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On the October 16 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, host Tucker Carlson and guests A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and Politico staff writer Josephine Hearn repeated an anonymously sourced allegation that during Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton "listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics." During the segment, Carlson and his guests did not note that the sole basis for the claim is a single unnamed source describing events that allegedly had occurred 14 years earlier. The segment also featured a series of false and baseless claims, including Carlson's attribution of the controversy to a "new book" (in fact, the book is months old) and Hearn's claim that the Clinton campaign "apparently ... never challenged anything in the book at all" (in fact, the campaign has challenged this claim and at least one other).
Minutes earlier, on the October 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report, chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reported that Sen. Clinton's presidential campaign "flatly denied" the allegation and quoted Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson saying, "This story is categorically untrue."
The claim about Hillary Clinton's purported eavesdropping is drawn from Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Little, Brown & Co., June 2007), co-written by Jeff Gerth, a former New York Times investigative reporter, and Don Van Natta Jr., a current New York Times investigative reporter. Citing a single anonymous source, the book states that during the 1992 campaign, Hillary Clinton "listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack." Gerth and Van Natta add that "Bill's supporters monitored frequencies used by cell phones, and the tape was made during one of those monitoring sessions" and further describe the tape as having been "obtained under questionable circumstances."
According to the endnotes of Her Way, Gerth and Van Natta's only source for this claim is a 2006 "[a]uthor interview with former campaign aide present at the tape playing."
From Her Way, Pages 93-94:
Hillary's defense activities ranged from the inspirational to the microscopic to the down and dirty. She received memos about the status of various press inquiries;10 she vetted senior campaign aides;11 and she listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack. The tape contained discussions of another woman who might surface with allegations about an affair with Bill. Bill's supporters monitored frequencies used by cell phones, and the tape was made during one of those monitoring sessions.12
A lot had changed since the moment eighteen years earlier when Hillary had been aghast at the suggestion that the Clinton campaign use underhanded means to garner votes in rural Arkansas.
Yet again, Bill Clinton's chances were being jeopardized by rumors of his womanizing. And yet again, it was up to Hillary to minimize the threat -- and if that meant listening to a tape that had been obtained under questionable circumstances, then she would just deal with it.
10. Numerous 1992 campaign memoranda addressed to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
11. David Halberstam, War in a Time of Peace (New York: Scribner, 2001), 20.
12. Author interview with former campaign aide present at the tape playing in 2006.
From the October 16 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:
CARLSON: Hillary Clinton says she's against warrantless wiretapping, so why did she do it herself, reportedly listening in on private conversations between her political opponents? Details in a minute.
CARLSON: The conventional wisdom right now says Hillary Clinton is solidifying her front-runner status on the Democratic side, but her smooth ride to the nomination could get bumpy if rumors of scandal resurface -- and what do you know? They have. A new book out by a pair of Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporters makes a startling claim. Back in 1992, it says, Hillary Clinton allegedly eavesdropped on the phone calls of her husband's political opponents. Some Republicans say that smacks of hypocrisy especially since Senator Clinton criticizes the warrantless wiretapping of suspected terrorists -- trouble for Hillary Clinton?
Well, now, we welcome associate editor of The Hill, A.B. Stoddard, and the Politico's Josephine Hearn. This is an amazing story. At first, I kind of wrote this off -- it's 1992, who cares? Take look at this. This is from the book -- I'm ashamed to say I've not read, I'm gonna read -- by Don Van Natta and Jeff Gerth, both formerly of The New York Times. And it says this -- let's just put a graphic up on the screen.
This is an excerpt from the book: "[Hillary] listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack. The tape contained discussions of another woman who might surface with allegations about an affair with Bill. Bill's supporters monitored frequencies used by cell phones, and the tape was made during one of those monitoring sessions."
That's pretty -- I mean, if that's true, that's not like tape-recording a phone call, which I think you can explain away if you're on the phone call, you know. Even if it's illegal, I think it's not an evil thing to do. But tape-recording people's cell phone calls with a police scanner?
HEARN: Right. And it looks like it is illegal and was illegal then, in '92. But on the other hand, she was just listening to a recording, right?
HEARN: She wasn't actually -- it was not like she was there with the equipment, you know, as the phone call was happening.
CARLSON: Right. No, that's fair.
HEARN: She just listened to a recording. So, you know, maybe -- we don't know the circumstances of it. Maybe there was -- you know, everybody was listening to it, and then, you know, would you incriminate the intern who was also sitting there listening to it at the same time.
CARLSON: Oh, I'm not suggesting that charges ought to be brought against her. I think you ought to pull -- no, I'm not. And I'm not saying "Oh, it's" -- huffing about its illegality. I'm just saying, having covered a lot of campaigns, some of them sort of intimately, I've never heard of anything like that. And I'm not just being mean to Hillary Clinton.
