At some point last week, the chiefs of the intelligence agencies decided to declare that this ex-British intelligence operative was “credible” enough that his allegations warranted briefing both Trump and Obama about them, thus stamping some sort of vague, indirect, and deniable official approval on these accusations. Someone — by all appearances, numerous officials — then went to CNN to tell them they had done this, causing CNN to go on-air and, in the gravest of tones, announce the “Breaking News” that “the nation’s top intelligence officials” briefed Obama and Trump that Russia had compiled information that “compromised President-elect Trump.”
CNN refused to specify what these allegations were on the ground that they could not “verify” them. But with this document in the hands of multiple media outlets, it was only a matter of time — a small amount of time — before someone would step up and publish the whole thing. Buzzfeed quickly obliged, airing all of the unvetted, anonymous claims about Trump.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Kellyanne, at today’s press conference, Sean Spicer conflated the unsubstantiated claims that BuzzFeed released with what CNN reported. And I was surprised by what he said because he said BuzzFeed and CNN made the decision to run with the unsubstantiated claim. That's simply not true. I mean, what CNN said is that CNN is not reporting on details of that memo, as it is not independently corroborated the specific allegations.
Do you acknowledge CNN did not release the 35-page unsubstantiated claims against Donald Trump and it was misleading and untrue for Sean Spicer to suggest otherwise?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT-ELECT TRUMP: No, our incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, was exactly right, as was the president-elect, Anderson. CNN went first yesterday and BuzzFeed went second.
COOPER: We didn't report what BuzzFeed reported.
CONWAY: I didn't say that you did but you linked to it in your story.
COOPER: But Sean Spicer said we did.
CONWAY: Let me just tell you, Anderson, let’s back up. I know CNN must be feeling the heat today of having a headline yesterday at around 6:30 p.m. that said, quote, "Intel chiefs presented Trump with information that Russia could compromise -- Russia had information to compromise him." That is just false.
And as you saw through NBC News reports today, tweets from people at "Politico", no friend of Donald Trump's, and a lot of -- frankly, a lot of outlets, print and electronic outlets, so reluctant and hesitant to go forward with anything close to what CNN or BuzzFeed did.
COOPER: Again, you're conflating what Buzz --
CONWAY: You went first. No, I’m conflating nothing.
COOPER: You’re conflating what BuzzFeed --
CONWAY: I just know what CNN did.
Anderson, you know, you are responsible journalist. You've gone all over the world. You’re widely respected.
COOPER: What's inaccurate about what CNN reported?
CONWAY: Oh, my goodness, the whole headline. Go read the entire story. Four bylines and a story that's just not true that the president-elect was presented with this information that it was appended in a two-page document to the briefing. NBC has said it was not. Other people have said it was not. They’re now receiving --
COOPER: NBC has said it was not verbally presented and CNN never said it was verbally presented. In fact, we said, CNN, in their reporting, based on multiple sources, said we don't know if it was verbally presented. What CNN said was and I quote, "classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump. Multiple U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN."
CONWAY: Anderson, your sources are not correct. And the fact is that --
COOPER: So, you're saying in that intelligence briefing there was no information in any of the documents that -- of that two-page summary?
CONWAY: Two things on that. Number one, we don't discuss the classified information that is presented in intelligence briefings --
COOPER: Well, you just said it wasn't true.
CONWAY: Excuse me, but, Anderson, if you want me to talk -- I know CNN is feeling the heat today. But I’m gracious enough to come --
COOPER: I think you guys are feeling the heat.
CONWAY: -- on and discus it.
We feel -- what heat do we feel? That you got this raw information, this complete ridiculous fake news, actually just fake is --
COOPER: It’s actually been backed up by not only multiple sources but other news agencies, "New York Times," Washington --
COOPER: So, go ahead.
CONWAY: I’m surprised you're arguing with me. It has not been backed up by credible news source us and you know as well as I do that these rumors were running around for months. Every news outlet was chasing these rumors.
COOPER: We’re not reporting rumors.
CONWAY: Anderson, because CNN went first and had this breathless report, everybody said it was a bombshell, earth-shattering report last night.
COOPER: We didn't say it was a bombshell.
CONWAY: BuzzFeed then went ahead -- yes, you did. Yes, it did. It says right here: Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian effort to compromise him.
COOPER: Where's the word bombshell?
CONWAY: That’s not true. Your headline is wrong.
Then Seth Meyers said that he continue fronted me on the bombshell. None of it is true.
CONWAY: I think a day later -- can you tell me that you would -- can you tell me would you run the same story today knowing what you know, everything that's happened?
CONWAY: Because it seems -- you would, wow, because the executive editor of "The New York Times" said they saw this information and they couldn’t corroborate. They couldn’t verify it.
COOPER: They were talking about the BuzzFeed story. They’re talking about the BuzzFeed story.
CONWAY: And so were you. You linked to --
COOPER: No, we said --
CONWAY: Why do you linked to the BuzzFeed story in your report?
COOPER: We said we cannot corroborate. We're not reporting what they released. In fact, Jake Tapper has been very critical of what BuzzFeed has done.
CONWAY: If you couldn't corroborate it, why would you even link to it? Why are linking to fake news?
COOPER: We did not link to it.
CONWAY: Why are linking to this stuff? You know the Michael Cohen -- you know the Michael Cohen who is mentioned in that report is not the Michael Cohen who works at the Trump organization. This might --
COOPER: We never said he was.
CONWAY: You're linking to the BuzzFeed report.
COOPER: We're not linking to the BuzzFeed report.
CONWAY: It's mentioned in here. I’m looking at the updated CNN report. I read it right before we came on air. And absolutely you know people -- why did you -- why did you run a story, why run a story based on anonymous sourcing that now has been rebutted about a two-page appendix that may not be true?
COOPER: So, you're saying there was no two-page summary that was included in briefing material?
CONWAY: The president-elect was asked that question today. You should refer to his answer.