Kellyanne Conway vs. CNN's Brian Stelter: Can Comms Shakeup Solve Trump's "Crisis Of Credibility"?

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Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway debates CNN's Brian Stelter for nearly half an hour about the media's "obsession" with Russia and much more.

Transcript, via CNN:

BRAIN STELTER, CNN: Kellyanne, good morning. Thanks for being here.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, Brian. Thank you.

STELTER: I know you and Anthony Scaramucci just had a chance to talk off-camera. What was your conversation about? And what's going to change at the White House now that he is running communications?

CONWAY: Well, here we are in New York, at the CNN Time Warner studios, happily conversing in the hallways between CNN hits. So, that tells you something. We're very happy to come and take questions from, I think, an outlet that's been incredibly unfair and systematically against this president. I guess you made a business decision to do so. But we're here trying to connect the American people with the president's message and answer your questions as respectfully as we can.

Look, I think Sean Spicer should be lauded for his service to this nation as a patriot, for his service as press secretary. The president invited Sean to stay on. He was trying to add to the team, not subtract. But Sean made a different decision and I think I stand with everybody in the White House, including Anthony Scaramucci and the president and vice president themselves in thanking Sean for his service.

But we're going to -- we're going to do what we can to push back. I think there's defense, there's offense, and really my main grievance, if you will, and my main objective as somebody who does not work directly in press and comms, but as counselor to the president, tries to support what press and comms are doing in the White House, Brian. My main objective has always been, can we get complete coverage? I know we're never going to get unbiased coverage, but can we get more complete coverage? Can we connect Americans through shows like yours and else-wise on CNN and else where with the information they need?

They need to know that there have been over 800,000 jobs created. They need to know that there's 25 record highs for the Dow Jones since Donald Trump became the president. These veterans need to know there's a 24/7 hotline waiting for them at the White House as you and I speak here, that they have better protections now through the Veterans Choice Act. If they can't access timely quality care through the V.A., which most veterans say they can, they have the option of going into the private system like you and I could and getting that timely quality care.

People need to know that the regulatory roll back has meant that property owners and taxpayers and parents of public school students that they have more freedom now than they had a short while ago. They need to watch the commissioning of the USS Gerald Ford yesterday and know that the thousands of patriots who will be on that vessel going through our world's waters. They will know when they see that vessel coming that military might for America is back.

STELTER: So, in your first answer, you made several points about the administration's accomplishments. But you started by attacking CNN. Why does attacking CNN make America great again?

CONWAY: No, I'm sure you want that to go viral. I'm not attacking CNN. I am wondering CNN spends its time --

STELTER: You said the company made a business decision to be unfair to the president, when in fact what we are trying to do is cover an unusual president and try to explain what the heck is going on --

CONWAY: OK, let's break that down.

STELTER: -- at a White House that seems awfully dysfunctional.

CONWAY: Let's break that down. Well, first of all, that's not fair. And I constantly hear this coming out of the mouths of people that never worked in any White House, let alone this White House. If you want a more candid, clear look at the functioning of the White House, I invite you inside, come inside.

You know, it's two-way street. We don't -- we don't see that. I'm a very accessible person. I think you'll find with Anthony Scaramucci and others in the White House, we're tough but humble. And we -- this is the people's house.

You were welcome inside to see, but we never get those calls. We just turn on the TV and we see a one-way, non-conversation using words that are meant to deride and deny the president his due. They're incredibly disrespectful.

So, I'm here to attack CNN. I'm here to ask you --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: You're welcome here any time.

CONWAY: Thank you. As a very important person at CNN, Brian --

STELTER: It's the six-month mark of the presidency.

CONWAY: Great. He hasn't (ph) and many accomplishments that don't get covered. So, thank you for the platform.

I want America to hear what's been done for them. But they know that. The forgotten men and women are not forgotten to us. But let me --

STELTER: It's not your --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Yes, I was just going to say, not our job to do your PR. It's your job. And it seems the White House this week admitted that there's been a lot of failures because the press secretary, all of a sudden, resigned and left his job.

CONWAY: Well, because that's Sean's decision. And Sean was up against incredible odds. As the president said in a tweet about Sean, he thanks him for his service and he thinks he took a lot of unnecessary abuse.

But let me get back to whether we're attacking or not attacking CNN. Please don't -- I don't feel sorry for CNN. I don't feel sorry for you or me. We are fine.

You and I have health care benefits that are given by our employers. You and I have great jobs and we're safe in our jobs. You and I have disposable income. God bless you and your wife, Jamie, and your new daughter.

We are people who are not struggling paycheck to paycheck and not worried about paying the rent or the mortgage or the student loan voucher or the tuition payment this very month. We're not deciding between groceries and health care benefits.

I'm there for those people. And, Brian, if we can rely on your help at CNN, not to do our PR, that's silly. That's nonsense. To connect America with the information they need. If you're going to cover Russia, Russia, Russia, while we're talking about America, America, America, we're always going to be like this. If you actually look at the polls --

STELTER: This country --

CONWAY: -- this great polling analysis where they said 6 percent of Americans, 6 percent said Russia was the most important issue to them and, yet, the mainstream media has given it 75 percent of coverage. They said 35 percent of --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: In that same Bloomberg study -- yes, that's right.

CONWAY: And you're not covering health care.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Eleven percent for immigration.

CONWAY: Yes.

STELTER: But that same "Bloomberg" poll found that only 40 percent of Americans approve of this president. Is your strategy now and Scaramucci's strategy only to play to the base or you try to reach 100 percent of Americans, not just 40?

