President-elect Donald Trump’s spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway accused CNN of airing a “breathless report” based on rumors Wednesday night, sparring with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper over the network’s report that an intelligence briefing had presented Trump with unverified claims Russia had compromising information on the president-elect.
CNN’s report, first published Tuesday evening, reported that intelligence officials had presented a document to Trump and President Barack Obama alleging that Russian operatives had personal and financial information that could damage Trump, though the FBI had not verified any of the claims. Shortly after CNN’s report was published, BuzzFeed published a larger, 35-page dossier of the unsubstantiated allegations in full.
Conway dismissed CNN’s reporting on the briefing as “not true” in an appearance on “Anderson Cooper 360,” though she also insisted that “we don’t discuss the classified information that is discussed.”
“I’m surprised you're arguing with me,” Conway said. “It has not been backed up by credible news sources and you know as well as I do these rumors were running around for months. Every news outlet was chasing these rumors.”
“We are not reporting rumors,” Cooper replied.
The president-elect had not been verbally briefed, Conway continued, though CNN’s reporting said only that Trump had been presented with the claims in a two-page synopsis. Conway also compared the network’s story to BuzzFeed’s decision to publish, though the CNN report in question contained no links to the online outlet’s published documents.
“CNN is not BuzzFeed,” Cooper said. “I wish you guys would acknowledge and be straightforward. I get why politically it makes sense for you to link CNN with what BuzzFeed did but as Jake Tapper said on the air, he doesn't approve. He's one of the reporters on this. He doesn't approve of what BuzzFeed did. I would not have dumped all these unsubstantiated allegations. It's unfair.”
“But now that it's out there, CNN is all too happy to refer to it, aren’t you?” Conway said.
“We have not mentioned it on the air or talked about the details on the air,” Cooper said.
Cooper also questioned what Conway believed was inaccurate about the network’s reporting: “Because you said you weren't in the briefing, you don't know if what we're reporting is true or not. You weren't in the briefing. And I guess you haven't heard anything about what was in the briefing from anybody who was there. Can you deny that what we reported, not what BuzzFeed, all that unsubstantiated stuff, which we're not reporting, what we reported — how can you say it's not true?”
Conway countered that if the information was “so darn important,” intelligence officials should have briefed Trump orally.
“Why didn’t they tell him?” she asked, questioning why CNN thought the presented document was worthy of a “screaming headline.” “I have the answer: It’s important to politics, not intelligence.”
“Because if it’s significant enough to be in the briefing documents, then it seems significant,” Cooper said.
Several news outlets followed CNN’s story Tuesday on the intelligence briefing with their own, prompting Trump to acknowledge the reports in his first press conference as president-elect the following day, though he called out both CNN and BuzzFeed for reporting on the allegations. He dismissed BuzzFeed “a failing pile of garbage” and rejected a question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta by telling him “you are fake news.”
Several journalists came to CNN’s defense, including Fox News host Shep Smith, who drew a a distinction between the network’s reporting and what he called “the document dump executed by an online news property.”
“Though we at FOX News cannot confirm CNN's report, it is our observation that its correspondents followed journalistic standards and that neither they nor any other journalists should be subjected to belittling and delegitimizing by the president-elect of the United States,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, CNN had distanced itself from BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the 35-page dossier in full and accused Trump’s transition team of “using BuzzFeed's decision to deflect from CNN's reporting, which has been matched by the other major news organizations.”