Mixed media verdict on Syria bombing

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," April 15, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: This is "Media Buzz" and I'm Howard Kurtz. The media were given only a few moment's notice before the United States and its British and French allies bombed three sites in Syria linked to chemical weapons. And President Trump took to the airwaves to explain why he was retaliating against Bashar al-Assad's regime.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: These are not actions of a man, they are crimes of a monster instead.


KURTZ: And the airstrikes have triggered an intense media and political debate ranging from the risk of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East to domestic politics here at home.

Joining us now to analyze the coverage: Gillian Turner, a Fox News correspondent and former national security official in the Bush and Obama administrations; Guy Benson, political editor of Townhall.com and a Fox News contributor, and Adrienne Elrod, Democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton campaign aide.

Gillian, the airstrikes were successful, that's a fact. But we have this classic media debate, some liberal commentators saying the president shouldn't have done this, he should have gotten congressional approval. Some conservative commentators saying he is betraying the non- interventionist stance he ran on or the raids were too limited, getting it from all sides.

GILLIAN TURNER, FOX NEWS: (INAUDIBLE) economy there. It's unavoidable to a certain extent. I think nothing really grabs the American press's attention and spins everyone up into a frenzy like the prospect of war, especially in a foreign country that the American press has very limited access to.

I think somehow the idea that reporters can't really get in on the ground and cover what's happening in Syria from the inside is leading to some of this very wildly different opinion about whether this was the right thing to do or not.

KURTZ: What's fascinating, Guy, is that by and large the mainstream media approved of these attacks, especially in concert with European allies and especially in light of the horrifying chemical attacks again by the Assad regime. It's the partisans on the left and right who were sort of picking it apart from different (ph) perspectives.

GUY BENSON, TOWNHALL.COM: That's true although I think there is some crossover. So you have some on the left and some on the right who are questioning the legal authority of the president to do this. And also this cross-pollination (ph). People say it is perfectly within his rights to do so.

Generally, I think when the media sees a limited airstrike against someone who has used chemical weapons against children, that's not going to be terribly controversial like so many other things are.

And so we have this strange moment in Washington where we are all screaming at each other about the most bizarre and salacious stories. And then meanwhile, there is sort of acts of war going on over which there is some consensus at least.

KURTZ: Right. That's a great point. We will get to bizarre stories later.


KURTZ: What some liberal critics in the media, Adrienne, be applauding if President Obama had done this, you know, famously he did not after saying Syria using chemical weapons was a red line in 2013. Is everything partisan even though I think in the country there is generally support for these airstrikes?

ADRIENNE ELROD, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oh, yes. It (INAUDIBLE) shouldn't be part of it, right? I mean I noted there have been some, and I'm obviously Democrat (ph).

There have been some in the far-left media who immediately jumps to the conclusion that President Trump authorized these airstrikes because of all the other domestic issue that he has going on in the country. And I think that was unfair.

But, you know, look, I think people also wants to know what the long-term strategy is to Syria. I think the media is right to say to the president, we actually need to know what the longer term plan is here.

KURTZ: Yes. We will come back to the other point, the so-called distraction issue. President tweeting this morning, Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out, the only way the fake news media could demean it was the use of the term "mission accomplished." Of course, unfortunately, it is associated with Bush on the aircraft carrier.

So, here is something that Donald Trump tweeted in 2013. What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and possible long-term conflict. Obama needs congressional approval. Very easy for the pundits to throw that back at President Trump. But now he is president.

TURNER: Right. Very easy to throw -- for the pundits to throw it back at him. His sort of whether -- will he or won't he request a new AUMF from the Congress --

KURTZ: Which is --

TURNER: Authorization for the use of military force.

KURTZ: Military force, yes.

TURNER: Something that the president does need, in my opinion, legally from the Congress but the media squabbles over whether or not that's the case.

KURTZ: Hold on. Having a whole number of presidents not gotten congressional approval from --


KURTZ: -- whole range of military actions.

TURNER: They have. And that is --

KURTZ: It's not unique to Trump.

TURNER: It is not unique to President Trump. It is the opposite of that. It is something that has beguiled and bedeviled many administrations before him. So it's not fair for the media to try and use that as a bludgeon against the president.

BENSON: And frankly there are members of Congress including leadership saying he is within his rights under the existing AUMF. Now you can agree or disagree but that's at least what Congress is saying.

And I think in some cases, the media is asking tougher questions than a co- equal branch of government. I don't think they want to deal with this. I think they think Trump can do it. It's fair. Let the commander in chief do this thing.

