Jon Stewart’s scathing exchange with Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks over the Pentagon’s bloated budget turned a controversial CNN anchor into a sour lemon.
On Monday’s episode of CNN this morning, Don Lemon was caught on a hot mic after airing a clip of Stewart confronting Hicks about the DoD’s failure to pass an audit of their $850 billion budget for the fifth time.
He likened the departments inability to account for billions of tax payer funded dollars to “waste, fraud, and abuse,” when many members of the armed forces are forced to rely on food stamps to get by.
A six-minute clip of their exchange at the War Horse Symposium in Chicago on Thursday, has since gone viral with 11.1 million views.
Lemon’s remarks about Stewart were caught as the final seconds of the CSPAN video was wrapping up, when the audio faded out and his microphone went live.
“He gets a lot of leeway with the comedian thing, though,” Lemon told co-hosts Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins.
When he realized his catty jab was broadcast live, Lemon tried to back track with a hasty compliment.
“We were just discussing that Jon Stewart is so much more than a comedian. He is a thought leader,” he remarked.
Stewart ran further interference by adding that the former Comedy Central host “needs no introduction’ due to his prolific advocacy for veterans’ rights.”
“Yeah, I was saying comedian and television host, he’s so much more than that,” Lemon praised lamely.
“I don’t even know if you need to qualify Jon Stewart as that. But good interview there.”
Stewart has been a staunch advocate for veterans rights, and has thrown his celebrity behind advocating for the PACT Act of 2022, which addresses the health care, research, and resources or veterans exposed to toxic substances while serving.
The former Daily Show host ruffled Hicks’ feathers when he stated that “good journalism uncovers corruption,” and suggested that the military audit doesn’t delve into efficacy, just delivery of items they ordered.
Hicks argued that was the standard practice for any audit, but Stewart shot back that “generally those audits” aren’t looking at expenditures totaling more than $2.1 trillion.
He noted that there was a lot of “waste, fraud, and abuse,” within the department.
“‘Audit’ and ‘waste, fraud, and abuse’ are not the same thing,” Hicks interrupted. “So, let’s decompose these pieces for a moment.”
She noted that an audit was exactly what Stewart had just described, but said hat the DoD’s inability to pass one “is not suggestive of waste, fraud, and abuse. That is completely false.”
“That is not the same as saying, ‘We can’t do that because waste, fraud, and abuse has occurred,'” she defended. Stewart shot back that in his world, she just described what waste is.
Hicks made the mistake of asking him how the military’s ineptitude to properly inventory translated into being wasteful.
“If I give you a billion dollars and you can’t tell me what happened to it, that to me is wasteful. That means you are not responsible,” Stewart responded.
“But if you can’t tell me where it went, then what am I supposed to think? And when there has been reporting–I mean, this is not, look, I’m not saying this is on you and that you caused this.”
Hicks laughed that she was “pretty sure” that she hadn’t personally caused anything.
“But I think it’s a tough argument to make that an $850 billion budget to an organization that can’t pass an audit and tell you where that money went,” he continued.
“I think most people would consider that somewhere in the realm of waste, fraud, or abuse because they would wonder why that money isn’t well accounted for.”
“And, especially when they see food insecurity on military bases and they see…”
Hicks was thrilled to pivot towards anything but the audit and tried to laugh off his line of questioning.
“I kind of understand where you’re trying to go, other than the dollars, which really bother you,” she said with a laugh.
“I think it doesn’t really bother me. I think it’s all connected,” Stewart deadpanned back.
Disastrously, she asked him to tell her how he believed that everything was connected, and Stewart laid it out for her in an embarrassing fashion.
“When I see a State Department get a certain amount of money and a military budget be ten times that, and I see a struggle within government to get people like, more basic services,” he began.
“I mean, we got out of 20 years of war and the Pentagon got a $50 billion raise. Like, that’s shocking to me.”
Stewart said that he might not understand the exact details of the “incredible magic” of the audit process, but he can’t figure out how “$850 billion to a department means that the rank and file still have to be on food stamps.”
“To me, that’s f–king corruption,” he added.
Stewart said that if that thought process “blows” Hicks mind, that she’s guilty of institutional thinking.
“It’s not looking at the day-to-day reality of the people that you call the greatest fighting force in the world,” he wrapped up.
“I’m not looking to pick a fight with you,” he concluded. “But I am surprised at the reaction to these questions are, “You don’t know what an audit is, bucko.” Like, that’s just weird to me.”