CBS Grills Conway Over BuzzFeed's Unsubstantiated Trump Reporting

On Wednesday, CBS This Morning's anchors hounded Kellyanne Conway over an appendix to a recent intelligence report given to Donald Trump that supposedly highlighted Russia's attempts to compromise the President-Elect, as well BuzzFeed's unsubstantiated document dump related to it. Charlie Rose, Norah O'Donnell, and Gayle King repeatedly tried to get Conway to verify something that she wasn't privy to — whether or not Trump read the classified appendix. The guest blasted BuzzFeed for "really violating basic journalistic standards" by their release. O'Donnell agreed with Conway, but still pressed the Trump aide on the issue. [video below]

Rose first asked the former campaign manager, "Did he see the appendix; did he read it; and has he reacted to it?" Conway replied, "I can't comment on that, because it's an intelligence briefing. And I myself have a top secret clearance that is pending; so I was not part of that." She continued by pointing out that "if you're referring to a two-page appendix that people are talking about in the media that was somehow meant to tip him off to a 35 page, unsubstantiated report from the Internet, which is not a report from the intelligence community — then I would just say that's not even fake news; it's just fake."

The CBS anchors spent much of the segment sparring with their guest over the appendix versus BuzzFeed's "reporting." Rose followed up by wondering, "So you are saying that everything that's in that appendix is wrong and fake?" Conway clarified, "No. What I'm saying is that 35-page report has clearly come from the Internet." She pointed out that many press outlets took the website to task for their sketchy article:

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT-ELECT TRUMP: ...I was very heartened last night, Charlie, to see so many journalists — even those who were actively against Donald Trump all through the campaign — really pushing back on the publication of this type of information, when — when we just can't — we can't conflate to the American people that this is actually intelligence information. We know people were chasing these rumors for months, and couldn't come up with any verification.

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O'Donnell then rephrased Rose's question: "Is President-elect Trump saying never that he never read this addendum to the report?" The counselor to the President-Elect again denied that this was the case, and added that "we're talking about that this morning because, in addition, you have some news sources going over, I think, really violating basic journalistic standards." The anchor interjected that she "agreed" with Conway, but then kept up her confrontational approach with her guest:

CONWAY: He has not said that. What I'm saying is that we're talking about that this morning because, in addition, you have some news sources going over, I think, really violating basic journalistic standards and—

NORAH O'DONNELL Agreed

CONWAY: Thank you. Thank you for agreeing; and thanks to CBS for agreeing, frankly. Going ahead and releasing 35 pages of something that reads like a...grade-B spy novel — is certainly not an intelligence document—

O'DONNELL: But these are two different things. Did he read the report that was given to him?

CONWAY: I can't comment on that, because the fact is, it's classified; and he had an intelligence briefing where—

GAYLE KING: You can't comment on whether he read it or not? We're not asking—

CONWAY: He reads anything that's given to him. I can tell you that, but—

ROSE: So therefore, he had read then. If he reads anything that's given to him, then he's read it.

CONWAY: But Charlie...let's not confuse the viewers today that anything in those 35 pages — that is meant to refer to the two-page addendum that Norah is mentioning

O'DONNELL: An important point — an important point—

CONWAY: It's a very important point, because so much gets lost in our sound bite-ridden society, where people are — they're not talking about facts and figures in this report. They're talking about rumors and unsubstantiated information that we have been able to debunk at the very basic level.

Later in the interview, King cited how Democratic Senator Chris Coons "says this: if there's cooperation or collusion between Trump's campaign and the Russians, it would be a bombshell." She asked, "Can you say that nobody from the Trump campaign had any involvement with the Russians before, during, or after the campaign?" Conway answered by blasting the politician's "very dangerous rhetoric, particularly at a time when responsible print and electronic outlets were chasing this story and came up empty handed...and decided not to pursue it."

Rose decided to hound his guest one more time at the very end of the segment: "The Russian intelligence doesn't have anything that might be possibly used as leverage against the President-Elect. You have seen it, and you're saying the stuff that is being talked about is not true —never happened!?"

The full transcript of the Kellyanne Conway segment from the January 11, 2017 edition of CBS This Morning:

CHARLIE ROSE: Kellyanne Conway is counselor to President-Elect Trump and his former campaign manager. Welcome to the program.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT-ELECT TRUMP: Thank you, Charlie.

[CBS News Graphic: "Explosive Intel Claims: Conway On Potentially Damaging Info Against Trump"]

ROSE: Can you tell us — all of the reports that the intelligence agencies (unintelligible) and delivered to the President and to the President-Elect — did he see the appendix; did he read it; and has he reacted to it?

CONWAY: I can't comment on that, because it's an intelligence briefing. And I myself have a top secret clearance that is pending; so I was not part of that. I will tell you: if you're referring to a two-page appendix that people are talking about in the media that was somehow meant to tip him off to a 35 page, unsubstantiated report from the Internet, which is not a report from the intelligence community — then I would just say that's not even fake news; it's just fake. We have to be—

ROSE: So you are saying that everything that's in that appendix is wrong and fake?

CONWAY: No. What I'm saying is that 35-page report has clearly come from the Internet. It's rife with misspellings; it's uncorroborated; it's unsubstantiated.

