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Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes on his four hour interview with Fred Thompson.

Friday, April 27, 2007
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HH: If you’re interested, though, in learning a lot about Fred Thompson, then my next guest is the go-to person, because Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard spent, well, about four hours, I gather, Stephen. You got the good get.

SH: Yeah, it was even longer than four hours. Four hours is when my two two-hour tapes ran out. So we chatted a bit beyond my tapes.

HH: Well now, I’d like you to, since you’ve been able to talk to him, and we can’t, put in a good word for us. He must like you. Does he believe Saddam was connected with al Qaeda?

SH: I didn’t actually ask him that. Funny that you should say that. In four and a half hours of conversation, I didn’t bring that up.

HH: Well, plenty of time for that later. You know, I’ve been around Colorado for the last two days talking to Republican groups on behalf of the party, various Lincoln Day dinners, et cetera, and I always poll the groups. And right now in Colorado, it’s 33% Giuliani, 33% Romney, 33% Thompson, 1% McCain. That 33% that’s for Thompson, what do you think they’re seeing there, Stephen Hayes?

SH: Well, it’s sort of hard to tell. I think one of the things that he does, and has done, especially over the past several months, he had a spot as a fill-in for Paul Harvey’s radio commentary. And he’s done that, and as I know you’ve done so effectively, he’s done both the radio and the blog particularly effectively. He farmed out his radio commentaries to a variety of conservative blogs, and I think people have gotten sort of excited about the kind of things he’s saying. And one of the things that sort of struck me as I talked to him, and I’m a sucker for authenticity, is that he really seemed to be in a very comfortable place in his life, in a position that allowed him to basically say what was on his mind without doing all the political calculations, you know, who’s this going to offend in Iowa, who’s this going to offend in South Carolina, is it smart to say this, and he’s just sort of talking. That was appealing to me. I mean, I’m not supporting him, I’m not supporting anyone. But it was appealing to me in a way that I think will probably be appealing to a broader swath of Republicans.

HH: Now was everything that you talked about on the record?

SH: Yeah, everything, it was four hours on the record, yeah.

HH: Would you like to send us the tapes and we’ll play them on the air, unbroken and unedited?

SH: I wonder if he’d let me do that. I bet he probably would, actually.

HH: Would you…I’d love to let the people hear that kind of a conversation. So if you get permission, just send them, we’ll just play them back to back, because people are interested in him. Now I want to get to the huge scandal in your article. He’s got Havanas.

SH: Yeah, it was funny. He…one of the things I reported in the piece was that…and this was sort of a way that I was trying to let people know that he was not sort of being handled all the time, as so many politicians are, not that there’s anything wrong with handlers. I think in many cases, they’re important and necessary, and often helpful. But what struck me about Thompson is he’s a guy who is seriously considering running for president, and is, as you indicated through your informal polls, and as other polls have suggested more formally, is at least going to be a player if he gets in. He really has no campaign, and he has a couple of sort of informal media advisers who I’ve dealt with a little bit, but he doesn’t have much in the way of a press flak, the way that most politicians do. So I showed up at his house, actually, and was led in the door by the woman who watches his kids, and led back to his office, and there was no press guy, and there was no discussion about, you know, no press person said you can’t talk about his, or here’s the status of the interview. There just wasn’t any of that handling. And as I was sitting in his office, one of the things I noticed was that there were boxes of Monte Cristo cigars from Cuba. And he’s apparently been a cigar smoker for years. There’s a reference to it, to him smoking cigars back in the book he wrote about his time on Watergate as minority counsel there. So yeah, he likes his cigars.

HH: Likes his Cubans, and he got them in via the embargoes in place. Did you ask him about that?

SH: I didn’t press him on it. It was, in subsequent conversations, there’s been, he basically said he gets them from a friend…

HH: That’s the answer. That’s always the answer, is they were given to me, which is not illegal. But it’s usually interesting to find out about the giving.