TURNER: Well, Guy, Congress is saying he doesn't need it because they don't actually want to have to put pedal to the metal.

BENSON: That's exactly right --

KURTZ: Part of what happened in 2013. Remember Barack Obama, you know, flinching at military action, but Congress didn't do anything. Congress didn't want to handle it. Less than two weeks ago, the president surprised even top members of his own staff by saying we need to withdraw from Syria very soon and of course this happened. That apparent turn has drawn plenty of media criticism. Is that fair?

BENSON: Yes, sure. If you look at the president tweeting as a private citizen a few years ago and saying there must be congressional approval, then he does it with without. And, you know, a couple weeks ago, he says I got this new policy in Syria which is more in line with his campaign rhetoric.

And now he is escalating and lobbing missiles and bombs. I think it reasonable to ask questions about that. But I think the response from the administration to the press and people asking those questions would be events on the ground matter. The president is a non-interventionist at heart.

But here is the use, the crossing of that red line that the previous administration set where innocent people are being gassed with weapons that the regime isn't supposed to have at all.

And for the international community led by America to do nothing about it when America and our credibility to some extent is on the line would be a mistake so the president is making -- I would rather him make the correct decision in the moment rather than be beholden to his previous statements or tweets.

KURTZ: Right. It's a classic journalistic charge of flip-flop and I understand it. But the president also consulted with Pentagon military leaders before the chemical attack and seemed to slow down his hope of withdraw. But sometimes the position, we had this with Barack Obama in GTMO, a campaign position ends up clashing with reality when you are sitting in the Oval Office.

ELROD: Sure, of course. I think this is exactly why the Trump administration needs to further explain to the American people what the longer term strategy is. We actually have a little bit more background and context into why we did this.

I mean, we do know that the president tends to react very quickly to anything that he sees on television that he doesn't like, whether it's, you know, something on it -- a television segment that is critical of him or what. So, my question is, did he do this because he saw the horrific pictures that we all saw?

KURTZ: Well, the first time when president did this last year, he cited the pictures and images. They are heart-wrenching. But, you know, there seems to be impatience this week, Gillian, because originally Trump tweeted, Russia, look out, the missiles are coming.

And then he said, well, I didn't say when, it could be soon, it could be not so soon. Why wouldn't the press encourage the president to take his time, to consult with Jim Mattis and others in reaching this very important decision?

TURNER: My cynical answer to that is because there is a really expensive and energy-consuming practical element to cover this kind of thing for the press. You know as well as I do that networks across the nation Thursday night, Friday night were on lockdown --


TURNER: -- waiting for something to happen. It takes a tremendous amount of resources to cover something like missile strikes overnight in a foreign country.

KURTZ: That sounds like, go ahead and start the show, because we got all our crews and correspondents waiting.

TURNER: That's my cynical answer.

KURTZ: Yes. All right. Well, maybe it's not far from --

BENSON: The less cynical answer could be that they're holding the president to his own timeline, or at least wondering --

KURTZ: He will never give a specific timeline.

BENSON: Right, but he hinted that it will be very soon, that it wasn't that -- that's a fair thing for the --

KURTZ: But let me get to MSNBC's coverage because moments after the president addressed the nation, explained that this attack was underway, here is what Rachel Maddow had to say.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: There are national security consequences to having a presidency that is as chaotic as Mr. Trump's presidency. A presidency that is as consumed by scandal and criminal intrigue as his presidency is. The perception that the president may have ordered these strikes in part because of scandal will affect the impact and effectiveness of these military strikes.


KURTZ: I respect Rachel Maddow. As a commentator, she can say whatever she wants. But to say that on the air while U.S. service people were still at risk while Syrian anti-aircraft missiles will being fired, just struck me as wildly inappropriate. Your thoughts, Guy.

BENSON: Yes, it was reckless and irresponsible for her to do that. And this was not one Tomahawk missile from a U.S. destroyer or somewhere. This was a planned attack in concert with two top U.S. allies in response to a very specific terrible criminal action by a foreign regime. And to go the wag the dog route to me is so silly. Frankly, if President Trump was able to convince Theresa May and President Macron --


BENSON: -- to help him cover his rear end and domestic politics, he should be president forever. That's amazing leadership and --

TURNER: And even more cynical response than the one I gave a few minutes ago.


KURTZ: Adrienne, because you talked about the far-left earlier, I would have no problem if Rachel Maddow can say, you know, I disagree with these airstrikes, I don't think it's the right solution. President Trump didn't campaign on that, but instead she tied it to the scandals. And I just thought that in the moment, it was the wrong military strike.

