Stunning leaks; who’s lying; Preet’s tweet; Lester’s moment; Drudge’s warning; Fox reactions; Spicer’s future; reporter arrested in WV; more “Family”


By Brian Stelter and the CNNMoney Media team. View this email in your browser!
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SPECIAL EDITION… 
Why did President Trump fire James Comey? Did it amount to “obstruction of justice?” What will Trump say next? What will Comey do next? So many questions…

Biggest interview of Lester Holt’s life

Trump’s first TV interview in ten days will take place on Thursday at the White House… and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call it the most consequential interview of Trump’s young presidency. What will Lester Holt ask? How hard will Holt press for answers? 

This sit-down was on the books before Comey was fired, but the firing + the fallout makes the interview so much more important. Holt and his producers know the stakes… They held prep sessions on Wednesday… But after the “Nightly News,” Holt still made time to stop by the goodbye party for departing NBC News specials chief Mark Lukasiewicz. Cool as a cucumber… That’s how colleagues describe Holt… 

Midday taping time…

The interview will be taped at lunchtime at the White House… NBC may release clips right away, or wait till “Nightly News…” I don’t have any inside info, but I’d bet on an early afternoon special report. Here’s my full story…

What would you ask?

NYT’s James Poniewoziktweets: “So many jaw dropping White House stories tonight. Lester Holt’s Trump interview is going to have to be 9,574 yes-or-no questions.

? Preet’s early morning tweet 

At 12:09am Thursday, ousted U.S. attorney Preet Bharara tweeted: “Whatever one’s opinion of Comey, does anyone still believe that the STATED reason for Comey’s firing was the ACTUAL reason? Anyone?”

Leaks on leaks on leaks

Thirty hours after the firing, the nation’s biggest newspapers have breath-taking details about who / what / when / where / why. These aren’t really “leaks,” these are gushers.

 — The WSJ says Comey was “receiving daily instead of weekly updates on the investigation” into “potential collusion between Trump associates and the Russian government.” Furthermore, “Comey was concerned by information showing potential evidence of collusion…”

 — The NYT says Comey spoke disparagingly about Trump. (Read it for yourself here.) In recent weeks Trump “grew angrier and began talking about firing” Comey, and after “stewing last weekend while watching Sunday talk shows at his New Jersey golf resort, Mr. Trump decided it was time. There was ‘something wrong with’ Mr. Comey, he told aides…”

 — The WashPost’s reconstruction of events cites “the private accounts of more than 30 officials” as well as “Trump confidants and other senior Republicans…

That’s right, the WashPost cites “more than 30” sources…

Josh Barro quips: “The only person not leaking is Melania…”

My question…

How will the president react to these latest leaks?

With regards to previous leaks of sensitive info, Trump felt that Comey was “far less concerned about the leaks than Trump thought he should be,” CNN’s Jeff Zeleny and John King reported Wednesday night…

Even MORE leaks 

 — From CNN’s latest story: “A longtime friend who talked to the President over the weekend described him as ‘white hot,’ a mood that set the table for Comey’s firing…”

 — According to the WSJ, Comey’s associates “denied the claim made by Mr. Trump, in his letter firing Mr. Comey, that the director told him on three occasions that he wasn’t under investigation. They said Mr. Comey never gave Mr. Trump any such guidance, which would violate longstanding policies on criminal investigations. ‘That is literally farcical,’ said one associate…

 — More from the NYT: “Trump is weighing going to the F.B.I. headquarters in Washington on Friday as a show of his commitment to the bureau, an official said, though he is not expected to discuss the Russia investigation…”

Drudge’s warning: Constant leaks “will destroy Trump presidency”

At lunchtime Matt Drudge warned Trump: “Major house cleaning needed for survival.” He said leakers were sabotaging POTUS. On Wednesday night, Drudge doubled/tripled down: “Leaks on hour, every hour, will destroy Trump presidency. There’s a Trojan horse plotting within the inner circle!”

Conservative media echoing Trump’s talking points 

Oliver Darcy emails: On Wednesday evening most of the conservative news media was continuing to echo Trump’s talking points on the firing of Comey, zeroing in on Democrats who previously criticized the former FBI director but are now panicked by his removal from office. “DEMS IN MELTDOWN OVER COMEY FIRING,” roared the chyron on Fox News host Tucker Carlson‘s program.

“This whole Comey left-wing reaction thing is really ironic and pretty special considering the Democrats … have been blaming Comey for their loss for the last six months,” conservative firebrand Tomi Lahren said in a video posted on Facebook…

Save this quote for the history books…

Jesse Watters on Wednesday’s “The Five: “You can’t cover up a scandal that doesn’t exist. Where’s the scandal?”

