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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

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Mike Rogers is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. I believe he's been fully briefed on this development.

Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: All right, give us your sense. Is this a big deal, a modest deal, a little deal? What's going on here?

ROGERS: Well, this is a huge deal. And this was briefed to me as chairman and the ranking member back in the middle of the summer as it started to unfold.

I agree with the director of the FBI. It seemed a little bit Hollywood. It just almost seemed implausible that Iran would take this very serious next step and contract somebody they believed had access to the United States, transfer money for the operation to begin to kill the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil here in Washington, D.C., and with the discussion of collateral damage not being an issue, meaning civilians could be killed.

And you think about we have been talking over the last few months about Iran being the most aggressive state sponsor of terror in the world, and now stepping it up. I mean, they have got more blood on their hands than most of the terror organizations on the State Department's terror list, and that's what makes this so serious and it means that we're going to have to take steps to let Iran know that we will not tolerate this behavior.

BLITZER: Well, what does that mean, take steps? The U.S. already has enormous sanctions imposed on Iran. What else, short of military action, is the Obama administration supposed to do? ROGERS: Well, the first interim, I believe, is that we have got to get the IAEA. You know, they're certainly cheating on their nuclear weapons program. They have said it themselves. They have given the stiff-arm, and they think that they have world position with them.

I think this clearly shows that they're going to lose that, so we need a more aggressive IAEA to put pressure on their developing of their nuclear weapon program. We need the Europeans to really step up to the plate, and this is their opportunity. They can no longer stand aside and watch Iran take this kind of action.

And they know of their past bad behavior. This is a significant line that they have crossed. So I think this is an opportunity for the administration to get the Europeans on board and send a very clear message to the Chinese and the Russians, listen, this isn't about your own regional self-interest. This is about a nation state who has gone and crossed the line, boundary, when they're talking about committing acts of terror, supporting acts of terror in another country like the United States.

BLITZER: Eric Holder, the attorney general, Robert Mueller, the FBI director, they were both very precise in saying elements of the Iranian government were involved in going through and plotting this alleged assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador.

What does that mean, elements? Do you believe, for example, that the highest elements, including the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, personally authorized the assassination of the Saudi ambassador?

ROGERS: I can't say right now because of the nature of the information and how it was obtained, but I will tell you this. I have a very high degree of confidence that this was Iranian government- sanctioned event.

BLITZER: So that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself probably knew about it, is that what you're saying?

ROGERS: You can imagine something this significant, committing an act of terror on a foreign soil, I can say again with high confidence I believe it was an Iranian government-sanctioned event.

Sorry. I don't mean to be cute on you, Wolf.

BLITZER: No, I understand.

ROGERS: But we need to be careful as this unfolds.

But, again, as a former FBI agent myself, it's a little shocking to see. At the level of the transaction, the amount of the money, the quickness of the decisions that were made in order for certain elements of this to fall into place tells us that it is clearly tied to the highest levels of the Iranian government.

BLITZER: And what can you tell us about these other reports we're getting that the Israeli Embassy here in Washington, maybe the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires in Argentina were also on the Iranian alleged hit list? What can you tell us about that?

ROGERS: Well, you can imagine, if they're this aggressive -- now, remember, they went to recruit somebody and but for the good fortune happened to be working for the Drug Enforcement Administration at the time.

They went to contact this person because of their connection to the drug cartel. So during the course of that development, and they believed -- and this is a very, very, very, very, very credible source. They believed, the Iranians believed through their cutout that they had somebody who had great access, who had access to explosives and firearms and an organization that would allow them to pull it off.

So during the course of that, you can imagine the kinds of discussions that may have happened during the course of those meetings that would lead certainly the attorney general and the FBI to publicly state, hey, guess what, they had other targets on their list.

And we do know, again, that Iran is one of the senior and most aggressive state sponsors of terror. They have killed U.S. soldiers, at least been responsible for putting weapons systems into the theater in Iraq and we believe in Afghanistan that's taken the lives of U.S. soldiers.

This is really an intolerable place for them to be. And given all of those discussions and seeing the operational affirmative action here, if you will, that got this thing going, I can tell you that it raised lots of concerns about those targets they talk about, the Israeli Embassy, other targets outside of the United States, to the point where these countries, these ambassadors were brought in and briefed about security precautions they may want to take.

BLITZER: Do you have a good understanding -- obviously, everyone knows about the enmity between the Iranian regime and the Israelis, but why target Saudi Arabia, a Muslim -- another fellow Muslim country? Iran is not an Arab country, but it's a Muslim country. The Saudis are a Muslim country.

What was going on here? Was this a long, planned-out operation, do you believe, or was it something that just occurred in the last few weeks or months?

ROGERS: Well, you have to understand, the Saudis do not want the Iranians to get nuclear weapons. They feel that is such a destabilizing event in the Middle East that it will cause huge amounts of trouble.

And so they have been cooperating with the international community to that end, to try to stop Iran from actually acquiring nuclear weapons, which is their expressed desire.

They have also watched as Iran has used Syria as a proxy state, Hezbollah, that doesn't always have the best intentions to Sunni Arabs in the Middle East. And so you have all of these combinations kind of coming to a head. And because of some differences they have had along the way, and Iran is feeling more emboldened. Remember, they feel they've been successful in Iraq by introducing weapon systems that have killed Americans and in Afghanistan.

They feel they have been successful in giving the stiff arm to the international community on their development of nuclear weapons. They feel like they are rising in a pretty chaotic Middle East, let alone world, and so they become brazen in their attempt to say we are going to show the world that we can dominate world and influence world affairs, not just in the Middle East but beyond.

And all of that I think was coming into play here And I think they believe that this was in their interests to have this assassination here in the United States. To them it was a two-for. You get rid of the Saudi ambassador and say, see, we'll strike you anywhere in the world, we have that capability.

And, B, it embarrasses the United States because it happened on U.S. soil. That was just an added benefit for them.

So you can think-kind of see the way they have been thinking about putting this together and how dangerous it really is.

BLITZER: One final question, Mr. Chairman, before I let you go.

The use of someone involved in the Mexican drug cartel, was that supposed to be what they all a cutout to protect in case it came out the allegation could be the drug cartel was killing the Saudi ambassador, not Iran, to have a little distance between Iran and the assassination? Is that your understanding?

ROGERS: Oh, absolutely. This is not something they necessarily would have necessarily ever publicly taken credit for, but believe me--the right people in their minds would have known about this particular operation.

But it was a cutout on a cutout. That's what made this a very sophisticated, and why many argue, and I believe that it had such close ties to the hierarchy of the republican guard and up in their government because it was a very sophisticated event.

This is not something that a small group of terrorists could have tried to put together that were rogue inside of Iran. This was a very long -- it was deliberate, they were planning all of the contingencies and so they had a cutout on a cutout happening out of Mexico City.

So you can think about how much planning went into this. And they were going to use what they saw as a real weakness for the United States, the rise of these drug cartels as a cover, if you will, for their operation. But for the fact that this person was a DEA source could have gotten a lot farther before discovered.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, as you point out and as the FBI director, Robert Mueller, points out, this could have been a movie thriller, if you will. It's got all that drama, all that intrigue, all that potential death. We'll stay in close touch with you. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Thanks very much.

ROGERS: I was just going to say this was a movie with a happy ending, though.

BLITZER: Well, I suspect the story is not over with yet. There's more going to come out so let's see what happens in the days and weeks to come.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much.

ROGERS: Thanks Wolf.

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