This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," April 22, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the Buzz Meter this Sunday, the Jim Comey memos are leaked to the press by Congress, igniting a media debate over whether they help or hurt President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GREGG JARRETT, FOX NEWS: There's nothing else in there, no red flags, no smoking gun that would incriminate the president.
DAN ABRAMS, ABC NEWS: If you take the Comey memos at their word, they are devastating to President Trump with regard to whether he is telling the truth.
GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS: But for him to write things down, it just seems so self-serving. It just seems to me almost as if he was pinning the first draft of the book that has now been published.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Was Comey's briefing of Trump about the Steele dossier tied to the link to CNN, which Comey said he did a new book to run the story. Journalists start turning on Jim Comey as he peddles his book, now asking questions about his motivation and the tone of his anti-Trump attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: It feels like you might have some scores to settle. You know, that you might have a little bit of anger left over and a little bit of bitterness. Would you plead guilty to all of that?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR OF FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: I wouldn't actually. I would take that one to trial.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Is it about time that journalists hold the fire to FBI chief accountable? Sean Spicer, the former White House spokesman, weighs in on that and other media controversies.
A media flop over Nikki Haley being blamed for confusion by Larry Kudlow for going on a Sunday show and announcing more sanctions against Moscow, which turned out to be wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
STEPHANIE RUHLE, NBC NEWS: By the way, it's a completely sexist remark. She must have been a little confused. Brother, please! Confused?
DANA PERINO, FOX NEWS: They really hung her out to dry on background at first saying, oh, she got a little ahead of herself.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Is the administration sending mixed messages on foreign policy or other pundits just playing up a soap opera?
Sean Hannity under a high decibel media assault over his friendship with the president's personal lawyer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
KATY TUR, NBC NEWS: NBC News has confirmed inside that courtroom that the third client -- Michael Cohen's third client is Sean Hannity.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN: It was revealed to be Sean Hannity. Clearly a bombshell here in court.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: I'm not surprised that the media is going after me. It's predictable. It's pathetic. And here is the truth, the media is guilty of every single solitary thing they have been accusing me of over the last 24 hours. The media is the sewer.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: We will look at how much of the criticism is fair and how much unfair. Plus, some final thoughts on Barbara Bush, who had a knock for making news. I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "Media Buzz."
We will get to the new memos in just a few moments, but first, James Comey stands to make a fortune on his book once his TV tour gout underway and journalists saw the tone of his attacks on President Trump. What was envisioned as a love fest turn surprisingly critical.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GUTHRIE: I mean, including calling his skin orange and saying he looked like tanning goggles. Some people said that was kind of -- for lack of a better word, that was a little catty. Did you enjoy taking those shots at the president?
COMEY: No, I didn't think of them as shots and I still don't.
COMEY: No, my only regret is those folks likely haven't read the book.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN: But isn't that construct unfair to President Trump in a way? Because the question was, if President Trump was compromised by the Russians, you say it's possible. I don't think it's likely, but it's possible. I mean, it's possible there's life on other planets.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Joining us now us now to analyze the coverage: Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist and a Fox News contributor; Susan Ferrechio, chief congressional correspondent for The Washington Examiner; and Marie Harf, a Fox News analyst and former CIA and State Department spokeswoman.
Mollie, the media narrative was that Jim Comey was a truth-telling hero, then he started peddling his book. What changed?
MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: I think that there was no way for the media to be as positive toward James Comey as they were at the time of his firing. So part of it is just about having more natural reaction to what he wrote.
I think people were really hoping that this book would have a lot of new details or that it would fuel the fire against Trump and it didn't have those things. And because he was so personal and petty, he wrote a book on leadership, but it kind of seemed to drift. I think the reporters are just responding to what was in the book.
KURTZ: Would you agree, Marie, that some journalists at least are starting to challenge him in his tone in ways that we haven't seen in the past?
MARIE HARF, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: I think that's true. And, you know, Jim Comey is not really liked by Democrats or Republicans at this point. And I think reporters were trying to respond to the book. And what's been interesting is, over the week of the book tour now, news has been made every day and so reporters are sort of having to ask him about that. And I actually think that's been pretty interesting.
KURTZ: We will get to that. I went on the air Monday morning after the Stephanopoulos interview and said Comey was hurting himself with the tone and pettiness really of his attacks. New York Times next morning, James Comey's attacks on Trump may hurt a carefully cultivated image.
Susan, let me put the presidential tweet on the screen, one of many about Comey: "So General Michael Flynn's life can be totally destroyed, says the president, while shadey James Comey can leak and lie, make lots of money from a third-rate book that never should have been written." OK, but didn't Michael Flynn plead guilty to lying to the FBI?
SUSAN FERRECHIO, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, I think, you know, what the reporters are actually angry about is that the book did not have a smoking gun and they were expecting one. And so they were --
KURTZ: Most of the revelations from his testimony and so on?
