, it does paint a picture that sort of validates concerns that people have had about what it actually is like inside that building.


PALMIERI: And, for me, someone who has -- I worked in White Houses for 12 years.

I know, for someone like Jim Comey, who -- career law enforcement, to be that blunt about how bad the operation is inside is honestly a little chilling.


STELTER: "Fire & Fury" was number one. Then it was "Russian Roulette." Then it was your book, Jennifer. And now it's probably going to be Comey.

I mean, the publishing industry really is giving thanks.

Let's take a break and come back on the other side of the break with more questions.

We will be right back.



STELTER: Well, it's not just President Trump who still likes to bring up his election victory.

It is a key part of James Comey's new book as well. Comey addresses his incredibly controversial decision to reopen and announce that investigation about her e-mails just 11 days before the election.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump. And so I'm sure that it that it was a factor.

Like I said, I don't remember spelling it out, but it had to have been, that she's going to be elected president, and if I hide this from the American people, she will be illegitimate the moment she is elected.


STELTER: Jennifer Palmieri and David Gergen back with me.

Jennifer, you wrote in your new book, "Dear Madam President," that it felt like Hillary Clinton had four men running against her, Trump, Putin, Assange, and Comey.

How do you feel hearing Comey address this now?

PALMIERI: What amazes me about what he just said and what I understand that was quoted that he said about it in the book is that he decided to send the letter to the Hill because of a political consideration.

And that political consideration was, he decided -- he thought -- he put it upon himself to be worried about whether or not the next president of the United States was going to be considered legitimate.

The whole reason the FBI exists independent, inside of the Justice Department is so decisions do not happen by taking political considerations into account. That is the whole reason.

And what he did was make a very -- a very fateful decision because he took political considerations into account and decided how it might look. That's not his job.

And it amazes me, because his whole justification for any action is, he was always trying to act within the bounds of how the FBI is supposed to operate. And that is very clearly outside about the bounds of how the FBI is supposed to operate.

STELTER: Jennifer, do you have any questions you would like to see him asked during this all-out book tour?

PALMIERI: I don't know that I -- from what I can ascertain, he is very comfortable being questioned about this. He understands that people have -- people like me just don't agree with him, that his actions were inappropriate.

I would like to see him answer how he could possibly say he would take the same action again, which I understand he says in the book, understanding, after having admitted that the whole point was he took this action because of political consideration.

I think what he has in his mind is that the only bias that can hurt or damage the FBI's decision-making process is a partisan or political bias.

And I think what his actions have revealed is that a bias towards protecting his own ego and his own reputation or a bias towards trying to control outcomes of how people react to decisions made by the FBI can be as equally damaging.

And I think that is -- how could you possibly say you want -- you would do this, take the same action again? And haven't you revealed to us the danger of motivation, of a -- not necessarily a partisan motivation, although I know a lot of people who do think that he was motivated by politics.

But you had a bias about trying to control outcomes and how people thought about that. And that's not what is the FBI is supposed to do.


STELTER: And, David, 30 seconds left.

Do you think the public will actually be better off at the end of this book tour? Will we actually benefit? Because it seems to me it's already just dividing people and causing a lot more polarization.

GERGEN: Look, I think, first of all, he had a real dilemma on his hands. And I think he tried to make the decision.

It was a hard judgment call. But that's what people in the FBI do. They have to make judgment calls. And, in this case, he made the wrong judgment call. But that doesn't -- if you think he's biased against Hillary, then how do you say, well, he's been impartial towards Trump?

I don't think the Trump people would tell you that, that he's been impartial. I'm sympathetic with what he's going through. I think government at the top requires really, really hard judgment calls.

But I do think that this book, I think it adds to it, especially in the days where Michael Cohen is now in the news, and we're talking about what kind of people are around Donald Trump. And Comey tells us in the book, I felt like a prosecutor against the mob.

And now here comes Michael Cohen, and you say, mm-hmm, I wonder what -- who we was talking about, what kinds of people? I think it adds to that fire a little bit.

STELTER: David, thanks for being.

GERGEN: Thank you, Brian.


STELTER: Great to see you.

Jennifer, thanks so much as well.

Before we go to break here, a quick reminder to subscribe to our nightly newsletter. It's all the day's media news recapped for you.

Every night, we e-mail it to you for free, and you can sign up at We're going to send it out right after the ABC interview with Comey tonight.