Tucker says his rivals are “hyperventilating”

Via Mediaite: “I’m totally confused, why are the people on my TV set hyperventilating?” Tucker Carlson said Wednesday night… He claimed that “I don’t see any adults out there across the landscape of cable television, except maybe the ones I work with…”

BTW: Fox ranked third on Tuesday night

On Tuesday night, thanks in large part to Rachel Maddow, MSNBC “had a rare first-place finish in prime time among the younger demo that matters most to advertisers of news,” TVNewser’s Chris Ariens writes. “Fox News Channel still won total viewership. But Fox ended up in third place, behind CNN, among younger viewers…”

A week we will never forget?

Politico’s Eric Geller tweets: “We will look back on these past 24 hours as among the most consequential in our lives.” Do you think that’s true? Do you think your friends and neighbors agree? And if not, why not?

 –> Remember how all of this news is being perceived…

A timely new study from Pew: “Today, in the early days of the Trump administration, roughly nine-in-ten Democrats (89%) say news media criticism keeps leaders in line (sometimes called the news media’s “watchdog role”), while only about four-in-ten Republicans (42%) say the same. That is a 47-percentage-point gap.” Little more than a year ago, “nearly the same share of Democrats (74%) and Republicans (77%) supported the watchdog role…”

WHAT’S GOING ON INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS SHOP…

One thing was clear at Wednesday’s briefing: Reporters are deeply skeptical about the story Trump and his aides are telling about Comey. Some of what Sarah Huckabee Sanders said was nonsensical. For instance: Comey committed “atrocities.” Huh?

By the end of the day, the story had shifted several times. “The new statements completely contradict others made just a few hours ago,” Jake Tapper noted during his 11pm special report on CNN.

At one point Tapper asked: “How many times can they just lie? We’re on day 112 now. They give a reason, it’s a complete, like, lie, and the next day they have to give a complete other reason.”

Remember Occam’s Razor?

Hearing the administration’s convoluted and contradictory explanations of Comey’s firing, I’m reminded of Occam’s Razor, the principle that the simplest answer is most often the correct answer…

What’s next for Spicer?

There is fresh speculation about Sean Spicer’s future, Dylan Byers and Jim Acosta report:

“The perception, according to multiple sources inside and close to the White House, is that Spicer has been ‘benched’ during a critical week. And the big question, one source said, is whether it’s temporary or permanent.” Read more…

Correction of the day

“AMONG BUSHES,” NOT “IN THE BUSHES”

Jenna Johnson‘s WashPost story about Spicer “in the bushes” Tuesday night has been revised. Here’s the editor’s note:

“This story has been updated to more precisely describe White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s location late Tuesday night in the minutes before he briefed reporters. Spicer huddled with his staff among bushes near television sets on the White House grounds, not ‘in the bushes,’ as the story originally stated.”

Quote of the day
“The only way we are going to get the truth is if Republicans on Capitol Hill demand it…”

Hilary Rosen on CNN Wednesday night…

What do you think of this?

Bruce Bartlett‏ tweets: “Worth remembering — if Nixon had Fox/Sinclair RW media and vast wealth of Mercers supporting him he’d have survived Watergate easily.”

Speaking of Nixon…

I noticed John A. Farrell’s new biography, “Richard Nixon: The Life,” getting a lot of attention on Wednesday… It’s never too early for a programming note… so: Farrell is set to join me on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources…”

Slightly surreal…

Brian Lowry emails: In the “slightly surreal” dept, I spent a good part of my day monitoring cable news coverage out of the corner of one eye while screening the new season of “House of Cards.” The show returns to Netflix on May 30, with the review embargo lifting next week.

On THAT note, let’s turn to the other media news of the past 24 hours…

“THAT GENTLEMAN WAS NOT IN A PRESS CONFERENCE”

Tom Price commends officers who arrested reporter 

CNNMoney’s Chris Isidore writes:A West Virginia reporter was arrested at the state capitol Tuesday after he called out questions to Tom Price, President Trump’s health secretary. Dan Heyman, a reporter for Public News Service, said he was trying to get Price to comment about the congressional effort to repeal Obamacare.

 –> Price, asked about the incident at a press conference on Wednesday, commended the officers who arrested Heyman. “I want to commend the West Virginia Capitol Police,” Price said. “They did what they felt was appropriate.”

 –> This next comment from Price shocked some reporters who heard it: “That gentleman was not in a press conference. We were walking down a hall, and Capitol Police acted as they thought necessary.”