FERRECHIO: Just about all of it. It had nothing in there that I think they had hoped to see that would move the narrative along about Russia collusion. There was no there there. And I think what you saw this week was the frustration being born out by the press when they interviewed Comey. Where are the goods?
KURTZ: Oh, a little bit of postpartum depression.
KURTZ: So, Mollie, this is why people hate giving documents to Congress. This stuff leaks in an hour to the AP and then others. But in one memo, Comey says he told Trump that he was briefing him on dossier sexual allegations because -- I'm just going to read this. The media, CNN in particular, was telling us they were about to run with it but needed a news hook, your thoughts?
HEMINGWAY: Yes. You know, it's interesting, people say there was nothing in these memos. Well, the fact that there was nothing in these memos is actually the most important thing, because they were selectively leaked to launch a special counsel so that there was nothing in there to justify a special counsel is huge news actually.
But even the first memo where he explains why he briefed him only on the salacious part of the dossier and said this, because CNN was looking for a hook to justify writing about it. The hook, if you remember, that story that got everything going, was that Comey had briefed Donald Trump. So he said he is telling him about this because CNN is about to do this and that they're going to keep it very close to the chest.
Instead this meeting became the hook to justify putting the dossier into the bloodstream and also he was not telling the truth about how closely held this information was which makes all this other information about Trump asking for loyalty look totally different when you realize -- Trump realized pretty early on that his intelligence chiefs were leaking against him.
KURTZ: Well, but Comey doesn't -- Comey acknowledged some leaks but Comey doesn't control what CNN does. In fact, CNN which held back the actual dossier, unlike BuzzFeed that reported on the existence of this briefing, can we completely blame that on Comey or would it have come out anyway?
HARF: Absolutely. A number of media outlets leading up to election and after had this dossier. And BuzzFeed did put the whole thing out there. CNN didn't.
KURTZ: Right. And the reason none of these organizations go with it is because they were unsubstantiated allegations and not just --
HARF: Exactly. And I would push back on Mollie a little bit. Comey briefed Donald Trump at the end of a long briefing about Russian interference in the election, so all the intel chiefs went up to tell Donald Trump what their assessment had been.
At tend, I think Jim Comey felt like the president had a right to know that reporters had a dossier. One of the most interesting things in the Comey memos is that parts of that dossier, not the salacious sexual parts but other parts have been verified by U.S. Intelligence.
KURTZ: Let's me get Mollie's reaction.
HARF: This was something the incoming president had a right to know.
HEMINGWAY: I mean there are things in the dossier that are just public information like Russia is a country or Russia tries to meddle and that is well known. What was interesting about these memos, Comey said that James Clapper told him to do this briefing, and James Clapper is an interesting name as well, former director of National Intelligence --
KURTZ: For Obama.
HEMINGWAY: In a recent report from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, finding number 44, was that James Clapper gave very inconsistent testimony about his leaks to -- or his conversations with CNN and he now works for CNN. That this dossier briefing occurred and four days later, it was put out on CNN. That is very interesting. They did have high level sources.
HARF: Reporters (INAUDIBLE), Mollie.
HEMINGWAY: And they needed --
HARF: Reporters had.
HEMINGWAY: As James Comey said --
HARF: I know for a fact.
HEMINGWAY: As James Comey said, CNN said they needed a justification to put it out.
KURTZ: I got to jump in. I know, Mollie, justifying 44 because she does her homework. Another thing in the Comey memos that struck me, Susan, is Comey was talking to the president, he says, about stopping leaks.
Trump replied -- let's put up on the screen, that we need to go after the reporters and referred to the fact that 10 or 15 years ago we put them in jail to find out what they know, and it worked. He mentioned Judy Miller at Fox by name. They spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk.
Does that concern you?
FERRECHIO: Judy Miller was in jail for three months. And this is nothing new. Reporters get threaten jail time --
KURTZ: As part of leak investigation.
FERRECHIO: She wouldn't reveal sources. KURTZ: She wouldn't reveal sources, yes.
FERRECHIO: Which is exactly what Trump is talking about. It's happened before, the threats are ongoing against reporters. What would be different this time if Trump did it is that it would get a lot more attention and focus and a lot more anger from the public because it would be Donald Trump doing it.
And people already believe he's waging war on the free press even though President Obama spied on reporters regularly and subpoenaed their phone records. No one seemed to care about it then.
KURTZ: I think a lot of people care about it then.
FERRECHIO: Well, not the way they would --
FERRECHIO: -- if President Trump will do. It's frightening if a president talks about jailing a reporter. He frustrated to leaks and they were chuckling over. It was a joke, we don't know, but it's happened before. It's part of history here in America. I wouldn't rule out happening in the future.
