CNN’s Jake Tapper On Malaysia Airlines 370, Portman 2016 and Scarborough 2016
CNN’s Jake Tapper joined me and today’s co-host Jamie Weinstein of the Daily Caller to discuss the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370, Senator Rob Portman’s and Joe Scarborough’s viability as 2016 candidates.
HH: If you’re just joining us, co-hosting with me today, Jamie Weinstein of the Daily Caller. Jamie will be filling in for me tomorrow when I go to see an advanced screening of Noah. And we are joined from Washington, D.C. by Jake Tapper, host of CNN’s The Lead. Hello, Jake.
JT: Hey, Hugh, how are you? Hey, Jamie.
JW: Hey, Jake, how are you?
HH: Now Jake as of tomorrow, you will be closer to 50 than you are to 40. How you feeling on your birthday eve?
JT: I was wondering if tonight was my last moment in the key demographic for television viewing. I think I have until 49, actually. But oh, I don’t know, after 40, it’s all creaks and moans. You know, I’m a pretty lucky guy.
HH: It’s your first time on the air when you are hosting The Lead on your birthday. Have you got a keen eye on your production staff, who I now know to be very sneaky about these things?
JT: They are sneaky. But I assume they won’t do anything on air. But one never knows. One never knows.
HH: All right, let’s get…
JT: They’re always up to no good, those meddling teenagers.
HH: I just proved to Jamie who’s out from D.C. under the classic of watch, do, teach, that you are my show prep. We were watching you earlier with your two experts on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370, and on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I began my show talking to Portman about that. But okay, putting everything aside, Jake Tapper, do you think this is terrorism?
JT: No, I guess I don’t, just because nobody has claimed responsibility for it, yet. And generally, that would be the case, although I know it has happened that there have been dry runs. But it just feels like somebody would have announced that they had something to do with it. And in general, when it comes to life, when given the choice between something happening because of just bad luck or incompetence versus evil, generally, it’s incompetence or bad luck.
HH: Now I’ll let Jamie take over after one more run at this myself. I have always believed as a lawyer that you must come up with an explanation that fits every fact in evidence. And thus far, all the facts in evidence do not fit with any, and you ran through them – Egyptian Air pilot, you ran through the one that happened…
HH: TWA, there is no other scenario I can hear any expert come up with that is other than someone seizes control of the airplane, turns off the transponders, turns it around and flies it toward an as-yet unknown target or an airstrip. So what is that explanation?
JT: Look, I mean, I agree that that makes sense. But then why hasn’t anybody said that they claimed responsibility for it? Why hasn’t there been an organization saying this horrific thing that terrifies you, well, we’re the ones responsible. I mean, that’s the whole point of terror.
HH: But that’s not yet in evidence. See, that’s when I go back, you have to fit all the evidence. That which has not happened is not evidence that it didn’t happen. And Jamie Weinstein, your turn.
JW: I mean, as we saw you on The Lead, and you were talking to your two guests, they seemed baffled. Have you talked to anybody who has come up with any interesting explanation that makes sense at all?
HH: I mean, everybody, nobody will go too far out on a ledge. I will say, Hugh, that we had the former director of security for Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on the show yesterday, and he agreed with your basic take that this doesn’t smell right, that there’s something going on here. But no, nobody has been definitive one way or the other, and you know, it’s just also so sad, because you know, you see these people who are just holding out hope that people who are related to those on the flight, holding out hope that maybe they landed on land somewhere, and maybe Vietnam is not a country where, that is open, and maybe they’re there. And it’s just sad.
JW: You remember in the 1970s or at least I’m sure you’ve read about it in the 1970s, there was a series of terrorists hijacking planes and landing them, and demanding hostages being released in return, the most famous one, of course, was probably Entebbe, the raid in 1976 after the flight was hijacked, taken to Uganda, and Israel had that miraculous operation, led of course by Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother, Yoni.
JW: …to rescue the hostages in Uganda. Is there any possibility that somehow they disabled the radar detection on the plane and land it somewhere, and we’re going to learn at some point that these passengers are being held hostage for demand of some terrorist release from who knows what country?
