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July 30, 2020

Covering the State of Our Union (with Jake Tapper)

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On this week’s episode of Stay Tuned with Preet, “Covering the State of Our Union,” Preet answers listener questions about Trump’s well wishes to Ghislaine Maxwell, a U.S. Attorney’s role in civil cases, and Attorney General Barr’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. 

Then, CNN journalist Jake Tapper joins Preet for a conversation focused on the film adaptation of “The Outpost,” his book about the War in Afghanistan. Tapper also discusses New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump’s endless Tweeting, and more. 

To listen to Stay Tuned bonus content, try the CAFE Insider membership free for two weeks and get access to the full archive of exclusive content, including the CAFE Insider podcast co-hosted by Preet and Anne Milgram. 

Sign up to receive the CAFE Brief, a weekly newsletter featuring analysis by Elie Honig, a weekly roundup of politically charged legal news, and historical lookbacks that help inform our current political challenges. 

As always, tweet your questions to @PreetBharara with hashtag #askpreet, email us at [email protected], or call 669-247-7338 to leave a voicemail.

REFERENCES & SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS

Q&A:

  • Trump on Epstein confidante Ghislaine Maxwell: I wish her well,” CNN, 7/22/2020
  • Aaron Blake, “Whom does Trump ‘wish well?’ Plenty of people, including an accused spouse abuser, a brutal dictator and now Ghislaine Maxwell,” Washington Post, 7/23/2020
  • Peter Baker, Trump Commutes Sentence of Roger Stone in Case He Long Denounced, New York Times, 7/10/2020
  • Alan Feuer, “Trump Fires U.S. Attorney in New York Who Investigated His Inner Circle, New York Times, 6/20/2020
  • Rep. Val Demings Tweet referencing her line of questioning to Attorney General Barr, Twitter, 7/28/2020 

THE INTERVIEW 

  • Preet’s Tweet about his head disintegrating while discussing the Roger Stone commutation with Tapper, Twitter, 7/13/2020
  • Preet discussing the firing of former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman on Tapper’s State of the Union, CNN, 6/21/2020

THE OUTPOST:

  • Jake Tapper, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, Little, Brown & Company, 2012
  • The Outpost (dir. Rod Lurie), Screen Media Films, 2020
  • Ted Johnson, “Jake Tapper Talks About ‘The Outpost’ And What It Says About The Ongoing U.S. Mission In Afghanistan: Q&A,” Deadline, 6/26/2020
  • ‘Hamilton’ Rules Disney+ Over July 4, but the VOD Success Story Is Rod Lurie’s ‘The Outpost,’” IndieWire, 7/6/2020
  • Stoney Portis, “I Watched My War Story Become a Movie,” New York Times Magazine, 7/3/2020
  • “President Bush Discusses Progress in Afghanistan, Global War on Terror,” WhiteHouse.gov, 2/15/2007
  • Mark Bowden, “The Legacy of Black Hawk Down,” Smithsonian Magazine, 1/2019
  • Michael D. Abernethy, “The Hidden Battle: Local veteran’s fight with PTSD gets national attention,” Burlington Times-News, 10/10/2013
  • Jonathan Landay, “Probes overlook McChrystal’s role in costly Afghan battles,” McClatchyDC, 10/20/2010

RUSSIAN BOUNTIES: 

  • Tapper discusses Russian Bounties on State of the Union, CNN, 7/26/2020
  • Tapper’s Tweet calling out Chris Wallace for not asking Trump about bounties, Twitter, 7/26/2020
  • Mujib Mashai and Michael Schwirtz, “How Russia Built a Channel to the Taliban, Once an Enemy,” New York Times, 7/13/2020
  • Dan Mangan, “Mothers of military sons killed in Afghanistan want probe of Russian death bounties,” CNBC, 6/29/2020

TRUMP’S TWEETS:

  • President Trump’s Tweet attacking Tapper’s interview with HHS Assistant Secretary Admiral Brett Giroir, Twitter, 7/27/2020
  • Tapper’s response about Trump’s “noise,” Twitter, 7/26/2020
  • Jake Tapper interviews Candidate Donald Trump, CNN, 6/3/2016
  • Callum Borchers, “Jake Tapper asked Donald Trump if his judge attack was racist — then followed up 23 times,” Washington Post, 6/3/2016

DR. FAUCI:

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci on The Lead with Jake Tapper, CNN, 7/21/2020
  • Katie Rogers, “Aide Posts Cartoon Mocking Fauci as White House Denies Undermining Him,” New York Times, 7/14/2020
  • Rashaan Ayash, “McEnany denies White House issued “opposition research” on Fauci,” Axios, 7/13/2020
  • Oliver Darcy, “Sinclair says it will postpone and ‘rework’ segment featuring conspiracy theory about Fauci,” CNN, 7/25/2020

GOVERNOR CUOMO:

  • Tapper calls out Governor Cuomo on The Lead, CNN, 7/14/2020
  • “New York Tough Poster,” NY.Gov, 7/13/2020
  • Jason Farago, “Andrew Cuomo Ascends to the Mountaintop With His Pandemic Poster,” New York Times, 7/14/2020
  • Kyle Chayka, “Andrew Cuomo’s Pandemic Poster and the Limits of Coronavirus Visuals,” New Yorker, 7/26/2020

RAISING YOUR HAND: 

  • Alice Paul Tapper and Marta Kissi, Raise Your Hand, Penguin Random House, 3/2019
  • Alice Paul Tapper and Jake Tapper on The Ellen Show, 3/21/2019
  • Alice Tapper, “I’m 10. And I Want Girls to Raise Their Hands,” New York Times, 10/31/2017

Preet Bharara:              From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.

Jake Tapper:                 I want to live in a world where if the President says something that is critical of a journalist or anyone, everybody cares, because the President is the President, whoever it is he or she may be. The only conclusion I can reach is that it’s just noise, so that nobody even cares anymore.

Preet Bharara:              That’s Jake Tapper. He’s the host of the CNN shows The Lead and State of the Union. In addition to his on-air work, Jake is a prolific writer. His 2012 book The Outpost is wrenchingly detailed account of a devastating battle in Afghanistan. It’s recently been adapted into an acclaimed feature film of the same name.

Jake and I discuss the almost two-decade conflict in Afghanistan, the importance of combative interviews, and his criticism of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 response. That’s coming up. Stay tuned. Let’s get to your questions.

This question comes in an email from Lane, who writes, “Dear Preet, first, I love your podcast.” Thanks, Lane. “Secondly, I’m concerned that Trump signaled yesterday regarding Ghislaine Maxwell, that his comment that he ‘wishes her well’ was code for, ‘Don’t reveal anything and I will pardon you.’ Is that possible? It would be so disgusting if true. Is there any way to prevent it, i.e., take the case to the states of New York and/or Florida where Trump does not have pardon power? Thanks so much. I would really appreciate your insight. Best regards, Lane.”

Well, I think your instinct is exactly right on, and lots of people would join you in assessing that that’s exactly what trump is doing.

Donald Trump:              I just wish her well, frankly. I’ve met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach and I guess they lived in Palm Beach. But I wish her well.

Preet Bharara:              That he was sending a message, as he’s done in the past with respect to other cases, that if you keep your mouth shut and take care of yourself and take care of me, then maybe there’ll be some benefit for you in the future. You’ll recall he did that thing with Roger Stone. He tweeted openly during the pendency of the Roger Stone case that Stone was being … I don’t have the exact words in front of me, was being brave and courageous by keeping his mouth shut and not spilling the beans. Roger stone himself seemed to acknowledge that he had an understanding of what might happen to him if he didn’t, in his words, turn on the President, which he did not.

So this is another example of Donald Trump thumbing his nose at how the operation of justice should unfold in a normal traditional matter where norms are observed because he doesn’t observe them, because even for Donald Trump, it’s a little odd to be taking time at the presidential podium to wish well someone who has been charged with something as serious as the Southern District of New York has charged her with, essentially the sex trafficking of young girls.

Some people have pointed out that it comes in stark contrast to the kinds of public statements he’s made about other people. It took a long time for Donald Trump in the same week to make any acknowledgment at all about the passing of civil rights hero John Lewis. He didn’t even bother to go pay his own respects.

At the same time, with respect to Ghislaine Maxwell, saying he wishes her well, which I think further supports the theory that he’s trying to be nice to her and nice about her in the hopes that if she does have information that’s damaging to the President or his associates, that she’ll keep that to herself.

