White House outlines strategy to combat meddling threat

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," August 2, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are we talking about rogue Russian individuals, or are we talking about the kremlin?

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Both. Russia has used numerous ways in which they want to influence through media, social media, through bots, through actors that they hire, through proxies, all of the above and potentially more. It is pervasive, it is ongoing with the intent to achieve their intent, and that is drive a wedge and undermine our democratic values.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs. Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. The progress we have made is real and the nation's elections are more resilient today because of the work we are all doing, but we must continue to ensure that our democracy is protected.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS HOST: Quite a show of force at the White House today, officials saying the red alert is out there. Russia and others are attacking the U.S. election system. In the latest polls, Quinnipiac had a question, concerns about Russian interference in the 2018 elections, and you can see 42 percent very concerned, somewhat concerned, 21 percent. It is an issue, and they are sending up the red flares.

Let's bring in our panel. Here with me in Los Angeles, Steve Hilton, former advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron at host of "The Next Revolution" here on Fox News Channel, and Leslie Marshall, syndicated talk radio host, in Washington, Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at "The Federalist," and Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of the "Washington Free Beacon."

OK, Steve, pretty impressive, the rollout that they had. It seemed like they had to do that to show that it is a big issue.

STEVE HILTON, HOST, "THE NEXT REVOLUTION": Yes, I think that they are trying to fight back against accusations that they're not taking it seriously and it's all just a hoax and all the rest of it. But I think the truth is both the threat is overstated and the response is completely wrong.

It's overstated because it's not really a threat to democracy -- they're using the wrong language. It's not about democracy. It's not about the voting process itself that they're really talking about. They are focusing on social media. Of course, that's an important part about our debate, but it's about our debate, not democracy. If you're really worried about Russian and other influence over votes, then there is a simple solution. It's to get rid of all this technology that has made it so fragile.

BAIER: Go to paper ballot?

HILTON: When I say this, people laugh and think I'm joking. I'm not joking. You have paper ballot, human beings counting them, phoning the results in on a landline. I would like to see Putin or anyone else hack a million pencils.

BAIER: There you go. Mollie?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE FEDERALIST": One of the parts of our election last time around that were least susceptible to foreign meddling was our election process which is very decentralized at the local and state level. There is not a scintilla of evidence that a single vote was changed or that a single voting machine was hacked.

The institutions that were most susceptible to foreign meddling were our media, our law enforcement, our intelligence apparatus. And unfortunately, Washington has very little appetite to deal with that reality that these were the institutions that were susceptible to foreign meddling and little concern about how to avoid it in the future.

BAIER: I will say, just to see all of those folks out there, we don't know what we don't know. We all know what they are seeing classified-wise, and what the capabilities are yet.

LESLIE MARSHALL, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What I like today, and I thought it was refreshing, is I saw unity, and I saw unity as to what we have heard the sentiments from the FBI and others in the intelligence community saying since the election in 2016. Who the American people need to hear from now, Bret, in my opinion, even if you didn't vote for him or like him, I didn't vote for him, is the president. We are not hearing that from the president.

You can hear it from the White House, you can hear it from directors of all these agencies, even people specifically saying yes, the Kremlin, yes, pointing the finger at Putin, not backing down on that, a very strong force. And I like saying that as an American. You see how many Americans care about that going into the midterms. They need to hear the president be strong about this, be consistent with this administration, say it and stick with it, and not the next day, well, Putin talked to me and he sounded pretty convincing. That doesn't cut it for the American people.

Regarding paper, do you remember those little things called hanging chads?

HILTON: That's too complicated, too. That's not someone with a pencil writing --

BAIER: I remember waiting at the Iowa caucuses for some pickup truck with a box of ballot trying to get them someplace to Des Moines. Matthew, last word on this.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI, "WASHINGTON FREE BEACON": I think what the administration is trying to do is show some attention to the Russia meddling issue in order to raise the price of further involvement by Russia. So what you saw with all the administration officials, Bret, was a real show of solidarity and force in order to deter Russia from engaging in activities it's engaged in in the past, and of course also engages in throughout the world, in particular, in eastern and western Europe. So this is a good start by the White House, clearly also addressing a political vulnerability heading into the election.

BAIER: Today Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, also senior advisor at the White House, said that she was against the family separation, said it was a low point. She was also asked a question whether she believes that the media is the enemy of the people. Take a listen.


IVANKA TRUMP, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: I have certainly received my fair share of reporting on me personally that I know not to be fully accurate. So I have some sensitivity around why people have concerns and gripe, especially when they sort of feel targeted. But no, I do not feel that the media is the enemy of the people.


BAIER: That created quite a stir today. The president tweeted, "They asked my daughter Ivanka whether or not the media is the enemy of the people. She correctly said no, it is the fake news, which is a large percentage of the media, that is the enemy of the people." That set off a Q&A at the White House that including Jim Acosta with CNN and the press secretary.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You did not say that the press is not the enemy of the people.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has made his position known. I also think it's ironic --

ACOSTA: If you wouldn't mind telling us --

SANDERS: I'm trying to answer your question.

