May 17th, 2015
02:19 PM ET

Peter Schweizer to CNN's Reliable Sources' Brian Stelter: "I was absolutely dumbfounded. I never would have imagined that those donations had existed"

Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Peter Schweizer, conservative author of Clinton Cash (2015), joined anchor, Brian Stelter, to discuss the revelation that George Stephanopoulos of ABC News has donated to the Clinton Global Initiative. Following this exchange is reaction from former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-VA).

Reliable Sources airs Sundays, 11 a.m. to noon (ET).

A transcript and video from the show and text highlights are available below.  Credit all usage to CNN’s “Reliable Sources”

VIDEO:

'Clinton Cash' author responds to Stephanopoulos acknowledgement of donation to the Clinton Global Initiative

Former RNC head: Stephanopoulos shouldn't cover 2016

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS:

On why he didn’t bring up Stephanopoulos’ partisanship allegations: Well, you know, I obviously didn't know about the donations to the Clinton Foundation or the fact that he's given multiple speeches and served on panels for them… I knew about the fact that he had worked for the Clintons, but honestly, I sort of believed and assumed that he had sort of put that in the past.  And I thought he was simply asking tough questions.     Now I think the revelations that have come out put the interview at least in my mind in a totally different context.  I don't mind tough questions, but you wonder what's the motivation: is it the search for truth, or is it because he's trying to, in a sense, do something to benefit the Clinton Foundation which he obviously has some affinity for?”

On if he’s heard from ABC News after his Sean Hannity interview: I’ve had no contact from ABC News.  I have to also say, you know, the comment that he made about ABC News has looked into this and has found no direct action, ABC News's investigative division has reported on findings in the book, and they talk about the troubling patterns. So, I don't know where he's getting that report from.  But it puts everything that occurred in that interview in a very different context.  I would welcome the opportunity to come and share with the audience what I uncovered in the book and have, you know, even an aggressive conversation with somebody there about it.”

On how his investigators missed Stephanopoulos’ donation activity: “…You know, I think if during the midst of our research a researcher had come to me and said, you know, I’m going to look on the Clinton Foundation database and see if George Stephanopoulos is a contributor, I would have laughed at them, honestly.  I would have laughed at them because I thought it would be so sort of over the top that I couldn't imagine that it took place.  So when this came out, I just - I was dumbfounded.  I was absolutely dumbfounded.  I never would have imagined that those donations had existed and would have, you know, laughed if my researchers had suggested we look into this.”

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:

BRIAN STELTER, HOST:  A network anchor under fire.  And this time, it's not Brian Williams.  Is saying sorry enough for George Stephanopoulos now that we all know about his donations to the Clinton Foundation?

Plus, a famed investigative journalist challenges what we were told about the killing of Osama bin Laden.  How can we know what's really true here? And, a war of words between President Obama and FOX News about the war on poverty.

Good morning and welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES.  I’m Brian Stelter.

And we're starting with brand-new information about this ethical controversy that's really encircled ABC's George Stephanopoulos.  This morning, he is apologizing again for donating to Bill and Hillary Clinton's charitable foundation.  What his colleagues and his rivals are wondering is whether that's going to be enough.

Let me back up and tell you the story from the beginning.  Stephanopoulos was one of Bill Clinton's closest aides in the '90s, and pretty much ever since then, he has been distancing himself from those roots.  He has turned into one of the biggest stars of television news, co-host of America's most-watched morning show, skilled political interview and ABC's chief news anchor.

Well, now it turns out that ABC's chief news anchor gave $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation.  This might sound like a wonderful act of charity.  The man makes millions of dollars a year and donates a lot of it. But Stephanopoulos has been reporting on the foundation without telling viewers or his bosses about the donations.  That is a journalistic lapse.

And let's keep this in mind: the Clinton Foundation is no ordinary charity.  It is one of a kind, created by former President Bill Clinton that expanded to include potential future president, Hillary Clinton.  The foundation is controversial for all sorts of reasons.  It is sometimes hard to tell where the good works end and where the politics begin.