And I was very heartened last night, Charlie, to see so many journalists — even those who were actively against Donald Trump all through the campaign — really pushing back on the publication of this type of information, when — when we just can't — we can't conflate to the American people that this is actually intelligence information. We know people were chasing these rumors for months, and couldn't come up with any verification.

I mean, do you know innocent people were dragged through the mud in this 35-page non-report report last night? One of my colleagues — someone at the Trump Corporation — it said he was in Prague. He's never been to Prague. He was not out of the country at all during the time period alleged, and he's never been to Russia.

NORAH O'DONNELL: Is President-elect Trump saying never that he never read this addendum to the report?

CONWAY: He has not said that. What I'm saying is that we're talking about that this morning because, in addition, you have some news sources going over, I think, really violating basic journalistic standards and — and—

O'DONNELL Agreed—

CONWAY: Thank you. Thank you for agreeing; and thanks to CBS for agreeing, frankly. Going ahead and releasing 35 pages of something that reads like a — you know, grade-B spy novel — is certainly not an intelligence document—

O'DONNELL: But these are two different things. Did he read the report that was given to him?

CONWAY: I can't comment on that, because the fact is, it's classified; and he had an intelligence briefing where—

GAYLE KING: You can't comment on whether he read it or not? We're not asking—

CONWAY: He reads anything that's given to him. I can tell you that, but—

ROSE: So — so therefore, he had read then. If he reads anything that's given to him, then he's read it.

CONWAY: But Charlie, that — let's not confuse the viewers today that anything in those 35 pages — that is meant to refer to the two-page addendum that Norah is mentioning—

O'DONNELL: An important point — an important point—

CONWAY: It's a very important point, because so much gets lost in our sound bite-ridden society, where people are — they're not talking about facts and figures in this report. They're talking about rumors and unsubstantiated information that we have been able to debunk at the very basic level—

KING: Well, he is having his news conference today, Kellyanne—

CONWAY: Yes — and he can be asked about this—

ROSE: And he'll speak to it?

KING: I was going to say: he Tweeted last night — he Tweeted last night, 'Fake news, a total political witch-hunt!' Will he address this today?

CONWAY: He will. He will address this today. We expect to address this today, and I expect members in the media will ask follow-up questions about it. It really is — but, you know, the timing here smells to high heaven, too. Here we are announcing his first press conference as president-elect. The Russian hacking issue is fading out of view in the news. Why? Because the smoking gun that was promised — that, somehow, there was a nexus between that and the election results—

ROSE: But you have acknowledged that it's been around for a while, and people have called up to try to confirm it — both in terms of intelligence sources—

CONWAY: And were unable to and failed—

KING: Can we clear up one more thing before you go about this report? Because Senator [Chris] Coons says this: if there's cooperation or collusion between Trump's campaign and the Russians, it would be a bombshell. Can you say that nobody from the Trump campaign had any involvement with the Russians before, during, or after the campaign?

CONWAY: Yes, I can. As campaign manager — when I took over in August — I mean, I was talking to people in Michigan, not people in Moscow; and that's how we won this election.

I really don't like a United States senator saying things like that, when he says, 'if and it would be a bombshell, and it would be investigated.' It's just — it's very dangerous rhetoric, particularly at a time when responsible print and electronic outlets were chasing this story and came up empty handed, Gayle, and decided not to pursue it. Harry Reid intimated this — he made an intimation to this report on October 30, and it didn't go anywhere because people couldn't verify it.

O'DONNELL: And the Wall Street Journal, twice in its lead story, suggests that this dossier could be used to blackmail Mr. Trump.

CONWAY: Well, not — not if anything in there is not true. And that's why last night — those of us who were with the President-Elect discussing this — he made the decision to Tweet out 'fake news, political witch-hunt.' I would go a step further and say it's not just fake news. It's just fake.

ROSE: Okay. So you're saying — just to clear this finally up — whether he's read it or not; what he's seen or not; you have seen it, and it's all untrue—

CONWAY: I've seen the 35 pages—

ROSE: And there is no — the Russian intelligence doesn't have anything that might be possibly used as leverage against the President-Elect—

CONWAY: Charlie, what I—

ROSE: You have seen it, and you're saying the stuff that is being talked about is not true —never happened!?

CONWAY: The 'it' I have seen is the 35-page report that released by one media outlet that — whose editor immediately took to Twitter to sort of say well, you know, it's unsubstantiated; unverified; but maybe, we should put it out there anyway — the same editor who questioned fake news—

ROSE: But again, is there anybody on the Trump team that has seen this, and read it item by item?

CONWAY: Is the — is this the two pages — the addendum?

ROSE: Yes; yes!

CONWAY: Well, those who have received it as part of the intelligence briefing have read it. I was not one of those people. But the 35 pages should not, in any way shape or form, be confused with the two pages that did come from the intelligence community, to Norah's point—

ROSE: That's what we talked about—

CONWAY: The 35 pages came from the Internet, where we see a lot of junk day by day.

O'DONNELL: Thank you, Kellyanne.

CONWAY: Thank you.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan was a news analyst at Media Research Center