CNN was on the "birther" beat Tuesday night after Romney surrogate Donald Trump kept espousing the conspiracy, and the former GOP governor of New Hampshire excoriated the network on Wednesday morning's Starting Point for its "fixation" with a non-story.
"Aren't you embarrassed to be speaking directly from the Obama speaking points that they distributed yesterday?" John Sununu challenged anchor Soledad O'Brien in a testy exchange.
O'Brien had asked why Romney did not admonish Trump when then-candidate John McCain, in 2008, rebuked a supporter who articulated a conspiracy theory about Obama – video of which the Obama campaign featured the previous day in a web ad.
"The fact is is that this country has a jobs problem and supporters of the President, like CNN, keep wanting to talk about other issues," Sununu told O'Brien. CNN began the 4 p.m. hour of The Situation Room with an interview of Trump, and covered the matter extensively during the 5 p.m. hour and the next hour of John King, USA. Erin Burnett also covered that topic on OutFront during the 7 p.m. hour, and Anderson Cooper as well during the 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. hours of Anderson Cooper 360.
O'Brien kept insisting that the story was valid because Donald Trump was a prominent Romney supporter and surrogate. Sununu retorted that no one in the campaign believed the "birther" conspiracy. "It's not an issue," he declared.
And Sununu, himself a Romney campaign adviser, said Trump was "wrong" during the interview, to which an animated O'Brien responded that it might be the "first time."
"No, it isn't, ma'am. It's just because you don't read enough that you don't understand that. Let's go to the issues," Sununu responded.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on May 30 on Starting Point at 8:03 a.m. EDT, is as follows:
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Why the birther thing? I mean, I'm going to make an assumption that you don't agree with Donald Trump –
SUNUNU: I don't know. Why is CNN – why is CNN so fixated on this? Why don't we talk about the jobs issue in this country?
O'BRIEN: Sure. And we're going to get to that in a moment but let's start with this.
SUNUNU: And the disastrous -- but you – it's CNN that wants to bring it up. I don't want to bring it up. Mitt Romney has made it clear –
O'BRIEN: I bet you don't.
SUNUNU: Mitt Romney has made has clear that he believes that President Obama was born in the U.S. You had Donald Trump on last night. And now you are asking the question this morning. It's CNN's fixation.
O'BRIEN: So you don't think it's a valid question to ask of someone who is posing as a supporter-slash-surrogate at a high level? Donald Trump isn't your random supporter. He's a high level big-funder. He's talked about how much money in the millions of dollars he's thinking about donating to the campaign. You don't think that that's a big deal that that person consistently talks about the fact that he believes the President of the United States is not a citizen of the country?
SUNUNU: I think it's as equivalent an issue as Bill Maher, who gave a million dollars to President Obama, talking with such a foul mouth about women. But that's -- that's –you can't pick your supporters in this country. The fact is is that this country has a jobs problem and supporters of the President, like CNN, keep wanting to talk about other issues.
O'BRIEN: You know what's interesting, every time you ask anybody a hard question they suddenly go to this, well you must be supporting –
SUNUNU: This isn't a hard question. This is an easy question. Mitt Romney has made it clear he believes the President of the United States was born in the United States. Now we can talk about the big issues in this country.
O'BRIEN: So let me ask a follow-up question. We'll get to jobs in a second.
SUNUNU: 24 million unemployed, and 24 million people underemployed.
O'BRIEN: Which, I agree with you on that front. And we're going to get to that in one second. But before we get to that, I want to ask you why does Mitt Romney not go further? For example, as I'm sure you have seen many times, when John McCain was posed a question by a woman who asked him a question, not only did he say here's my position. He said to her, let me correct you. So, I'm going to play that clip for you first, and then –
SUNUNU: Aren't you embarrassed – aren't you embarrassed to be speaking directly from the Obama speaking points that they distributed yesterday? Aren't you embarrassed to sound exactly like the Obama spokesman talking about John McCain? This is ridiculous.
O'BRIEN: This is a clip that we have played before. It has ran many times.
SUNUNU: You should be embarrassed.
O'BRIEN: It's a conversation that's been had.
SUNUNU: Oh come on, come on. Let's talk jobs. Let's talk jobs.
O'BRIEN: Is that because you don't want to talk about the fact that a major fund-raiser is a birther?
SUNUNU: That's because it's not an issue. It's not an issue. There is nobody in the Romney campaign that believes that the President was not born in the United States.
O'BRIEN: So then how come someone doesn't say, Donald Trump is wrong? And we're going to tell Donald Trump –
SUNUNU: Donald Trump is wrong. The President was born in the United States. Now let's move on.
O'BRIEN: That, I think, might be the first time. Well thank you –
SUNUNU: No, it isn't, ma'am. It's just because you don't read enough that you don't understand that. Let's go to the issues.
O'BRIEN: There's no need to get into personal attacks. There is no need for it. We can move on –
SUNUNU: I'm not getting into personal attacks. I'm talking about the fact that you have a fixation.
O'BRIEN: Of asking questions when someone who is clearly a birther is a representative –
SUNUNU: You did it last night, with Wolf Blitzer –
O'BRIEN: I was sleeping last night.
SUNUNU: – and you opened the show today with Donald Trump.
O'BRIEN: That's what I was doing last night. That's what I was doing last night. So I did not do anything but sleeping last night because I go to bed early. Let's move on to talk about the economy.