CNN’s Jake Tapper on VA Scandal and Other Obama Administration Scandals
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Jake Tapper joined me in the first hour to discuss his interview of the White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough this afternoon. I pressed Jake on questions not asked even though he was as tough on the Obama point man as anyone in the MSM has been:
HH: As you just heard me talking about with Mark Steyn, the interview that Jake Tapper did earlier today on CNN’s The Lead with White House Chief of Staff McDonough is burning up the internet. Jake Tapper joins me now. Jake, congratulations, great interview, and I’m sure you know it’s generating quite a lot of comment.
JT: I hope so. That’s always good to have, as long as people are saying the right things, I’ll take that.
HH: Well, that brings me to my ‘what have you done for me lately’ commentary.
HH: The…two comments on the interview. First of all, when McDonough said this, I can’t believe you didn’t come out of your chair. Here’s what McDonough said to Jake Tapper less than an hour ago.
DM: Rick Shinseki, look, the fact of these deaths is an outrage to the President. He’s made that clear. You heard what General Shinseki had to say today. He’s mad as hell about this. Nobody’s more mad than the President, and I have the scars to show it given his reactions to this as he and I have talked about it.
HH: Now Jake Tapper, did you really, did it cross your mind to call him on using of the term scars in the connection with wounded veterans?
JT: No. I had, no. It didn’t occur to me until he just said it. But to be honest, I mean, you have so much time with individuals like this, and I really wanted to get to some of the substantive questions I had about warnings and incidents, and you know, the fact that the director of the VA hospital in Pittsburgh, there’s so little accountability in the VA, that even after an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in the Pittsburgh VA hospital, that director was given a perfect performance review. It didn’t even mention the outbreak, and then the regional director given a bonus. And there were other more substantive questions. And obviously, he was speaking figuratively, and yeah, it’s…I was gearing up for something else.
HH: I’m astonished. It’s so tin-eared, that I’m astonished. But I know your heart’s in the right place because of the Outpost. And I know you’ve been covering not only the Phoenix scandal at the VA, but the Austin scandal at the VA, and you just mentioned another one, the Fort Collins, Colorado, it’s all over the place. So when you asked him how many dead veterans do you need, had you preplanned that? Or was that spontaneous?
JT: No. No, I mean, I was, you know, he had his talking points, and he had things he wanted to say, which is expected, that’s why politicians come on shows, and there’s a message they want to deliver. But I was getting frustrated, because you know, those of us who follow these issues, I mean, it’s not new the idea that there are problems in the VA system. And look, let me also just say, and I think I’ve said this on your show before, my mom used to work for the VA hospital in Philadelphia.
JT: I know the system is full of hard-working individuals with the best of intentions, and provide quality care in a lot of instances. But there’s obviously some serious management problem. And so no, I didn’t have that planned at all. I just was frustrated, because you know, after a certain point, you become, you realize it’s great that Shinseki has made the accomplishments he has, and there’s been a reduction in backlog, and the other things that have been accomplished, and I don’t doubt that General Shinseki is somebody who wants to help veterans. But at a certain point, if there’s accountability, you have to say well, there are dead veterans as a result of problems in the VA, problems that individuals responsible are not only not punished for, but in some instances, they’re rewarded regardless. And no, it was probably, you know, these issues sometimes get a little bit emotional for me because I’ve spent so much time with veterans and with gold star families, and maybe that was, I was getting a little…
HH: It’s a fine question. I am now going to take that question and paraphrase it to you, though. You asked the White House Chief of Staff how many dead veterans do you need. I want to ask you, Jake Tapper, after Shinseki and the VA, the IRS and Lois Lerner, Benghazi and the Rhodes memo, Jay Carney telling Jon Karl the Rhodes memo wasn’t about Benghazi, Eric Holder in contempt over Fast & Furious, DOJ spying on journalists, the NSA failure to see Snowden walking out of the building with all of our secrets, after all of that, how many scandals does CNN need to call this a corrupt and failed administration?
JT: I mean, you’ve just listed a whole bunch of different events and activities and scandals and controversies and the like that I don’t think are all comparable. I mean, I don’t think you can compare the Veterans’ Hospital scandal in Phoenix, for example, with what Jay Carney did with the Rhodes memo.
HH: How about the failure to protect the Benghazi embassy, though? Americans died there as well. And when you talk about the Austin VA scandal, that’s a question of performance failures being rewarded, and it looks like Eric Holder is still the Attorney General, and he’s clearly the least accomplished, most failed attorney general in my lifetime. So yeah, there are a lot of different issues…
JT: I mean, Hugh, I know you do this, but I’m a straight news reporter, and you’re offering an editorial opinion. And that’s not my job. I don’t…
HH: Okay, then let me ask it as a straight news reporter.
JT: …It’s not a fact to say this is, you know, whatever the term was that you said…
HH: A failed and corrupt administration. That’s not fact?
JT: It’s an opinion.
HH: All right, okay, it is my opinion. Let me ask you this. It’s a straight news question. Do you think CNN will carry the Gowdy Committee hearings if not gavel to gavel, at least 50% of the time they are in session?
JT: I have no idea.
HH: What would your recommendation to management be?
JT: I’d have to see how serious they’re going to be. I mean, I’d have to see how serious, I mean, we tend not to cover hearings, any hearings, gavel to gavel, any hearings. I mean, there is a channel that does that, that is also on the cable dial. I doubt any channel is going to cover, I don’t think Fox News is going to cover the Gowdy hearings gavel to gavel. I really don’t. That doesn’t mean that CNN or Fox or whoever is not going to cover them. I think that there’s a question about, first of all, how, we don’t even know if Democrats are going to be on this committee, first of all. Second of all, I don’t know, and I had Trey Gowdy on the show a week ago, Congressman Gowdy, I don’t know how serious and thorough these hearings are going to be. They might be perfectly serious and reasonable, and should merit a lot of coverage, or they might not. I don’t know.
HH: You know, I heard you talking to General Ham earlier today, and you got the real question. You posed it and I hope the committee, and I’ve been told by Mike Pompeo and others on the committee they will pose it, which is if you look at Boko Haram, and you look at the Somali courts of justice, and you look at the Benghazi-al Qaeda affiliate, and you look at the Algerian insurgents, you look at the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists in Egypt, that those, not all of them, but those who have taken up weapons, you look everywhere across Africa, Islamism, the violent variety, is on the rise. This committee’s going to look at one expression of that. How, you were talking to Ham about that. Isn’t that, whether or not Democrats choose to participate, what in the world does that have to do with the newsworthiness of what they look into?
JT: Well, I mean, first of all, I think that you’re right that Africa is a huge story, and the rise of Islamist extremism there is a huge story. I completely agree with you. The question you’re referring to, we had General Ham on, the former chairman of AFRICOMM, the African Command, during Benghazi, as you note, and we were talking about Nigeria. And I asked, I noted what a soldier friend of mine says, which is he’d kill Boko Haram in a second, but he just doesn’t see any national security interest there. Carter Ham basically said he thinks that there is on. I mean, he didn’t come out and say that, but…
HH: He did. Yeah, it was close.
JT: He didn’t say I think there is one, but he gave a paragraph explanation as to why there is one.
HH: And I think that is, that was a great question, and I hope that is the predicate for CNN taking these hearings seriously. I’ll ask Mike Pompeo about that next hour. Jake Tapper, great interview today. Thanks for coming on to talk about it.
End of interview.