So, when "The Washington Free Beacon", a conservative news site, discovered the donations earlier this week, Stephanopoulos apologized profusely, first in a statement to "Politico", then in phone interviews with me and others, then on TV on his morning show, and again today on his other show, ABC's "This Week."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR:  Over the last several years, I’ve made substantial donations to dozens of charities including the Clinton Global Foundation.  Those donations were a matter of public record, but I should have made additional disclosures on air when we covered the foundation.  And I now believe that directing personal donations to that foundation was a mistake, even though I made them strictly to support work done to stop the spread of AIDS, help children and protect the environment in poor countries, I should have gone the extra mile to avoid even the appearance of a conflict.  I apologize to all of you for failing to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER:  ABC's support of Stephanopoulos is unwavering, and they are hoping this story will now fade away.

But some people are going to have long memories.  The most glaring example about why this is a story right now is that Stephanopoulos interviewed the book author who has made claims against the Clinton Foundation, Peter Schweizer, without disclosing that conflict of interest.  This interview happened just a couple of weeks ago.  I’m about to show you clips from it.

You know, we had Schweizer here on the program last week, so we asked him back this week to hear how he feels about these new developments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER:  Thanks for joining me.

PETER SCHWEIZER, AUTHOR, "CLINTON CASH":  Thanks for having me.

STELTER:  I wanted to start by going back a few weeks to your appearance on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."  Here's a sample of some of the questions you received.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS:  The Clinton campaign says you haven't produced a shred of evidence that there was any official action as secretary that supported the interest of donors.  We’ve done investigative work here at ABC News, found no proof of any kind of direct action.

SCHWEIZER:  You either have to come to the conclusion that these are all coincidence or that something else is afoot.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  The Clintons do say it's coincidence and as they say you have produced no evidence and I still haven’t heard any direct evidence and you just said you have no evidence.

SCHWEIZER:  And I'd be glad to brief Democrats before May 5th when the book comes out.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  As you know, the Democrats have said this is - this is indication of your partisan interest.  They say you used to work for President Bush as a speechwriter, you’re funded by the Koch brothers.  How do you respond to that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER:  He asked you to respond to allegations of partisanship.  Why didn't you put him on the defensive there and bring up allegations against his partisanship?

SCHWEIZER:  Well, you know, I obviously didn't know about the donations to the Clinton Foundation or the fact that he's given multiple speeches and served on panels for them.  But honestly -

STELTER:  But you knew about his long history.

SCHWEIZER:  Yes, I knew about the fact that he had worked for the Clintons, but honestly, I sort of believed and assumed that he had sort of put that in the past.  And I thought he was simply asking tough questions.

Now I think the revelations that have come out put the interview at least in my mind in a totally different context.  I don't mind tough questions, but you wonder what's the motivation: is it the search for truth, or is it because he's trying to, in a sense, do something to benefit the Clinton Foundation which he obviously has some affinity for?

STELTER:  You're the kind of guy who said what you did in the past doesn't affect your current work.  Isn't that sort of Stephanopoulos’ defense - what is in his past is in his past, it's behind him, it doesn't affect his reporting work today?

SCHWEIZER:  Well, I was operating under that assumption.  I have no problem with people bringing up my past.  I have no problem with people knowing Stephanopoulos’ past.  But I very much figure we need to judge him based on his journalism, except for the fact that we now know he has these entangling relationships with the Clintons, which doesn't make it in the past, it makes it in the present.  And that is, I think, a very, very different context for which to evaluate all of this.

STELTER:  Earlier this week, you told Sean Hannity that you think a rematch is in order.  Have you heard from ABC "This Week"?

SCHWEIZER:  I’ve had no contact from ABC News.  I have to also say, you know, the comment that he made about ABC News has looked into this and has found no direct action, ABC News's investigative division has reported on findings in the book, and they talk about the troubling patterns.

So, I don't know where he's getting that report from.  But it puts everything that occurred in that interview in a very different context.  I would welcome the opportunity to come and share with the audience what I uncovered in the book and have, you know, even an aggressive conversation with somebody there about it.

