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Jake Tapper On Team Obama’s Outrageous Treatment of the Press

Friday, May 24, 2013

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HH: I hope you’re getting ready for a great Memorial Day weekend. Jake Tapper probably is, host of CNN’s The Lead. I’ve been watching him all week. Jake, good interview with Don Rumsfeld this week, I told him he should read The Outpost. I hope he has.

JT: Well, Hugh, I mean I think he’s got a lot on his plate with his book tour, but I hope he reads it as well.

HH: I also told a guy yesterday, Eric Simons, who is the author of The Secret Lives Of Sports Fans, that he ought to be sending you a copy of his book, because you’re a nut about Philadelphia sports. Are you going home for the weekend? Or are you staying in Tapperland in D.C.?

JT: We’re staying in Tapperland. I’ve been doing so much travel between covering Boston and covering Oklahoma that it’s just me, the wife and the kids this weekend, and looking forward to a lot of games of tickle monster.

HH: All right, well let’s go back and look at what was one of the most extraordinary weeks in the Obama presidency, and perhaps in a long time. I want to play for you the President yesterday talking about journalism and national security, cut number two, I think:

BO: But a free press is also essential for our democracy. That’s who we are. And I’m troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable. Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. That’s why I’ve called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government overreach. And I’ve raised these issues with the Attorney General who shares my concern.

HH: So Jake Tapper, I’m very relieved to hear that, but I’m not sure I believe it. What’s your reaction to the President’s assurances that we shouldn’t be prosecuted for doing what we do?

JT: Well, here’s the thing. They aren’t prosecuting journalists. That’s not the point. Nobody has objected, James Rosen is not indicted, the Fox News reporter. The Associated Press reporters who broke their story, they’re not in trouble. The New York Times reporter, James Risen, he’s not being prosecuted. And this is the legalese and the lawyers in the Obama administration, whether it’s President Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder, are leaning on. The problem isn’t that journalists are being prosecuted. They’re not. We’re not. The problem is that people in leak investigations are not able to find out where the leaks are coming from by investigating people who have the sensitive information. So what they’re doing is they are targeting the journalists in question who are printing stories about things that the government doesn’t want them to be printing. Sometimes, you could make an argument that it’s a state, you know, it’s a matter of national security. Other times, it’s obviously just things that the government’s embarrassed about or doesn’t want to get out on the reporter’s terms. They target the reporter, they get a judge to sign off on a warrant to search the private email accounts of this reporter, and that is, in the view of many people who advocate for a free and fair press, a violation of the guarantee of a free press. That’s not, that’s really the issue. So when Eric Holder said in his Congressional testimony that he wouldn’t, you know, that he doesn’t know of any cases where journalists are being prosecuted, that’s technically correct. But that doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is right, because what it does is, it has a chilling effect on what journalists do, because then…

HH: And on that point, let me play…

JT: People who share information are reluctant to talk to journalists, because journalists are now under this microscope.

HH: Exactly. Let me play what the Attorney General said in the House testimony Jake Tapper just referenced. Here is the Attorney General, and he is under oath. He took the oath at this point when he said this:

EH: Well, I would say this. With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I’ve ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be a wise policy.

HH: Now Jake Tapper, when he says something I’ve never been involved with or heard of, you’re right, technically, they’re not prosecuting. But when they swore out the affidavits that accompanied the requests for the surveillance of James Rosen, they considered him a person of interest and a possible suspect. Indeed, they classified him as a flight risk. Do you think there was a purpose of evasion on the part of the Attorney General there to avoid owning what Michael Isikoff says he actually signed off on?

JT: Well you know, I mean, the Justice Department acknowledged, Isikoff broke that story, and kudos to him, but this is not, you don’t have to put it on NBC. The Justice Department acknowledges that Holder, that Attorney General Holder, that the warrant about James Rosen went all the way up to Holder and he signed off on it. I mean, look, this is what lawyers do, and not just lawyers, but politicians. They say you know, the potential prosecution of a journalist is not something that I’ve ever been involved in or thought about, and I don’t think it would be wise. They’re not prosecuting James. But what they’re doing it, because they can’t find the leakers on their own, they are going to journalists who are breaking stories, they are targeting journalists, they are searching their emails, they’re searching their phone records, and then this has a chilling effect on investigative journalism in Washington, D.C. By the way, it also hurts people in government whose job it is, is to communicate with reporters, the people in the White House or the administration writ large who are supposed to be talking to us. They all get questioned, they all get investigated as well, because they are on, their phone records come up as having talked to journalist. It’s not precedented. Nixon didn’t do this. And the idea that the Obama administration isn’t prosecuting journalists, that’s not the point.