KURTZ: All right. We are running a little short on time. So, let me ask you to keep that in mind. Comey's book tour I think was also marred by the news that the Justice Department has referred for criminal prosecution the case of Andrew McCabe, his former deputy, for lying about leaks. Ironically enough. Actually, we just learned about this but in fact that's taken place weeks ago.
HEMINGWAY: Yes. He was referred for criminal prosecution for lying about just one of the many leaks that have come out of the FBI. You wrote about another leak he was involved in --
HEMINGWAY: -- during the Trump administration.
KURTZ: (INAUDIBLE) by Reince Priebus, yes.
HEMINGWAY: Sure. This is a great example though of how the media has missed a really important story about leaks to journalists. It's fine for journalists to take leaks or you can argue that that's fine and they should not be persecuted.
But the lack of security of information is a huge story and the media had been so focused on this Russia conspiracy theory that they missed a really big story about people undermining administration through leaks and they missed this Andrew McCabe story.
FERRECHIO: They completely ignored it. Everybody talks about it. Nobody writes about it. Go try to find reporting on it. It's just ignored.
FERRECHIO: They love the leaks and they need the leaks and that is what keeps the press going right now.
KURTZ: What about the Bloomberg story that says that sources say that Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, told the president he's not a target of the Mueller investigation? Do you think that deserves more coverage or did we already know that because of a Washington Post story a couple of weeks ago saying Trump's legal team has been told the president is not a target?
FERRECHIO: Well, I think definitely deserves more coverage. The fact is that there's so much going on with these cross investigations and government investigation. I think the public is perfectly understandably confused about --
KURTZ: A lot of people (INAUDIBLE) journalists (INAUDIBLE). So just to close up on Comey, it seems to me that there's a guy who when he ran the FBI infuriated Democrats for reopening (INAUDIBLE) election, infuriated Republicans for not bringing charges. Now it seems to me he's trying to say, well, it would have been better if Hillary Clinton have won and wished he voted against Donald Trump.
So, you kind of (INAUDIBLE) this earlier, most liberal commentators and conservative commentators, many of them have no use for this guy.
HARF: Absolutely. And I would venture the guess in a week or two, he's not going to be in the top 20 stories we are talking about. He is not the focus. You know, he is not at the center of the Mueller investigation, he is only a small part of it. This is an interesting book tour that I don't think has gone as well for him as he would have predicted. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter that much.
KURTZ: By the way, President taking issue with The New York Times story about reporter Maggie Haberman about Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer, being on investigation which says that he hasn't always -- Trump hasn't always treated Cohen well throughout their long association. Cohen is a real loyalist.
So here is the tweet. The New York Times and a third-grade reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a crooked H flunky who I don't speak to and have nothing to do with, then he goes on to criticize the story.
Well, Maggie has interviewed Trump many times including several times as president. One of her colleagues at the Times tweeted this picture of the two of them in the Oval Office. So apparently, he does have something to do with Maggie Haberman, who by the way shared a Pulitzer prize this week.
When we come back, the flop over Nikki Haley and Russian sanctions. Has the press turned that into something of a soap opera? And later, Sean Spicer on the president's war of words with Comey, with the FBI, and with the media.
KURTZ: It was on last Sunday's "Face the Nation" that U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley essentially announced tough sanctions, tough actions against Russia in the wake of the U.S. airstrikes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMB. NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: You will see that Russia sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday if he hasn't already.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Those Airstrikes are of course against Syria but it turned out the president was not approving new sanctions against Moscow and his new economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, try to explain the Haley snafu.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: She got ahead of the curve. She's done a great job. She's a very effective ambassador. It might have been some momentary confusion about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The ambassador offered a rather sharp response to Fox's Dana Perino.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERINO: I was able to get in touch with Nikki Haley and she said, quote, with all due respect, I don't get confused.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Mollie Hemingway, press kind of playing this as personality, is it that, is it overplayed or has it raised serious questions about how the White House handles foreign policy?
HEMINGWAY: I think it's very serious but at the same time, the way that they describe what Larry Kudlow said, I think, was unfair to him. By definition, she did get ahead of the curve, because she announced sanctions that didn't take place. He didn't say that she was confused, he said there was some momentary confusion.
I think he was poorly served, by the way, people reported on it. But it absolutely is true that the policy obviously changed at some point. She did announce something that didn't happen. There's something newsworthy. I wish that we could be more substantive about what happened there as opposed to just make it about a war between Kudlow --
KURTZ: Exactly. It seems to me that Nikki Haley was sent out with inaccurate or outdated information. You worked at State, I mean not unprecedented for U.N. ambassador to go on a Sunday show and asked what has been fully vetted about the White House.
HARF: Well, the reporting though showed that it had been vetted by the national security team including the White House, that it was after President Trump saw her appearance on a Sunday show that he said, wait a second, I don't actually want to do these sanctions. The policy changed in the next 24 hours.