– – – –

HH: I heard you say on Dennis Miller’s program, Stephen, that you’re working on a book on Dick Cheney.

SH: Yeah, I’m in the very final stages of editing with my publisher, Harper Collins, so we are…

HH: Well, give us a sense of why now.

SH: Well, I’ve been working on it for, on the book specifically for about two and a half years, and I’ve been interviewing and following the Vice President around the country for more than five, and I just thought it was, you know, there was a void there. He’s not been, he’s never had a biography written of him, and he’s got an interesting, certainly an interesting life. I mean, this is a guy who’s been sort of at the top levels of American policy making since really the late 1960’s, and has led a very, very interesting life, so I thought it was important to take the time to learn more about what he believes, and why he believes it, and put sort of some of his views and some of his arguments in broader context, and I think I did that.

HH: You know, he went from being the avuncular uncle to being the prince of darkness, or the attack dog, as Harry Reid said yesterday or two days ago.

SH: Right.

HH: What’s your bottom line on the man? An amazing American patriot of incredible dedication? Or Halliburton’s long arm?

SH: Well, I mean, I think a lot of the scandals that have been, so-called scandals, the Halliburton stuff, the idea that he was, that he is helping line his own pockets by leaving Halliburton is simply ridiculous. I mean, he made, don’t hold me to the figures, but he made something like $40 million dollars in his five years at Halliburton, and he left to take a job that pays him, I think, $400,000 a year.

HH: Right.

SH: You know, he’s not poor, but that’s not a way to make money. So the suggestions that he did it to make money seem to me really preposterous. So we get into a little of that, and spend a lot of time talking about his formative years in the Nixon administration, the Ford administration, his time in Congress, and he really rose quickly to leadership, Republican leadership in Congress. He had been only a one-term representative from Wyoming when he was asked by Bob Michel to be, to run for the Republican Study Committee chairman, and he did it and he won.

HH: I’m really looking forward to this, because he’s a great American, and he’s been so slandered by the left over the last few years, that I think it’s going to be a very timely book. I look forward to spending a lot of time with you when it comes out, Stephen.

SH: Happy to do it.

HH: And now I want to go back to Fred Thompson now, though.

SH: Yeah, happy to do it.

HH: Wall Street Journal today has an editorial of what voters expect of would-be presidents who have cancer. And the bottom line, did you see that?

SH: I didn’t, actually. No, I’ve been sort of out of pocket all day.

HH: Okay, it says a majority of voters say they won’t consider, they wouldn’t consider a cancer diagnosis, past or present, an automatic disqualification for a candidate. And I was unaware of that. But did you talk about his cancer with Fred Thompson?

SH: I didn’t. He made the announcement a couple of days after my interview with him, so we actually did not get into it. I talked about it, I interviewed him on a Monday, he made the announcement, I believe, on a Wednesday, and then I talked about it with former Senator majority leader Bill Frist on Thursday. And Senator Frist, you know, in actually a long conversation about it, said you know, this isn’t, it’s not something that you simply shrug off. I mean, anytime you’re diagnosed with any kind of cancer, it’s a serious matter. But at the same time, he said this is not something that would keep him, if he were a primary voter in Iowa, from casting a vote for Fred Thompson, or seriously considering him.

HH: Now in your research, though, this is the question that has come up. Indolent lymphoma has a recurrence rate of about 50% within five years, and I guess Fred Thompson’s about three years into his five year period. And I have been told by doctors that of those cases that recur, half of them are debilitating, requiring chemo and additional debilitating…what happens if that happens after he’s the nominee in February of next year?

SH: Well, I don’t…I haven’t seen the same research you’ve seen, and I don’t, I certainly don’t question it. But Senator Frist put an entirely different take on it. I mean, he suggested, at one point, he said, and again, I’m going from memory here, he said something like it would be better to be diagnosed with indolent lymphoma than it would be to be diagnosed with low grade diabetes or some mid, moderate heart disease, if you’re a man in your 60’s. So he clearly was downplaying it, and seemed to suggest again that it’s not something that can be dismissed out of hand, but that it’s not something that would, there are no symptoms, often, it’s asymptomatic, and certainly Senator Thompson, as far as we know, has not shown any.

