August 23rd, 2008
11:20 AM ET
10 years ago

Political opponents may have bugged Biden in late 80's

Biden campaigns for president in 1987.

Biden campaigns for president in 1987.

DENVER (CNN) – Joe Biden’s run for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination is well documented, but one intriguing story remained secret for 13 years: the office where he plotted campaign strategy was bugged.

Biden confirmed to me in a 2002 interview with Roll Call that a listening device was discovered in his Capitol Hill office in 1989 and it could have been placed during his presidential campaign.

"We couldn't understand how certain things and certain information and rumors and all this stuff about me, the plagiarizing and that stuff" made its way outside the room, Biden said. "We couldn't understand how the hell people knew some of this stuff."

At the time I was a reporter for the Capitol Hill newspaper, and learned about the bug from then-Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, who recalled finding it soon after he was elected to the Senate. Biden was moving out of the office and Lott was moving in. A security sweep discovered the listening device in a conference room.

Lott told me in the story, published on March 18, 2002, that upon learning about the bug he told Biden about it. It was unclear how long the listening device had been there, but it was no longer working, Lott said.

While Biden wouldn’t “speculate” who might have put it there he noted that he “was the only one to use" the conference room.

"I was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, but I was running for president of the United States," said Biden, who was also overseeing the hearings of Judge Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Biden was a serious contender for the 1988 Democratic nomination until news broke that he took parts of a speech originally delivered by British politician Neil Kinnock, and did not credit him. Biden left the race in September 1987.

The Delaware senator sought his party’s 2008 presidential nomination, but bowed out after a disappointing showing in the Iowa caucuses. Early Saturday morning, after CNN first broke the story, Barack Obama sent a text message out to supporters officially announcing that Biden would be his running mate.

Filed under: Joe Biden
soundoff (95 Responses)
  1. julie

    Well, once again the Republican's ( dirty tricks) side of the party showed it's ugly face. McCain knows first hand how dirty tricks are played. They went after McCain, after his New Hampshire win against Bush. Funny the so called "Maverick" McCain is now surrounded by the same people who played dirty against him to go dirty against Obama. I guess old elephants do learn new (dirty tricks).

    August 23, 2008 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  2. joshua


    August 23, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  3. RJ, CA

    Well, well! So THIS is the CHANGE you've been waiting for, folks! Obama has now - with one fell swoop - thrown his ENTIRE philosophy "under the bus!" Nice going in order to have an "attack dog" do the dirty work for Obama. Doesn't surprise me a bit. Always knew Obama was nothing but empty rhetoric.

    August 23, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  4. Peter of Oregon

    Given that the Republicans were using these dirty, unethical, and illegal tactics back in 1988, I can't imagine what they're doing behind the scenes in 2008. The things that have leaked out about that party in recent years and during this campaign is absolutely disgusting.

    August 23, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  5. Peter of Oregon

    Maybe if McCain picks Romney attention can go on someone who's even richer than him and his wife.

    August 23, 2008 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  6. BK

    Lott only knew about the bug because his repub buddies told him to watch his mouth in his own office. Obama take note. Sweep your office EVERY DAY

    August 23, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  7. Texas Witch Twister

    I told you I put a hex on you. IT'S ALREADY STARTED CAUSING YOU TO PICK SUCH A LOSER. DIDN'T YOU KNOW THE MAN ALREADY LOST THREE TIMES. Plus he correctly has stated you don't have the experience to be President. ENOUGH SAID, LET'S GO JOHN.

    August 23, 2008 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  8. Charlotte

    Maybe Obama and Biden can steal each others speeches. I guess Biden was lobbing for VP when he went to Georgia at taxpayers expense. Chairman of the Foreign Relations committee is a good reason to go. Also good for strutting your stuff, what did he learn about the situation? I have not heard a report of his trip?

    August 23, 2008 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  9. Art James

    He doesn't need to be bugged. He says plenty of stupid things in front of a live microphone.

    I think he's not so bad, but not such a good choice either. It could well be a losing choice.