JT: I mean, anything’s possible. The fact that there has been, that the United States has this incredible technology that can discern explosions. And there has not been any sort of discernment of heat in the vicinity of the flight is, leads one to conclude that it did not explode in the air. But then you also have to consider that it wasn’t until today that we learned that the flight had gone completely in a different direction. And that’s one of the reasons they’d been expanding the search site.
HH: You know, one of the reasons Jamie pointed out to me earlier that maybe it’s not terrorism. They did not turn around and attack Kuala Lumpur, which has been a target in the past. And…
JT: Well, they also have those twin towers in Kuala Lumpur with a lot of people in those.
HH: Right. But I will say when CNN put up the picture, first time I saw it was on your show, Jake, of the two false passport people together, I did not know that they knew each other until I saw the picture up there. And I’m just not buying he was going to go see granny in Germany via Beijing. That just doesn’t make any sense. And they’re Iranian.
JT: Yeah, except you know, there are also counterterrorism experts who say that this is not, that suicide bombings and suicide flight incidents are not, it’s not the M.O. of Iranian terrorists. Iranian terrorists do other things. I mean, as you know, Shia and Sunni are very different, and Shia Muslims are the sworn enemy of al Qaeda in many ways, and use different techniques.
HH: No, what I’m getting at is Quds, the Quds force is better than anyone at international terrorism. They could take the plane somewhere. They would have the ability to train. They’re the best in the world at screwing with us. They blow up embassies in Argentina. They assassinate people in Europe. They’re the best. And so I just, I thought you did a good job of pressing them on this, but Jamie Weinstein, I think we’ve got to stay open to the fact Iran is Iran.
JW: It’s possible, and of course, Hezbollah had a recent attack in Thailand. I think it was a year or two ago. So I mean, Hezbollah has obviously some type of presence in the region. al Qaeda has a presence obviously in Malaysia. There was a big terrorism conference before 9/11 there with some al Qaeda leaders. I mean, I guess you have to be open to it, but I think what Jake is expressing, and what we’ve seen from other people, is that this is just completely baffling. No one really knows what happened. All the facts don’t seem to add up in any coherent way.
HH: Jake, in the newsroom, is this all that people want to talk about?
JT: Pretty much.
HH: I know you covered the CIA…
JT: No, I mean, the CIA also, you know, what happened with Dianne Feinstein today, and accusing the CIA of lying to, I’m sorry, of spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. That was something. But generally speaking, it’s, you know, inside every reporter and inside every radio host, too, is an amateur sleuth, and people trying to figure out what happened. I mean, there’s also, obviously you have the Egypt Air pilot precedent of somebody committing suicide, a pilot committing suicide. You also have in the 80s, there were incidents where people downed planes with missiles, countries. Russia did one, and I think the U.S. did another. Also, you know, that’s an area that China is very aggressive militarily. What if something happened with a Chinese fighter jet. You know, anything right now is possible. Nobody is ruling anything out, because there’s no evidence proving demonstrably one thing or another. I do agree with your basic premise, though, Hugh. It is fishy, it is weird for the flight to have flown that way, the transponder’s turned off, then it flies completely in the other direction. That would seem to indicate something, obviously there is a human decision being made there. But what? What was the human decision?
HH: Well, the one thing you brought up, you brought up Payne Stewart, the loss of the Gulfstream. I believe he was flying a Gulfstream when they lost air compression. Everyone was unconscious and it flew on until it crashed. And I remember that very, very vividly. But I thought your expert came up with the best answer to that, which is they’re trained for that, it’s not one pilot, there are redundancies, there was no…so it’s just remarkable. If I can, Jake, I want to switch up and go to that second story you covered today. Jamie and I started the program with United States Senator Rob Portman from Ohio, and I asked him about the CIA surveillance, and he said look, I don’t know, yet, but if they did that, there’s going to be hell to pay, basically. But then I asked him, and Jamie did as well, are you taking yourself out of the presidential campaign, because he’s not on anyone’s short list. He didn’t say no. Around CNN, does anyone ever talk about Rob Portman, who’s had more preparation experience to debate for president than anyone else in the world? Does that ever show up on anyone’s short list?