ELROD: Yes. Look, I completely agree. I, too, have a lot of respect for Rachel Maddow, but I thought it was a reckless approach. And this is frankly why I think a lot of people do have some mistrust.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break here. By the way, if you are in Philadelphia area, I will be speaking there tomorrow night, Monday night, 7:00 p.m. There is still some tickets left from WPHT.com. It's 1210, WPHT.com. I'll be signing copies of my book, "Media Madness: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War Over the Truth."

Ahead, Corey Lewandowski on the coverage of Syria and other controversies swirling around Donald Trump. But when we come back, the Jim Comey book blitz sparks a fierce debate and a rough counterattack from the president.


KURTZ: James Comey's media blitz is underway as his new book calls President Trump unethical and untethered to the truth. Trump quickly reacted to the excerpts tweeting: "James Comey is a proven leaker and liar. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did. He is a weak and untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible director of the FBI. His handling of the crooked Hillary Clinton case and the events surrounding it will go down as one of the worst botch jobs of history."

The fired FBI director's TV tour begins tonight with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Honestly, I never thought these words will come out of my mouth, but I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: And it says, former FBI Director James B. Comey calls the Trump presidency a "forest fire."

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: We got a lot of opinions, very unpleasant opinions of the president by James Comey. But in terms of hard facts, you know, people are talking about bombshells, there are none. The other things that surprises me frankly is how bitchy the book is.

SEBASTIAN GORKA, NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGIST, FOX NEWS: All that we know for sure is, James Comey is a liar and CNN are a bunch of perverts. That's the bombshell.


KURTZ: And on that note, Gillian Turner, do you agree with Chris Wallace? Do you see any real bombshells in this book? And by hitting back and calling Comey a slime ball, did he just help Comey sell 100,000 copies on Amazon?

TURNER: Probably.


TURNER: But the bigger question here for the future of the investigation and by extension the American people and democracy and all of that stuff is, the understanding I have right now is that Comey is or will imminently be officially called to be some kind of a witness in the Mueller probe.

KURTZ: Probably.

TURNER: If I was his lawyer, I would be explaining to him vigorously that anything you say on prime time or in a book that comes out can and will be used against you over the course of this investigation. And there is this very slippery slope there.

KURTZ: You're questioning the timing of the book.

TURNER: The timing of the book -- to have written the book in the middle of an investigation seems sort of crazy in terms of the risk he's incurring.

KURTZ: Of course it's big news, Guy. The fired FBI director calls the president unethical and likens him to a mob boss. And of course we need to cover it. But much of the mainstream media giving Comey a pretty favorable ride for this book because many of members kind of agree with his indictment of President Trump?

BENSON: It is interesting watching the careening of opinions about James Comey, where he was enemy number one to the left and the Democrats for a while because of the way he handled the Hillary stuff, while Republicans are saying now he should have recommended charges against her and he didn't, then everything sort of flip-flop after that late in the election cycle, memo that he put out --

KURTZ: Yes. And Trump said he had guts (ph) at that point because it was hurting Hillary.

BENSON: Right. They are just switching positions based on the moment of Comey and whatever he has done. To me, it is interesting to watch the slime ball and the names and epithets being thrown back and forth.

Chris Wallace referred to it as a bitchy book. He was talking about the president's right hand. He was talking about the president's hand size which is sort of (INAUDIBLE).

This has gotten petty and personal on some level on both sides which is an unusual thing to see because Comey I think fancies himself holier than thou certainly compared to the president --

KURTZ: Right.

BENSON: -- but he's not above it.

KURTZ: Let me move us along a little bit. So that was actually my question for you. Comey writes that Trump's face appears slightly orange and his hand were small. Does he undermine his own credibility in taking this larger -- offering this larger criticism of the president?

ELROD: Yes, I think absolutely. James Comey has wanted everybody for so long to believe that he was an independent, that he held the FBI in the highest standards, that he was an independent thinker, that he was always looking at the rule of law.

But this book completely undermines what he wants on that because he talks about things like Donald Trump's right hand. He talks about Donald Trump's marriage to Melania and whether that was a good marriage.


ELROD: What does that have to do with the FBI? What does that have to do with the investigation?

KURTZ: It feels very personal.

ELROD: Right.

KURTZ: I want to play a couple of soundbites from the ABC interview that is airing in prime time tonight. Let's view the first one.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Did you tell him that the Steele dossier had been financed by his political opponents?

COMEY: It wasn't necessarily for my goal, which was to alert him that we had this information.


KURTZ: We will have to see the whole interview tonight. But that gives Stephanopoulos credit for asking that question.

