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Public Statements

CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

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First of all, your reaction, Congressman King, to President Obama's surprise visit to Afghanistan for this signing ceremony today?

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, as president and commander-in-chief, I applaud him being in Afghanistan. I think it's important for the troops to see the president and certainly after all of these years of fighting where the troops have done such heroic work and did such an outstanding job. I think it's important for the president to be there and signing the agreement with President Karzai. I mean, I reserve judgment on the agreement so we get a chance to see it.

But he's our commander-in-chief, he's representing the country. I wish him well. I think it is always very good when the president of the United States can visit a war zone, especially on such a key moment as this.

BLITZER: So, you're not among the Republicans saying he's spiking the football and doing a victory lap on this the first anniversary of bin Laden's death?

KING: I'm reluctant to say anything critical of the president when he's out of the United States. As far as the trip to Afghanistan, that's certainly within his purview as commander-in- chief. I do believe in the last several days, though, where he has I think -- first of all, he did a great job in ordering the killing of bin Laden. I know people in the Situation Room, I know the tough decision he had to make, I give him full credit for that.

I don't think it was right to put out campaign commercials being critical of Governor Romney. That was politicizing an historic event. I can't picture General Eisenhower doing that. I can't picture Harry Truman doing it.

To me, it was a wrong thing to do. And also if we can get into that, you just had Jose Rodriguez on. You can say that he was able to have bin Laden killed because of intelligence obtained in the previous administration.

All of that, though, to me should not be the topic. He's entitled to mention the killing of bin Laden, but to dwell on it the way he's done I think is a mistake.

But having said that, his visit to Afghanistan is perfectly right. I applaud him for doing it.

BLITZER: Who's right and based on everything you know, and you may not have access to all of the intelligence information. But I know you have access to a lot. Jose Rodriguez, the former has of CIA's clandestine services, who says the enhanced interrogation provided the initial tip that eventually resulted in bin Laden's death or Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein who say he is flat-out wrong?

KING: From al that I know, I agree with Jose Rodriguez. I can tell you the day that bin Laden was killed, I had a former CIA employee call me that day and detailed to me what he believes the information from the courier came from those interrogations. That was long before this debate even began. It was actually the day that bin Laden was killed.

And from talking to people like General Hayden and others, I believe that the enhanced interrogations were extremely important and extremely vital, and I think the president was wrong during the campaign referring to that is torture. I believe it was a necessary evil that had to be done at the time.

But again, bottom line is that bin Laden is dead. I think it was the combined efforts of the Bush and Obama administrations, which is the way foreign policy should be run, especially on key issues like this. And the fact that the president's campaign has tried to politicize it in the last several day, I just think it's wrong.

BLITZER: As chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, do you believe for all practical purposes al Qaeda's operation, global operations for all practical purposes are effectively dead?

KING: No, I don't. I think the al Qaeda central has been dramatically weakened. But now we have offshoots in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in the Maghreb, al Qaeda in Iraq, we have to be very concerned, the Boko Haram, also al Shabaab.

So, in many ways, even though I doubt al Qaeda could ever carry out another 9/11-type attack, they can still in some ways be more lethal because they're under the radar screen. They've metastasized. They've morphed. And we also have to be very concerned about the homegrown terrorists in our own country that are being recruited over the Internet.

So as we saw with the attack on Times Square, with the attempted attack on Times Square, the attempted attack on the New York City subway system, that al Qaeda or its offshoots are still capable of carrying out an attack. We've scored tremendous success over the last 10 years. Al Qaeda is also adopting. I think we're ahead of them. We have to stay ahead of them. And we can't let our guard down.

BLITZER: We're getting new pictures. Stand by for a second. I want to show viewers these pictures.

Take a look at this. This is the president of the United States and the president of Afghanistan shortly after they signed their strategic cooperation agreement at the presidential palace in Afghanistan. You see it right there. And here are the two leaders walking out of the presidential palace, the U.S. flag and the Afghan flag.

Here's a blunt question for you, Congressman King -- can the U.S. really trust Hamid Karzai to deliver? Because he's been so erratic especially in recent years.

KING: He certainly is an inconsistent ally. I'm not here to argue for Karzai, but I do believe we need to use whatever leverage we have with Karzai and whatever influence we have with the Afghan government no matter who is there.

It's not because he's a friend of ours and not because we trust him. We have to show that it's in his interest and ours. It's in Afghanistan's interest and ours to make this work. This is not based on love. It's not based on friendship. It's based on the harsh reality of life.

The fact that neither Karzai nor the U.S. wants the Taliban to come back. If the Taliban comes back then we have to worry about al Qaeda coming back in and that will bring back the terrible days prior to September 11th.

Where all the people of Afghanistan were suffering and it was used as a base of operations to carry out attacks against the United States. To me this is strictly mutual interest, very hot/cold interest that we have and Karzai in Afghanistan have.

BLITZER: Congressman King, thanks very much for joining us on this important day. Congressman Peter King of New York is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

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