CNN boss Jeff Zucker urged staff not to 'normalize' Trump's behavior during election, leaked audiotapes show

Project Veritas releases first wave of CNN editorial call recordings

Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe joins ‘Hannity’ with insight into leaked tapes featuring CNN president Jeff Zucker.

Leaked audiotapes of top executives at CNN shed some light on the coordinated hostility the network has had toward President Trump in the weeks leading up to the election as well as after. 

Self-described "guerrilla journalist" James O'Keefe revealed Tuesday morning that his organization Project Veritas had been secretly recording the network's conference calls over the span of two months. Many of the recordings involve CNN President Jeff Zucker. 

In several released batches of edited clips, Zucker is heard sounding off against Trump. During a conference call Oct. 9, he urged his staff to not "normalize" the president's "erratic" behavior as he was recovering from the coronavirus, suggesting the president's medical treatment was affecting his actions. 

"OK, I just want to re-emphasize that, you know, I think we cannot normalize what has happened here in the last week with Trump and his behavior," Zucker is heard saying. "And I go back to what [CNN political Director] David, David Chalian said, that this is a president who knows he's losing, who knows he's in trouble, is sick, maybe is on the after-effects of steroids or not. I don't know, but he is acting erratically and desperately, and we need to, we need to not normalize that. … He is all over the place and acting erratically. And I think we need to lean into that."

In another conference call a week later, Oct. 16, Zucker appears to allude to the Hunter Biden email scandal that the New York Post broke just two days prior — as well as the unmasking controversy involving top Obama administration officials, including now-President-elect Biden, requesting the identity of former Trump national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn during the transition, both stories Zucker suggested the network shouldn't cover. 

"The Trump media, you know, moves immediately from — OK, well, never mind — the unmasking was, you know, found to be completely nonsensical to the latest alleged scandal and expects everybody to just follow suit," Zucker told his staff. "So, I don't think that we should be repeating unsubstantiated smears just because the rightwing media suggests that we should."

Zucker's message on dismissing the Hunter Biden controversy appeared to have later resonated with his star anchor Jake Tapper, who said Oct. 22 that the allegations against Biden's son were "too disgusting" to repeat on air and that the "rightwing is going crazy."

On Nov. 10, Zucker had an exchange with CNN field producer Stephanie Becker, who invoked the 9/11 Commission Report as something that should be part of the network's coverage of the delayed Trump-Biden transition. 

"On the issue of why it's important to get the transition going right, the 9/11 report talks about one of the problems was that the trouble that was brewing that [got] lost during the transition," Becker explained. "So, if you want a good, concrete example of what happens you don't have a good transition, well, look at the Twin Towers."

"Yeah, so I think that's an important point," Zucker responded. "I think it was just a little bit yesterday in terms of national security. I think it's really important to raise again. … I would encourage folks to think about that 9/11 Commission Report and the lack of transition."

In a Nov. 17 recording, the CNN honcho defended the network's infamous highly editorialized on-air graphics, saying, "If we've made any mistake, it's been that our banners have been too polite."

He also urged his staff that they "need to go well after Lindsey Graham," which is likely in reference to alleged communications the South Carolina Republican senator had with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who claimed Graham urged him to throw out certain ballots to help President Trump, something Graham vehemently denied. 

"There is a lot of out there, and Lindsey Graham really deserves it," Zucker reiterated. 

Several articles were written and published Nov. 17 about Graham on CNN's website, including a piece accusing him of "crossing the line" to defend Trump. 

CNN President Jeff Zucker. (Reuters)

On Tuesday evening, CNN Communications responded to O'Keefe's viral video showing him intruding on a conference call that took place earlier that morning, telling him "Legal experts say this may be a felony. We‘ve referred it to law enforcement."

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CNN did not immediately respond to Fox ' multiple requests for comment, including an inquiry about which law enforcement agency the network had reached out to. 

Appearing on "Hannity" later Tuesday, O'Keefe did not appear to be threatened by CNN's tweet, saying "We have legal experts at Project Veritas and we think that Jeff Zucker is just mad and embarrassed here for what we have exposed."

"They peddled this Russia lie for three years over there. They never apologized, they never corrected the record, and they reported fake phony and advanced conspiracy theories. … Is this a news organization to you?" Fox News host Sean Hannity asked.

"No, Sean. This is something that doesn't shock people but confirms a lot of suspicions," O'Keefe responded. "To see the president of a media conglomerate barking orders at his reporters and journalists, telling them what to cover, what not to cover. That's not anything resembling journalism I know."

"I an organization with a few dozen reporters. They come to me with facts. They're not yessing me. In fact, they're challenging me. And what Jeff Zucker is doing on these phone calls is telling people what the story is, telling them what not to cover. This is propaganda! … We've never actually seen it — fly on the wall, you can actually hear the president of the company instruct his vice president, instruct his reporters what the narrative ought to be. This is the farthest thing from journalism that I know. And I think that CNN owes an apology to the people. I mean, this is disgraceful," O'Keefe told Hannity. 

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O'Keefe compared future releases of other recordings to an "advent calendar" and that Project Veritas will be releasing more tapes "every day" in the coming weeks. He credited a "brave whistleblower insider" who approached his organization and helped coordinate the conference call recordings. 

Zucker has long expressed animus toward Trump but previously had a very working relationship with the president as the CEO of NBC Universal at the height of the NBC's hit reality show, "The Apprentice," which helped broaden Trump's popularity.

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