Now one interesting issue on the timing is this. The Maxwell case has just begun. There won’t be a trial at any point in the near future. It is possible that Trump will be out of office by the time there’s a conclusion to that case. So depending on what the circumstances are, if there is some possibility that Maxwell has damaging information to the President or associates of his, if he ends up leaving office by January 20th of next year, he loses the ability to pardon her. So that’ll be an interesting thing to watch.

I also think that as controversial as some of his prior pardons and commutations have been, I think really any kind of clemency, especially in advance of a conviction, for Ghislaine Maxwell would really top all of those in terms of controversy and criticism and negativity.

Trump himself has not made the allegation with respect to Maxwell, that she’s been treated unfairly, like he did with Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, and the charges are a lot more serious than the charges in those other cases. So I never said that Donald Trump is above anything, and he’s proven himself not to be, but I think any kind of clemency for Ghislaine Maxwell, given the charges and if they’re able to be proved, would be a bridge too far.

As to whether the states of New York and Florida could do something about it, I don’t know what investigations are taking place in those states. I don’t know what evidence they have. I don’t know what the statute of limitations issues are in those states. I haven’t researched it. But, yes, you’re correct, that if state prosecutors decide to bring a case against Ghislaine Maxwell and successfully prosecuted her for some crimes, those would not be pardonable or commutable by President Trump. You saw an effort to do that, that has not been fully successful, on the part of Cy Vance with respect to Paul Manafort. So we’ll have to see.

This question comes in an email from Matt, who writes, “Hey, Preet. Love the show and CAFE Insider as well. I’m a law student from Oregon currently interning for the DOJ prior to my remote 3L year. I’ve been surprised to see that AUSAs do a lot of civil work, particularly in immigration. What are the roles of the US attorneys for the various districts in civil matters and do civil AUSAs ever transition to the criminal side, and vice-versa? Thanks, Matt Phelps.”

Well, Matt, I’m glad you asked the question because it gives me an opportunity to brag about one of the most well-kept secrets at the US Attorney’s office in the Southern District at many US Attorneys’ offices and within the Department of Justice.

So my office had about, depending on the time, 220 assistant US attorneys. While a lot of the attention gets focused on the criminal prosecutions and all the criminal cases, there were about 165 criminal AUSAs and about 55 civil AUSAs. That’s a pretty large group of folks, one of the big civil divisions in the country, and they do a lot of amazing, impressive work. One of the great pleasures of being the US attorney, having served as alliances in the criminal division, is I got to know the men and women on the civil side and incredibly impressed by their work, their contributions. I’ll mention a few of them.

So on the affirmative side, the civil division does investigations and brings cases in the area of civil rights. We pursued a lot of cases with respect to enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In fact, I think this week marks the 30th anniversary the passage of that act. I remember very well that on the 20th anniversary of the passage of that act, we undertook a very big program to make sure that restaurants in New York, within the district, were complying with the ADA.

You may have heard about or read about our civil rights work with respect to Rikers Island, a civil case that we brought, and also criminal cases we brought against correction officers who violated the civil rights and caused the deaths of inmates at Rikers Island. Those cases, the criminal cases, were done jointly by our civil division in our criminal division, holding those people accountable and bringing justice to the families of the victims.

We also commenced an investigation, a very massive one, of conditions of housing run by the New York City Housing Authority, which ended up resulting in a very huge settlement with the city. Then also something I’m very proud of, at least in our office, we started to do affirmative civil cases relating to financial institutions and fraud financial institutions, where criminal cases did not seem to be appropriate or were not going to be possible to bring. We did those kinds of things as well.

Then on the defensive side, there are civil litigation lawyers who represent agencies of the government when they are sued by individuals or other organizations. They’re deeply involved in the Freedom of Information Act litigation. They’re deeply involved in national security law.

So there are a million things that the civil division folks do which people should be proud of and I wish it got more attention. And so, as you think about the kind of work you want to do in the future, civil division is a great opportunity.

As to your question do AUSAs ever transition to the criminal side, and vice-versa? Yeah, it happens from time to time. There have been people who have spent a number of years in the civil division and want to try something different, got a taste for perhaps when they were doing criminal trials in the civil rights area. And so, they moved over to the criminal side. It doesn’t happen so frequently in the other direction for some reason. But thanks for your question.

This question comes in a tweet from Ben Klaus, whose handle is @looserooster. Good name. It’s a question in reference to some of the Bill Barr testimony from this week about the consequences of removing Geoff Berman from the SDNY. @looserooster tweets, “@PreetBharara Is it true that,” this is a quote from Bill Barr, “‘Anybody familiar with the DOJ knows that removing the component head isn’t going to have any effect on any pending investigation.’ #AskPreet.”

Well, so that’s an interesting question. A couple of other people have asked it, including a journalist, when they heard the testimony. I actually tend to agree with Bill Barr in ordinary circumstances and during ordinary times, and I’ll tell you why I give that caveat in a moment.

I’ve always found it interesting that some people have the view that just because you removed a United States attorney or you remove the DA or remove the head of the civil division or the criminal division at Main Justice, that some sensitive investigation that has been pursued by line assistants for a long period of time, or perhaps even a prosecution that’s underway, charges already having been brought, that somehow the removal of the head of the office is going to cause that case to evaporate.

It doesn’t work that way. Deadlines get set, cases have their own dynamic and their own momentum, and judges expect proceedings to continue at pace, because remember it’s not the US Attorney who’s doing the cases. I wasn’t the one going to the banks and asking them for their documents. I wasn’t the one who was on the street doing interviews or going to the grand jury. I presided over the office and led the office, but it’s line agents and line prosecutors who work together in tandem to develop the cases.

The understanding is … For example, when I started on August 13th, 2009, I inherited thousands of cases. They didn’t stop. I didn’t call an all-hands meeting and say, “Okay. Tell me about the hundred cases that we’re working on that are very important and let me think about what’s 35 cases I’m going to end and close because I feel like it.” That’s not how it works. That’s not how a professionally run office works.

The only political appointee is the person at the top, but everyone else, the staff, the lawyers are career public servants. Some of them have been there for a very, very long time. So they have their own momentum, they have their own energy, they have their own timeline, which is why, by the way, when there was this whole controversy about the firing of Jim Comey, people legitimately said, “Well, I don’t know what that was going to get the President,” because, again, it’s a component head who doesn’t necessarily launched the investigations or advanced the investigations, just overseas the investigations. A replacement for Jim Comey would reasonably continue the investigations that were going on.

Now the reason I give the caveat is we’re not necessarily in normal times. We have seen, by the way, with respect to the work of Bob Mueller, that a change in leadership, the change in who is overseeing those cases and responsible for those cases has worked a substantial change in how those cases moved forward.

In both the case of Roger Stone and the case of Michael Flynn, cases brought by the Mueller team have been undone in significant ways, because Bob Mueller’s no longer in charge of those cases. They’ve gone to the US Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia. And Bill Barr has been able to reassert his control and command over those cases because there’s no longer a special counsel to contend with.

In the abstract, as a general matter, in professional offices, cases continue. In weird rare circumstances, some of which we’re seeing now, there’s an argument that maybe they won’t. If implicit in your question is what’s going to go at SDNY, I don’t have a concern that the removal of Geoff Berman will cause legitimate good faith investigations to come to an end or cases to come to an end.

A very large reason for that is that Geoff Berman stood firm and acquiesced in the firing only after it was clear that his deputy, Audrey Strauss, will be taking over the office so there’s continuity. I expect those case to continue. I expect if someone at Main Justice like Bill Barr tries to interfere, tries to influence cases in an illegitimate and bad faith way, that that will be met with substantial resistance and that the public might even find out about it. So good question. Thanks for asking it. Stay tuned. There’s more coming up right after this.

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Jake Tapper‘s 2012 book The Outpost, about the war in Afghanistan, was recently adapted into a powerful film, which you should all see. He joins me today to reflect on the conflict and talk to the other pressing political issues on his radar, from COVID-19 revisionism to his exhaustion with President Trump’s Twitter attacks. Jake Tapper, welcome to the show.

Jake Tapper:                 Thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Preet Bharara:              It’s been a long time. I’ve been wanting to have you on for a long time. I feel like it’s a little bit of a turning of the tables. Usually you’re the one asking me questions. Now I get to ask you questions. Are you ready for that?