TURNER: I do too. If I may on -- on (INAUDIBLE) on the question of were there any bombshells in this book, there was one to me based off from the excerpts, which is that he has never met Hillary Clinton.

KURTZ: That's surprising.

TURNER: That shocked me actually to hear that, after what he has been accused of in terms of collusion with the Hillary Clinton -- well, accused of sort of undermining the campaign and then colluding with it.

KURTZ: As we saw at the top of the segment, Comey and his book and in these interviews, says that Trump kept pressing him about disproving the unsubstantiated dossier including the sexual allegations that I never wanted to be specific about.

But now I pick up the papers and everyone is talking about the pee tape. So, should the press call Comey on this because Comey himself says he doesn't know whether that's true?

BENSON: Yes. So why speculate on it?

KURTZ: And he is spewing it out.

BENSON: What is the news value of that? Right? Because he on the clip there with Stephanopoulos says I don't know, but let me repeat the allegation saying maybe. I think the Stephanopoulos question that you played the second part there was a good one. Did you know that -- or did you let the president know that this salacious dossier unsubstantiated a number of cases was provided and paid for by the Democratic Party and your political opponents?

The answer to that question was, no, he didn't. To me, that was a relevant piece of information for the president to have. The other small thing that I think got a lot of attention too and has very angered (ph) the people on the left was, Comey apparently made the decision.

He writes in his book, to send that memo to Congress that he was reopening the investigation right before the election to protect the legitimacy --

KURTZ: Let me jump in there because I actually have the soundbite. So, thank you for this.

BENSON: Right.

KURTZ: This is about the intervention. It was 11 days before the election, Hillary Clinton tells the Congress and tells the world. Let's roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COMEY: It had to have been, she is going to be elected president. If I hide this from the American people, she'll be illegitimate the moment she is elected. The moment this comes out.


KURTZ: So this is pretty stunning. You worked with Hillary Clinton's campaign. She still blames Comey in part for her loss. He's basically saying, yes, politics sort of influenced my decision.

ELROD: Yes. To me, this actually is the biggest bombshell. This is the biggest bombshell. The fact he's actually admitting what so many believe -- frankly thought in the media too, there was so much bias from during the primary into the general that Hillary Clinton is going to be the inevitable winner of the primary and the inevitable winner at the general election.

KURTZ: Right.

ELROD: So the fact that he's actually admitting that one of the reasons why he reopened the investigation and went public with it is because he thought she was going to win and he wanted to get that out there before she became president of the United States, is really stunning. I think the media is very fair to scrutinize that point.

KURTZ: I think it needs more scrutiny. That should not have been made public. He might have to reopen. I don't think (INAUDIBLE).


KURTZ: All right. One more break here. Ahead, Corey Lewandowski is on deck. But first, the FBI raid against the president's personal lawyer. And The New York Times says Trump is more worried about the investigation on Michael Cohen than the Russia probe. Stay with us.


KURTZ: The FBI raid against Michael Cohen's office and hotel room was treated as dramatic move. And the president reacted sharply to the move against his personal lawyer.


TRUMP: It's an attack on our country in a true sense. And they raid an office of a personal attorney early in the morning. And I think it's a disgrace.


KURTZ: So, FBI going after Michael Cohen in this dramatic fashion. An overly aggressive move in my view because he was cooperating. Did it deserve all this breaking news coverage?

TURNER: I think it did because it opens a new threat into the ongoing Russian investigation which is not just collusion but now about a personal narrative of corruption on the part of President Trump. But I also think for the media, there is some political juice to be gleaned from this.

It's sort of the left answer to the deep state conspiracy theory. You think the government is deeply entrenched and overrun by political actors. Look at how deeply entrenched the Trump campaign and the Trump team is with one another. It sees into the Comey accusations.

KURTZ: It's also not easy (ph) to understand Stormy Daniels than the intricacies of the Russian collusion. But -- by the way, it may have cost Bob Mueller his interview with Trump. But what really gave the story rocket fuel, I think, Guy, is that Trump as we saw, calling it a break-in and saying it was an attack on our country. That really set off particularly liberal commentators.

BENSON: Yes, although I think that those are unfair attacks from the president. I mean there is a whole process.

KURTZ: By a judge.

BENSON: A federal judge. It went all the way up the chain of command at DOJ. A number of Trump appointees were in that chain of command. It is a very high bar for doing this sort of thing against an attorney with probable cause which apparently there was a consensus that that existed.

So, to me, the media coverage was merited and this story is significant. I think the reason that we are seeing the president reacting the way he is, I never believed the collusion thing against Trump.