HARF: We often talk about reporters who report on palace intrigue anonymously. This is one that spilled out very publicly and on the record. Kudlow had to apologize to her. But I think Mollie is right. Substantively, it is more important that the president declines to put additional sanctions on Russia even though clearly there had been, according to reporting, a decision made to do so.
KURTZ: Right. There is of course the Susan Rice incident and new administration (INAUDIBLE) litigate now, but The New York Times --
HARF: There were so many, Howard.
KURTZ: There were so many.
KURTZ: New York Times called this a remarkable display of discord involving larger questions of political ambitions, jealousy, resentment and loyalty. The president talked about his whole policy toward Russia and the media news conference. Let's take a quick look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There has been nobody tougher than me. With the media, no matter what I did, it's never tough enough because that's the narrative.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FERRECHIO: All true. He's right.
KURTZ: Well, I think the president certainly has point about the media narrative, no matter what he does on Russia, but you're saying it's all true, that this is toughest president in history when it comes to Russia, Ronald Reagan and the evil empire?
FERRECHIO: He's been tough enough to not warrant the kind of criticism he's getting from the media. That's the way I interpret what he said. That they are being unfairly critical about the way he has responded to Russia because it's about the narrative of Trump and Russia collusion. And that has sort of thrown a shadow over I think some fairly tough policies against Russia since he's taken office.
KURTZ: When you focus on the president's words, he usually speaks positive about Putin.
HEMINGWAY: And people really do -- are upset that he doesn't speak against the humanitarian abuses in Russia. But when you look, he supported NATO expansion. He made NATO countries increase their defenses against Russia. He did missile defense in Poland. He's bombing Syria quite a bit. He's attacking --
HARF: He took steps and avoid Russians when he bombed Syria. But that's not because he was trying to avoid Russia, he was trying to avoid World War III. I mean --
KURTZ: Avoiding World War III I think is a good thing. Let me just get the last question to Marie. Big headlines now by Kim Jong-un halting nuclear testing. There's some debate about how significant that is.
But the press portrayed Donald Trump as a dangerous hot head when he was calling him little rocket man and so forth. He pulls off the secret Mike Pompeo mission to meet with Kim Jong-un, Washington Post story. Does he now deserve some credit at least for what's happened so far?
HARF: Well, we will see what comes out of this meeting and we will see if Mike Pompeo gets confirmed. I think that one of the reasons they leaked the Pompeo-North Korea meeting was to push a confirmation forward because they have been worried about getting the vote.
KURTZ: Brief comment. Sure, we will see what happens. Maybe no deal with North Korea. But is the press giving Trump any credit for this development?
HEMINGWAY: There is no question that this is so much different than what we saw from any of the previous four administrations. It is tremendously much remains to be seen and people need to be careful.
But I don't think he's getting the credit and particularly -- What has he done? Oh goodness, there have been so much done. There have been so much done just to get to this point even at high-level talks.
KURTZ: I promise we will continue this. Mollie Hemingway, Susan Ferrechio, Marie Harf, great to see you all this Sunday. Ahead, Sean Spicer weighs in on a pretty wide range of media controversy.
Up next, Sean Hannity punching back after a sustained media assault about his friendship with the president's personal lawyer after that emerged in court. Is the criticism fair? That's next.
KURTZ: The media went absolutely haywire after a New York court hearing on the suit involving Stormy Daniels and the president's personal lawyer. The judge forced Michael Cohen to reveal the name of a client he had refused to make public and it was Sean Hannity. The Fox News host quickly insisted that wasn't right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANNITY: Here's the truth. Michael Cohen never represented in any legal matter. I never retained his services. I never received invoice. I never paid Michael Cohen for legal fees. I did have occasional brief conversations with Michael Cohen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Liberal lawyer Alan Dershowitz challenged Hannity on his own program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR: I do want to say that I really think that you should have disclosed your relationship with Cohen when you talked about him on the show.
HANNITY: It was such a minor relationship in terms of --
DERSHOWITZ: You should have said --
HANNITY: It had to do with real estate and nothing political.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Fox News issued a statement saying, while Fox News was unaware of Sean Hannity's informal relationship with Michael Cohen and was surprised by the announcement in court yesterday, we reviewed the matter and spoken to Sean and he continues to have our full support.
Joining us now from New York is Shelby Holliday, senior video reporter for The Wall Street Journal. You heard Hannity say he wasn't a client, but a long-time friend of Michael Cohen, had occasionally legal conversations, didn't pay him, and therefore no need to disclose that to his viewers. What's your take?
SHELBY HOLLIDAY, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, it appears he did have an attorney-client relationship with Michael Cohen because in court, Michael Cohen thought to shield his communications with Hannity.