HH: Yeah.

JT: The point is that they are searching and targeting us because that’s the way that they’re getting at these leakers. And it’s outrageous.

HH: Nicholas Lemann on this program yesterday, outgoing dean of Columbia School of Journalism, said, “Nixon arguably wasn’t as bad with the press as this,” and I think he’s right, because this, given whatever the Attorney General said, when I was in the AG suite, and we prepared Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court applications, and I know that wasn’t Rosen, but it’s similar, you did that with the anticipation of possibly prosecuting, arresting and deporting people. When they swear out criminal warrants against Rosen, they are really parsing it fine. And I think Holder is in deep trouble as a result of this, Jake Tapper. What do you think?

JT: I mean, in trouble with who?

HH: With the President. He’s going to have to be thrown under the bus.

JT: Well, I think I care about this, because I have an obvious bias as a journalist who feels that my work and the work of my brothers and sisters in journalism is supposed to be protected by the Constitution. Other countries don’t have this guarantee in their constitution. But do I think that the American people, that the American public writ large cares about this? I don’t know. I worry that they don’t, and I also fear that partisans care about this according to whoever is in the White House. So in other words, conservatives, this is a sweeping generalization, and I shouldn’t say conservatives, but I fear that there are Republicans who care about it now because it’s Obama in the White House, but they wouldn’t have cared about it when Bush did it, and vice versa. There are all these Democrats that would have cared if Bush did the same thing. And you know, Obama has used the Espionage Act to go after leakers more than every other president combined. But I fear that there are Democrats who don’t care about this. They don’t understand a precedent is being set here that will be horrible for the press. And it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be worse.

HH: I think they do, and I actually think…I think a lot of people do care, and I want to conclude on this. I think, however, both conservative partisans and liberal partisans ought to be concerned about the integrity of Congressional testimony. And I think this is as big an issue as the press thing, because if Congress can’t do oversight, Congress can’t protect anyone when an executive has too much authority. And we saw with Lois Lerner, and we saw with Eric Holder, and we are going to see a parade of people, I mean, you just can’t trust them, Jake Tapper. And you’re not a very trusting guy anyway. It’s not your job to be trusting. It’s your job to push people. But they have taken it to a new level. I was just talking with Congressman Campbell earlier today about this, that everything is evasive. And I wonder if you think this is a different degree than the first term, and if it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

JT: When it comes to Congressional testimony, obviously I thought Lois Lerner’s comments were odd. You can’t give a speech and then take the 5th. That’s not how it works. In terms of Eric Holder, I mean, I think these are two very different stories. I think it was an insincere response and a clever but offensively clever response by Eric Holder to talk about the potential prosecution, when that’s not the issue here and he knows it. And now I find it very troubling, and again, I have a huge bias on this as a journalist, but I find it very troubling that Eric Holder is now the guy in charge of coming up with new rules and regulations on this when A) he signed off on the James Rosen warrant, and B) he said what he said last week knowing what the actual concern is, and knowing that the way he said it probably fooled most people at the time.

HH: Yeah, and the same thing happened with the, I’m going to talk with Jack Goldsmith later in the hour about the President’s speech yesterday, similar level of trickiness involved there. And Jake Tapper, I think Lois Lerner connects with Eric Holder, connects with the President’s national security speech, connects with Hillary on Benghazi. There’s a deep, deep, systematic evasion here. I’m not going to say perjury, but there’s evasion. Have a great Memorial Day weekend, Jake, and I hope you get some time somewhere near a baseball screen to watch your Phillies lose again. And go get The Secret Lives Of Sports Fans. I think that one is for you.

End of interview.

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