Jake Tapper:                 Sure, I guess. We’ll see how it goes.

Preet Bharara:              You seem totally unintimidated, which is the correct way to be. So the one thing is you have guests on the show, and I feel like I know some of them pretty well. I’ve known you for a long time and followed you for a long time, and we’ve gotten to know each other. But then when I have someone on the show, I get a bundle of research and I learn new things about them. So I guess I have what you can call a dossier, Jake, on you.

Jake Tapper:                 Uh-huh (affirmative). Okay.

Preet Bharara:              See, now you’re starting to worry a little bit.

Jake Tapper:                 Well, let’s hope this one appears to be reliable.

Preet Bharara:              Well, I’m giving you a chance to comment.

Jake Tapper:                 Okay.

Preet Bharara:              One thing that’s interesting about you, you have a lot of talents, obviously journalistic talent, writing talent, but you also have drawing talent. You show that obviously every week in the State of the Cartoonion. We want to talk about that a little bit. But what I didn’t realize is you have been drawing cartoons for a long time. Once upon a time, tell me if I’m correct or not, your penchant for drawing got you suspended from school.

Jake Tapper:                 Well, I didn’t get suspended per se.

Preet Bharara:              Per se. When someone says, “I didn’t get suspended per se,” that’s an interesting explanation.

Jake Tapper:                 So what had happened. I have talked about this before publicly. But my friends and I were mischief-makers I think is a nice way to put it. We concocted a way to come up with a Mad magazine style fold-in in the back of the yearbook. I drew it and designed it. Then a bunch of my co-conspirators got it in the yearbook and faked a payment for it and all that stuff. It’s probably like $120 for a full-page ad or something like that. When you folded it in, it formed a visual of a particular appendage of the male anatomy.

Preet Bharara:              Nose. The nose?

Jake Tapper:                 It said-

Preet Bharara:              The ear?

Jake Tapper:                 And there was an instruction for readers. It said, “For all the BS, eat this.” That’s what it said, “For all the BS, eat this.” So it was [crosstalk].

Preet Bharara:              I don’t know what’s wrong with saying eat a nose. I don’t know why that’s a problem.

Jake Tapper:                 Yeah. One would hope that there wouldn’t be.

Preet Bharara:              Are you less mischievous today?

Jake Tapper:                 Yeah, definitely. The teachers found out about it the day of graduation. That’s when they found out. So we weren’t suspended because there was nothing to suspend us from, but we did get in trouble. We did not get our diplomas that day with everybody else. We marched in graduation, but we just got empty naugahyde folders. We had to do community service and issue an apology. It was a whole thing. I would not recommend it.

Now the yearbooks of that high school, I’m told, or of my alma mater, are assiduously checked every year by the faculty advisers of the school. It was a scandal, and kind of embarrassing when you think about it. I didn’t really have much to be rebelling about.

Preet Bharara:              Do you regret it, if you could do it over again? You’d do it again. It’s a funny story. No?

Jake Tapper:                 I mean I’m 51 now, I’m not 18. So if my 51-year-old brain was in that 18-year-old body, would I do it again? Eh, it just wasn’t worth it. But I wasn’t 51 at the time. I felt that I had a lot to rebel about. I hated authority and this and that. Now that quality ended up serving me fine, suspicion and distrust of authority. But probably, hopefully, I channeled it in a more constructive way today.

Preet Bharara:              I think that’s probably right. So I want to talk about something that I know that you’re proud of and that a lot of people are talking about, and that is the movie The Outpost, based on a book that you wrote some years ago. Congratulations on the success. I’ve watched it. I mean it’s really compelling. It’s really, really well done, directed by Rod Lurie. Are you pleased with how it came out?

Jake Tapper:                 I am. I think Ron did a really good job. Rod has done a lot of very political movies, The Contender, and has very strong political opinions. Those are not in the movie, which I was very happy about, because the book is not political either. The book is just about these men and women in this one location and their families and what they went through because we and our leaders sent them there and we sent them as we did.

You can apply whatever politics on that you want, you can take whatever lesson you want to learn from it, but I think Rod did those men and women a real service by having the movie hew so closely to the facts. There are a few liberties taken here and there, but, generally speaking, it is true. And by immersing the audience watching the film in Combat Outpost Keating and what it was like in a way that I don’t think has been done as effectively as Rod does it since Steven Spielberg at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, when you feel like you’re actually storming the beaches of Normandy.

Speaker 4:                    Is this everybody?

Speaker 5:                    Yes, sir.

Speaker 4:                    Okay. Look, we’re making great progress here in Kamdesh. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. Our outpost is still a target of insurgents, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Male:                           You’re right.

Speaker 4:                    So how do we do our jobs and stay safe? We need to keep a good relationship with the locals. Respect keeps us safe.

Jake Tapper:                 Yeah, I’m really … I’m very … I think Rod did a great job, the casting crew did an amazing job, as these things go. I mean would I change one or two things here and there? Sure, but given all the things that could go wrong with taking the true book and making it a film, I feel really lucky.

Preet Bharara:              One of the unfortunate things about the pandemic, and there are so many of them, is that the movie is not going to be able to be appreciated for most people on a big screen, and this is the kind of film that I think you want to see on the big screen. So that’s unfortunate.

Jake Tapper:                 I think that’s true. But once it’s safe again, I imagine … Well, I have no idea, but perhaps there would be a re-release in studios and theaters. I don’t know. But if you have a decent TV-

Preet Bharara:              No, it’s pretty good. I tried to use it as an excuse to get a 96-inch television. My wife was like, “No.” Not even for Tapper. I want to ask you Afghanistan, a simple, non-complex subject, my way back. You said something that was interesting, and I want you to explain what you meant. You said we haven’t fought a 19-year war. We fought a one-year war 19 times. What do you mean by that?

Jake Tapper:                 Well, there’s just so little institutional memory. So I set out to write a book about the history of this outpost, Combat Outpost Keating. People in 2009 no idea why their observation post was named Fritsche. In fact, when the Army did its after-action report after the big battle, they didn’t even refer to Observation Post Fritsche. They didn’t even pronounce it correctly. I think they called it [Fretch] or something like that. People just don’t even know.

I mean those are small details, like how to pronounce the name of your observation post. But they don’t know. There just isn’t the history of, well, this guy in the valley is reliable and this person isn’t. This guy could be helped and this is …

And I don’t blame them. I don’t blame the soldiers. It’s the way that the situation is set up, that the Army has a certain mindset, and the mindset is, “We can do whatever you tell us to do. Tell us what to do and we’ll do it,” which is great and very admirable, but it also means that it’s difficult to acknowledge mistakes. It’s difficult to step away from decisions that were made that were bad because the environment changed.

In 2006, when they set up the outpost, Combat Outpost Keating, the situation in Afghanistan and in that valley was very different than it was in 2008, 2009, but there was just a reluctance to shut things down. That’s what I mean. It’s as if it isn’t one coherent whole for the whole time. It’s just ad hoc decision making by whoever is in charge in a given year. I just think that that leads to a lot of myopic vision and short-term decisions. This is how it operates.

Again, I’m not criticizing the men and women who would do this. But just as a person who became an expert on this one combat outpost, I mean I think you have to ask why would I be the world authority on Combat Outpost Keating. I’ve never been there. It was destroyed a couple of days after I’ve heard about it for the first time. I mean there should be a way for somebody to have more institutional knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work.

Preet Bharara:              Can you describe Combat Outpost Keating? There’s this early scene in the movie that makes you understand why it’s a really dangerous place as the soldiers there look up at the mountains.

Jake Tapper:                 Well, that’s based on a real experience. So Combat Outpost Keating was at the bottom of three steep mountains, really steep mountains. Also not in the movie, but in real life, right next to two rivers as well. It was about 14 miles from the border with Pakistan, a very porous border where a lot of bad guys live. And so, it was just about as dangerous a place as there was because the enemy had the high ground.

The scene in the film where they land at night, and specifically on a night where there’s very little moon shining a light on anything, that is how the men and women would go into the outpost, at night. The next morning, they’d get up and they’d see the stunningly horrifying image of this panoramic view of like, oh my god, we’re surrounded by the high ground, which is obviously the worst thing you want if you’re in a military situation, because your enemy has all of the advantages and you have none.