HH: And if my doctors are right, that three quarters of people never have any serious consequences from it, but one quarter do, and is that enough to be an issue? Is that enough of an unknown that it will affect the politics?

SH: That’s a good question. I mean, I think anytime a voter hears that a potential candidate has cancer or health risks, I mean, with Dick Cheney, of course, it was his heart issues. It’s enough to make people pause, but I think one of the things, if Senator Thompson decides to get in, that he could do to dispel those concerns, would be to run a pretty vigorous campaign. I mean, if he’s asymptomatic for any length of time and runs a vigorous campaign, and is flying around the country, it might be a good way, and I’ve talked to some people who are close to him who suggested that that’s one way that he could dispel those kind of concerns. But no, it’s not unreasonable for voters to have those concerns.

HH: You also mentioned, a very fascinating part of the piece, I had been told by people, and they were wrong, that he had been pro-choice and had become pro-life. He’s vigorous in denying that in your piece, isn’t he?

SH: He is, he is. I mean, it seems, it seems, I’ve done some additional reporting on it since then. It seems that there was a campaign manager who worked for him in his 1994 bid, who put out word to some reporters, some Tennessee reporters, that he may or may not be pro-choice, suggested that he was pro-choice. I don’t know that I’ve seen actual quotes to that effect from this campaign manager. But that’s the story I’ve gotten, and Senator Thompson, as he said in the piece, says look at my record. I’ve got a straight down the line pro-life voting record.

HH: Yeah, that’s an important part of the piece. I recommend people go see it.

– – – –

HH: All right, Stephen, the $64,000 thousand dollar question. You’ve known a lot of political people, you’ve been around a lot of campaigns. Is Fred Thompson running?

SH: Yeah, I would say at this point, I’d be surprised if he decides not to run. I think there is part of him that is still actually going through the decision making process, but it would, I would be stunned if he didn’t run.

HH: What’s his biggest vulnerability?

SH: Biggest vulnerability? I would say among conservatives, probably campaign finance reform. He makes a good argument, I’m ultimately not sympathetic to his argument, he makes probably the best argument for campaign finance reform that I’ve heard. But at the end of the day, I don’t, I just think most conservatives will find it not persuasive.

HH: Now a lot of McCain-Feingold enthusiasts except Senator McCain have backed away from it, and have said you know, we didn’t see 527’s coming, we didn’t know that this…we thought that the provision regarding the 60 day window would be voided. He’s still standing tall on the whole bill?

SH: Yeah, you know, we didn’t get into, we got into some of the details. I mean, it was interesting to hear him talk. He reminded me, and I’d forgotten this, that he was the one who actually proposed an amendment and strongly supported an amendment to actually increase the individual limits, so he took some credit for that in the interview with me. And I think, you know, I think his view was that the jury was sort of out on exactly how effective it has been. So I think he probably left himself a little wiggle room on the issue, but he doesn’t seem to be, he’s certainly not sprinting away from it.

HH: And last question, you wrote in the article about his views on McCain, friends now, friends after. But what’s he think about Rudy and Romney, his other two principal competitors?

SH: You know, there were only a couple of questions in the entire interview that he would not engage on, and those were about his fellow competitors. I asked him specifically about Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, and he declined to talk about either one, so I didn’t even ask about anybody else.

HH: Stephen Hayes, a real pleasure. It’s a great article. I hope you get permission, we’ll play all four hours of the tape. That’ll get his message out to American quicker than anything. And we’ll make you the co-host of the show for the day. So get back to us on that, and thank you, Stephen.

SH: Thanks for having me, Hugh.

End of interview.

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