JT: I’ve heard him discussed on lists of individuals who maybe would run. And certainly on paper, he comes from a very important battleground state. He has tremendous governing credibility. I know Senator Portman fairly well. I’ve known him since he was a member of the House. And he’s also, you know, an eminently decent person. But I think there, that you have to have a lot of money behind you. You have to have a certain pitch and credibility. And right now, what would the Portman pitch be?
JW: Experience, perhaps? I mean, there might be seen a lack of experience in the field with some of the very young senators running. He has, you know, besides being a senator, he worked at OMB, was a trade representative. Isn’t that a possible pitch that he could make that he has a kind of a resume that might be suitable for president of the United States?
JT: Yeah, but I mean, that might play with you and me, but you know, I think that first of all, being a creature of Washington is something he would be portrayed as. OMB, you know, Bush, worked the House, the Senate, people tend to paint those in Washington as part of the problem. One of the reasons Obama was able to beat Hillary Clinton was because he’d only been in Washington for a short time as opposed to decades. Look, I don’t want to be the one making the argument against Rob Portman. I think he’s a great guy, and if he wants to run for president, he should throw his hat into the ring. I agree. He’s one of those people who…
HH: Yeah, he just didn’t say no to us, and so my argument for him in a Republican Party exhausted by controversy, hyper sensitive to anyone who may make a misstatement or a mistake, someone who’s acceptable to all sides and whose character is beyond reproach. And as Jamie pointed out, budget ability, he’s a Reaganaut on Defense. He’s one of those guys, he’s sort of like Tim Pawlenty 2016. And if Pawlenty had hung around longer, Jake Tapper, don’t you think he would have been in the mix at the end?
JT: You know, it’s funny. I remember talking with George Will. He and I were very bullish on Pawlenty at one point obviously before the Iowa Straw Poll. At the end of the day, Pawlenty saw his supporters, the people who supported him and wanted to raise money for him in his campaign, they went away. It wasn’t just Michele Bachmann. It was the idea that like I’m not going to be able to do this in a credible way. People are not going to give me money, people are not going to raise money for me. And that’s part of it. You know the other thing we haven’t talked about when it comes to Rob Portman is his support for same sex marriage, which while not a problem probably with a lot of younger Republican voters, would be used against him in a major way. He’ll probably have a candidate running against him when he runs for reelection in the primary.
HH: Oh, I don’t think so. You know, I know Ohio pretty well. If they do, they’ll get 8%. And I actually don’t think…
JT: Oh, no, of course, of course. But I mean, there is a part of Ohio, you remember 2004 in the referendum on the ballot there against same sex marriage, there is an active group that will come out and vote against that.
HH: Oh, I think there will be a lot of people who are decidedly pro-traditional marriage, and I am among them, who will simply not think it an issue of significance in the presidential election when it comes to winning. But I go back to this. Dan Balz is probably the guy to ask this, but Jake, you cover this as well. Everyone always fights the last war. Reince Priebus has change the rules dramatically. He’s changed the rules to compress the schedule, to make it 8 debates and not 28 debates, to not have to, no one’s going to do Iowa seriously. No one’s going to do that crazy caucus thing that they did out at the fairgrounds that Michele Bachmann won. Nobody’s going to, it’s a completely different presidential primary. Jamie, you’re nodding, you know what I’m getting at. It’s going to be open for completely non-traditional candidates. And so Jamie…
JW: Yeah, I mean, I think this is, you saw CPAC’s straw poll. I don’t think anyone takes the CPAC straw poll that seriously anymore. I mean, the Pauls won, I think either Rand or Ron, four of the last five or six or seven, but Ron Paul won zero primary states other than U.S. Virgin Islands. So I do think the primary, well, I mean, what do you think, Jake? Do you think that a lot of these old indicators are no longer relevant today? I mean, do people take the CPAC straw poll seriously? Do they take the Ames poll, which Bachmann won, seriously?