Preet Bharara:              Right. So why does one build an outpost in a valley like that?

Jake Tapper:                 Well, and this is one of the things that when I set out to write the book, that was the big mystery, because everybody, in 2009, was like, “We don’t know why this outpost was built here.” And so, I went to find out why.

The answer is, in 2006, George W. Bush had changed the mission in Afghanistan. It was no longer just going after the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, it was about building the nation of Afghanistan. The way that they were doing that was setting up these little outposts all over northeastern Afghanistan at that point. Colonel, now retired general, Nicholson is the one who put a bunch of these little outposts all over.

Why were they little? They were little because most of the troops that were deployed were in Iraq, not Afghanistan. So they had to be small little camps. Then why were they at the bottom of the mountain? Well, because in that part of Afghanistan, you’re either at the top of the mountain or the bottom of the mountain because it’s mountainous. The only way to get to the camp and to resupply the camp was by road, because, once again, almost all the helicopters were in Iraq, not Afghanistan.

So you have big decisions being made by the Presidents George W. Bush and then later Barack Obama and big decisions being made by the secretaries of defense, whether Rumsfeld or Gates or whomever, about what’s a priority, what’s not a priority, where do we send our troops, where we send our helicopters, and that ends up meaning this outpost is small and it has to be by the road. That’s why.

Preet Bharara:              So why did you choose to write this book and the time you did?

Jake Tapper:                 It’s actually kind of a weird story. My son was born on October 2nd, 2009 and the outpost was attacked October 3rd, 2009. At some point during that week and that haze of my wife just having given birth to our second child, our first son, first and only son, in the recovery room at the hospital with her, there was some poignant moment where I was holding my son and watching the news and hearing about eight other sons taken from this earth at the same time that I’d just gotten mine.

There was just something poignant in that moment. I wanted to know who these men were. I wanted to know why they were at this incredibly indefensible place. I just waited for somebody in the media to investigate it, and they never did, so I did. That’s how it happened.

The only reason I even told the story, other than the fact that it’s true, is because I initially confronted a lot of skeptical troops that wanted to know why I cared, why I wanted to tell the story. At one point, one of them, I remember a guy who ran a kill team named Cricket Cunningham. Cricket Cunningham was just very skeptical. “Why do you want to do this?” and I told him that story that I just told you.

God’s honest truth it’s what happened, and that was the moment that I realized it. It won a convert. Cricket cooperated with the book. So it ended up becoming this obsession and this mission for me.

Preet Bharara:              So on October 3rd of 2009, to give folks a sense, am I right that there were only about 50-some odd soldiers a Combat Outpost Keating when they were attacked by the Taliban?

Jake Tapper:                 53, yeah.

Preet Bharara:              53.

Jake Tapper:                 There were 53 US troops, two Latvian troops as part of the coalition, and then some Afghan troops. But the Afghan troops were worthless. They ran away. The Latvian troops were great. They helped out. But it was basically these 53 troops in the bottom of the valley against somewhere between 300 and 400 insurgents.

Preet Bharara:              What was the prospect of survival for the soldiers in that camp? How precarious was it for them?

Jake Tapper:                 It’s amazing that any of them made it out, to be honest. They didn’t have air support close by. By the time air support got there, the insurgents had set up in such a way that they were firing upon the helicopters. It’s called enemy in the wire. They got in the camp. They were in the camp walking around, as it is depicted in the film.

I mean it is literally amazing that any of them survived, much less that 45 of them survived of the 53. But it was the deadliest day for the US in Afghanistan that year. I mean the only reason that they survived, in addition to air support, which was obviously huge, but it came relatively late, and the only reason they survived is because of the incredible courage shown by these men fighting for their survival.

Every one of the guys who was killed that day was killed doing something to help their fellow soldiers, their brothers, every single one of them, whether it was resupplying ammunition or trying to return fire. Every single one of them died heroically. It’s just a remarkable story. 45 survived, but a lot of them are still in a bad shape.

Preet Bharara:              Yeah. In fact, one of the things that struck me was how many people, both living and dead, received honors from the military. I think it’s the case, and it says this in a caption in the movie, that it was the first time in 50 years that two Medals of Honor were awarded in the course of one battle.

Jake Tapper:                 For living recipients. That’s true. There was a time, the Black Hawk Down/Mogadishu incident, there were two Medals of Honor for that battle, but they were both awarded posthumously. This was the first time since Vietnam that two living troops from the same battle had been awarded the Medal of Honor. It really is just a testament to how heroic everyone was.

The truth of the matter is there are any number of those guys who could have gotten the Medal of Honor based on the definition of what it’s given for. It’s basically if you know that you could die, you are likely to die and you do something anyway. Romesha deserved it and Ty Carter deserved it, and there are a number of other guys who probably deserved it as well.

Preet Bharara:              When you talked to the people who survived, the soldiers who survived, that attack, what’s their mindset? How did they feel about the position they were put in? How did they feel about the military? How did they feel about the war effort?

Jake Tapper:                 Well, there were 45 of them who were there that day, not to mention others who were local forward operating base. Their opinions about everything run the gamut of politics and emotion. I think that they are soldiers. I mean one of the amazing things about it is that after the outpost was attacked and the battle happened in October, they still had to serve out the rest of their tour. It’s not like they got to go home. They still had to serve out the rest of their tour until May or June of 2010.

So I mean I don’t think there was a lot of time to process what they went through. A lot of them have survivor’s guilt, which is a very real thing. Why did I make it and my buddies didn’t? A lot of them deal with it in different ways.

There’s a character in the movie, Ed Faulkner, you might remember him. He’s at the beginning of the movie. He’s smoking hash while on guard duty. Then he’s one of the heroes. When Josh Hardt and Chris Griffin go on the mission to try to save the guys stuck in the Humvee, Faulkner is the only one who makes it back. Griffin and Hardt do not.

Faulkner was a real guy. He OD’d. He was discharged from the military because of his problems with drugs. He OD’d before the year anniversary of the attack.

I mean that’s the only one of those guys like that that I know that has OD’d. But a lot of the other guys are having a rough time, divorces, various levels of self-medication. Some of them are doing fine. I mean I should say. I mean some of them that I’m in touch with seem to be thriving and seem to doing really, really well. So it runs the gamut, really.

But I mean I’ve never really asked any of them, “Are you mad at the Army? Are you mad at McChrystal?” who was the general the time, or Obama, who was the president at the time, or whoever. For me, it was just more about, “What happened to you?” Then when I talk to them, “How are you doing?”

Preet Bharara:              Does it even make you angry about the Army and how they were treated and what position they were put in?

Jake Tapper:                 It makes me angry, yeah. It makes me very angry. It makes me angry, but one of the other things that I feel like a lot of this book is for me was just opening my eyes about how decisions made in Washington end up having real-world consequences to men and women, whether it’s just about going into a particularly rough area of Afghanistan or not providing full protection.

Yeah, it makes me very angry now that I know a lot of these men and women and their families. I know these kids that don’t have dads. It does. But it’s not like I’m angry at Bush or Obama. It’s just more like it makes me angry at just all of it, just the United States of America.

Not mad at America, but just the way that our decisions are made about putting these very brave people in harm’s way, like the entire system of it, of whether it’s members of the House or Senate voting on these missions or the Pentagon and how they make decisions, presidents, how they make decisions, Hamid Karzai, who was the president of Afghanistan at the time and how he made decisions. Just the whole thing. The public, the media, all of it.

It just makes me feel like none of us are worthy of what these men and women are willing to do for us. Most of us don’t even pay attention, and I certainly include myself in that. Up until I was radicalized by watching what happened with Combat Outpost Keating, even though I was a White House reporter for ABC News, I wouldn’t say I was firmly paying attention to every single development in Afghanistan or Iraq. But more than angry really, Preet, it makes me just sad.

Preet Bharara:              Yeah. Then just a couple of days after the battle of October 3rd, 2009, as you mentioned already, we blew the whole place up, razed it to the ground.

Jake Tapper:                 Yeah.

Preet Bharara:              Because there was no point.

Jake Tapper:                 There was no point. Look, the guys who came in, then Colonel, now general, Randy George and then Lieutenant Colonel, now colonel, Brad Brown, they came into their command wanting to close down COP Keating and a number of the other outposts that have been set up in 2006.