There might be something to the Cohen story if there are tapes in existence, conversations between Trump and his lawyer. There might be a can of worms that we haven't seen yet that Trump is starting to get quite nervous about.

TURNER: The loyalty issue, very quickly on this point, if there is somebody in the Trump orbit that is so committed to the president that he's willing to shell out $130,000 in cash, then the art of what's possible suddenly expands.

KURTZ: Yes. Weeks of (INAUDIBLE) covering the Stormy Daniels story on occasion. I always thought it was because of this payment money and the legal implications that made it a story.

By the way, New York Times reported just the other day that Trump had told aides back last year that he wanted to can Mueller based on reports about subpoenas for his business dealings with Deutsche Bank which turned out to be untrue.

And so he tweeted, if I wanted to fire Mueller in December, as reported by the failing New York Times, I would have fired him. Just more fake news.

Hard to separate this sometimes.

ELROD: Yes, it's hard to separate this sometimes. He's making those veiled threats constantly about, you know, maybe I'm going to fire him, maybe I'm going to Rosenstein.

KURTZ: He spoke about it after the Cohen raid. He said on camera, people have told me I should fire Mueller. We'll see what happens, which is one of his --

TURNER: Going back to Guy's point, I do agree with you on this. I think it's very narrative the way the media is covering this. And I think that if Donald Trump doesn't want us to drive the news and quit twitting about it, that's ultimately in because the media does cover the tweets.

KURTZ: And on Friday, this has gotten swallowed up by all the other news, the Scooter Libby pardon. President pardoning former Cheney aide who had been caught up in the investigation about the leak. He was convicted of lying actually of former CI operative Valerie Plame, her name being made public.

The media takeaway is, well, this isn't about Scooter Libby. It is sending a signal to Michael Cohen and perhaps others that pardons could be waiting. Speculation to be sure.

BENSON: Totally speculative. I think if you look at the merits, so Libby already had his sentence commuted.

KURTZ: Right.

BENSON: And I think it's the right thing to do to pardon him. He was caught up in a process crime.


BENSON: I think Trump did the right thing.

KURTZ: You don't think it's connected to anything having to do with Mueller?

BENSON: It might be but I think it would be irresponsible for me to jump to that conclusion because we have no evidence.

KURTZ: All right. Journalists say it would be irresponsible to jump to conclusions. I think that should be the standard for everybody. Adrienne Elrod, Guy Benson, thanks very much. Gillian, we will see you a bit later.

Ahead on "Media Buzz," the parade of pundits handicapping the House now that Paul Ryan isn't running. Are they marching maybe the wrong way?

Straight ahead, Corey Lewandowski standing by in New Hampshire on coverage of Comey, Mueller, Cohen, Syria, and a lot more.


KURTZ: After an intense week that began with an FBI raid against the President's personal lawyer, it ended with the President ordering air strikes against Syria. Joining us from Manchester is Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump's former Campaign Manager and Chief Strategist for America First Policies.

Let's start with Syria. The New York Times headline says President says mission accomplished, but what are his goals? So even if you grant this was a great success, coordinated with our allies by the administration against Syria, the press says, hey, the President is also saying he doesn't want to be mired in Syria. So are those fair questions?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, DONALD TRUMP'S FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER: They are fair questions, Howie. But earlier today on this very program, Heather Nauert from the State Department was on. And what she talked about was understanding that the United States, Great Britain, and France undertook a very strategic military strike on targets in Syria, which were the installations where these chemical weapons are being stored, manufactured, and used against the people of Syria.

And what we've said, what the world is now saying is we will not tolerate a dictator who is using chemical weapons on innocent men, women, and children in their own country. And what the strike was it was a precision strike. It was very successful. And it sends a clear message, not just to Syria, but also to our -- around the world.

And if you look at Russia and Iran, and what the President said on Friday night was, you have to ask yourself as countries, do you want to be associated with an individual who is innocent killing men, women, and children. And I think by and large, the answer should be no.

KURTZ: Well, there are still long term questions, but that's a fair point. I mentioned this earlier. I want to play another part it that right after the President addressed the nation, and while the attack was still under way. Rachel Maddow and MSNBC went after President Trump. Here is another part of what she said.


MADDOW: That perception that this President under this much siege may have made this decision that was in any way inflected by the scandal surrounding him, that by necessity has shaped America's security options for who we are in the world tonight.


KURTZ: Your response to Rachel Maddow saying that there was a perception that the President did this as a distraction from other issues and other scandals.

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, what we've seen from this President -- and he talked about this over a week. We've known about the chemical weapons strike against the people of Syria in Damascus for over a week, and the response was not one that was done unilaterally. It was done in consultation and in conjunction with other nations around the world.

