Spying, CNN and the Kerry campaign: Is there a there there?

A statement attributed to NBC suggests that the network is investigating whether the Bush administration eavesdropped on the calls of a reporter.

Topics: CNN, War Room, Espionage,

It gets curiouser and curiouser.

As we noted Wednesday, AMERICAblog’s John Aravosis noticed an odd moment in Andrea Mitchell’s interview this week with New York Times reporter James Risen: While interviewing Risen about his new book and revelations that George W. Bush authorized warrantless spying on American citizens, Mitchell asked Risen if he had any information suggesting that CNN’s international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, “might have been eavesdropped upon.” Risen said he didn’t. But as Aravosis surmised, the question certainly suggested that Mitchell did.

Right about the time Aravosis’ theory started floating through the blogosphere, somebody deleted Mitchell’s question and Risen’s answer from the transcript posted on MSNBC’s Web site. We said we’d like to hear an explanation, and TVNewser actually went to the trouble of getting one. “Unfortunately this transcript was released prematurely,” reads a statement TVNewser says it got from NBC. “It was a topic on which we had not completed our reporting, and it was not broadcast on ‘NBC Nightly News’ nor on any other NBC News program. We removed that section of the transcript so that we may further continue our inquiry.”

Assuming the statement is legitimate, that sure seems to us like a long way of saying, “Yeah, we’re looking into the possibility that the Bush administration was eavesdropping on Christiane Amanpour.”

Now, it’s probably time for a deep breath and some patience here. What we’ve got here is some reading between the lines, and it’s about a question, not an answer. But as we said yesterday, if the answer is ultimately answered in the affirmative — that is, if the Bush administration has indeed been listening in on Amanpour’s phone — the implications are enormous. We don’t much like the idea that the government might be listening in on the conversations of a reporter. And Amanpour isn’t just any reporter: She is married to Jamie Rubin, a State Department spokesman under Bill Clinton and a foreign policy advisor to John Kerry’s presidential campaign. If the Bush administration was listening in on Amanpour’s phone, was it listening when she talked with her husband? Was it listening when he might have used her phone himself?

Again, what we’ve got here are hints about a question. We’re a long way from an answer. But when you start circumventing Congress and the courts and begin to spy on Americans in a way that you insist you aren’t, you invite questions like these. And along the way, you invite people to think about the last time some people who worked for a president tried to spy on the opposition.

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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