HH: I open the program with Jake Tapper, who hosts CNN’s The Lead every afternoon. Jake, I hope you are not snowbound on your commute back from CNN this afternoon.
JT: I will be, no doubt, but nothing that will be as bad as what I experienced in Trenton yesterday. I don’t know if you had a chance to see the show, but we went to Trenton for the Christie inaugural, and we ended up doing the show outside, and it was something of a blizzard. It was like the ice planet, Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back.
HH: I didn’t see it, because I was traveling yesterday, but I’m glad you got back to D.C. Before I get to the serious stuff, two quick, fun questions. Broncos-Seahawks, Jake Tapper?
JT: I’m rooting for the Seahawks. I’m rooting for the Seahawks. I’ve seen the Broncos be too good for too long. I’d like to see them taken down.
HH: All right, good enough. Best picture?
JT: Ooh, you know, I haven’t seen any of them except for Philomena, because we did a segment on it. and I haven’t seen them, so I mean, I can predict who will probably win.
HH: Don’t you go to movies?
JT: I have a four year old and a six year old, Hugh. I don’t get to see movies until they’re on pay-per-view at home.
HH: Well, why wouldn’t you take them with you to the Wolf On Wall Street?
JT: (laughing) First of all, my four year old boy is already something of a wolf. I don’t need to be injecting any ideas into his head about what comes next.
JT: But I would guess just based on the Academy that I would guess 12 Years A Slave will win.
HH: All right, now the serious story. The Afghanistan lead in the New York Times this morning, either we’re going to leave 10,000 troops there or none at all, according to the report. Now you, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Dexter Filkins, Alex Berenson, those are just four of the reporters who’ve actually reported on Afghanistan from the front lines.
HH: So what is your reaction to reading, and the story is pretty important, and it’s by Jackie Calmes and Eric Schmitt. What’s your reaction to the 10,000 or none option facing the President?
JT: It’s upsetting. I mean, I know one of the big problems is the inability to negotiate with Karzai, who has proved himself to be unreliable and feckless, and probably the best that we’ll ever get there in terms of an ally, but just a very difficult person to negotiate with. I never thought it would come down to 10,000 or zero. I kind of always thought it would land somewhere in the 4,000 range with a counterterrorist team, and you know, and the support personnel. And then just for geopolitical reasons beyond Afghanistan, it’s not a bad idea, it could be argued, given Afghanistan’s neighbors, namely Pakistan, Iran, China, that you know, it’s not a bad idea to have some sort of U.S. presence in that neck of the woods. Ultimately, you know, I never believe anything is final in Afghanistan until it actually is, but…and I can’t believe that the Afghan government at the end of the day will just have zero. I just don’t think that that’s in their interest, either, because my understanding is that the Afghan troops, and even more so, the Afghan support troops, are just not where they need to be.
HH: You’re very close with the families that you covered in The Outpost…
HH: And you continue to follow the story of the men of Combat Outpost Keating, and those who supported them. What do you think their reaction will be if we simply bug out?
JT: You know, they’re all over the map. I am close with a lot of them, still, and I’m friends with, Facebook friends with hundreds of them, and I see their reactions. And they are all over the map. I think the withdraw of troops completely from Afghanistan would be of less concern than if there was a complete withdrawal and then the Taliban just recaptured the country. I think that would be, that would be very, very upsetting to a lot of families and a lot of troops and veterans who severed.
HH: I look forward to the, seeing on The Lead your stories with these guys, because I just think they’re the ones whose reaction to the zero option ought to be heard. Second big story, you were covering Chris Christie yesterday. E.J. Dionne was on with me to talk about the same thing. But he asked the question why didn’t Chris Christie investigate more what happened on the bridge, and so I asked him well, what about Hillary? Why didn’t she investigate more about Benghazi? And he said yeah, okay, game, set, match, he walked into it. What do you think? Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton, both frontrunners, both dogged by what they did know and when did they know it stories. Are they getting the same level of MSM scrutiny on their major scandal stories?
JT: When…MSM or MSN?
HH: MSM, mainstream media, Manhattan-Beltway media elites, yeah.
JT: I thought you were referring to a specific channel.
HH: No, no.
JT: Are they getting the same degree of scrutiny? No, of course not, but I think Benghazi was…
HH: Explain what you mean. Who’s getting more?