So it was very systematic. It was very precise. It was done with the United States. It was done with France. And so this was not a reaction to anything other than the atrocity which has taken place in Syria. So this was well thought out. It was precise. It was executed precisely and it was done in consultation with other of our allies around the world.

KURTZ: All right. I'll put you down as disagreeing with Rachel Maddow. The FBI, as everyone knows, as you know, conducted that raid against the office and the hotel room of Michael Cohen, the President's personal lawyer. And the New York Times says prosecutors have asked for all communications between Michael Cohen and Hope Hicks and Corey Lewandowski. Did you have a lot of dealings with Michael Cohen and are you concerned about this?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, of course, I had a number of dealings with Michael Cohen. Michael was the Senior Vice President, Executive Vice President of the Trump organization when I was running the Trump campaign. And so I interacted with Michael on a fairly regular basis, particularly more at the beginning of the campaign.

But I think as it's been well known and that if not I'll establish it right here, all of my email communication as it related to my tenure during the Donald Trump campaign, the campaign has turned over all those emails. I have no access to those emails. So anything that someone is looking for has already been turned over to any respected authority who has asked for them.

And again, I'm not attorney. I don't speak for Ms. Hicks. But I believe all the campaign emails for everybody at the campaign were turned over. So if there is anything in there that the authorities want to see, they have access to all those emails already, at least from the campaign's side.

KURTZ: Got it. So now we have a war of words between the President and Jim Comey. He is pushing his new book. They're calling each other liars and worse. There has been a lot of journalistic finger-wagging overt fact that the President, in his response, and certainly he's entitled to hit back, called Comey an untruthful slime ball. And the argument is why would the President go to that level?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, because Jim Comey is an untruthful slime ball. That's why. And so you have to call a spade a spade. You have to call it like it is.


KURTZ: -- Corey, President slime ball.

LEWANDOWSKI: No, but Howie.

KURTZ: Yeah.

LEWANDOWSKI: Howie, here's the difference. Jim Comey, we know unequivocally has lied under oath to Congress. In the real world, we call that perjury. There has been no accountability whatsoever.


KURTZ: That's not an undisputed fact. That's an allegation.

LEWANDOWSKI: No, it's an absolute undisputed fact, because the first time - look, Comey has testified many times in front of Congress. He has had to issue multiple clarifications for his testimony. So an undisputed fact is that he's lied under oath. We also know that under oath Jim Comey said that he took information that he received as the Director of the FBI, gave it to a law professor so that information would be put out and the American people could see it.


LEWANDOWSKI: That also is an undisputed fact, and we also know that that it's against the rules of the FBI, and there has been no prosecution for Jim Comey whatsoever. And now Andrew McCabe, OK, felon McCabe, who has now been accused of the IG of lying three times under oath and four times in general to the FBI, is also saying Jim Comey has been untruthful.

So now you have two liars lying about each other, but then work together every single day. And my bigger concern is this. It reminds me of the fake book written by Michael Wolff, that media gives this guy all this credit. Comey is going to make a fortune on it, and he's going to need all that money for his attorney fees when he's all done.

KURTZ: All right. Well, just for the record, McCabe is not a felon. He was fired.


LEWANDOWSKI: Well, he should be.


LEWANDOWSKI: I called felon McCabe.


LEWANDOWSKI: -- three times.


KURTZ: OK, that's.


LEWANDOWSKI: It's not my assertion. The inspector general of the FBI has noted in his report, which is now public that he believes McCabe.


LEWANDOWSKI: -- three times under oath. If you lie one time to the FBI, ask Michael Flynn, ask some of the other people, you are brought up on felony charges. This guy lied four times, three times under oath, and there has been no accountability. And now McCabe and Comey are lying about each other. There has to be an investigation and a prosecution because these people are the deep state, and everything they have told us have been lies from the very beginning.

KURTZ: All right. Let me close with this. A CNN banner the other day on the screen said Trump flailing and unmanageable as he rages against Comey and his new tell-all book. New York Times, Trump became unglued watching the coverage Michael Cohen made. Now I'm not saying -- it was pretty evident when he spoke to the President, the President was angry. But what do you make of these reports, unnamed sources, the President is angry, unmanageable, unglued. Does that reflect reality as you know it?

LEWANDOWSKI: It's not the reality that I know. And without getting into private conversations, I have had the privilege to speak to the President many, many times on a number of issues that are in the news, and then I read about what the news writes about them and these unnamed sources, and they're factually inaccurate. They're wholly uncharacteristic of what's truly taking place.