So, legally, you know, you can have a discussion about civil liberties and debate whether or not Sean Hannity's name should have been revealed but the reason this was a huge media story is number one, there was the drama of Michael Cohen's third mystery client Sean Hannity being revealed in open court, that automatically created some buzz.
Number two, there are political reasons. This gave Hannity political foes, easy opportunity to go out and throw some punches. Number three, the big reason and this is something that applies to the viewers, the ethical and legal questions surrounding why Hannity didn't reveal his attorney-client relationship with Michael Cohen.
KURTZ: Well --
HOLLIDAY: He has been covering the raid on Michael Cohen's office and hotel room. He has been criticizing it. And Alan Dershowitz as Alan Dershowitz said, it would have been just easy to say, hey, I've got some legal advice from Michael Cohen and we have this attorney-client relationship.
KURTZ: Right. Well, whether it's attorney-client or not, on that point, I wrote in my Fox News column that Hannity should have disclosed it especially because he was highly critical of what the FBI did to Cohen in raiding his home and his office and his hotel room.
Last year, Michael Cohen was a guest on Hannity's radio show and Hannity said for disclosure, we're longtime friends. That would have in my view at least solved the problem.
HOLLIDAY: Well, also I think it's worth pointing out that Hannity does have relationships with other lawyers representing Trump and he has disclosed those. So in a way, he has set president for himself to be transparent with viewers and that just raises more questions about why he didn't say something about Michael Cohen.
KURTZ: I think some of these other lawyers Hannity was friends with long before they had any particular relationship with Donald Trump. But in the aftermath and there was such intense media reaction to this, couple of people went on the air on other cable news channels and kind of just got out there. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS, SIRIUS XM: The question now lingers for everybody else, what has Hannity been involved in? Is he paying off women as well?
JENNIFER RUBIN, WASHINGTON POST (voice-over): What is it that he was doing for Sean Hannity? Was he paying off a woman for harassment in the workplace?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So how can professional commentators go on the air without a shred of evidence and speculate right after this happened that there must have been a woman involved or something when there's absolutely no evidence to support that?
HOLLIDAY: Right. Journalistically, that's out of bounds. No reporters or news people should be speculating like that like as you said, there is no shred of evidence. And people around here who knows Sean Hannity say, it's not his reputation, it's not him.
However, I would point out that those people you just showed are opinion writers and opinion show hosts.
KURTZ: Yes, fine. They they can criticize him all they want. You can't make stuff up and speculate.
KURTZ: We catch on this earlier. I wrote in my column, look, Sean Hannity is paid for his opinions and he is a fierce defender of President Trump. He has hung out with him in Mar-a-Lago. He has interviewed him.
KURTZ: People tune in at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, they know what they are getting as a commentator guy. Do you think --
HOLLIDAY: And the president tells them to tune in.
KURTZ: And president obviously kind of endorsed his show on Twitter. Do you think given what was initially wall to wall coverage on CNN and MSNBC, that there was rival networks or rival commentators taking an opportunity to go after a guy who not only works at Fox but is not very well liked by liberals?
HOLLIDAY: I think yes, absolutely in some cases this was, for example, opinion shows at night. They, you know, seem to enjoy taking some swings at Hannity.
However, I would also note that Hannity may have fueled some of this himself because instead of going on his program the night that this was all disclosed and saying to viewers, should I reveal this or I'm sorry, he went out and attacked the media for covering the story, calling the media fake news, partisan hacks with zero credibility.
And as one Hannity viewer pointed out to me, that was an interesting way of addressing an issue in which a self-proclaimed partisan talk show host had essentially undermined his own credibility on the Cohen issue.
KURTZ: Well, somebody who was critical, I'll just say it, but Hannity is entitled to defend himself.
HOLLIDAY: Absolutely, and he's an opinion host as you point out, Howie.
KURTZ: Thanks very much, great to see you.
HOLLIDAY: Thank you.
KURTZ: Ahead, the coverage of the President breaking his silence by calling Stormy Daniels a liar, but first, Sean Spicer on the President's complaint about the media's narrative about him and Russia.
KURTZ: President Trump's relations with the media have gotten even more hostile, and in my view since Sean Spicer worked in the White House. I sat down with Former Press Secretary here in Studio 1.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Sean Spicer, welcome.
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thanks for having me.
KURTZ: Jim Comey has taken plenty of hits on this book tour. For the tone of his attacks on Donald Trump, do you think the press is holding him accountable?
SPICER: To some degree. I think if you look at what probably they thought this book tour was going to look like versus what it has looked like. There's a big difference. Comey went into this I think largely with an image of a boy scout, the guy that was loyal.
SPICER: Right. And I think definitely now there are a lot more questions than there were when he came in about how he handled his job and sort of that degree of loyalty that he proclaims. That's awful different. Remember, the goal is to sell books and the other goal is to come out with a different image, I think. So I don't know where he.
