It began as a normal Monday morning in 2017. President Trump was tweeting up a storm. CNN's New Day, with anchor Chris Cuomo, was covering the latest in the Russia scandal — a New York Times report that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian to get dirt on Hillary Clinton during the campaign.
Their guest? Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president and occasional point of exasperation with CNN anchors.
It started with news — Trump's backtracking on a supposed cyber security unit to protect election integrity with...Russia.
Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in their closed-door meeting at the G20 this weekend, agreed to create this unit — even though major US intelligence agencies said that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to help Trump, and even though there are a ton of investigations into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia to do so.
Democrats, Republicans, and regular people blasted the idea, and Trump pulled it back on Sunday night:
Conway, questioned about the president's change of direction, responded that there was good, productive news out of the meeting in relation to Syria.
"What else did he say in the tweet? He talked about how — what did happen, a ceasefire and part of Syria. A very big development out of that two-plus hour meeting with president Putin. That's a tangible. That's relevant. That will affect people's lives," she said.
Conway then launched into a critique of CNN — which the administration has portrayed as an enemy of the president — and she and Cuomo began debating the network's coverage of the issues and the use of the word "squishy."
Conway: "CNN spent a full week-plus doing nothing but having these headlines saying President Trump is not expected to bring up Russian interference with president Putin. He made it top of the agenda. It was first on the list. He pressed him early and often."
Cuomo: "Did he press him or ask him whether he did it?"
Conway: "But that's not good enough. Did CNN say he wasn't going to mention it at all or didn't they? Oh, they did. We have these great montage. People say stuff that isn't true."
Cuomo: "I stand by my reporting on it. The day before the meeting, the president was very squishy on Russian interference. He said, 'Okay, it was Russia, but it was other people. Nobody knows for sure.' That was his last public statement about it before he went into a meeting. And then a meeting in which he didn't allow a notetaker to be in it. We don't have any readout from it. We hear he confronted them about it. He said, 'We know you did it.' Then we know you asked him about it. Which is it? Did he say, 'I know you did it, stop'? Or did he say, 'Did you do it, Mr. Putin?' Which is it?"
Conway: "Chris, let's back up. So, you're saying — you used the word 'squishy' which, itself, is unusual to describe the president's state of mind. So, somehow that makes people on CNN insist that the president is never going to raise this with Putin."
Cuomo tried to get Conway off CNN and back to answering questions about the administration and Russia.
Cuomo: "It's not about CNN. It's about what the president said, Kellyanne."
Conway: "No. It's about people stating things that they want America to think are facts. Aren't you the least bit reluctant, if not embarrassed that you now talk about Russia more than you talk about America?"
Cuomo: "No, look, Kellyanne, this matters. You have Donald Jr. who went from saying—"
Conway: "I think America matters."
"These questions matter," Cuomo insisted — and for about five minutes the conversation returned to Trump Jr.
Cuomo: "...Now he's saying he met with someone to get oppo research on Hillary Clinton who was connected to the Kremlin. These questions matter."
Conway: "He never said the word 'opposition research.' Hey Chris, do you think..."
Cuomo: "He said that she had information about the DNC funding Hillary Clinton. These are Don Jr.'s words, not mine. It's not about CNN, it's about what's said and what matters."
Conway repeated that Trump Jr. "didn't even know the name of the person he was meeting" and said the meeting didn't raise any ethical or legal questions.
Conway then returned to trash-talking CNN.
And accused Cuomo of "trying to go viral."
And this is when things went from heated to downright weird.
Without explicitly saying so, Cuomo apparently tried to get Conway off the air. He delivered one of those "it's a pleasure to have you on" monologues that would normally close out the interview...then was met with this awkward several-second pause.
After the pause, Conway went back to talking about...CNN.
Then Cuomo came right out with it: "I'm only trying to wrap you because your guys are saying you have to go. Just so you know."
Then there were 13 minutes or so filled with Conway and Cuomo arguing about CNN and President Trump's tweets.
Cuomo: "I echoed the President's own tweet thread to you. Don't make it sound like we're hiding his priorities. They're official statements. He's the president of the United States."
Conway: "You looked at his social media instead of listening to what he does."
So Cuomo read Trump's morning tweets to Conway.
The interview seemed to be finally coming to an end as Cuomo said again, "Your people say you have to go."
Cuomo: "Your people say you have to go, by the way. Make sure the White House press office doesn't yell at me."
Conway: "I'm not going to let this go."
Cuomo: "Fine. Go ahead."
Conway: "Stop being so sensitive."
Cuomo: "I've got people yelling at me in my ear that you have to go."
Conway: "But the president—"
Cuomo: "See, that's the two faces of reality we get. You're saying you want to talk to me; I've got people yelling in my ear saying, 'She's got to go.' So say what you want to say."
But Conway wasn't quite done yet.
She said CNN should cover topics like the health care bill, "the women's empowerment issues that Ivanka Trump is leading," and the opioid crisis.
That led to Cuomo saying the administration has decided to be "antagonistic towards the media," which set off another round of argument:
Conway: "Be more fair. Why aren't your panels more balanced? Why are there sometimes no—"
Cuomo: "I think they're plenty balanced. On this show they're mostly journalists. We've got Washington Examiner. We got everybody from all over the place."
Conway: "Let me repeat my question then."
Conway: "Yeah. They have to be more balanced. You need somebody reflecting the—"
Cuomo: "If you want flattery there's another channel that can give you that. We tell it straight, go with both sides and test power."
Conway: "I don't need flattery."
Cuomo: "We have to get to a health care debate. You are welcome whenever you want."
Conway: "Health care reform is coming."
And with that, after 34 minutes, it was over.
Want to watch the whole thing? Check it out here:
Nidhi Prakash is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York
Contact Nidhi Prakash at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Namako is the deputy news director for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tom Namako at email@example.com.
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