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NBC "Today" - Transcript

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NBC "Today" Interview With Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

Subjects: Mexican Drug Cartels, Right-Wing Extremists Interviewer: Matt Lauer

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MR. LAUER: Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security is also in Mexico City.

Madame Secretary, nice to see you. Good morning.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Good morning.

MR. LAUER: So even as President Obama is heading to Mexico to show support for President Calderon, President Calderon is pointing the finger at us here in the United States, saying, "We've got to clean up our act if he has any chance of solving his problem."

Do you agree with that?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, what I think is that both countries have work to do to solve this problem. We can work on our own demand for drugs as Secretary of State Clinton said, but also on the flow of guns and cash going south across our border into Mexico that are fueling these cartels.

Mexico needs to work on its own law enforcement capacity and taking on these cartels right in their homeland.

MR. LAUER: You know, President Calderon wants a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban that expired during the Bush administration. When you look at the numbers that 90 percent of the 12,000 weapons Mexican officials recovered from these drug cartels in the last year or so were made and sold in the United States and many of those as we just heard from President Calderon are assault weapons, how can President Obama, who ran on an issue against assault weapons, how can he not deliver on that?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, let me just say this. First of all, we can't wait for whatever happens in the Congress on something as clearly controversial an assault weapons ban reinstatement to take on these drug cartels. This is a problem that's very urgent it is right now and with 6,000 plus homicides in the northern states of Mexico last year, 500 plus of those were assassinations of law enforcement, public officials, and we want to do several things, one is, help Mexico reduce that violence in its own homeland, but also make sure we don't have significant spillover violence into the United States.

MR. LAUER: Let me move on to another subject, Madame Secretary if I can. In the last several days, the Department of Homeland Security released a report warning, among other things, that right- wing extremists could use the bad economy and the election of the country's first black president to recruit domestic terrorists to carry out attacks against the homeland. It said that veterans might be attractive recruits because of their experience in combat skills, but and this is a big but, no specifics, no plots currently under investigation were mentioned in this. Why not? And why release the report without specifics?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, these are not intended to be specific, case-by-case. These are intelligence assessments. They are for situational awareness for law enforcement, indeed, as the VFW said yesterday, this is an assessment, not an accusation and I really do want to stress to the veterans out there watching this today, that report and we do not mean to suggest that veterans as a whole are at risk of becoming violent extremists --

MR. LAUER: Well, you're saying that because as you know --

SEC. NAPOLITANO: However, in terms of situational awareness, it's just a factor.

MR. LAUER: There's been an uproar over this. Conservatives have said that this is offensive, a blatant propaganda effort designed to characterize conservatives as racists, anti-American dangerous extremists and John Boehner in Congress said, "To characterize men and women returning home after defending our country as potential terrorists is offensive and unacceptable."

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, he wants to make some political hay, but here, let's focus on what this is. It's an assessment of a situation where you have a down economy; other factors that go on that historically have given rise to violence. Now, we have a responsibility -- we fight issues or try to protect against violence all the time. This was an assessment of things just to be wary of, not to infringe on constitutional rights, certainly, not to malign our veterans, in fact, our department has a huge number of veterans and we also have a branch of the military service ourselves, the Coast Guard is part of our department.

So I think what has happened is taking a few words -- there has been a lot of spitting out there in Washington, D.C. land, but all we're trying to say across is, look, there is situational awareness that needs --

MR. LAUER: Right.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: That needs to go on. These are routine reports, in fact, this one was begun months ago, in fact, in preparation before this new administration took office. So these are just routine reports that go out. This one just happened to hit the Washington media stream.

MR. LAUER: Madame Secretary, I appreciate your time this morning. Good luck in Mexico City.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Thank you so much.

MR. LAUER: Okay.


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