Jake Tapper on his new political thriller, "The Hellfire Club"

CNN anchor and correspondent Jake Tapper is known for his hard-nosed interviews that seek to get at the truth of our contentious times. But now in his new novel, Tapper turns his attention to another fractious period in U.S. history.

In "The Hellfire Club," a political thriller set in 1950s Washington, Tapper writes about a time when the Red Scare and McCarthyism ruled the city.

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"Sometimes you can write with greater clarity about your feelings about things as opposed to the facts that you focus on when you write nonfiction. When you write fiction, there were things about Washington that I've experienced and wanted to write about including the swamping nature of it, the compromises people come to town and are forced to make, and also when writing about Joe McCarthy, the indecency and lies that he put forward that people didn't take a stand about," Tapper said Thursday on "CBS This Morning."

Charlie Marder, the main character in his book, is an unlikely congressman and World War II veteran.

"Then little by little, he's asked to make compromises. And ultimately, next thing he knows, he's in way over his head," Tapper said. "And that's – I see that happen all the time in Washington. People, Democrats, Republicans, they come to town. They want to do good, and they're forced to make compromises. And they lose themselves."

Tapper was fascinated by the '50s, he said.

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CNN's Jake Tapper

CBS News

"It's this time we idealize in American popular culture as sweet and serene and benign. But truly, it's a time of menace," Tapper said. "Like everything on the surface might seem great if you're white, but – because certainly it's right before Brown v. Board of Education, things were not great for women, etc. – but on the surface it's like Pleasantville. But underneath, there's McCarthyism, there's the Red Scare, communists are literally infiltrating our government. It is a horrific time, and people are terrified."

Asked whether he could have predicted possible parallels between 2018 and the era of his book when he started working on it during the Obama administration, Tapper answered, "no." 

"They say history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. And I heard a lot of rhyming when doing research on this book," Tapper said.