KURTZ: But now in one of the memos that were disclosed the other day, he talked about how CNN had the dossier, the unverified Steele dossier, but needed a news hook to run it. And you're taking issue with CNN's original story on the dossier and what Comey said to the President about it and how CNN handled it. Explain.
SPICER: Well, all I was getting at the time on that January 11th when we first handed -- is that CNN had -- said the President-elect had been shown this so-called summary of the dossier. My recollection is that never occurred. And it wasn't that Comey hadn't briefed him. I was in the room. I was there. I am well aware of what actually happened. But whether they were hanging their hat with the summary had been shown to him.
In fact, Comey by his own admissions seems to admit that he had briefed him on one allegation and that that's where it centered around.
KURTZ: The sexual allegation. I've talked to CNN's. CNN's position is that both things can't be true that Comey did verbally brief the President- elect and also that this two-page summary was given to both President Obama and President-elect Trump. All right, so the President hasn't been exactly been idle by standard here. You're familiar with that. He's called Comey things like untruthful, slime ball. If you were in the White House, would you advise him to use that kind of language?
SPICER: Look, I think the President in the last couple of years, effectively branding people and he's a marketing genius when it comes to a lot of this stuff. So I don't know that he will take a ton of my advice. His style has not always been my style, but he's been fairly effective using his style.
KURTZ: Marketing genius, that is diplomatic answer. So on another subject, the President proclaimed that the media aren't giving him enough credit for the way he deals with Russia because he says it doesn't fit the media narrative. And he also said in a press conference no one has been tougher on Russia than I have been. I don't think even you would say that from the podium.
SPICER: Well, I think if he's talking about the number of diplomats that's been expelled and the sanctions that have brought to Russia, it's been very tough. I think that's it's a sharp contrast to the narrative that exists, that he's somehow trying to benefit from Russia, that there's this behind the scenes back channel. The President has been very clear from the beginning that whether it's Russia or any other country where we have economic or national security interest in.
It's in the country's best interest to have a healthy relationship with those countries. But he's not going to do it to forsake either our national or economic security.
KURTZ: Right. If you look at the administration's record, there have been some of the actions.
SPICER: Sure, but remember it was also Obama who was on stage with the prime minister at the time that says I will get that, I will convey that to Vladimir and we will have a better working relationship.
SPICER: -- Hillary Clinton. I mean to the degree towards those prior leaders on the Democratic Party had actually tried to reset relations with Russia, had try to back-channel things to Russia. In fact, there's no evidence that that actually has occurred on this side with President Trump, and yet he's getting much more criticism than they ever did.
KURTZ: That communication screw up with Nikki Haley going on a Sunday show, and announcing there will be more sanctions on Moscow the next day, a lot of finger-pointing over the fact that they were no sanctions announced. Does that remind you of the kind of problems that you or any press secretary faced in terms of getting everyone on the same page with the President's message?
SPICER: Well, sure. I mean I think when you have a big decision coming down. There are a lot of parties involved. In this case, you have got probably Ambassador Haley, you've got the folks at the State Department, national security, Defense Department, Treasury, all of entities and there are a lot of discussions going back and forth. Sometimes there are decisions that are made at the staff level that haven't been signed off by the President.
And again, there's a miscommunication at some point, someone got ahead of a decision or a decision was made that was changed.
KURTZ: She didn't get ahead of it. She was operating on the information that she had.
SPICER: Right. And it's very possible that at that time, the senior staff, by that I mean at the cabinet-secretary level, made a decision and they either thought that the President had signed or he didn't. There's a variety of things that could have happened. But I don't think that this is the end of the world. It happens a lot. You look at the Clinton administration, they sent people out on a Sunday show to talk about a video causing Benghazi, when in fact, that was patently false.
KURTZ: But that was a huge story.
SPICER: It was but it's also it's probably in comparison, and yet this was merely just a question of timing that was coming out. There were no lives lost.
KURTZ: Just briefly, I know indeed. Just briefly, enormous media attention, speculation of a case against Michael Cohen, the Stormy Daniels lawsuit, whether Cohen is going to flip, what do you make of just the sheer volume of the coverage of those subjects?
SPICER: I think it's unprecedented. And what I find fascinating when I watch news these days, which I try to watch less, it seems to be more speculative. If he does this, if they do that, we hear that this might happen.
SPICER: Yeah, and again, none of it is based on fact. It's just a lot of speculation. For now, we haven't seen anything. If someone did something outside the scope of the relationship to Donald Trump in some way, that doesn't make the President complicit in anything.
KURTZ: There has not been a White House Communications Director since Hope Hicks left, a job that you briefly held. Will there be one?
SPICER: You know I don't know. And I don't know that it matters.
