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Politico’s Mike Allen with a political sweep.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
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HH: Joining me for the first time, Mike Allen, chief political correspondent from www.politico.com. Mike, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show. Good to make your acquaintance.

MA: Well, likewise, Hugh, and congratulations on the book, very exciting. I got a copy at CPAC, and have read it, and I am very happy for you.

HH: Oh, what did you think of it?

MA: I thought that it had a lot of stuff about his statehouse record, which I did not know, and I’m working on my Youtube posted ad for you.

HH: Oh, that’s good. You could win that. Now Mike Allen, your first trip to the Hugh Hewitt Show, I’ve got to do a little bio with people. First of all, you’re from where I now live, Orange County. Which city in Orange County?

MA: Seal Beach.

HH: So did you go to high school in Seal Beach?

MA: I did. I went near there to Valley Christian High School in Cerritos, California.

HH: Now how does a surfer kid from Seal Beach end up being a Washington and Lee General?

MA: Well, I kept my washboard abs when I came…

HH: (laughing)

MA: …but Hugh, I’m so old that instead of calling it the OC, we actually called it Orange County.

HH: Yeah, but you were a Washington and Lee guy, and that is a, that’s a pretty conservative school. A lot of Republican operatives come out of Lexington, Virginia.

MA: Well, we had a good time there. I was part of the Sig Ep house, and after that, I worked in Virginia journalism, had a fantastic time in Fredericksburg and Richmond.

HH: Now after that, you went up to the New York Times, you crossed over to the dark side, and we have suspicions as a result of that. But you covered Giuliani, and my first question is what do you think the national audience will find most unusual about Rudy?

MA: His intensity. You remember, Hugh, that every time it seemed like a sewer main broke, or something like that, he would be off at the scene, on the local news, making sure that the local people, the local officials were paying attention. You know, our bosses at the Politico, Robert Allbritton and Fred Ryan, are always around the place. They’re always walking through, keeping up with what’s going on, showing they care about detail, and I think that makes a difference to the people who work for them. It was similar in the city government that Mayor Giuliani ran, and I think with police stats, most famously, he would quiz individual precinct commanders on particular stats in their area. And I think this could be like testing in some schools, that the stats overran, that they began doing things just for the sake of making their numbers. But there’s no question that they showed him that he was on top, that he was paying attention. Covering Mayor Giuliani also was very labor intensive. He did seven availabilities a week. Six days a week, he would do a press conference, and on the seventh day, he would do his call-in show on WABC. During the week, his avails were at City Hall. Otherwise, they were on the weekends, they were out in the boroughs, and it was a little bit like the Bush White House in that his government was very centralized. All the news came out of City Hall, whether it was housing, welfare, even police news sometimes, all the news came out of the Blue Room in City Hall, as opposed to the equivalent of the cabinet.

HH: Now how’d he work with the press? Would he say Allen, come here? Was he intimidating? Was he engaging? Would he try and woo you? Would he try and bluster with you?

MA: He wasn’t…I didn’t have much of a relationship with him. I was the third chair on a three man team, and Dan, the great Dan Barry who now does the awesome National Journal column for the Times, was the bureau chief, and I was there with Nori Onishi, who’s now overseas for the Times. So I was a pipsqueak and didn’t have much relation with him. But it was much more formal than this president’s relationship with the press. The sort of bantering that you were talking about, the interest that this president takes in people supporting events or their careers or their relationships or whatever, there was none of that that I detected with the Mayor.

HH: I am talking with Mike Allen, chief political correspondent for www.politico.com. Mike, after the New York Times, you went to Time Magazine, you were White House correspondent there. Was that just for Bush?

MA: Before that, I had a great time at the Washington Post, where I covered the first term with my colleague Dana Milbank…

HH: Okay…

MA: …who of course has been on.

HH: Yes, he has. Now let me ask you my obvious questions. You vote for Bush or Kerry?

MA: I don’t vote, Hugh. I take the Len Downey approach, the great executive editor of the Washington Post.

HH: Yup.

MA: This is a policy of mine that goes back to college when I was covering college…I guess is was like student body election, or election to what they called the executive committee. And I realized you voted in the quad. You put your vote in a barrel. And I realized that if I walked up and people saw me put the vote in, they would know that in my heart, I’d chosen between the two sides. Similarly, I started in state politics. And there, as you know, it’s a much more intimate sort of coverage. You’re in the guy’s van. When he has a cold, you have a cold. When he’s hungry, you’re hungry. And I always felt I owed it to the person I was covering to not, even in my heart, make up my mind. And I’ve kept up that policy, and I’ve never voted in a presidential election.

HH: All right. I will…I cannot obviously ask you who you voted for between Reagan and Mondale then. But let me ask you this. Do you own a gun?

MA: I do not.

HH: Do you support abortion rights?

MA: I do not take positions on public issues like that. Politico, our idea is to have old media values with a new media platform. So we try to be…we’re aggressively non-partisan, we cover both sides intensively, and so our reporters don’t take stands on issues.

HH: But you know there’s that debate raging right now whether or not Politico is leaning a little bit left. Now I’ve been in your guys’ corner, because I don’t think you are. But when you don’t disclose, does that feed that concern that like most MSM, as Thomas Edsall said 15-25:1, Democrats versus Republicans…

MA: Hugh, I’d encourage your listeners to do what I know you do, and I appreciate it, and that is read us. I think over time, you will see that every side gets an airing, every side may have a beef now and then, and I think every side also will see their points represented and taken seriously, that every side will see that they’re dealt with substantively in other ways. And so I’d encourage you to give us a try…

HH: All right, one more background question. Are you still a Church-goer?

