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Jake Tapper Analyzes The White House Spin On Benghazi

Friday, May 2, 2014

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HH: Joined now by Jake Tapper of CNN. Jake, you’ve heard the old phrase “it’s easy as riding a bike, right?

JT: (laughing) I will never say that phrase again.

HH: Well, what happened today down on Bush ranch?

JT: Well, you know, he has this, this is the 4th annual W. 100k. It’s an event he has. It’s a three day, one hundred kilometer mountain bike ride with wounded warriors. And you know, it’s, I’m told it’s nothing out of the ordinary. When people do this ride for the first time, they quite often fall off their bikes. It’s a very rigorous course. And I was at this part I was riding, we did 12 miles today, and I had just gotten through what I thought was the worst part of the course, was this really rocky terrain called Waterfall Ridge. And I got to this steep hill, and I was going down, and I tried to just slow down, but by putting on the brakes, and I ended up flying off the bike. And apparently, it’s the same spot where former Bush aide Mark McKinnon dislocated his shoulder a few years ago. That’s what he told me.

HH: Yeah, I’ve had some friends suffer, actually, very serious injuries going over their handlebars, so you’re lucky, but a little bruised and battered?

JT: I don’t know, I’m fine. My thumb got bloodied, but you know, I was riding bikes with wounded warriors.

HH: I know, you can’t really complain about anything, can you?

JT: No. No, not at all. The bike is ruined, so I guess we’re not getting the deposit back.

HH: (laughing) Well, congratulations.

JT: But you know, it’s made me, you know, I already was in awe of these warriors riding these bikes in this incredible condition, and now I am more in awe of them.

HH: Well, what about Bush? How’d he do?

JT: He always leads the pack. He designed these trails. I think he cleared some of them. You know, he’s 67, he’s in good shape, and he’s a good mountain biker.

HH: And it’s home track advantage. Here’s, you made some news today when you sat down with Former President Bush. Let me play the clip that’s getting the most attention across the United States, cut number 11:

GWB: You know, I hope Jeb runs. I think he would be a great president. I have no clue what’s on his mind, and we will talk when he’s ready. I notice he’s moving around the country quite a bit…

JT: Doing well in polls.

GWB: Yeah, that’s fine. It don’t mean anything for him. I can guarantee he’s not looking at a poll to decide whether or not he wants to run. It’s an internal, he’s checking his core. And as he said publicly, I’m thinking about my family. And of course, he knows full well what a run for the presidency can do on family. After all, he’s seen his dad and his brother run for president. I hope he runs. He’s been an effective chief executive of a big state, he’s, I’m confident he can reach out to people that may at this point feel like the Republican Party doesn’t listen to them. I’m also pretty confident he won’t be making any definitive decision until after the 2014 elections, probably right about this time next year, I would guess. So hey, Jeb, if you need some advice, give me a call.

HH: Now Jake Tapper, I’ve interviewed the President once in retirement. There weren’t any conditions. There was one statement made before I began, which is you can ask about President Obama. He won’t answer it. Did you have the same understanding?

JT: Yeah, I mean, look. First of all, I mean, I came out here, I was invited because I had reached out to the Bush team to talk about veterans issues. I had heard a speech he gave in February in which he was talking about post-traumatic stress, and I reached out and said I’d love to cover some of these issues. I do it in my show as much as I can, and if the President ever wants to talk about it, I’d love to. So they invited me a couple of weeks ago to come out for this ride and do it. The premise was he really wants to talk about veterans issues, and that was not a problem for me. That’s what I wanted to talk to him about anyway. They said the same thing. You can ask anything you want. I doubt that he’ll answer any questions about anything other than this. But he did. He answered a few questions about Jeb and about Ukraine, and about Donald Sterling, the L.A. Clippers owner, which I asked because as you know, Bush is a former owner of the Texas Rangers, and I thought he might have some thoughts about being an owner and weighing in on what another owner does.

HH: Yeah, I saw that. The professional baseball stuff was interesting. You didn’t bring up the Phillies to him, because you were talking professional baseball.

JT: (laughing) Always with the shots there. Always with the shots.

HH: There was a story today that my alma mater, Harvard, and a bunch of others are under investigation for the handling of allegations of sexual assault. Your alma mater, Dartmouth, has a president who’s calling for the end of all sorts of high risk behaviors at his campus. Have you covered this at all? Are you going to go up to Dartmouth, the little college on the hill, and find out what’s going on up there?

JT: You know, we’ve been talking about how to cover this story. I don’t have any plans to go to Dartmouth to cover it. It’s such a horrible and horrifying story, and I don’t really know how to do it in a way that is new and interesting at all. I don’t have plans. The idea that these schools have been falsifying sexual assault records on their campuses is very upsetting. I have to say that there have been, and I’m a very proud Dartmouth alum, as you know, and when I hear about things that go on at Dartmouth’s campus that are hideous in terms of sexual assault or rape of women, it really, it offends me. I don’t think it’s necessarily any worse at Dartmouth than it is on any other college campus.

HH: Now I have the same reaction about Harvard. I just don’t have a traveling show.

JT: Yeah.

HH: I think it would go there, though, and sit down with people if I did. Just a thought. Now I want to go to the White House. When did you first sit down in the White House Press Room?

JT: The first time I sat down in the room was, just coincidentally, I was filling in for Martha Raddatz, who was, of course, White House Correspondent at the time. And it was the last impromptu press conference that then-President George W. Bush gave. So it was sometime in November, December, 2008, I think. That was the first time like I covered it knowing that I was the White House Correspondent, because I had just been named. I was going to be Obama’s White House Correspondent.

HH: Okay, so you had Dana Perino, Robert Gibbs and Jay Carney on your beat, but you never had Tony Snow, Scott McClellan, Ari Fleischer?