JT: Well obviously, Christie is getting a lot more attention when it comes to Bridgegate than Hillary got when it came to Benghazi. I think that there are complicated reasons for it. I don’t know that Benghazi, pardon me, I don’t know that Benghazi got less coverage in aggregate than Bridgegate got. You know, I think Benghazi was in a lot of ways, that was covered, well, I just know like when I was covering Benghazi right after it happened, it was almost more like a White House story than it was a State Department story, because the White House took control of it, Hillary Clinton didn’t go out on the Sunday shows, Susan Rice did, obviously. And then the story turned to, and I did a lot of my coverage in 2012, September and October about the State Department not meeting security requests, and that was, it was not focused, per se, on Hillary Clinton as much as it was to the State Department not fulfilling those requests.
HH: But we don’t know what she did that night, do we, Jake Tapper? And no one bothers her about it. She’s been allowed to walk away whereas Christie’s dump trucked a bunch of subpoenas two weeks later.
JT: Hillary Clinton, I do not know what she did that night. I do think that, you know, she was, look, I don’t, I’m not trying to make excuses for anybody. I’m just trying to look at the perspective of Christie is an incumbent governor. He has an adversarial Democratic legislature. They are launching subpoenas. Christie, it’s also the nature of Christie to go out there and give a two-hour plus press conference and answer all those questions, although he has laid low since then. But still, that was one of the longest press conferences in modern American politics. Hillary Clinton was on her way out, and you know, I can’t tackle her. I haven’t had a chance to interview her since Benghazi happened. I don’t even know, has she done interviews? I think she did some interviews on her way out.
HH: It’s a pretty stark contrast, isn’t it, between Christie’s two hour longest day press conference and Hillary hiding?
JT: So a big contrast between Christie’s press conference and most politicians in scandals, but certainly, of course what you’ve said is right. I mean, most politicians don’t then go out there and give two hour press conferences. John McCain did like a 90 minute one after Keating Five.
JT: And Gerry Ferraro did a 90 minute one when her finances were under question when she was the VP nominee in ’84. But generally speaking, you don’t get that. No, I mean, I would, you know, I would like to, there are lots of questions that I would like to ask both Christie and Hillary, but especially Hillary. You’re right. I mean, the things is, that I think is a mistake for the Hillary people, and to a lesser extent, the Christie people, because I’m sure he will soon do an interview, but for the Hillary people is, the issue isn’t going away. I’m sure she has explanations. I’m sure she has answers to questions. Why not give them if you intend on possibly seeking office someday? That’s…
HH: Well, and Jake, just to plant a question, why didn’t you call back Gregory Hicks after you talked to him at 2am later when the Ambassador’s dead and the Embassy’s overrun, or the annex is overrun.
JT: Hugh, if you have an interview, if you have to set up an interview between me and Secretary Clinton, that is very exciting news for me.
HH: I think that that would be very important for her to do. Let me go to the last subject. Yesterday, E.J. Dionne and I talked about this. What was your position on legalization of dope in Colorado?
JT: I don’t take positions on issues.
HH: What do you think is the result, is that a good result for the country, do you think?
JT: Hugh, I don’t take positions on these things. I cover them. I don’t say it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, it just happened.
HH: Well, the reason I asked, I asked E.J. yesterday if he would be worried about a reporter covering a story who had had a drink or two before it, and you know the great tradition of covering events when some of the reportorial corps have been to dinner beforehand. And it’s not the same thing with dope. Would you be less worried or more worried about a reporter who was stoned or a reporter who had a couple of drinks?
JT: To cover a story right at that very moment?
JT: I think the person who had had a couple of drinks, depending on his or her tolerance, would probably not have as difficult a time comprehending a story as a reporter who was stoned.
HH: I agree, and isn’t that the whole debate? Isn’t that why dope is worse than alcohol?
JT: Well, I don’t know about worse. I mean, there are different ways that you can, I mean, alcohol, I actually did a chemistry paper about this when I was in college. I think alcohol, actually, can, it can be argued that you have a propensity for violence when you’re drunk.
HH: Jake, if we had more time, you may have just won the nerd award. You did a chemistry paper on this?
JT: I have to admit, I got a C, so it’s not like my claim to fame.
HH: That’s the lead on my…you better talk about that tomorrow on the show. People aren’t going to forgive that. Jake Tapper, always a pleasure from CNN’s The Lead.
End of interview.