They had no strategic purpose. It’s what the people in the military refer to as a self-licking ice cream cone, meaning it’s only there to exist for itself. That’s all it accomplishes. They were not making any headway in convincing the locals to lay down their arms and not join the insurgency, even though there had been some achievements along those lines in maybe 2007 under a different group and a different set of circumstances. So, yeah, they blew it all up.

That’s one of the ways to look at the Afghanistan War, not that nothing’s been accomplished in Afghanistan. Of course, many things have been accomplished. But one of the ways to understand the Afghanistan War is to look at this one outpost and what had been done and why these men had been asked to die. The truth of the matter is they weren’t asked to die for nothing. They ended up dying for their brothers and for survival. And that’s not nothing. That’s a lot. But are we worth that sacrifice? Was the mission we sent them on worth that sacrifice? I think that’s an open question.

Preet Bharara:              Another issue related to Afghanistan that makes a lot of people angry, I suspect, based on some things you’ve said, makes you angry also, it’s been a few weeks now since we heard reports of the intelligence community believing that there were Russian bounties being placed on US and other service members in Afghanistan. And I’ve got to tell you, I don’t hear a lot about that. It’s one of those things that seems to have faded from the news. Why is that? How do you feel about that? What are your thoughts on the underlying story?

Jake Tapper:                 Well, I did a commentary at the end of State of the Union about this earlier this week. I mean I can understand why there haven’t been many new developments in the journalism part of this, because, look, the New York Times has done an amazing job reporting this story, which other media outlets, including CNN, have [inaudible], which is the US intelligence had gotten intercepts that suggested some payment from a GRU, which is the Russian military intelligence unit, a GRU account, going to Taliban-linked accounts. They think that that’s part of a bounty.

But beyond whether or not it was part of a bounty, it’s just pretty much understood that the Russians are helping the Taliban with money and arms. So it’s almost, to be frank, beside the point whether or not this particular piece of intelligence is 100% agreed upon within the intelligence community, which is not. But the very fact that the Russians are helping the men who are trying to kill our service members and British service members is fairly undisputed in intelligence circles.

So I have to be honest, I was stunned that the President did at least four interviews last week, and I didn’t hear one question about any of this, not even just like, “Have you made a determination on the intelligence?” or the larger point I just made, which is whether or not the bounty story is true, the Russians are helping the Taliban, “Have you confronted Putin about this? Why haven’t you confronted Putin about this, et cetera? Why would you invite Russia to rejoin the G7, become the G8 again, knowing this?” I can’t understand it.

Preet Bharara:              Well, that’s because people had to ask about person, woman, man, camera, TV. By the way, I have that memorized now.

Jake Tapper:                 Yeah, so do I.

Preet Bharara:              [crosstalk].

Jake Tapper:                 Person, woman, man, camera, TV. But, look, the doctor who interviewed him wants to talk about COVID-19, fine. But there were other people in there who asked other questions and-

Preet Bharara:              Well, one of them was Chris Wallace. I want to read back a tweet of yours. So Chris Wallace has been apparently suggesting that Joe Biden is uncomfortable coming on his show, a competing Sunday morning show, for a sit-down. Then you tweeted, speaking back to the story, “Speaking of sit-down, you,” meaning Chris Wallace, “had an interview with the President and you asked about mean tweets about you and not about intel reports about GRU bounties against US and UK service members.”

Chris Wallace:               Some people were surprised when you agreed to this interview, to sit down with me-

Donald Trump:              What are you going to ask?

Chris Wallace:               … especially because of some of the mean tweets that you’ve said about me, Mike Wallace wannabe, nasty and obnoxious. I will tell you, after that one, my son Peter, whom you’ve met, called and he said, “Nasty, no. Obnoxious, maybe.”

Preet Bharara:              Any response from Chris Wallace?

Jake Tapper:                 No, and I probably shouldn’t have sent that tweet. But I do get emotional about this. I do get angry about the cavalier way that politicians and people in news media act about our troops. It upsets me, and that probably was emotion talking in that tweet. But it did make me mad because, look, Chris asked a number of tough, fine questions against the President. It’s not like that interview was comparable to other ones I could name that are ridiculous. Chris, he did an interview.

But he also did spend a great deal of time relatively talking about how the President thinks he’s mean, thinks he’s nasty. He spent time talking about how he’s actually really tough and he was tough on Comey and he’s tough on … And it’s just like this is one of the things … People in the news media, and I’m certainly not immune to this, we’re all so focused on ourselves, and it just really rubs me the wrong way that nobody asked about this, when we’re talking about service members who have been killed.

There was specifically one IED attack that went on in 2019 where three marines were killed, and the families of those marines are … They want answers. “Is it true? Is that what happened?” We don’t know if it’s true or not, but it is being investigated by the military.

I just thought it was deserving of a question. I just thought that the preening about, “So and so is afraid to go on my show, blah, blah,” I mean I could do that every day about Trump. Trump hasn’t given me an interview since 2016. It’s kind of stupid. I mean politicians do interviews and it’s based on a whole number of factors.

It’s not really the point. The point is what are you doing when you get an opportunity like that? I was just really upset that nobody … And if one of them had asked, I don’t think I would have done the commentary at all. It’s just one of them had. It’s not to single out Chris. I mean there were a number of people who did interviews with the President, and it could’ve been any one of them. It’s just why-

Preet Bharara:              But what’s the answer? I mean some of these people are not novice journalists and it seems to be an important story. What is the reason why some things are not asked about? Do you have a theory? Is it in confidence?

Jake Tapper:                 I don’t know. Again, it probably wasn’t fair of me, because you could go into any interview with a politician and find incredibly important subjects that the interviewer didn’t ask about because of time. If I had an interview with the President right now, I certainly would ask about the Russia bounty story, but I might spend most of the rest of the time just talking about COVID. That would mean I wouldn’t talk about poverty or income inequality or hunger in America or races. I mean it doesn’t mean that I don’t care about these issues.

So it’s not really super fair of me to have done that, but, like I said, I get very emotional about the fact that I don’t think we in the news media and politicians in general talk enough about the fact that we’re still losing troops in these wars, one of which has been going on now for 19 years. Almost. The fact that he was asking about mean tweets against him and not about … I mean that just bothered me. But I normally don’t say anything, and I shouldn’t have, but I did, but that’s the reason. That’s the reason.

Preet Bharara:              So before we started taping the show, we were talking about other things relating to the President, how he sometimes lashes out at particular journalists. He lashed out at you when you posted a tweet last night, in which you said, “Honestly, the second worst thing about the President attacking me on Twitter after the sad statement made about his focus and how wrong he is about the pandemic is that I didn’t even know what happened until three hours later. No one called, no one emailed. It’s just noise.” I should point out that we’re recording this on Monday, July 27th, and that happened on Sunday, July 26th. Do you want to comment on what it feels like to be attacked or criticized by the President and what it means that you didn’t find out about it for three hours?

Jake Tapper:                 Well, it’s just strange. He’s attacked me a few times. He certainly doesn’t go after me with the anger and vitriol that he goes after others, especially women of color who are in the White House, Correspondents’ Association, who challenge him directly. He really seems to have a problem with them.

But I mean it was strange. I did an interview with the testing czar Admiral Brett Giroir, and I think it’s fair to say it was a fairly tough interview because I think it’s the biggest mystery going on, why is the United States government, with all its resources, not doing every single thing it can do to identify and isolate the virus, which would mean widespread surveillance testing all over the country? Harvard says it needs to be about 3.5 million to 5 million tests a day as opposed to the current number, which is significantly up but still only about 700,000, 800,000 a day.

So you do one of these tough interviews and then always, whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican that you interviewed, some flunky association or Twitter feed or whatever will try to frame it the best way they can. In this case, I’ve never even heard of this Twitter feed, TV News HQ, or something like that, had some dishonest framing about Giroir correcting me. It was just stupid.

And I didn’t care, but then I was just lying in bed at about 10:30 and just surfing Twitter. I’m online all the time. I mean I have my phone next to me all the time, and emails all the time. So I’m not disconnected from the world. I should be more. I wish I could be more. But I just couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden, I’m like, “Oh my god. Wait, the President retweeted that dishonest framing tweet and attacks CNN, fake news, blah, blah, blah, whatever it was.”