JT: I mean, I dealt with Fleischer and McClellan, but I was not a White House Correspondent. I dealt with Fleischer and McClellan on the Bush campaign in 2000, and I dealt with them as a reporter who occasionally covered the White House, although I was seldom in the briefing room. The one time I interacted with Snow, I filled in, it was like, I think I was filling in for Terry Moran, and there was a press conference, and I complained to Snow, because the President didn’t call on me, and he called on every other network. I was filling in on ABC. But I didn’t really have, I didn’t have much dealings with him. I have a lot more dealings with Fleischer, Perino, McClellan, and then Gibbs and Carney.

HH: Here’s the list – Ziegler, terHorst, Nessen, Powell, James Brady, Larry Speakes, Marlin Fitzwater, Dee Dee Myers, George Stephanopoulos, Mike McCurry, Joe Lockhart, Jake Siewert, Ari Fleischer, Scott McClellan, Tony Snow, Dana Perino, Robert Gibbs, Jay Carney. Until today, in fact, the last week, I was pretty certain Scott McClellan was the worst press secretary on the list. I think Jay Carney has now hit the bottom. What do you make of the last two days?

JT: I mean, it’s, look, I’m a reporter, and what I do is the opposite of what press secretaries do, quite often. Their job is to paint somebody in the most flattering light, regardless of what the truth is. And my job is to head right for the truth. And you know, I think that to me, what bothers me most about these Benghazi emails, and the newly released one, is that they should have been released a year ago when the White House did that document, when they released a hundred pages of them.

HH: Jake, hold that though. I’ll be right back. One more segment with Jake Tapper down in Texas talking about his trip to the Bush ranch today, his interview with Former President Bush, and he’s now the star of Politico Magazine. I have to give him a hard time about that, too.

— – – –

HH: Jake, when we went to break, we were talking about Jay Carney. And I mean, he’s just, if I was a Doonesbury guy, I could have pulled up the Liar, Liar, Liar Doonesbury clip today, and point it out. He’s just lying, and it’s horrible.

JT: They have an interpretation of events that does not fit with what I think happened. But you know, calling somebody a liar is, it’s, that’s not normally the kind of language I use, but I think that the comments that are being made are dissembling, obfuscating, and often insulting. So I mean, I don’t disagree with those who don’t care for what’s going on at the press conferences. I think that you know, when it comes to these emails, look, one of the documents in the emails that was just released was a story that I wrote for ABCNews.com, and I did on the air as well in September of 2012 saying that there were people in the administration who didn’t understand and questioned when the White House was so aggressively blaming the Benghazi attacks on the video. Now what the people in the White House were circulating this article were saying was redacted, so I don’t know why they were emailing it around. But that’s been my position, my judgment, the information I had from close to the very beginning of this affair, is that intelligence and diplomatic officials on the ground did not understand why the White House was so aggressively leaning into the idea that this was all because of a video, and it was a spontaneous attack by demonstrators and not a terrorist attack that was planned.

HH: Jake, I’ve had Jonathan Allen on for three hours talking about his book, HRC that he co-wrote with Amie Parnes. I had him back yesterday. And I’m trying to read everything, because I want to be fair. And I don’t use the word liar either unless I think someone’s lying through their teeth, in which case I think I’m obliged to be blunt. And you have a different job. I have a job. But I wonder if you will agree with me. There is a cover-up underway. They are covering up what happened that night, who knew what, why, I don’t know, but there is a cover-up underway. Would you agree with that?

JT: I don’t have enough information to say that there is a cover-up. They clearly said in the heat of a political campaign that this was the fault of a video and not a terrorist attack. That is a fact. Another fact is that in this heated campaign, one of the reasons, one of the arguments President Obama was making was that he was strong on terror, he had killed bin Laden, you know, under his command, bin Laden had been killed and it was a gutsy call to do so, and that al Qaeda was on the run, and that this undermined that argument. That’s just a fact. I’m not, you know, nobody in the White House, there was no email that I know of saying oh, this undermined, you know, if this gets out, then it will undermine the whole argument. But it’s just the fact that we all know. And the third fact is that diplomatic and intelligence officials early on were saying that they didn’t understand why anybody was suggesting that this was definitively a spontaneous protest and not a preplanned terrorist attack. And it was just a few weeks later that the secretary of Defense, Panetta, disputed it and said that wasn’t their judgment. They thought it was a terrorist attack. So you have those facts. And what’s the conclusion? Well, you can speculate, and I don’t think it’s out of bounds to think that they leaned heavily into something that was A) the cause for unrest in other locations like Cairo, and B) something that fit their worldview and their campaign argument.

HH: But do we know what…

JT: But I don’t, a cover-up is, to me, a cover-up is Watergate.

HH: Yeah, that’s what it is. I’m beginning to think that when we don’t know what Hillary did that night, and we don’t know what the President did that night, and we get emails released that should have been released a year ago because of an oversight on a FOIA, it begins to look like a very well-organized attempt to dissemble and other ways mislead the American public. And we’ve got 30 seconds. Do you think the Beltway journalists are going to go after…by the way, congratulations on your Politico profile today. You’re like number one Beltway journalist. Are you going after this story?

JT: We did Benghazi today on my show, and we’re not going to stop, because as you know, I’ve been covering it since September of 2012.

HH: Yup.

JT: …since it happened. There’s a lot that we still don’t know. I think it was a big mistake, whoever made the decision not to release the emails that were released this week, not to release them a week ago.

HH: Amen to that, Jake.

JT: And I don’t understand why they weren’t.

HH: We’re out of time. As always, a pleasure, Jake Tapper, from CNN’s The Lead. Safe travel home, and stay off bikes, Jake.

End of interview.

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