ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos derided GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson as a "hit man" on Friday's "Good Morning America." Appearing on the program to discuss the previous night's Republican presidential debate, he alleged, "Well, [Fred Thompson has] never played a hit man, I think, in the movies or television. But he's taken on that role in the last two debates."
Stephanopoulos then promoted a conspiracy theory to GMA co-host Diane Sawyer. According to the former Clinton aide, Thompson vigorously attacked fellow Republican contender Mike Huckabee during the debate as a way to secretly help Senator John McCain's candidacy. Stephanopoulos speculated, "Before Fred Thompson got into this race, he's a close friend of John McCain. He was chairman of John McCain's campaign...So, I think what he's calculating is, 'Listen, if this can help me, great. If not, I'm going to go out helping John McCain.'"
Over on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," host Joe Scarborough slammed Thompson along similar lines, though in much harsher language.
A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:09am on January 11, follows:
DIANE SAWYER: Michigan, a must-win for Governor Romney by most accounts. Let's turn to our chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos for the bottom line. But, George, I want to show everybody the latest national poll in which Governor Romney is trailing both Governor Huckabee and John McCain. And, again, last night it seemed he had to vault himself out of the pack in the debate. Did he do it?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Uh, not exactly. Although, he had one core strategy last night and that was to speak to Michigan, not to South Carolina. It started in his first answer right out of the box. He talked about economic stresses in the state of Michigan. Took a shot at John McCain who had said that some of those jobs that are being lost in Michigan are not going to come back. McCain didn't back down at all, but it was a good moment for Romney.
SAWYER: And I want to tell everybody a little bit more about Senator Fred Thompson, because we heard Jake say that it was a big night for him, a good night for him. I want to show a clip here of Governor Thompson on his game.
FRED THOMPSON: He said he would sign a bill that banned smoking nationwide, so much for federalism. So much for state's rights. So much for individual rights. That's not the model of Reagan coalition, that's a model of a Democratic Party.
BRIT HUME: Governor Huckabee, you've got 30--
MIKE HUCKABEE: The Air Force has a saying that says if you're not catching the flak, you not over the target. I'm catching the flak; I must be over the target.
SAWYER: So, what did you think?
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, Fred Thompson-- Well, he's never played a hit man, I think, in the movies or television. But he's taken on that role in the last two debates. Last Saturday night, he went after Mitt Romney in, in, in New Hampshire. Last night, going after Mike Huckabee. Now, obviously, he sees Huckabee as his strongest opponent in South Carolina. But I think something else is going on here, Diane. Before Fred Thompson got into this race, he's a close friend of John McCain. He was a chairman of John McCain's campaign. In each of these last two debates, he's gone after McCain's toughest opponent in the states coming up. So, I think what he's calculating is, "Listen, if this can help me, great. If not, I'm going to go out helping John McCain."
SAWYER: Okay, let's switch now to the Democrats. Because, as we know, John Kerry, Senator John Kerry, former candidate, endorsed Barack Obama yesterday. And he had his running mate right there watching. John Edwards was watching. But I gather he never got through to him to tell him personally that he was going to do that. And we all remember the footage of the two of them when they were on the campaign trail. Those embraces that we saw all of the time. What's going on here?
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know what? You can't always believe those pictures. There was a fair amount of tension between John Kerry and John Edwards during the campaign. Edwards was pushing Kerry on strategy. Thought he should be tougher and more aggressive. And John Kerry got very angry with Edwards after the campaign. He believed that he had a promise from John Edwards not to run in 2008 if Kerry was going to decide to run. Instead, Edwards went full bore out on his own. The relationship got worse and worse and worse. They don't like each other at all. We saw the fruit of it yesterday.