HH: That’s what I was trying to say, yes, but I’m 58, I’m older than Jake by a lot, so I forget names. Go ahead, Jake.
JT: Well, things change. I mean, and who knows if Priebus’ plan will work. I think that there is, I think first of all, it is a wide open field, and there is no one, literally no one I would discount. So I’m not discounting Portman, I’m not discounting Governor Perry of Texas. I’m certainly not dismissing Chris Christie. I think absolutely Chris Christie has an argument to make. I’m not dismissing Rand Paul. I think it’s a wide open field for the first time in a long, long time for the Republican Party.
JW: What about Joe Scarborough 2016?
HH: Yeah, Jamie just asked you, what about Joe Scarborough ’16, Jake?
JT: That, I would dismiss.
HH: (laughing) Last question, I’m 58, you’re turning 45 tomorrow. I want to remind everyone Jake Tapper’s birthday tomorrow.
JT: Thanks, Hugh.
HH: …which also happen to be my daughter’s birthday, so you picked a great day on which to be born, or she did, Jake. And then Jamie…
JT: I did it in her honor.
HH: Well, so I’m 58, you’re 45, Jamie’s 30. What’s interesting is age just doesn’t matter much in journalism anymore, I think. I think that it’s actually, I mean, this is not the world you even came into, Jake Tapper. When you started, the idea of an anchor on a national show at the age of 45, I think, was unheard of, wasn’t it?
JT: Well, I don’t know about that, but I do think that just as the media world has broadened and there have become so many more outlets, there have become, there have been so many more opportunities for people of different ages. And it is a true meritocracy. And whether it’s Jamie or you look at somebody like Ezra Klein or somebody like Sam Stein, or there are so many opportunities that it’s really just based on the work. It’s not based on the, you have to come to the Washington Post and work on the copy desk, and then you have to move out to Fairfax, Virginia and work on the local paper for ten years, for the local edition, and then finally you’ll get your shot, and then maybe when you’re 65, you’ll be a name. It’s just a totally different world. But if you look at who anchors the evening news shows for the networks, there’s still some traditional sense of age being important, I think.
JW: Let me ask you one question on this marathon in the Senate talking about global warming, the Democrats there. Has there ever been, I mean, everyone demonizes the Koch Brothers and their funding of certain conservative groups. But has there ever been something so transparent where so many members of a certain party did something to appease a Democratic donor, in this case, Tom Steyer, who announced he’s putting $100 million dollar fund together to support global warming? I mean, this seems to be just a transparent stunt in order to cozy up to a donor.
JT: You know, what I’ve heard about the Steyer thing, and I admit, I’m not as read into it as others, what I heard about the Steyer thing is that he was part of the, you know, he’s obviously, he obviously wants to bring global warming to the forefront and of climate change and talk more about it. And whether it’s TV or members of Congress, he wants to be part of that. I don’t know more about the all-nighter stunt than that. I mean, I don’t know, he didn’t say he would have fundraisers for Democrats if they did, right? There wasn’t a quid pro quo. He was just part of the brainstorming about bringing attention to this particular issue.
JW: I think…I think he Tweeted after it was done that those who participated, I’m going to make it rain for them.
HH: All right, on the last and important question, Jake…
HH: You’re from Philadelphia. The Sixers are closing in on the Cleveland Cavaliers futility record when it comes to NBA terribleness. Are you still a 76ers fan?
JT: (laughing) I will always be a 76ers fan. And part of being a Philadelphia fan is the tough years, because quite often, we have more tough years than we have wonderful years. But somebody just asked me about the Sixers today, like as if I’m responsible.
HH: You are. Well, the Cavaliers lost 26 in a row. I’m rooting for them, man.
JT: There will be another day that they shine.
HH: Jake Tapper, happy birthday, and I hope that the Sixers don’t give you a birthday present. I want them to replace the Cavaliers as the all-time worst basketball team ever. Thank you, Jake Tapper.
End of interview.