STELTER:  It sounds like that's a publicity ploy.

SCHWEIZER:  No, it's not a publicity ploy.  Part of the frustration there was I never really got a chance to explain or describe what is in the book.  So, it was a very stuttered conversation.  That's what was very frustrating to me about it. And now, I think it's incumbent upon them to allow their audience to hear the evidence that's in the book.

STELTER:  Do you think a follow-up interview is actually likely or even possible?

SCHWEIZER:  I think, you know, a follow-up interview in a sense would be an admission on the part of managers there that they've made a mistake.  So I think it's probably unlikely.  I think it's the fair thing to do.  But I think there right now seem to be in cover-up mode.

STELTER:  Cover-up mode, that's a strong way to call it.

SCHWEIZER:  Yes.  I mean, I think it is because there's no discussion about the larger extensive relationships that he has.  I mean, he's been on panels with Chelsea Clinton at Clinton Foundation events.  He's moderated debates and discussions at Clinton Foundation events.  How can you do that and cover that same political family in the political season?

I mean, to me, it's mindboggling.  I can't imagine that CNN or other news organizations would tolerate that.  And I think there's embarrassment and a desire to just hope that this is going to go away, but I don't think it is.

STELTER:  I think to talk about ABC and Stephanopoulos is crucial here because the moment this was disclosed, ABC put out a statement saying they would stand by him.  That has not changed in the past few days.  It makes me wonder whether they'll just be able to have this blow over.

SCHWEIZER:  Yes.  I mean, it's hard to say.  And of course, now you've got other reporters that are coming out.  I think that Geraldo Rivera came out and said well, I was let go of ABC because of a donation or a contribution or something for far less than this.

So, I think there's frustration.  And the question is, are journalists, in general, going to be held to the same standard at networks, or are you going to have superstars that are allowed to do things that, you know, regular reporters are not allowed to do?  And if that's the case, I think that's very troublesome.

STELTER:  That would suggest to me you think he's going to go ahead and skate by.

SCHWEIZER:  Well, it suggests to me that history suggests that perhaps he might as well.  But I think the bottom line is there should not be double standards.  I focus on the fact that I don't think we should have double standards for politicians, and I think that applies in the media as well.  I mean, it's just inherently unfair.

STELTER:  One thing I did wonder when this came out earlier in the week is whether your investigators ever came across this.  How is it that you all did not notice when working on your book that Stephanopoulos had made these donations?

SCHWEIZER:  That's a great question.  You know, I think if during the midst of our research a researcher had come to me and said, you know, I’m going to look on the Clinton Foundation database and see if George Stephanopoulos is a contributor, I would have laughed at them, honestly.  I would have laughed at them because I thought it would be so sort of over the top that I couldn't imagine that it took place.

So when this came out, I just - I was dumbfounded.  I was absolutely dumbfounded.  I never would have imagined that those donations had existed and would have, you know, laughed if my researchers had suggested we look into this.

STELTER:  There was attention in the last few days about some corrections that are being made to the next edition of your book.  Obviously, the Clinton camp wants that to be pointed out.  Some liberal bloggers have been pointing it out as well.

What's your reaction to this issue of the corrections that have to be made?

SCHWEIZER:  Oh, yes.  I mean, the corrections are very straightforward and very simple.  There's a couple of dates that we got conflated instead of something in 2011, it was in 2010.  Probably the most changes - I think there's two of them - is in a section on Haiti.

So, you know, these changes are very minor.  They don't go at all to the core of what's in the book.  And they don't really change at all the details of the timing of the flow of funds and beneficial actions that she took as secretary of state.

STELTER:  Peter, thanks for being here.  I appreciate it.

SCHWEIZER:  Thank you for having me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER:  In the hour since I spoke with Schweizer, he has been in touch of ABC, but there's no indication that he'll be appearing on "This Week" again.

ABC, obviously, disagrees that it’s in cover-up mode, but Schweizer is not the only one criticizing the network.  My next guest is one of several who say the donations taint Stephanopoulos' ability to cover the 2016 election at all.