For the record, part one
 — Whoa: Robert Feder got ahold of what he said was a memo from Steve Harvey to his staffers… basically telling them to leave him alone… it’s a shocking memo, and Variety says his reps are not commenting on it…

 — AMC’s Joel Stillerman is Hulu’s new chief content officer… Check out Joe Adalian’s analysis here…

 — Facebook‘s latest news feed adjustments will downplay “low-quality” web pages… part of the company’s plan to show users “fewer misleading posts, and more informative posts…”

 — Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman emails: The Rock 2020? Caity Weaver at GQ has the details, and worked out with Dwayne Johnson to get them…

The costs of the Roger Ailes era keep rising

Roger Ailes resigned in the summer of 2016, but Fox News’s parent company 21st Century Fox spent another $10 million on settlements and legal costs in the first three months of 2017. A corporate filing on Wednesday said that the costs were “related to settlements of pending and potential litigations.” All told, including the most recent $10 million, the company has incurred costs of about $45 million relating to the sexual harassment scandal. That # doesn’t include the $40+ million parachute for Ailes… Here’s my full story…

Better news for Fox News…

On a brighter note… Lachlan Murdoch said on Wednesday’s earnings conference call that “Fox News has delivered its highest rated quarter ever,” and he expects that strength “to continue…”

Joe Marchese taking over ad sales for Fox Networks Group

The end of a long search… and the start of a new era for Fox… this appointment has ad execs buzzing:

Joe Marchese, who has worked within 21st Century Fox to develop new ways of pitching commercials in new distribution venues, including video on demand, will take on the role of president of advertising revenue for Fox Networks Group,” Variety’s Brian Steinberg reports. “In doing so, Marchese will supervise not only ad sales related to Fox Broadcasting, the company’s FX suite of cable networks, National Geographic and Fox Sports 1, but also advertising research and the development of new ad products. Marianne Gambelli, a former NBC ad-sales executive, will supervise ad-sales efforts for Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network…”

Chris Berman’s wife Kathy dies in car crash

Devastating news reported by ESPN on Wednesday morning: “Kathy Berman, the wife of longtime ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman, died Tuesday in a car accident in rural Connecticut. Berman, a teacher, was married to Chris for more than 33 years and had two children, Meredith and Douglas. She was 67.”
For the record, part two
 — Megyn Kelly will be at NBC’s upfront next Monday…

 — Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy is “very open” to hiring Bill O’Reilly…

 — NBCU is acquiring a “majority stake in Craftsy, an instruction website for cooking, baking, knitting and other hobbies, for an undisclosed price…

 — Time Inc. shares fell 14% Wednesday “after the company reported a steeper loss in the first-quarter loss and saw revenues shrink…

The entertainment desk

The TV upfronts are next week, but the announcements about new shows are this week

Sandra Gonzalez emails: A LOT of pre-upfronts news dropped on Wednesday, and I’m anticipating more tomorrow. Some highlights:

 — NBC is planning to air a live version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” next Easter…

 — Donald Glover will be doing an animated Deadpool series for FXX…

 — The CW is picking up a “Dynasty” reboot from the “Gossip Girl” team…

 — Fox is renewing “The Last Man on Earth” and “Gotham”

“Modern Family” renewed for two more years!

Brian Lowry emails: ABC’s two-year renewal of “Modern Family” follows CBS‘ similar deal for “The Big Bang Theory.” So why are the networks hanging on to these aging shows, especially as they (and their casts) get more expensive? Because hit sitcoms — and the benefits they still offer in helping to introduce new comedies — are in such short supply…

 >> Read Sandra’s full story about the renewal here…

Lowry reviews “King Arthur”

Brian Lowry emails: If box-office projections are to be believed, the summer movie season might have produced one of its bombs early: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” a misguided, messy take on the Camelot legend from director Guy Ritchie, which happens to count Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin among its producers…

Correction! 

In last night’s newsletter, hundreds of you tried to click through to Brian Lowry’s column about Netflix… but unfortunately I copy and pasted the wrong link… my apologies. HERE it is, for real this time — Lowry’s look at the “peak Netflix” period of premieres…
For the record, part three
 — Megan Thomas emails: Our nation may be in the midst of a constitutional crisis, and according to THR, so is Johnny Depp. Read: “Johnny Depp: A Star in Crisis and the Insane Story of His ‘Missing’ Millions”

 — Lisa France‘s latest: The Forbes Five list of the wealthiest hip hop artists has Sean “Diddy” Combs on top once again with an estimated net worth of $820 million. That’s a lot of Ciroc…

 — More from Lisa: Amy Schumer is apparently a big “Judge Judy” fan — and got to sit in for her during a set visit…

Reminder: “SNL” likely to get real “Spicey” this weekend

Frank Pallotta emails this note: Melissa McCarthy will host “SNL” this weekend, which is perfect timing for the return of her Sean Spicer character, especially in light of Tuesday night’s depiction of Spicer hiding in the bushes on the White House lawn. (Have fun, “SNL” set designers!)

 — Frank’s two cents: Now would be a great time to finally put McCarthy’s Spicer and Alec Baldwin‘s Trump in the same sketch together… 

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