Pubdate: Sun, 27 Aug 2000 Source: Newsweek (US) Copyright: 2000 Newsweek, Inc. Contact: Address: 251 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019 Website: Author: Michael Isikoff, NEWSWEEK


September 4 issue -- Legendary newspaperman A. M. Rosenthal was speaking freely. "I'm just saying this to you," he confided to White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey during a November 1996 telephone chat. Not quite.

Unknown to Rosenthal, his conversation with McCaffrey--in which they discussed how to attack financier George Soros for his efforts to liberalize drug laws --was being taped.

McCaffrey, NEWSWEEK has learned, has made a practice of recording talks with journalists--without necessarily telling them. The existence of the tapes was a closely held secret until this summer, when the drug office belatedly turned over two dozen audiocassettes in response to a 1997 demand for evidence in a lawsuit. (A McCaffrey aide says they were only recently found in a storage closet.) The drug czar insisted in a deposition that the tapes were made "with the permission of both parties." But that was apparently not always the case. "I don't recall anybody telling me they were going to record this," Rosenthal said. Anita Manning, a USA Today reporter also taped by McCaffrey, said: "This is just creepy."

It is legal in the District of Columbia for one party to tape a conversation without the consent of the other. But did McCaffrey also tape government officials or foreign leaders? "Absolutely not," said his spokesman, Bob Weiner. The taping, he insisted, was limited to press interviews and was done solely to ensure that the drug czar wasn't misquoted. But by failing to notify some reporters, he conceded, the office "may have screwed up."