Repeatedly, repeatedly the media resorts to personal attacks without any contact other than to incite anger.

ACOSTA: You did not say in the course of those remarks that you just made that the press is not the enemy of the people.

SANDERS: I appreciate your passion. I share it. I have addressed this question, I've addressed my personal feelings. I'm here on behalf of the president. He has made his comments clear.


BAIER: Which is her job as press secretary. Mollie, your thoughts?

HEMINGWAY: Donald Trump did not create distrust of the media. Distrust of the media helped create Donald Trump, and the media really need to get a handle on why so many Americans don't just dislike them but loathe them. The only way you can defend media performances, or if you get really upset about Donald Trump criticizing the media, if you think that the media are doing a good job. And the fact is very few Americans actually think the media are doing a good job.

A recent poll showed that 72 percent of Americans think that the media deliberately report fake, false, or misleading news. I think the misleading thing is really significant there. It's not the people are just making up facts out of whole cloth, but the bias and the self- aggrandizement, and the idiocy that people see in the media is frustrating them, and the media really need to take a hard look inside. Jim Acosta telling a woman that she needs to say certain words or he's not going to stop yelling at her is not going to improve the relationship between the media and the American people.

BAIER: Well, I will say this. Quinnipiac, again, the poll out, enemy of the people, view of the news media, total 21 percent part of the democracy, 71 percent. But then you look at the GOP voters and the split there. Leslie, I think we can say effectively the media is not the enemy. You saw the president's parsing of it, it's the fake news, that is the enemy of the people. The outrage button goes to 11 every day, it seems. And then they forget that other things are happening. Your thoughts on all of this?

MARSHALL: I'm glad you showed that poll because this is one of the things that I am saying, and it actually speaks to what Russia is doing successfully, which is dividing us as a nation further, and along political lines, and we are seeing that her. It's sort of like there are people on the right that think, not this, being Fox, a certain network is bad, those on the right, they think another network is bad based on anything that isn't said that they agree with or that they like. For example, the president likes anybody on any network that says something positive on him, any world leader that says anything positive about him. And I think his followers and many in the GOP are showing that by the results of that poll.

BAIER: Matthew?

CONTINETTI: I think the incentives here in misalignment. On the one hand you have many in the press who have an incentive to be very oppositional toward the Trump administration, who have an incentive to be sensationalist, to get ratings, and also to also get a sense of heroism against the Trump administration. And on the other hand, you have the Trump administration which clearly understands that its base is extremely distrustful of the media and for many, many years, the conservative base of the Republican Party has viewed the media is basically the epitome of the political and cultural elite in this country. So I don't see this debate or argument ending anytime soon.

BAIER: And yes, just not a promo here, but just putting it up, most trusted by the Research Intelligencer by Brand Keys, BBC and Fox News at 87 percent. All right, Steve, what about this whole back and forth?

HILTON: First of all, just specifically on Jim Acosta, I think his persistent bullying of Sarah Sanders there is bordering on the abusive, but don't expect any #MeToo action on that from CNN, I think.

BAIER: It really shouldn't be about us, ever.

HILTON: But he is making it be, and he is bullying her on a regular basis in an extremely offensive way.

But I want to address the big point, which is when I think of this debate in the context of the very robust back-and-forth between the press and the politicians that I grew up with in the U.K., the whole thing just strikes me as being ridiculous. And the media here seems to me insufferably pompous and self-regarding. Of course, it's true that the press are a vital part of democracy, but they are not above everyone else, and they are not above criticism. Criticizing the free press is not the same as being a threat to the free press. And I think what most people look at all this and need self-pitying winging from the media and think what a bunch of sanctimonious idiots.

BAIER: I get that part, but there's also the other side, Mollie, that says the crowd that gets stirred up at the rallies, as the president points back to Jim Acosta doing a live shot, and then yells at him is also a problem, right? We as a country, aren't we better than that?

HEMINGWAY: It is really important not just to have laws that protect freedom of the press but a culture that supports it, as well. So while it's absolutely true that you can criticize the press, you do want your politicians and political leaders to support the culture surrounding the press.

The problem is that the media give way too much ammunition to their critics. Even how we talked about this, Donald Trump has repeatedly said fake news is the enemy of the American people. And everybody agrees that propaganda is bad, fake news is bad, but then they cut off that word "fake"
and just say news. And when they do that, it gives their critics so much ammunition. We really need to see better behavior from the media if they truly want to hold this administration accountable, and holding this administration accountable is one of the things they should be doing.

BAIER: We could all do a little soul-searching about how to cover things fairly, I think. In a different environment than we have ever faced before, right. That's fair to say appear

MARSHALL: I agree with you. It doesn't need to be personal. They didn't have to go there, though. Either way. I'm sorry, either one of them.

BAIER: Thank you, panel, here and in D.C. When we come back, Katy Perry with some very personal fireworks for one sick fan.

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