EXCLUSIVE: CNN’s Jake Tapper has been pestering Republican congressional candidate Sean Parnell to issue a joint statement with him, as the “State of the Union” anchor tries to clean up the mess he created by attempting to talk Parnell out of running for a Western Pennsylvania House seat, according to multiple sources.
Tapper tried to convince Parnell not to run against incumbent Democrat Rep. Conor Lamb last year, suggesting that the U.S. Army combat veteran would be better off running in a safer district for Republicans. But Parnell didn't take his advice and is challenging Lamb in the critical district.
Last week, Fox News obtained a Twitter direct message that Tapper sent Parnell in November after he officially entered the race, which confirmed a Breitbart News report that the CNN anchor attempted to persuade Parnell not to challenge Lamb in the key swing state’s 17th Congressional District. Tapper’s actions have been slammed as political activism, but the CNN anchor has privately claimed he was looking out for Parnell's best interests and doesn’t have an ulterior motive.
While Tapper has remained silent on the story publicly, he has apparently been working the phones behind the scenes. Calls from Tapper to Parnell have come “multiple times” since the story broke, a source close to Parnell – who does not work for Parnell’s campaign – told Fox News.
“I was with Sean the day one of these stories broke. Tapper was blowing up his phone like an obsessed lunatic," the source close to Parnell said. “Everyone knew it. By the end of the day, every time Sean’s phone rang or beeped, half a dozen people would roll their eyes, turn to Sean and ask, ‘Tapper?’”
Tapper has also reached out to people close to Parnell, including political allies, attempting to get the Parnell campaign to issue a joint statement that downplays the CNN anchor’s actions.
CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tapper has behaved like “teenage girl who just lost her prom king boyfriend,” the source close to Parnell told Fox News, adding that he would be stunned if Parnell’s campaign actually issued a statement defending Tapper.
Parnell declined a request for comment when reached by Fox News and his campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
During a recent onslaught of phone calls and text messages, Tapper has been painting his relationship with Parnell as a friendly one, spinning a narrative that they’re old pals.
“To say they’re friends is a massive overstatement,” the source said, noting that Tapper initiated the relationship. "They’re professional acquaintances at best, this is a distraction for Parnell."
Tapper has insisted to Parnell’s friends and allies that he was simply looking out for a buddy by encouraging him to primary a Republican instead of challenging Lamb, but some close to Parnell believe that the CNN anchor was attempting to keep Lamb’s seat safe, according to the source who believes that Tapper is still trying to “intimidate” Parnell.
Parnell has since received messages from friends and allies that parrot the talking points Tapper told the candidate himself, specifically that the influential CNN anchor was looking out for him, according to the source.
The Twitter DM obtained by Fox News last week confirmed that Tapper had previously urged Parnell to run in a “safer” district for Republicans, as opposed to taking on Lamb. Tapper admitted that he was trying to get Parnell to run in a different district.
“And best of luck in your race. For the record, I wasn’t trying to talk you out of running -- I was trying to talk you into running in a safer R district! Lol,” Tapper wrote to Parnell on November 8.
Parnell appeared on “The Mark Levin Show” last week to discuss why he decided to seek office, his military history and why his district is so important for President Trump in November. During the conversation, Levin asked Parnell if Tapper attempted to discourage him from running in this district.
Parnell admitted for the first time publicly that the CNN anchor urged him not to run against Lamb.
“Well, I typically don’t make it a habit of talking about personal conversations, but I will tell you... back in October, I told Jake I had little interest in running in a safe Republican seat. Why would I run against one of my future Republican colleagues, that I consider friends, and they’re doing a good job,” Parnell told Levin. “I told him I had little interest in the status quo, and my mission is to take back the House, to take the gavel away from Nancy Pelosi, and give the power in this country back to the people. Ultimately, I wanted to give the people of Western Pennsylvania a voice in their political destinies because right now they don’t have one.”
Parnell added, “That’s what I told Jake back in October and my stance on it hasn’t really changed.”
“Election interference from a @CNN host,” former acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell tweeted following Parnell’s appearance on Levin’s radio show.
Grenell is invested in the story, as last week, Tapper denied urging Parnell not to run against Lamb to Grenell via Twitter direct message. Grennell shared the message once the direct message obtained by Fox News contradicted Tapper’s denial.
“Jake lied about his involvement and is now trying to intimidate witnesses. His actions are not what journalists do... his actions are what political operatives do. But CNN doesn’t care because the goal with [CNN President Jeff] Zucker has been and always will be to help Democrats. Jake will get high fives from the Zucker team for what he did. It’s sad how far CNN has fallen; my many friends there are really upset with the current leadership,” Grenell told Fox News when asked for additional comment.
Fourth Watch editor Steve Krakauer, a former CNN digital producer, wrote that Tapper’s actions help prove CNN has changed in recent years.
“The ethical constraints that once existed have been removed. Opinions are welcome on CNN now from journalists. Objectivity now includes opining,” Krakauer wrote.