First of all, to be attacked, it doesn’t even matter. It just comes with the territory and whatever. It’s fun. They pay us, we get attacked by the President. But plenty of other people, too. I just thought it was strange that no one told me. Literally, I had no idea. No one retweeted it to me, nobody texted me, nobody emailed me. This was like during primetime Sunday night. People are awake, people saw it. Nobody cared.

That’s the thing. I want to live in a world where if the President of the United States attacks a journalist, people care. “Oh, what is he saying? Is he behaving decently? Is the reporter wrong?” whatever.

Preet Bharara:              That’s interesting. I didn’t know that you were going in that direction. I thought that part of what you were about to say was maybe it’s not terrible to live in a world in which an irresponsible president who attacks people by name given the bully pulpit he has, that’s it’s a nice thing, that after three and a half, four years, people pay that not so much attention and it makes life more livable.

Jake Tapper:                 Well, I think both are true. I mean my point is that, theoretically, I want to live in a world where if the President says something that is critical of a journalist, or anyone, everybody cares, because the President is the President, whoever it is he or she may be.

The only conclusion I can reach is that it’s just noise, so that nobody even cares anymore. If you had told me 10 years ago, 20 years ago there’s going to be a point where we have a president who attacks you and nobody cares, I don’t even think anybody’s written a story about it, and the bar for some of the media organizations for a story. I mean people have written stories about me unfollowing somebody on Twitter. So it doesn’t have to be particularly … Literally, they have. So it doesn’t have to be particular important. If anybody did that, maybe that will change by the time I get off the phone with you today.

But I mean it’s so weird that his criticism is now so common, and his anger and grievance is just like the hum of a radiator that you’re just used to, that doesn’t even bother you anymore. You can sleep right through it. I just find it remarkable.

I mean I’m obviously alarmed primarily by the fact that the President is not doing everything he can, according to health experts, to identify and isolate the virus. That’s the most important thing about his tweet is that he’s wrong. But, yes, testing is up, but it’s not where it needs to be. I did a whole Twitter thread about that.

But then my second note was like, “Man, I can’t believe it.” I mean I hear about it if people are mad at me, all the time. “Oh, so and so won’t do an interview with you because he’s mad about the last interview.” I mean I’m fairly well-behaved so I don’t hear about things like this too often, I mean in my personal life. But I mean don’t you think it’s just bizarre that the President would attack me and I wouldn’t even hear about it for three hours?

Preet Bharara:              I’m wondering if this has something to do with other things that are going on, the fact that, to a greater degree, is the President becoming irrelevant? Is he becoming an aside? Is he less capable of commanding attention? Are people tuning him out?

It’s interesting what you said before, there’s two sides to the coin to each of those things. So on the one hand, when the President attacks a particular journalist like you, or when the President makes some sort of racist remark, or he says something else that sounds like we’re slouching towards fascism, on the one hand, maybe it’s a good thing that people are ignoring him and even people in his own government are not paying attention or not going to carry out his orders and his wishes.

On the other hand, are we just becoming too used to it, which is itself a huge problem, that you have a president saying these things? Forget about the insults towards particular journalists, but other things that are much more important, no disrespect, that people are just ignoring them, right?

Jake Tapper:                 You’re right, and that might be the other part of this, which is … Let me say I do not think it is important that President Trump attacked me at all. I think it is stupid and a trifle, like that kind of thing. I don’t think it’s an important issue. COVID-19 is an important issue. People being killed in protests or what’s going on in cities like Portland or Austin or Chicago, whatever, those are important issues.

Maybe that is the reason why nobody cares about him saying fake news anymore, or whatever. Maybe just the fact that obviously I’m right about the fact that testing is not where it needs to be and he’s so obviously wrong that nobody even pays any attention to it, or maybe the fact that …

I remember a year or two ago listening to a disagreement between two people. They were talking about whether President Trump was the worst president in the history of the United States. I was just listening. I was not participating in this conversation. But one of the arguments being made was, no, because his decisions haven’t really cost lives in the way that previous presidents, whether you want to … I mean if there’s a whole host of presidents that you could talk about whose decisions or inactions or proclivity for war or whatever cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of lives.

But now his decision making has resulted in a body count in terms of whether you want to give him credit for people [inaudible], “Oh, it would have been two million. The death toll would have been two million,” and there was projections. Yes, that toll was if we had done absolutely nothing, it would have been two million. Now we have done what health experts say is not enough and the death toll is right now, as of this moment, 145,000 or something like.

So I mean maybe now the fact that there is an obvious direct line from President Trump’s decision making and results that have cost people their lives, some of those decisions, by the way, good ones in terms of getting ventilators up to speed, although it’s unclear what the medical community thinks about ventilators right now when it comes to COVID, but some good decisions. Then some not so great decisions when it comes to wearing a mask and the testing inadequacy. So maybe that’s part of it, too.

Preet Bharara:              Do you think Dr. Fauci is deserving of criticism?

Jake Tapper:                 I think anybody can be deserving of criticism, and people want to criticize him. I mean I’m not his protector. I think that he has done everything he could based on the scientific knowledge at the time to try and to save lives while also maintaining his standing in the government and being able to push for things to be done. So I mean I see it that way.

But, sure, some of the things he said, which were things that everybody was saying at the beginning in terms of masks don’t really make a difference or whatever, proved to be wrong. But I think, generally, I don’t have any question in my mind that he’s a force for good and been trying to save lives. Do you disagree?

Preet Bharara:              No, I don’t. What I find upsetting case after case is the taking of somebody who is widely believed to be good-intentioned and acting in good faith in a nonpartisan way in their field, and then when they disagree with the President or make the President look bad in any particular way, they get swiftboated.

I often put together these two men who are not alike in many ways except for the ways in which I described, and they’re Robert Muller and Anthony Fauci, whose reputations were as sterling as you could have in their relative fields in the country, in the world in fact, and then they committed the crime of differing with the President a little bit. Then criticism is one thing, but character assassination and the attacks that we’ve seen on both of those men, most recently Dr. Fauci, that’s very disturbing to me. That’s the difference.

Jake Tapper:                 Well, and there’s also a difference between criticism and smearing. I mean different officials in the White House, ranging from Navarro to Scavino to whoever put together the [APO] file of quotes of Fauci’s, some of which were early based on scientific consensus that changed, some of which were completely out of context, but ultimately a sheet that was put together to try to discredit him. I mean that’s just nuts. Of course, no one’s above criticism. No one. But I mean having a White House apparatus trying to smear him and then-

Preet Bharara:              Their own guy. He’s their own guy. That’s a-

Jake Tapper:                 Yeah, I mean, you know, but this is where we are. I mean we are in a place where Dan Scavino, who’s the White House deputy chief of staff, posts a cartoon from this French cartoonist, Ben Garrison, on his Facebook page attacking Fauci as a leaker or something. I didn’t even fully understand it.

But then, yeah, the whole QAnon thing. I mean I’ve never seen … I think we were talking about the Overton window earlier, before we started taping, and just like how much things change, how much acceptable conversation changes. The Overton window of just batshit crazy conspiracy theories just becoming mainstream has been remarkable in the last three or four years. Sinclair Television had some insane special that they were about to run where basically it was a theory that Fauci had helped create the coronavirus.

Preet Bharara:              Right.

Jake Tapper:                 Ultimately, I think they’ve postponed the airing of it, only because there was so much bad press. But I mean it’s just lunacy. So when you say should Fauci be criticized, sure, based on facts. But based on just attempts to smear somebody because you don’t think they make the President look good, or deranged conspiracy theories from freaks, no, I don’t think that’s criticism.

Preet Bharara:              From freaks. Good use of the term. Let’s stick with COVID for a second. This might seem like an odd thing to say, but it’s obviously true that everyone in America, everyone in the world, is thinking about COVID all the time. People have lost loved ones. People are otherwise unemployed or harmed both physically, financially, emotionally, mentally. It is obviously the story of our lifetimes.

And yet I wonder if you think people still don’t have a full grasp on how terrible it is, in part because, unlike some other tragedies like 9/11 where fewer people were killed, we don’t have the visuals. You don’t have cameras in the hospitals and see people dying. You have the metric on CNN and on other stations showing how many are dead, but, at some point, every additional thousand deaths doesn’t cause people to be as disturbed as you might think they should be because these things are happening a bit tucked away. Is there anything to that? Is that a silly observation?