KURTZ: Why are people in Trump world leaking this stuff in the press?


LEWANDOWSKI: I'll tell you why, Howie. Because there are still people, in my opinion, who serve inside this administration who don't want to see this President be successful. Some of those are holdovers from the previous administration, some are people who never supported this President, probably still don't.

And that has been a problem, a systemic problem in this administration. But what I like now is I see people like John Bolton and Larry Kudlow coming in, people who had longstanding relationships with the President before has was the President run his agenda and moving his agenda forward. This administration needs more people like that.

KURTZ: Corey Lewandowski came to play today. Good to talk to you, as always, appreciate it.

LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you, Howie.

KURTZ: All right, take care, coming up, more on the U.S. airstrikes against Syria. Do the media basically root for military intervention and is that a problem? And later, the National Enquirer accused of burying another anti-Trump story, but in this case the tabloid might have done the right thing.


KURTZ: More now on the media coverage President Trump's air strikes against Syria over Assad's alleged chemical attack, and we're back with Gillian Turner. You have years of national security experience. Once the Assad regime unleashed this chemical attack on civilians, was there a push in much of the mainstream media, subtle or otherwise, that the President needed to respond, to retaliate with military force?

TURNER: I think there was. And it makes sense, because what is the one thing that every President needs and wants when they are taking the country to a potential war, the support of the public. And the media is a very important part of that. I think there was a lot of (Inaudible) from reporters.

Hey, Mr. President, if you do strike back against this evil dictator in Syria, we have got your back.


KURTZ: Right. But of course, but as we learned in the run-up to the Iraq war, the press also needs to be skeptical. And I'm not saying this wasn't warranted and I'm not saying it seems that U.S. and Britain seems to say there was very strong evidence of a chemical attack. But again, is there a danger -- of course, you'd want this if you were working in the White House, is there a danger of the press being cheerleaders for military action.

TURNER: Yes, and serving as you a groundswell of support, especially with a President like President Trump, who according to all reports is very heavily influenced by the media, print, television, you name it.

KURTZ: Right. And there is a certain rally around the country. In fact, when members of the military risk their lives in this case, wasn't to get involved in this Syrian civil war, but to respond to that chemical attack. But I think is there a danger of, you know, that it's a very easy way to get applause from the press. And this is a President who hasn't gotten a lot of applause from the press on lots of other matters.

TURNER: The temptation is real. And I struggled with that myself. As a reporter now, I was on the air live last Saturday morning reporting this. And I point out in a few of my reports that when the President called for strikes one year ago, he roundly received support and praise from the international community.

Could you argue that I was part of the voice goading the President into war? Probably, I certainly hope not. But I am illustrating this as the broader point of how you make those calculations. It is a reality that that happened. So I don't think there is inherent bias in stating that.

KURTZ: I would not argue that. I think you were giving analysis as somebody who is deep in these issues. But I can see where if everybody is positive.


KURTZ: So just briefly, the New York Times is laying out this dilemma facing the President. Other have as well, saying the contrast between this man full of chest-thumping and intending to demonstrate that he's the toughest one in the international block, but also his conviction especially after 2001, American involvement in the Middle East has cost us a lot in blood and treasure.

TURNER: And a conviction by the way that majority of Americans share. You know this is part of his platform when he was running. I am going to disentangle us from the Middle East. I don't believe in any of these wars. I think they are all a mistake.

KURTZ: Right.

TURNER: So he has got a lot of promises to fill.

KURTZ: You face conflicting pressures as President and that's part of the lesson here. Gillian Turner thanks for doing double duty. Good to see you this Sunday. After the break, Paul Ryan retiring as Speaker and some pundits say that means the Republicans will lose the house. Maybe that's just a bit premature.


KURTZ: Paul Ryan rocked the Republican Party by announcing he won't run for reelection. And many pundits blamed his difficult relationship with President Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This would be different to me, Mr. Speaker. What happened to Paul Ryan? You know, why didn't he speak up? Why didn't he stand up to the President about things that many believe were personally offensive to you?

PAUL RYAN, FOMER HOUSE SPEAKER: So I find that I have a much more effective relationship with him by having personal dialogues with him than going out and wailing on him on TV. That may score points make many people happy, but I don't see how that gets things done.


KURTZ: Joining us now, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for NPR and a Fox News Contributor. So he's getting it from all sides. Conservative commentators say Ryan wasn't fully on board with the Trump agenda, and help pass this big spending bill. Liberal commentators say he enabled Trump and that's going to be his legacy. You can't win.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yeah, you can't win. That is going to take some time before we figure out what his legacy is.