MA: I am.

HH: Oh, okay. Let’s get to Gonzales…Can I keep you for one more segment after this, Mike?

MA: Of course.

HH: Great. Gonzales, would you rank this scandal…I just finished a column for ABCNews.com, that says in the common law of scandals, this is nothing. This isn’t Sherman Adam’s coat. This isn’t…this is nothing. It’s such a non-scandal. How do you rank it, Mike Allen?

MA: Well, Hugh, there’s a lot of frustration among Republicans, as you might guess, because they say if we had just said from the beginning these are political jobs, we handled it politically, the opponents would not have any tree to bark up. But Hugh, tell me if you disagree, but I think the Attorney General, and other Justice Department officials, gave, fairly or unfairly, gave their opponents ammunition by going to the Capitol Hill, and Hugh, a phrase that I think you’re going to hear a lot in coming days and weeks in January, as you know, the Attorney General told the Senate Judiciary Committee I would never, ever…never, ever was his phrase, move a U.S. attorney based on politics. And then, this e-mail comes out, and this is a separate topic, but it’s very fascinating, because this is the first time the Democrats have really sort of flexed their muscles, showed how much the political world has changed. This e-mail comes out that certainly gives you a different impression, that certainly makes you think that other factors were involved. And in fact, when reporters tonight in that…

HH: Hold that thought, Mike.

– – – –

HH: Mike, when we went to break, you were saying that at the President’s press conference, it got ugly today. I think it did. I think that the President says he is not going to respond to subpoenas sent from the Hill.

MA: Right, and Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post, my former boss, asked the President are you going to really dig in? Are you going to go to court? And the President said absolutely.

HH: Now if that is in fact what happens…

MA: Or go to the mat, that’s what he said.

HH: Yeah, Byron York has an article out at National Review that lists a Congressional Research Service report. Lots of White House officials have testified over the years…

MA: Right.

HH: …but always under their consent, never against their consent. How do you think a court handles this decision based upon what you would assess the executive branch’s claims, Mike Allen?

MA: Well, what the court’s going to do, that’s your department. But I will tell you about how the Democrats plan to go about this, and I wrote about this Congressional Research Service report. Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has been planning for this, literally for years, building a record, or trying to establish a set of precedents about what he could ask this executive branch to do. And on his website, when he was still in the minority, he catalogued everything that the Republican majority had gotten out of the Clinton White House, including e-mails, FBI interview notes, and as well as testimony. This Congressional Research report, something over 70 White House advisors have testified on Capitol Hill since, I think, Truman. Interestingly, Hugh, more than half of them were in the Clinton administration, including such well known names as George Stephanopoulos. So…excuse me, a little vocally challenged myself there…so what Democrats are saying now to Republicans is you showed us how to do this. We’re playing with your playbook.

HH: And now do you expect, though, that the Democrats, they’ll send a subpoena down. Is the expectation that the Bush administration has to move to quash it? Or that the Democratic committees have to move to enforce it? I just don’t know what the game plan is here.

MA: I don’t know that. Just to give you a little insight into both sides’ strategy, first of all, there’s the possibility that Senator Schumer, in his remarks today, was really emphasizing the lack of transcript. The one last sort of compromise that I can see is…pardon me…

HH: Bless you.

MA: …thank you, testimony in private, but that includes a transcript. Perhaps Democrats would go for that, I don’t know. But I can tell you the White House intended, they’re offering today to look conciliatory. They expected Democrats to reject it. And so the President was all ready to go with the most spirited statement that I’ve seen him give in ages.

HH: In a long time, yeah.

MA: It was almost bring it on.

HH: Okay, two away questions to close out our first of many, hopefully, conversations, Mike Allen from www.political.com. The Obama-Hillary ad, the Mac ad. How badly does that hurt Hillary?

MA: That’s an interesting way to put it. I can tell you that the people in politics who make political ads for a living that I’ve talked to say that it’s kind of creepy and ineffective. But what’s fascinating about it for you and me is it shows how easy it is going to be for there to be hit and run political communication, now that people don’t have disclaimers. It’s hard to believe that a political ad could become less credible than it was. But at least in the past, campaigns eventually had to answer for what they put out, because you did have the little impossible to read writing paid for by “I endorsed this ad.” And now, there’s no way to tell where this communication comes from. So that’s a real challenge for the press in trying to police it. And it’s a challenge for the voter who could get really deceptive and confusing, and even hoax information delivered to them.

HH: And 45 seconds, Romney gave a speech in Florida, in which he denounced the use of rhetoric by Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, but it’s been misreported by the Miami Herald. Does that hurt him? Or is that just a silly story?

MA: I did not know that, but I know that the great thing about Hugh Hewitt and Politico, and so forth, is that no one media account will dominate, that now there’s a mix of voices out there, and when something like that is incorrect, now there’s a better chance than ever that it’ll get corrected.

HH: Mike Allen, a pleasure to make your acquaintance, look forward to reading you at www.politico.com a lot, and having you back at least weekly. I’ll talk to you soon.

End of interview.

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