Jake Tapper:                 No, it’s an observation that I agree with and I’ve made, which is, look, I mean this has to do with a lot of things having to do with death. It has to do with war, our coverage of war. If people saw real images of war more often, I don’t know what the result would be. But people have these images shielded from them.

Gun violence. If people saw pictures after Sandy Hook, of those 20 kids and six teachers and administrators slaughtered, what might the impact be? I mean what might the impact be from a public policy and public opinion perspective?

Then it’s definitely true that this story has been very challenging to tell because, obviously, for understandable reasons, hospitals have privacy, patients have privacy, and we don’t see what this means. So I can put up a picture of a victim of coronavirus, but I still don’t know what it looks like if somebody is intubated. They’re on their stomach. They have a tube shoved down their windpipe. They’re in a medically induced coma. I mean I don’t know what that looks like, and this has been going on now since February or March.

So, yeah, I do think … And you’re right. I mean what’s that old … I think it was like Stalin or somebody said something like … I’m going to completely botch this quote, but it’s something like five deaths is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic, something like that, the idea that the bigger the number gets, the less able we are to comprehend what that even means.

Preet Bharara:              Can we talk then about how some politicians are not just dealing with the crisis, but how they’re talking about their own performances, putting Trump aside for a moment? You’ve taken some issue with the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, doing … I don’t know if this is the phrase you used, but sort of taking a victory lap.

Jake Tapper:                 Yeah.

Preet Bharara:              Then you pointed out, well, you know what? 32,000-plus New Yorkers died more than any other state in the country. Maybe it’s a bit early for that.

Jake Tapper:                 It’s not even close. Look, the facts are what they are. I’m really glad that New York has been able to flatten the curve and I’m really glad that they’ve gotten their positivity rate down. I’m really great that they were able to make improvements. I know that Governor Cuomo is popular in New York. I also know that this is an incredible challenge, especially in a city like New York City that is so compressed. So many people on top of each other, people traveling on the subway itself.

But that said, there was a 24-hour period where he was like … Somebody designed a poster with all these little inside jokes about his daughters and the boyfriend and this and that. He went on Fallon and Fallon asked him about his dating life and this and that.

Jimmy Fallon:                I know you’ve definitely probably heard of this, but you are well-liked among the ladies, people knowing that you’re single and you they think you’re good-looking. Some people calling themselves Cuomosexuals, they are obsessed with you and want to date you and want to marry you. Is that changing the way you act at all? Are your kids rubbing it in your face, or what are they doing?

Andrew Cuomo:            No. I enjoy using it selectively with certain friends and family, actually. Those people who are saying good things, it’s only because they don’t know me, Jimmy. When they get to know me, they have a much different opinion.

Jimmy Fallon:                No, that’s not true.

Jake Tapper:                 I found it a little … And forget what I thought. A bunch of New Yorker friends of mine thought it was really inappropriate because New York has, to this day, the highest, by far, death rate of any state in the country. I mean it’s growing, unfortunately, all over but it’s still not even close. I mean Florida and Arizona and California are still not even close.

And there have been studies and reports about what would have happened if de Blasio and Cuomo acted sooner, even just one week sooner. There’ve been investigations by The New Yorker and the New York Times, famous conservative publications like The New Yorker and the New York Times, about how Cuomo and de Blasio messed up a lot of stuff, and the questions about whether or not the order that nursing homes take in people, even if they have COVID, whether that cost lives or not.

All I was saying was, look, this is not a good time for a victory lap. Yeah, I know it rubbed a lot of people wrong, especially Democrats, especially New York Democrats. But it’s a time for humility. I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anything jokey about it, like, “Ha ha. Here’s this poster.” I mean, what? Anyway-

Preet Bharara:              I’m in agreement with you. I think we had a lot of positive discussion in the country about how California was doing and a lot of praise going to Gavin Newsom. That has not worked out so well. You had the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, asking where he’s going to get his apology because he did things his own way and there was not a spike. That was delayed a little bit.

And so, as you say, humility in the face of not knowing what this is going to look like, not knowing what the second wave will look like, if there’s going to be one. People should just keep their fingers crossed and pray and do what they’re supposed to be doing and not crow about anything at this moment. So I agree with you.

Jake Tapper:                 I mean can you imagine if you had lost loved ones in New York and you’re thinking to yourself like if they … And then you pick up the Times and there’s a study saying if de Blasio and Cuomo had just not had as much in-fighting, that they had just shut everything down a week earlier, 17,000 lives would have been saved. Imagine if it’s one of those lives with somebody you loved. Maybe like a marginal, like not somebody super old or super unhealthy or somebody with a lot of what they call comorbidities. But maybe somebody who was just one of those really unlucky 40-year-olds who was healthy or somebody who had a seven-year-old die. I mean it would just crush me.

That’s one of the things that I think I’m here to do. My job is to speak for those people, or speak for the family of the three marines who were killed in 2019 and just be like we’re supposed to be taking this stuff seriously. Look, I make mistakes and I screw up, and sometimes people don’t like me and sometimes people don’t like what I say, but I do think this job is important. If we don’t do anything with this platform, if it’s just about making friends, then we’re squandering it, I think.

Preet Bharara:              Can I ask you a couple of questions about interview technique? You said something that I thought was interesting once. You said the tougher the question, the more calm the delivery should be. A, why is that and, B, is there ever a time when the delivery should not be calm?

Jake Tapper:                 Yeah. I mean that mainly in the situation where you’re challenging especially a president, but somebody in power who’s not used to be challenged, and also in the White House press room for when I was a White House correspondent, because I think that one of the lessons I learned in the early years of covering Obama was the louder I was, the more distracting it was to the substance of what I was trying to ask about and the more I was coming across as though I was a pompous ass as opposed to an earnest journalist trying to ask a question to legitimately find out an answer, which is how I feel even if sometimes I came across the other way.

And so, sometimes, like, for instance, if you watched the last time I got to interview President Trump, which was 2016, and perhaps the last time I’ll ever get to interview him, which is when I asked him about Judge Curiel. I basically said, “If you’re challenging Judge Curiel because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?” That was delivered pretty much … It took me a long way to get there because he kept interrupting and trying to steamroll. But-

Preet Bharara:              And you asked it again and again and again, which actually, I think, is a pretty good technique.

Jake Tapper:                 Yeah, I had to keep going back, but my tone, as I recall, was fairly calm because what I was building up to is like, “Aren’t you being racist? Isn’t this exactly what racism is?” Which, of course, it is. But you’re invoking his race when talking about whether or not he can do his job.

Donald Trump:              Here’s what I’m saying, Jake. I’m building a wall, okay? I’m building a wall. I’m trying to keep business out of Mexico. Mexico’s fine. There’s nothing … The Mexican-

Jake Tapper:                 But he’s American.

Donald Trump:              He’s of Mexican heritage, and he’s very proud of it, as I am where I come from, my parents.

Jake Tapper:                 But he’s an American. You keep talking about-

Donald Trump:              Jake, Jake, Jake-

Jake Tapper:                 It’s a conflict of interest because of Mexico. Even the Republican speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, at the time said that. It’s the dictionary definition of racism, which it is. But I mean I thought the fact that I was asking calmly and not yelling at him … Which, by the way, would be perfectly understandable, somebody was upset about the President or the then Republican presidential nominee being racist. It’s perfectly understandable why somebody would be emotional and ask the question loudly. But I thought it was more effective just to sit quietly, because then it’s about the words. It’s about the substance and not the tone. That’s generally what I mean.

Sometimes you have to interrupt, especially if it’s a satellite interview, especially if somebody is gaslighting or changing the subject or this and that. That’s different. But I think with very powerful people and very incendiary subjects, the less focus on the interviewer and more on the question the better.

Preet Bharara:              Is there a certain kind of guest that you have on and then realize that you’re never going to have them on again, because they’re not good or because they’re not truthful or some other reason?

Jake Tapper:                 Yeah. I mean I’m not going to give you a list because you can always change your mind and who knows what. But, yeah, I mean, first of all, some people are just bad interviews. Second of all, I see people out there who are just lying. I mean public officials who are just lying, just blatantly lying.

Anybody who thinks that parents are concerned about schools opening for any reason other than health reasons, anybody who thinks that the people are just scheming to keep schools closed because they want to hurt President Trump as opposed to we are worried about kids’ lives and we’re worried about the fact that if you look at, for instance, Israel, when they reopened schools, the virus spread all over again. It just drives me nuts.