HEARN: Never heard of illegal activity?
CARLSON: Oh, I've heard of a lot of illegal activity.
STODDARD: Of monitoring the frequencies of cell phones?
CARLSON: I've heard of buying votes, I've heard -- and I've seen a lot of things that are sketchy, if not outright wrong. I've never heard of anybody taping phone calls on a scanner, ever, have you?
HEARN: I haven't, no.
CARLSON: Have you?
STODDARD: No. I think that it's very tech savvy, and it definitely was illegal. But I think that again, Jose is right. Are you going to blame Hillary Clinton for listening or are you going to get the guy who did the recording for the Clinton camp? I think anyone, any one of her rivals, given the opportunity in this very same situation, would listen if offered a recording like this --
CARLSON: Oh, I would listen.
STODDARD: -- to know what was coming. And any wife who has -- whose husband --
CARLSON: Yes, I think that's fair.
STODDARD: -- runs around is probably going to do the same.
CARLSON: I would listen, too. Absolutely. And I'm not faulting her for listening. I'm faulting the campaign and the Clinton operation and the culture around the Clintons for being so hardball. So -- it's the same impulse that led them to tell me personally when the Monica thing broke that Monica was like a whore and a stalker, which is what they told me. You know what I mean? It's the -- there's a meanness and a toughness that's -- it's too much.
HEARN: Why would you run a campaign --
STODDARD: You're leaving nothing to chance.
HEARN: -- where somebody would feel it was OK to do this?
HEARN: You know, why would there -- yeah, I think it's a big deal if somebody decides to investigate it. I mean, it's 15 years old.
HEARN: I think, lacking an investigation, I don't know, it seems pretty tenuous right now.
CARLSON: Well, the Clinton people seem to think that. They don't appear worried about it, because here's what Clinton's press secretary said. Asked for comment, he said -- I'm quoting now -- "We don't comment on books that are utter and complete failures."
In other words, we only comment on John Grisham novels. That's the only thing we're going to talk about. What does its sales numbers have to do with the truth or falseness of the allegations?
HEARN: Nothing at all, but, I mean, if you're him, you don't want to admit anything on this. They never -- apparently they never challenged anything in the book at all.
CARLSON: Right. That's what the author says.
STODDARD: And they've known about it, obviously, since before -- probably before the book was published.
CARLSON: Well, just to be clear, these are not two guys from The American Spectator. These are two -- in at least one case, I think, a pretty well-established, at least, former liberal. I mean, they're not screaming right-wingers, they're just -- they're reporters.
STODDARD: And we're all guilty of not reading the book right when it came out and discovering this for ourselves.
CARLSON: I'm embarrassed, I --
STODDARD: Look at Alex [ph].
CARLSON: You know what? I didn't read it for the same reasons a lot of people didn't. I just feel like, what could you tell me new about Hillary Clinton? I spent the entire '90s, you know, writing about this stuff, but I guess there is a lot new. But I -- people -- my strong sense about Hillary Clinton is, people don't want to know. They don't want to know. They don't care.
STODDARD: Well, the people who support her and have decided to overcome their discomfort and support her -- and there are a lot of them, and that number's growing -- probably don't want to hear about it. It'll be interesting to see what she says about it if she's pressed. But for Republicans, they have to work with what they have, and they are interested in hearing about this.
CARLSON: And they don't have squat. They don't have squat. I mean, if this were about --
STODDARD: But they'll take what they can get.
CARLSON: If this were a story about Rudy Giuliani from 1992, it would lead every show on MSNBC today. There's just no question it would. Is that -- I mean, you know it would. Rudy Giuliani using a police scanner to listen to people's cell phone calls? Holy smokes, man.
STODDARD: But, no, no. But it's not clear that she -- it was her husband's campaign.
CARLSON: Her campaign.
If it was Bernie Kerik working on behalf of Rudy Giuliani -- I'm not just claiming media bias, it's more complicated than that, but do you -- would that not be a story?
STODDARD: It might be true. It might be true.
CARLSON: Could he get away with saying --
STODDARD: Well, anything about Bernie Kerik is a story these days. I mean, to be fair.
CARLSON: All right, we're going to be back. You thought that was bad news for Republicans, wait till you hear this. Wall Street has always backed them, you knew that, forever. Well, not anymore. We'll tell you what happened in a minute.
From the October 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
ANGLE: There is no allegation Senator Clinton ordered the wiretapping, only that she knowingly listened to it.
GERTH [audio clip]: The person who told us about this was present at the playing of the tape recording.
ANGLE: A Clinton spokesman had earlier dismissed the account of the eavesdropping, saying they wouldn't comment on a failed book, but stopped short of denying it. Today, however, the Clinton campaign decided to go further and flatly denied the account. Communications director Howard Wolfson said, "This story is categorically untrue."