Up next here on the program, what did President Trump do to make Alex Jones breaks down and cry? I will tell you right after this break.



STELTER: To really understand the Trump presidency, you have to understand this world. It's the pro-Trump media universe. There are supportive hosts on FOX News. There are Web sites like

Breitbart. And there are the owners of Sinclair, the local broadcasting company that's been a lot in the news lately.

Another important booster in "The National Enquirer." The tabloid was back in the news this week because of another hush money payment apparently made to protect Trump.

Now, take a look at some of the covers of "The Enquirer" over the past year or so. Trump is always the hero, while the villain are numerous. Look out, the FBI, Clintons, Obama, et cetera.

These outlets, this pro-Trump media world are the president's shelters from the storm, almost like an echo chamber to protect the president and defend him.

Now, look at the pro-Trump commentators on FOX, especially when it comes to the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation. It feels many of the hosts are repeating the same script when it comes to defending the president.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": When Mueller is on this witch-hunt fishing expedition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are starting to realize that this is a witch-hunt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This being an absolute witch-hunt.

HANNITY: And, of course, we are now on day 329 of the Mueller witch- hunt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, why don't we stop this special counsel witch-hunt after him?


STELTER: On the days when there's bad news at the White House -- and those days are frequent -- the president can point to these outlets as his safe harbor.

In fact, there is the president doing it just a few days ago, encouraging people to watch "Hannity" before right Hannity attacked Mueller and Rosenstein again.

But this support sometimes only holds up to the border. And I mean literally the border wall. There has been a lot of criticism from the pro-Trump media of the president for not guaranteeing more funding for a border wall.

And then outside the U.S., outside our borders, you can hear this echo chamber actually creating some very mixed messages.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CARLSON: Why is a war in Syria a good idea for the United States in the first place?

HANNITY: Sometimes, I think countries act because it's the right thing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without American leadership, there is no action.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, well, we're out of money. We're out of money. We have no dough. It's not 1995.

What do we really accomplish here tonight in Syria? This was not why Donald Trump got elected.


STELTER: I think it's fascinating that there were so many skeptics or critics of intervention on FOX and on the Web. People like Ann Coulter tweeting against it.

So, let's about that with Bruce Bartlett. He has been quite a critic of FOX over the years, a Reagan administration official, and the author of "The Truth Matters."

Bruce, your quick take on this. Will these -- the president's boosters who are being critical of his Syria action now eventually come back around?


I think it's important to understand that much of the pro-Trump media isn't really so much pro-Trump, as it's anti-anti-Trump. That is, they hate the people who hate Trump more than they like Trump.

And I think this is quite evident on things like the Syria operation, where there are a lot of conservatives who are very skeptical. They liked Trump's America-first agenda during the campaign. But, at the same time, many of these people still believe that Jane Fonda lost the Vietnam War.

And I think they really hate the critics of Trump more than they support what he is doing, if I can make that distinction.

STELTER: Yes, I think it makes sense.

And, by the way, I want to be real clear. I think it's a good thing that there have been critics, skeptics of this effort on television. We didn't see enough skepticism or criticism or hard questioning in 2002 or 2003 in the run-up to Iraq.

Right now, 2018, a very different situation, a much more limited engagement in Syria, but we are hearing quite a bit of criticism. I think it makes for a healthier debate on television.

BARTLETT: Well, you are hearing some of these criticism actually from the president himself, who has said at the same time that he is engaging and sending missiles into Syria that we should be pulling out.

So, he is trying to have both sides. And I think one of the groups that's interesting that he is getting support from are some Democrats who have long believed we should have a more muscular policy in the Middle East.


STELTER: It's definitely an interesting moment in time, where we do see unusual alliances, uneasy alliances.

Quick last question for you, Bruce. Do you see more fractures in the pro-Trump media beyond on the Syria topic?

BARTLETT: Not really.

I think this is, to a certain extent, pro forma. I think the really strong element of conservatism that matters is that they tend to be reactionary, is they tend to react strongly against whatever liberals are for.

And so, as long as Trump has the right enemies, he can depend on the conservative media to back him up.

STELTER: Us vs. them.

BARTLETT: Exactly.

STELTER: Bruce, great to see you. Thanks for being here.

Check out all of our coverage all week long on

And we will see you right back here next week.