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Jake Tapper On The McConnell Campaign Bugging

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

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HH: The Beltway is shocked tonight that there’s opposition research going on inside of the McConnell campaign. Joining me now as he joins America every afternoon at 4pm on CNN’s The Lead is Jake Tapper. Jake, it’s almost funny how this story is absorbing attention that opposition research is going on, but not as much attention on the wiretapping. What do you make of it?

JT: It’s a confusing story, because we don’t really know where Mother Jones got this information from. Was is recorded by some mole? Was it accidental? You know, I don’t know where they got it from. Have they stated, I believe that they say it wasn’t a wiretap, but it’s very curious. Obviously, the McConnell campaign has referred the matter to the FBI for investigation. You’re right in that we had some panelist on our show today, a political reporter, Maggie Haberman from Politico, and two veterans of tough campaigns, Kevin Madden from the Romney campaign and Jamal Simmons, a Democratic consultant. And both of them, all three of them, I should say, were rather nonplussed about the whole thing. This is what happens. Campaigns that are not engaged in opposition research would be engaged in malpractice. And of course, everything that anyone has ever done is fair game. Now that said, there are those who are not necessarily used to the rough and tumble of politics, and who, you know, including Ashley Judd, who expressed dismay, might be one word for it, that somebody’s bout with depression would be fodder for a campaign. But I guess you get around politics for a long time, and you see that really anything in anybody’s back, in anybody’s history, tends to be fair game, whether it is pleasant or not.

HH: Now Jake Tapper, it was a great panel today, and I do think they reacted, Madden especially, as just pros. But your first reaction, it’s a puzzling story. It reminds me that the day after June 17th, 1972, I’m in high school, so I don’t remember it very well, but I’ve read about it. All of media inside the Beltway could not figure out what in the world were people doing in Larry O’Brien’s office. And so it just was a screwball story. And I think there’s an interesting aspect here. If in fact a tape recording of Hillary Clinton talking to her staff in her post-secretary of state private office had surfaced, would people be focused on the content of the tape or the fact that someone had penetrated Secretary of State Clinton’s office, Jake?

JT: Well, Hugh, you want me to say that there’s a double standard in the media, and you and I have talked about this many times.

HH: No, no. I just…

JT: I mean, you know, I agree that not everything is covered fairly and equally, and sometimes politics and partisan politics plays a role. My personal view is that I think the content of the tape is interesting, just because not that I’m shocked. I appreciated your Claude Rains clip earlier as Captain Renault from Casablanca. Not that I’m shocked, but just you don’t generally get to listen in on these things. So it’s interesting to me. And then of course, I am very interested in knowing how this tape arrived in the offices of Mother Jones, just because, and I’m certainly not one to make accusations of illegality or anything like that. I don’t know what happened. But it is juicy stuff.

HH: It is juicy.

JT: And if it’s not a wiretap…

HH: I didn’t…

JT: And it’s somebody who’s a mole…and you remember in 2000, this isn’t going back to 1972, Hugh, but this is 2000, when George W. Bush’s briefing book…

HH: Yup.

JT: …was sent to the Gore campaign?

HH: Yup. I’m not sure they ever pinned anyone on that. I don’t think they ever, was it Mark McKinnon that they suspected of that finally?

JT: No, I think there was a woman on the Bush campaign that got in trouble for it.

HH: I actually brought up Hillary not because of the double standard, but because I think what was at, there was a combination here on the Democratic or the lefty side of the 47% tape and the desire to reintroduce into this cycle the Republican war against women. Even though Ashley Judd is out, it’s still interesting. And I think part of McConnell’s defense ought to be on the depression and all these other issues, he’s got to be ready for all the craziest questions that come up from any direction. And I just think now, candidates are going to be caught between a rock and a hard place, because if they prepare for the hardest questions and the bizarre stuff, and someone tapes them doing so, David Corn’s going to float it out there. I mean, it’s almost a no-win situation for both sides of the street.

JT: Well, it’s interesting, because I did an interview, I remember a few, maybe like a year or so ago with the New York Times. I thought that with all the cell phone technology we have that somebody would get some campaign reporter doing something untoward on the campaign trail, and to embarrass the media.

HH: Oh.

JT: Because, well, obviously, politicians are out there, but the idea, and targeted, but the idea that media people would be targeted, too. It’s actually surprising to me that there isn’t more of this given that you know, anyone with a decent smart phone has the ability to record, videotape surreptitiously. You just put your phone on the table and hit record. It’s amazing to me that there isn’t more of this out there. I guess it’s not going to be too long before it does happen to a Democrat, and we’ll see what the response is.

HH: Last question, The Lead is obviously new, and so you barely have a chance to figure out how the rhythm is going to be. But if someone shows up with tape like this for your production staff, have you guys begun to think through when and how you’re going to run it? It’s sort of like the Virginia Tech tapes, which I thought never should have aired on NBC, but they got hit with these tapes hours after the massacre. Someday, someone’s going to drop on your team some tape, Jake Tapper. What are you going to do with it?

JT: Well, CNN has a very vigorous vetting process. And I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t go through that. Everything, scripts, everything in the teleprompter, I mean, there is a whole thing. There are a whole bunch of lawyers, there’s a whole editorial approval process. It’s very rigorous. And you know, at the end of the day, there was a group like that at ABC when I worked at ABC. I always jokingly refer to them as the office of news prevention. But the truth of the matter is that lawyers and vetters like that are there to calm our juices to break something, and to get us to think about what’s the origin, what’s our responsibility as journalists. And so thankfully, I know that there is this backstop for me at all times, and it’s important to do, because in the race to be first, that’s often when the biggest mistakes are made.

HH: Yeah, I can’t wait to watch day two of this story tomorrow. I’ll be watching The Lead tomorrow afternoon at 4pm in the East. Jake Tapper of CNN, thank you, Jake.

End of interview.

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