    August 23, 2008 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  10. Michael Lasala

    Another example of how dirty the right wing play.. Republicans have a sad sad code ethics.


    August 23, 2008 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  11. celia

    So if 20 year old revelations are not relevant to this year's presidential campaign, why has Reverend Wright, Rezko, Obama's College thesis and every little thing in Obama's life more than 20 years ago made so much of now? Convenient, huh?

    August 23, 2008 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  12. Sammy

    To everyone who thinks this isnt worthy of mention. Same story but change the name from Biden to McCain in 1990's and... suddenly.... its important. If its small story so be it. So long as the same kind of thing is applied equally.

    August 23, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  13. Independence

    I think CNN have been cowered by Mccain whinning repeating Mccain reaction to Biden than telling the nation who Biden is as a man.
    Impressive to hear about raising his sons after the death of his wife in an auto accident.that he works in washington but takes the train every nigth to return home to his boys in delaware.very impressive character.
    ENOUGH OF REPUBLICAN SMEAR just continues to poison the nation.

    August 23, 2008 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  14. PAW, CA

    Interesting that the republican mouthpieces don't have anything better to do than come to a Biden story and insult.....guess it does make sense tho, they can't afford to have the focus on their candidate.....hehehe, the fun is just starting

    Obama/Biden '08

    August 23, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  15. TangoDancer

    CNN Archive/Political Staff: Thank you for revealing this information. It's hard to follow the news reguarly for years on end and something like this that had roots in 1988 and then 2002 – now being in the spotlight again because of the VP issue – is just fascinating American history. I would have never known about this without this report.

    To the others that quesion the relevance of this story now and why it matters, I'll try to make it clear from my perspective; This matters because it demonstrates what people (i.e. pol parties, organizations, etc...) will do to maintain a base of power. This is negative human nature which affects all of our institutions. When such situations are exposed and the truth revealed, we as voters with the limited power that we have must collectively punish those who perpetrate such acts.

    As to the article, I've read it in its entirety and see nothing accusatory against republicans or other democratic contenders from that time period. In other words, we the people really don't know who is culpable.

    A few other redneck "rural" folk commented on 2nd amendment rights and the standard insults against Obama/Biden/liberals/dems... They may have valid points, but please confine those responses to the appropriate topic under discussion. Eliminating such written rubbish from the blog site will promote more enhanced discussions about these subjects. Gracias!

    August 23, 2008 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  16. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    James, The plagiarism story was leaked to the press by the Dukakis campaign. Biden was fighting him for the Dem. nomination at the time. So it stands to reason that if Dukakis knew, it was he that bugged a fellow Democrat's office, not the Republicans. Facts ARE facts, and once again, lies and distortions of facts from you Obamites. Let's go over the FACTS again: Biden said the plagiarism was discussed in his office, the office was bugged, Dukakis leaked the story, ergo, Dukakis planted the bug!!

    August 23, 2008 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  17. Helen

    Come on all you lying Republicans. Spreading rumors that Obama is a Muslim, all those stupid photos etc. you have running around and sending out to the ignorant people who vote for you and who have no common sense. Quit spreading lying rumours. Is this how you go about winning an election? Why don't you people speak the truth for a change? Look on what Rove/Bush did to McCain seven years ago with the lying rumours. This is the same thing all over again except McCain has brought himself down to the same old Republican low level. SHAME ON HIM!!!!!


    August 23, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |

    No HRC - NO OBAMA.

    August 23, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  19. Jerry, Adams Center, NY

    Big Big MISTAKE, you'll see. Too bad Obama did not have the smarts to choice Hillary. Too bad.

    August 23, 2008 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  20. FL Democrat

    What a poor decision. Obama blew the chance to excite and unite Democrats simply because he couldn't get over his own ego long enough to pick Hillary Clinton (the deserving candidate, the qualified candidate).

    Well, at least now I dont' have to feel guilty for voting for McCain in November. Gosh, I hope he picks economic guru Romney!! 🙂

    August 23, 2008 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
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