KURTZ: -- the President doesn't have a Communications Director.
SPICER: He kind of does, though. He's got a very talented team of.
KURTZ: Is he his own Communications Director?
SPICER: He is in a lot of ways. And I think that the idea of looking at the structure in a very traditional sense went out the window with the President coming in. He has got very talented staff that is performing the very same functions. They just may not have the same titles and sit in the same offices, but they are very, very talented women over there running the shop.
KURTZ: Sean Spicer, finally able to watch less news. Thanks very much for joining us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Coming up, we'll get an opposing view from long-time Hillary Clinton adviser, Philippe Reines. And later, a former Playboy model settles with a tabloid company that bought her story and buried it.
KURTZ: We just heard from Sean Spicer. Joining us now with another perspective is Philippe Reines, a former State Department official and long-time adviser to Hillary Clinton. Let's start with Jim Comey, the press loved this guy when he got fired and turned against Donald Trump. Now he's getting scuffed up quite a bit. Is the media criticism more in line with how Hillary people view Comey?
PHILIPPE REINES, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON ADVISER: Well, I think Comey is a difficult character. He's showing a weird combination of someone with very bad judgment but with a very good memory. And I think people are using him for what they want to use him for and he has a certain sanctimonious, aw shucks air about him.
KURTZ: So you're saying that the press is cherry picking. If he goes after Trump, the new liberals like it.
REINES: I think frankly he's being dissected left and right. I think a lot of his non-answers are being dissected. Frankly he's not being pressed hard enough on some of his non-answers like why he didn't trust Sally Yates, that kind of thing.
KURTZ: Right. We talked to you earlier in the show about how the press has made a very big story out of Nikki Haley going on CBS last Sunday morning, announcing, pretty much announcing new Russian sanctions that the President had not decided on. Did that deserve to be a big story, because didn't the snafus happen in the Clinton -- Obama administration?
REINES: I think my opinion is secondary to Nikki Haley's opinion. I mean Nikki Haley clearly thought it was a big story when she was told that she was confused, and had to make it very clear to the White House.
KURTZ: I would like your opinion.
REINES: Well, so I don't think it was overdone because I remember vividly what you were talking to Sean about when Susan Rice went on the Sunday shows, and it was all hell broke loose. And I understand that people believe that she was being misleading. She was doing this and that. But as a pure factual matter, the world blew up at her and she was called out for, and it makes sense if the world does the same thing to a Republican member of the administration when they go on a Sunday show.
KURTZ: Well, both serious subjects, Russian sanctions and in this case.
KURTZ: -- what happened in Benghazi, for people who.
REINES: But no one accepted Susan that it was a mistake. And it was, and I would hope people would accept it's a mistake with Ambassador Haley.
KURTZ: What do you make of this endless, sometimes 24/7 media speculation about whether Trump will fire Bob Mueller or fire Rod Rosenstein or the chatter about Michael Cohen. I mean as a Democrat you must be enjoying it but.
REINES: No, not at all.
KURTZ: Is it over the top?
REINES: No, because he's tweeting 24/7 about Mueller, and Rod Rosenstein, and Jeff Sessions. I mean I would love this as an experiment for Donald Trump to go say a week without tweeting at all just to see how everyone else would react. I mean he is driving the conversation. It is not me and other Democrats waking up and saying, OK, today there was an airplane crash but we are going to talk about whether or not Rod Rosenstein is going to be fired.
KURTZ: I would certainly agree that when the President tweets, we all cover it. Sometimes we over cover it. But if the President didn't tweet, I mean if you turn on CNN and MSNBC in prime time, you know Fox is focusing more on the problems in the Mueller probe and questionable (Inaudible) that the FBI, you will see a lot of this. It almost has become like the staple of the programming.
REINES: Well, Comey is in the news.
REINES: In general with the book. But the investigations are in the news because of Michael Cohen and because you have Republicans trying to cut off the Mueller investigation and you have Republicans calling for him to be fired. So I don't think there's any more of an exaggeration as compared to reality as, say, when Sean Hannity shows a chart saying the Mueller crime family kind of thing.
KURTZ: All right, let me get to this before we leave. A new book by New York Times' Amy Chozick who covered both Hillary campaigns. She quotes you as taunting her on the trail, saying I don't care what you write because no one takes you seriously, making a crude remark that I won't repeat. You and others perhaps saying, are there any other times reporters we can deal with, maybe males. So what is your response to being accused of being overly aggressive?
REINES: Guilty at times. I mean you know that. We've known each other a long time.
REINES: I think.
KURTZ: You love sticking it to reporters.
KURTZ: Do you think they deserve it?