And there are smart people out there leveling such accusations, and I find it so irresponsible that it makes me think about whether or not it’s worth giving such a person any air time at all.

Preet Bharara:              Can we talk for a minute about the literary output from the Tapper family? So we’ve talked about The Outpost and you wrote another book some years ago. I will say, as a matter of professional jealousy, I don’t know where you find the time to do it. But you also wrote a novel called The Hellfire Club.

Jake Tapper:                 I did. They’re making it into a TV show now on HBO Max.

Preet Bharara:              Oh, you couldn’t get the big screen for this one, Jake?

Jake Tapper:                 It’s better as a series.

Preet Bharara:              That’s some spin. Okay.

Jake Tapper:                 Mark Smith, who co-wrote The Revenant, is turning it into a TV show. I just saw a copy of the pilot. It’s awesome. He did a really good job.

Preet Bharara:              Are they able to go into production, or that has to be delayed?

Jake Tapper:                 Yeah, we’re not anywhere near that. I think after the pilot, if they like it, then they’ll order more scripts or whatever. But, no, I think Hollywood is still shut down pretty much.

Preet Bharara:              What was more fun and what was more difficult to write: the last nonfiction book or the novel?

Jake Tapper:                 Well, the novel’s fun to write. I mean it’s fun and you get to have the characters do whatever you want them to do. You get to control them in a way that you can’t do with nonfiction. So it was a lot more fun.

Also, my previous nonfiction experience, writing The Outpost about Afghanistan, was emotionally grueling, not to mention … And I’ve interviewed more than 200 people and all that. Went to Afghanistan twice, interviewed insurgents, interviewed grieving widows and medal winners who have survivor’s guilt and all the rest.

So it’s not even close. I mean The Outpost is a much more important book. It’s the journalistic accomplishment of which I’m proudest. But it was exhausting, emotionally and psychologically exhausting to write.

Preet Bharara:              There’s another member of your family that came out with a book. Do you want to tell us about that?

Jake Tapper:                 Well, my daughter Alice, who’s now 12, but when she was something like nine or 10, she noticed that something was happening in her school, in her class, where girls were not raising their hand as much and boys were raising their hand much more. I mean boys just raised their hand even if they had no idea what the answer was. She talked about with her girl scout troop, and they felt like they had to be 100%, they would really make sure that they knew the answer before they raised their hand.

She talked about it with my wife and she talked about it with her girl scout troop. She then talked about it with the head of the local girl scouts, and they came up with a patch called the Raise Your Hand patch, in which girls commit to raising their hand in class more and get three friends to do so, three other girls.

I was so proud of her when the patch came out. I tweeted about it. Bari Weiss, then at the New York Times’ op-ed page, saw that and asked if Alice could work with her on an op-ed about the importance of girls raising their hands, so she did. Then Penguin Books saw that and asked if Alice would work with them on writing a book, so she did that, too. And so, she has a book called Raise Your Hand, and it came out. I guess it came out early 2019. Yeah, it’s fun. We’re really proud of her.

Preet Bharara:              I saw you guys go on tour together. That was a bit fun. Was that a family experience?

Jake Tapper:                 Well, we went on Ellen. Yeah, we went on Ellen. That was fun.

Ellen DeGeneres:          And so, you just noticed that girls weren’t raising their hand in class and said that there was something wrong with that?

Alice Tapper:                Yeah, I noticed that … Well, I wasn’t being as confident myself, and I noticed that one day when I knew the answer to a question the teacher asked me, that all the boys were raising their hands and all the girls were just sitting quietly.

Ellen DeGeneres:          You said that I’ve got to do some … And you’re 11, right?

Alice Tapper:                Yes, I’m 11 years old.

Jake Tapper:                 Yeah, she talked about it with mom.

Alice Tapper:                Yeah.

Jake Tapper:                 She did the Today show. I was not invited to that one. Then we did CNN with Alisyn and John Berman, New Day. But the coolest thing, can I tell you, was she then did a book reading at Politics and Prose, the independent bookstore here in D.C. when she was on her book tour March 2019.

And we walked into the children’s section, and there’s all these little girls, all these six, seven, eight-year-old girls so excited to see Alice who, at the time, was 11 about to turn 12. It was just so cool because she was inspiring these … I mean she’s a little girl in my mind, and she’s inspiring all these littler girls. And so, that was maybe the best moment of 2019 for me. I mean it was just so great.

Preet Bharara:              That’s something else. How’s her brother handling all of this?

Jake Tapper:                 Oh, he’s fine. He’s got his own thing. He doesn’t care.

Preet Bharara:              But you said it in a particular way. “Oh, he’s fine.”

Jake Tapper:                 Well, I mean we were worried, like what’s he going to be like? But he’s just his own kid, Jack, my 10-year-old. He wants to be a policeman and he’s into video games and he’s got his bros. He’s proud of his sister. There’s sibling rivalry, but there isn’t jealousy. I mean they annoy each other and fighting, all that stupid stuff that you do with your brother or sister, but they’re pretty supportive of each other. So it’s cool.

Preet Bharara:              Jake Tapper, thanks again for being on the show. It was a real delight.

Jake Tapper:                 Oh, it was so much fun. Thanks, Preet.

Preet Bharara:              My conversation with Jake Tapper continues for members of the CAFE Insider community. Insiders get bonus Stay Tuned content, the exclusive weekly podcast I co-host with Anne Milgram, the United Security Podcast, co-hosted by Lisa Monaco and Ken Wainstein, recordings of weekly notes by Elie Honig and me, and more. To get a two-week trial for free, head to cafe.com/insider. That’s cafe.com/insider.

So I want to end the show by telling you about a family project that I have been working on. So here we are at the end of July, the summer is still sweltering, but we’re about to head into an election season. I guess we’ve been in an election season for a little while. The two parties are going to have their conventions. Then I think, for the first time, it is really true what gets said in every election cycle, that this is the most important election of our lifetime. You’ve heard me talk a lot about what I think should happen. It’s no secret.

But the election is not only important at the presidential level. It’s also important at the congressional level in the House and in the Senate and in the various states. It’s something that I think everyone should be focusing on and should be caring about and should be registering to vote, whatever your point of view is.

And so, the combination of being in the pandemic and being on home confinement and my two boys, 15 and 17, not having camp to go to and not having a whole lot of other stuff to occupy them, we just thought we’d engage in a family political enterprise. These are the boys I’ve mentioned before, my two sons, who do extemporaneous speaking in competition at high schools, who pay a lot of attention to the news, maybe because of their parents, and are very versed in public affairs and politics and international relations as well.

So we came up with this project. They have been spending some time focusing on 31 battleground House races around the country. They believe, as I do … And maybe I have indoctrinated them, sorry … that the House should remain in Democratic hands so that various things can be accomplished in the next administration.

And so, they focused on 31 battleground House races to bring to my attention. I told them if they do that, that every day in August, beginning this Saturday, August 1st, I will highlight one of those races and highlight one of the candidates in those races based on their recommendations, which they vetted very carefully, I believe. Every day I will make a $500 donation to the candidate that they have suggested, I will tweet that I’ve done that, and I’ll suggest other people to donate what they can, or at least follow the candidate, learn more about the candidate, and do whatever they think is right.

At the same time, we’re going to be focusing on other ways we can promote voter registration, voter participation, mail-in voting, and then maybe in September, we’ll focus a little more on the Senate and the presidential race. But for now, if you don’t like the recommendations made by my boys, blame them, not me.

Some of you who know that I have a 19-year-old daughter maybe wondering, well, why is she not involved with this project? That’s because she is very industrious and is simultaneously doing two internships, including working directly on a political campaign. So she’s busy.

By the way, if you’re listening to this and you think there’s a particular candidate that my boys should be focusing on and should be promoting, tweet it at me and I promise I’ll share the tweets with my sons. Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, Jake Tapper.

If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics, and justice. Tweet them to me @PreetBharara with #AskPreet. Or you can call and leave me a message at 669-247-7338. That’s 669-24-PREET. Or you can send an email to [email protected]

Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The senior audio producer is David Tatasciore. And the CAFE team is Matthew Billy, David Kurlander, Sam Ozer-Staton, Calvin Lord, Noa Azulai, and Geoff Isenman. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara. Stay tuned.

 

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Covering the State of Our Union (with Jake Tapper)

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