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CNN "Erin Burnett Outfront" - Transcript

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Should the United States have known this attack on the American ambassador was coming and did the administration lie about intelligence that al-Qaeda linked groups were responsible for his death for the past two weeks? Representative Mac Thornberry is on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committee and he is OUTFRONT tonight. Good to see you, sir and appreciate your taking the time.

REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R), TEXAS: Glad to be here.

BURNETT: I know this is an issue you care a lot about. You've spent time in Mali in the past. You've been briefed on the situation in Benghazi. At that briefing, were you told that al Qaeda linked groups were responsible for the attack?

THORNBERRY: Well of course we always have to be careful repeating what we're told in classified settings, but basically, we were told something that goes -- that's consistent with what the administration was saying publicly and that is this was a spontaneous mob. It got out of hand and there were unfortunate consequences. Of course that doesn't make much sense if you just look at common sense, the fact that it was 9/11, the fact that it was a very highly organized and sophisticated sort of attack. And so that's before you get into the evidence it just doesn't -- didn't really add up.

BURNETT: It didn't really add up. I remember asking that night, people on our program, 9/11. It can't be a coincidence and --

THORNBERRY: Yes.

BURNETT: -- people were trying to say that it was a coincidence and it didn't seem to add up. Can you think of a reason though that they wouldn't have told you if they had found out in the first 24 hours it was al Qaeda linked groups, why would they not have said so publicly?

THORNBERRY: I don't know, Erin. I'm really perplexed about this. I mean it is true that al Qaeda has been diminished in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region --

BURNETT: Yes.

THORNBERRY: -- but as you point out, al Qaeda has grown, become more sophisticated and more dangerous in Western Africa and we still have al Qaeda in Yemen and in Somalia to deal with, so if you're looking for a neat campaign narrative that says we solved this problem for you this flies in the face of that, but what's far more important than that is we need to learn the lessons of what went wrong here to help protect other ambassadors and other folks who are around and that's why I think Congress will move towards an investigation to try to get to the bottom of it.

BURNETT: Yes and I know -- you know Senator Corker has been on this show. He had described the briefing that he received as there wasn't one new piece of information. He was incredibly frustrated with it, but then he's come out and asked for more information. He wants every cable for example that Ambassador Stevens may have sent to the State Department, obviously could be crucial because the State Department says hey, I know that CNN is reporting that there were warnings and I know that they're reporting the ambassador was concerned about his safety and hit list, but if he was, no one ever told us.

THORNBERRY: Yes, I think we do need to get to the bottom of it. It's not just a matter of placing blame for this incident. It really is what went wrong here because four Americans lost their lives and so what intelligence information did we have? Did it get to the right people? What decisions did the State Department make? What decisions did the ambassador himself make? Why did he go to Benghazi --

BURNETT: Right.

THORNBERRY: -- with such a light security entourage and so -- BURNETT: Especially if he was afraid --

THORNBERRY: Well and there had been attacks --

(CROSSTALK)

THORNBERRY: -- against -- yes -- exactly -- against the British ambassador just before this. So, they knew that there were problems in Benghazi. Again, we need to have facts not political spin so that we can help prevent this from happening again.

BURNETT: I'm curious who you think though ultimately should be held responsible, if indeed there were warnings signs which were missed and also perhaps for the fact that if you were briefing Congress and you knew that al Qaeda linked groups were involved and you didn't tell anybody the full story then, who should be held responsible for that?

THORNBERRY: Well, we'll see what the facts end up showing. My guess is that they only had little fragments of facts, not a clear smoking gun that says we're going to attack the ambassador at the Benghazi Consulate on this day, but there were fragments there. And the thing that is just as concerning is why would you go out and spin fragments in perhaps a political way rather than just get to the bottom of the matter. And that's what we should hold them to.

BURNETT: The report on "The Daily Beast" actually says that U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indication of al Qaeda's involvement, but also (INAUDIBLE) the location of one of the perpetrators.

THORNBERRY: Yes.

BURNETT: That they actually knew that within the first 24 hours.

THORNBERRY: After it occurred --

BURNETT: After it occurred --

THORNBERRY: Absolutely -- yes --

BURNETT: After the attack occurred --

THORNBERRY: I've seen those reports and that is very important information we need to get to the bottom of.

BURNETT: Because where is this person right now?

THORNBERRY: Yes and what do we know about him? What are his affiliations? And so that tells us the al Qaeda link, but it also goes to what your point and that is if we're going to really hunt them down as the president says, we know where he lives, 15 days --

BURNETT: Something about that does not add up --

THORNBERRY: It's taken -- it's taken a long time to get our team in there to investigate when y'all are the ones that found the diary, so something doesn't all fit together about taking this with the urgency that it needs to have.

BURNETT: All right, Representative Thornberry, thank you very much. Appreciate your taking the time and coming OUTFRONT tonight.

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