KURTZ: I actually believe that he wanted to spend more time.


KURTZ: He never really wanted this job.

LIASSON: He was a reluctant Speaker. Absolutely, it was widely thought that he would step down after November. And as he put it, it's unfair for his voters to run for reelection because he's going to quit.

KURTZ: So let's talk about the media chatter. I mean look, Paul Ryan not running for -- is not exactly a big help to the Republicans, tough mid-term year. But many in the media, print, web, television, say well, it's pactfully a done deal. Now the Democrats are going to take over the House. Isn't that going a little overboard?

LIASSON: I am quite shocked at how many people think this is done.


LIASSON: I hear it from Republicans. I am even more shocked to hear it from Republicans. They have a lot of structural advantages. The Democrats have an uphill climb. Ryan isn't the tipping point. Ryan is a psychological blow to Republicans who are defeated about this, and say look, the House is gone, really? They have a lot of structural advantages. The Democrats still have an uphill climb.

KURTZ: Right.


KURTZ: -- tipping point.

LIASSON: Ryan isn't a tipping point.


LIASSON: Ryan is a psychological blow to Republicans.


LIASSON: -- morale booster for Democrats. Because will Republican donors still give to Paul Ryan if they know he's a lame duck. That's the question.

KURTZ: CNBC's John Harwood wrote this. Ryan's retirement from the House increases the chance that President Donald Trump will be impeached. Now since most of Democrats are saying they are not planning that, isn't that making two huge assumptions?

LIASSON: OK. I really respect Harwood as a journalist, but that is just ridiculous. This is the show where we try everyone to calm down about the media. OK, first of all, to say that he's going to be impeached if the Democrats win, which is what Harwood is saying, is exactly what the Republicans are saying.


LIASSON: Exactly.


LIASSON: But they want the impeachment issue because they want to energize their base. First of all, every Democrat I have talked to, with the exemption of the Maxine Waters and the kind of left of the party says number one, impeachment is a stupid tactical thing to run on. Number two, it's wrong on principle. It's the equivalent of lock her up, lock her up, which they hated.


KURTZ: -- mentioning this even as a possibility.


LIASSON: The media at large -- the media is not one saying one big blob. Yes, media individuals who repeat that would be wrong and irresponsible.

KURTZ: So last question, I am sure Trump was a factor in Ryan's decision. But the larger issue, it's only been three years since John Boehner quit in frustration. Now Paul Ryan is quitting in frustration. Can any House Republican lead this divided party?


LIASSON: That's a really good question. That's a really good question. They're dropping like flies. Look, Nancy Pelosi really sticks around. And of course, that's a whole other discussion after.


LIASSON: I think Paul Ryan stepping down makes it harder for Nancy Pelosi to be the Speaker if the Democrats win the House back.

KURTZ: All right, a little bit of analysis. It doesn't seem like crazy speculation. Mara Liasson, thanks very much for coming in. Still to come, the National Enquirer, the payment to a Trump doorman and a rumor that nobody seems to believe.


KURTZ: The National Enquirer is again being accused of protecting Donald Trump. The New Yorker (Inaudible) reports that the tabloid paid a Trump Tower doorman $30,000 during the campaign to buy and bury an unverified rumor that was floating around about Trump supposedly having once fathered a love child in the 1980s. The Enquirer concluded the story wasn't true, and so did the New Yorker, which talked to the alleged family.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They went to such extraordinary lengths to bury a story that seemed in the view of a lot of people involved in this investigation baseless. This was a person relaying second hand information that there was an affair, possibly a child resulting from an affair.


KURTZ: Now this does fit the catch and kill pattern in which the Enquirer, owned by Presidential pal David Pecker, for example paid former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 and did her story of an alleged affair. Parent company American Media blames hysteria and partisanship in politics for all the attention paid to a decision not to report the story.

And my favorite part is when the magazine contacts the doorman who says my time is valuable. What's your offer? The New Yorker doesn't pay for stories, of course. That's it for this edition of Media Buzz. I'm Howard Kurtz. There was so much news this week. There were all kinds of things that we simply couldn't get to. Mark Zuckerberg testifying about Facebook, we covered that last week before the testimony, the Pompeo hearings.

I mean it goes on and on and on in this rich news environment. We hope you'll like our Facebook page. Check it out. You can see my daily columns there and original videos. Continue the conversation on Twitter @howardkurtz, and also go to our home page. It's a new design and you can watch the entire episodes if you happen to be doing something different on Sunday morning. We'll see you next Sunday back here with the latest buzz.

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