CONWAY: No. I thank you for putting the poll up because I want your viewers to see, I appreciate that, 35 percent health care. The only coverage CNN really gives health care is whether or not it will pass, whether or not they have the votes, whether or not this will be a colossal legislative failure.

STELTER: And it collapsed this week, a stunning failure, one of the biggest stories of the year.

CONWAY: So, there you go, using those words, stunning failure. But, look, if you want it to be a stunning failure or you're going to insist it is a stunning failure, you are denying literally the millions and millions of Americans who were lied to by the last president. You like your plan, keep your plan. If you like your doctor, keep your doctor.

They don't have health care benefits through their employer like you and I do. They don't have --

STELTER: That was 2009, it's 2017. Let's look forward and not backwards all the time.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: We're living with Obamacare. Yes, let's look forward, let's look forward, and let's look at all the people who did not benefit from Obamacare. You can't sit here, Brian, and deny the fact that 19 of the 23 co-ops under Obamacare have failed. They're gone. Eighty- three insurers have pulled out of the exchanges with dozens more promising to do so this year and next year.

We have -- if Obamacare is not repealed by 2018, we will have over 1,300 counties where there is one choice which means there's no choice. Right now, we have 40 bear counties with no choice. Medicaid is unsustainable. We're trying to save it for the future. We're trying to give flexibility to the governors. Help change the accounts.

STELTER: I appreciate that.

CONWAY: Well, but the reason, the only time you're going to cover that because I'm here.

STELTER: There's plenty of time to cover both. There's plenty of time to cover both. We're on a 24-hour channel with an infinite Website.

CONWAY: I agree.

STELTER: Russia is a big story because --

CONWAY: Why?

STELTER: -- journalists love America and America was attacked last year. And America's probably going to be attacked again next year around the midterms, when you call it a hoax.

CONWAY: And that has what do with our campaign that I managed? I managed the winning campaign. It has what to do with that campaign?

STELTER: That may be because by the time you became campaign manager, the deal was already in. The conversations were already had.

CONWAY: That's just not true.

STELTER: We don't know, Kellyanne, but shouldn't we find out?

CONWAY: Are you actually alleging there was active conversations with Russians trying to change the election results? Because very few people are actually saying that. Are you saying that, or are you just trying to put it out there because you guys are so invested in there being something there?

STELTER: We don't know.

CONWAY: What is there? What constitutional crisis are we facing right now? I tell you what, I tell you what we do know --

STELTER: I'm going to leave that to Jeffrey Toobin and the law expert.

CONWAY: OK.

STELTER: But many people are afraid if this president fires Robert Mueller, we will be in a constitutional crisis. Why doesn't the president just want Mueller to prove that Trump is right, that Russia was a hoax? Why doesn't he want Mueller to go ahead and confirm that for him?

CONWAY: Well, isn't Mr. Mueller and his band of Democratic donors doing that? Are they trying to do that?

But, look, Brian, let's back up. Again, I'm asking you to please cover the issues that America are telling pollsters, including CNN's pollsters. You at CNN are not making good. You are not being honest to your own polling if you look at the issues that people say are most important to them. You're not covering them. You just went right back to Russia.

STELTER: I think people can believe in a -- I think people can care about multiple issues at the same time.

CONWAY: Right. So, why aren't you covering them? Why are most of your lower third --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: Certainly, folks that I talk to care about a lot of issues.

CONWAY: Of course, that's America and that's Donald Trump. He ran on a lot of issues. He is making good on those promises with or without the help of a number of cable stations.

But, let's be honest here. You cannot with a straight face tell me that most -- you have this disproportionate, out of whack, unequal coverage on Russia with nothing there.

There's nobody -- even Chuck Schumer this weekend gave an interview --

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Just because you say it doesn't make it true.

CONWAY: -- suggesting that Hillary Clinton should look in the mirror.

I'd say that right back to you. But here's what is true. Millions of people don't have health care and they thought they would. Millions of people looking for jobs.

The unemployment rate way down. The job creation way up. The stock market way up. The regulatory reform --

STELTER: And Americans know that. Americans feel it. But still --

CONWAY: Well, they only know if they're looking elsewhere.

STELTER: -- 50 percent of Americans strongly disapprove of the president. You're a pollster, will that ever change? Are you trying to convince the 60 percent or according to Gallup -- we'll show the headline that has a record low approval rating as of this weekend -- 36 percent. That means that almost two-thirds of Americans don't support the president right now.

CONWAY: That's not what that means.

STELTER: Are you trying to persuade them or --

CONWAY: That's a misread of that poll.

STELTER: -- is the strategy, Kellyanne, just to appeal to the base from now on?

CONWAY: No, and again, you want that to say the president said on November 9th, as he was elected, as Hillary Clinton called my cell phone and congratulated and important word, conceded. I know that they can't -- they can't let go of these election results.

STELTER: We're talking about Hillary Clinton, again? Honestly, I don't have time for that.

CONWAY: Brian, excuse me, if you're going to talk about Russia and you're going to talk about e-mails and you're going to talk about investigations, you're going to always be talking about Hillary Clinton.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: You're actually the one that brought up Russia. I didn't bring up Russia.

CONWAY: No, no, your network is obsessed with that. You're invested in it. All the chyrons say it constantly, all the guests talk about it, and the reason I raised her --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: There's a big story going on, Kellyanne and just because you don't deny it doesn't mean it's not a big story.

CONWAY: It's not a big story. What makes it big, you can't tell me this is about the campaign and we're not to talk about Hillary Clinton. The reason I just raised her is because when she called to concede the election to Donald Trump, he immediately went up to the podium and said something that remains true at this moment. He said, I will be the president of all Americans, even those who do not support me.


Continue reading the full transcript here.

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