Jim Gilmore is a former RNC chairman and former Virginia governor, and he joins me now from Richmond.

Welcome, Governor.

JIM GILMORE (R), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR:  Thank you, Brian.

STELTER:  When this story broke on Thursday, ABC right away said it supported Stephanopoulos.  Here's what it said in a statement, "He should have taken the extra step to notify us and our viewers during the recent news reports about the foundation.  He's admitted to an honest mistake and apologized for that omission."  And the most important words are at the end, "We stand behind him."

What more do you want to hear from ABC about this?

GILMORE:  Well, first of all, Brian, my position and what I believe is that George Stephanopoulos not only is disqualified from moderating a Republican debate, I think he's disqualified from moderating a Democratic debate.

 

Furthermore, I think he's disqualified completely from covering as a newsman the 2016 race.  He should not be doing that.  He's tied into the Clintons.  He may have tried to separate himself out from that, but now with these donation revolutions, it's very clear that he is not an unbiased person.  So, he can't do that.

 

And this follows right along with a statement I made several weeks ago when I had the gumption to say that Hillary Clinton should withdraw from the race, because she's disqualified.  Because of her scandal, she's not able to get the central issue in the 20 - one of the central issues in the 2016 race.  And that is going to be, who can instill and restore confidence of the American people and the honesty and trustworthiness of their candidates to be president of the United States?  Hillary Clinton is disqualified from that.  She cannot do that.

 

And now likewise, this gentleman tied to her, George Stephanopoulos, he can't objectively cover the race.  And who does ABC News think they are to come out here and say, well, we stand by this, it was an honest mistake?  They have a public obligation as ABC News if they're going to offer the news to the American people to be able to themselves instill confidence in the American people.

 

STELTER:  Let me ask you a two-part question.  You've talked about possibly running in 2016.  Are you running for president?

 

GILMORE:  I have been considering running for president.  I’ve been in New Hampshire five times this year, and I’m having a great time listening to the people of New Hampshire and talking to what their concerns are.  But -

 

STELTER:  So, if you run - if you run, will you go on with Stephanopoulos?  Will you be interviewed by him?

 

GILMORE:  Sure.  As long as I can make it clear and ABC News makes it clear that he is an opinion guy.  He's a commentator.  He's not a newsman.  He cannot cover -

 

STELTER:  But they’re not going to do that.  I mean, they're clearly supporting him and standing by him.  They're not going to do that.

 

GILMORE:  Yes, but if I go on -

 

STELTER:  I haven't seen any real Republican boycott of him in recent days.

 

GILMORE:  Yes, but if I go on "This Week," I'd make it clear that I'd consider him to be in the pocket of the Clintons.  So, that's OK.

 

STELTER:  What do you make of the idea that, you know, everybody does make mistakes - we're talking about charity here - and most importantly, you and I don’t get to decide who anchors ABC’s election coverage?

 

GILMORE:  Well, that’s all right.  But this is a free country, and I get the chance to have the microphone, too, like I’m doing here right now.  The name of your show is RELIABLE SOURCES.  And I think that what you're trying to do here is to underscore the fact that the American people are entitled to reliable sources, whether it’s a newsman with high profile and great wealth like George Stephanopoulos who has made great wealth because of his connections to the Clintons over the years, or whether it's a candidate for president of the United States.  You have to be able to instill confidence - the American people are distrustful right now their major establishment institutions.

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

GILMORE:  - or candidates for president, the major news people.  We have to be able to re-instill that for the American people.  George Stephanopoulos cannot do it as a newsman, and Hillary Clinton cannot do it as a candidate for president of the United States.

 

STELTER:  Governor Gilmore, thanks for being here this morning.  I appreciate it.

 

GILMORE:  Good.  Thank you.

 

STELTER:  And we're going to stay on this story because the case is against George Stephanopoulos and Brian Williams, we've talked about him a lot here.  They are very different, but the result may be the same.  Another blow to the credibility of big network anchors.  We're talking about that right after this quick break.

 

END INTERVIEW

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