Conservative activist and provocateur James O'Keefe released an undercover video of a CNN Health supervising producer calling the network's coverage of the Russia investigation "mostly bullshit."
The video was released by O'Keefe's Project Veritas a day after three CNN employees resigned over a deleted and retracted story about Russia, which was first reported by BuzzFeed News. In the video, the producer, John Bonifield, is recorded discussing CNN's editorial focus on the investigations into the Trump campaign's possible connections to Russia.
Bonifield is recorded saying that CNN dedicated airtime to the Russia investigations for ratings — but that he personally believes the story is "mostly bullshit right now."
"We don't have any big, giant proof," he said. "I just feel like they don't really have it, but they want to keep digging. And so the president is probably right to say, 'look, you are witch hunting me. You have no smoking gun, no real proof.'"
Project Veritas spokesman Stephen Gordon told BuzzFeed News Tuesday evening that the videos were recorded by a person working undercover for Project Veritas who reached out to Bonifield claiming to be interested in a career in journalism. Bonifield and the person working undercover eventually developed "sort of a mentor type of relationship," Gordon said.
Gordon would not provide additional details about the person who recorded the Project Veritas videos, or about the extent of that person's relationship to Bonifield.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders urged people during Tuesday's press briefing to go watch the video
"There's a video circulating now, whether it's accurate or not, I don't know, but I would encourage everybody in this room and frankly everybody across the country to take a look at it," Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday. "I think if it is accurate, I think it's a disgrace to all media, to all of journalism."
She went on to say that it's a "dangerous place for America," when media outlets can't be trusted to report the news adding that it's "disgraceful" if executives are encouraging that behavior "for the purpose of spiking ratings."
O'Keefe has claimed he has "a few hundred" hours of secretly recorded video, and explained why he is interested in CNN in this interview with the network's Brian Stelter.
In February, O'Keefe released approximately 119 hours of secretly recorded conversations among CNN employees from 2009. O'Keefe said the recordings would expose CNN, but the audio was widely viewed as underwhelming.
A CNN source told BuzzFeed News that Bonifield is not intimately familiar with the network's editorial choices.
“The sense internally is it’s not that big of a deal. He's a health producer," the CNN source told BuzzFeed News, adding that it is unlikely Bonifield will be disciplined.
A CNN spokesperson released a statement saying the network stands by Bonifield.
"Diversity of personal opinion is what makes CNN strong, we welcome it and embrace it," the statement said.
Gordon told BuzzFeed News that he is glad CNN didn't fire Bonifield, adding that the CNN producer "was honest" and "sort of an unwitting star."
In the the almost nine-minute video, Bonifield — who is based in Atlanta — says he heard second-hand that CNN President Jeff Zucker pushed for more Russia-related content. Bonifield has worked for the CNN health unit for at least 12 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.
According to Bonifield's second-hand information, Zucker told employees in a meeting after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord that "we're done with that, let's get back to Russia."
"I think there are a lot of liberal CNN viewers who want to see Trump really get scrutinized," Bonifield says in the video. "I think if we would have behaved that way with President Obama, and scrutinized everything he was doing with as much scrutiny as we applied to Donald Trump, I think our viewers would be turned off. I think they would have felt like we were attacking him."
According to Gordon, all recordings of Bonifield were made in June. A tour of a CNN studio — which can be seen in the video released Tuesday — was Bonifield's suggestion, Gordon said.
When asked why Project Veritas released the video now, Gordon referenced CNN's recent story retraction and said "it was the perfect time to drop it."
Several pro-Trump media outlets and personalities shared the video widely on Twitter — including Alex Jones, who tweeted, "CNN has to take the world to the brink of WW3 for rating!"
Sen. Ted Cruz also chimed in:
Here's how Trump's son, Donald Jr., weighed in:
The president also went on a Twitter tirade on Tuesday morning about "fake news" and CNN.
Tuesday evening, Gordon celebrated the tweets from Trump and his son, as well as Huckabee Sanders' mention of the video earlier in the day. He would not say what other news outlets might be included in future Project Veritas videos, but described Tuesday's release as "our first blow" and added that "we put the mainstream media on notice."
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mary Ann Georgantopoulos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steven Perlberg is a media and politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Steven Perlberg at email@example.com.
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jim Dalrymple II at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.