REINES: If they deserve it or not, it's not my first reaction. I would like to think I have five gears and I only go to the really harsh stuff when necessary. I think Amy needs to -- I think Amy is disappointed for the same reason I am disappointed. I wanted Hillary Clinton to win for my own future. I think she did too for different reasons. I believed in Hillary Clinton. I think Amy needs to look at how her behavior and her paper's behavior contributed to tearing down Hillary Clinton and.
KURTZ: Do you think the New York Times was unfair to Hillary Clinton and that sometimes was it frustration when you said these sorts of things or you just.
REINES: Usually were very.
KURTZ: You're throwing a pitch.
REINES: -- she writes in the book is about a conversation we had about I was saying something, was off the record, and what's ironic is she put it in book about a conversation off the record about being off the record. And look, I think every time the President tweets about Maggie Haberman, you know its a little (Inaudible) Amy Chozick's gut, and then her ego that if it had been Hillary Clinton as President, she would be it.
KURTZ: I appreciate you giving us a guilty plea and not just the talking points. Philippe Reines, it is great to see you.
After the break Kellyanne Conway just ripped a CNN anchor for his sexism over a question about her husband's Twitter criticism of the President, was that out of bounds?
KURTZ: Kellyanne Conway really got into it with CNN's Dana Bash on State of the Union this morning. She strongly objected to a question about some of her husband's tweets being critical of President Trump, and said that was sexist and had crossed the Rubicon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP,: It's fascinating to me that CNN would go there, but it's very good for the whole world to have just witnessed, that it's not -- excuse me, it's now fair game what people's, how people's spouses and significant others may differ with them on -- I am really surprised, but very, in some ways relieved and gratified to see that. That should really be fun.
DANA BASH, CNN: No, I actually -- first of all, I would ask you that if you were a man.
CONWAY: It was meant to harass and embarrass, but let me just tell you something.
BASH: Absolutely not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I do think it's at least questionable for the White House Council to be asked about tweets by George Conway, a successful lawyer. It's good for gossip, sure, but how is that Kellyanne's problem? Aren't spouses allowed to have different political views? Stormy Daniels is back in the news. Is she really out of the news, first by showing up at that court hearing for Michael Cohen and then continuing her perpetual media tour on the view.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOY BEHAR, "THE VIEW": So how come you came here today?
STORMY DANIELS, FORMER PORN STAR: Because I am tired of being threatened, and intimidating me and trying to say that you'll ruin my life and take my, you know, all my money and my house and whatever. I am sorry, I am done. I am done being bullied. I am done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That reference to threats includes the porn star's account of a man who once allegedly threatened her in a parking lot to keep quiet about the relationship she said she had with Donald Trump. Daniels and her lawyer released a sketch of what she says the man looked like, prompting a Presidential rebuttal on Twitter. A sketch, years later about a nonexistent man a total con job, playing the fake news media for fools but they know it.
That is the first time the President has directly addressed Stormy Daniels' allegations. It's not clear how he knows the story is a total con job, but if Stormy's lawyer, who has now had at least 55 TV appearances, was trying to draw Trump into responding, he succeeded. Another Trump accuser, Karen McDougal, has reached a settlement with the publisher of the National Inquirer.
The former Playboy model had sued American Media to overturn a contract in which the tabloid bought the rights to her story for $150,000 but never published it. The settlement includes a cover appearance on Men's Journal and the publication of a few of her columns. So McDougal is now free to talk about Donald Trump, except she already talked about Donald Trump in that long CNN interview, and now she doesn't have to pay a dime for having apparently violated the contract by doing that.
Still to come, what I'll always remember about Barbara Bush's is her bluntness, which often made headlines.
KURTZ: The televised funeral of Barbara Bush yesterday reminded me of my favorite thing about her, how candid she was with the press. She declared upon becoming First Lady, I won't die my hair, change my wardrobe, or lose weight. When her husband was running for reelection as Vice President in 1984, his wife told AP reporter (Inaudible) what she thought of his opponent Geraldine Ferraro, it rhymes with rich.
George H.W. Bush later told news that was the most embarrassing episode of her life, but then we all kind of laughed at her feistiness. And her candor came through on the "Today Show" when his wife and mother of presidents was asked about Jeb Bush considering a run for the same office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Do you think Jeb Bush will run, would you like to see him run?
BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: He's by far the best qualified man. But no, there are other people out there that are very qualified. We've had enough Bush's.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That was a wow moment. I remember that. Barbara Bush spoke her mind, she was 92.
That's it for this edition of "Media Buzz." I'm Howard Kurtz. Thanks for watching. Let's continue the conversation on Twitter @howardkurtz. Check out our Facebook page. Give us a like. We post my columns every day, my original content, like videos, and we try to respond to your comments, criticism, and what not. Also remember if you're out Sunday morning, you have a life, DVR the show. Watch it later. We appreciate it. And we're back here next Sunday same time as usual, 11 Eastern. See you then with the latest Buzz.
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