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CNN "Erin Burnett Outfront" - Transcript

Interview

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Well, why so much confusion? Senator Chris Coons is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has been briefed on the situation. And first, sir, thank you very much for taking the time. Let me just start and ask you, since I know you have been briefed and know everything that there is to know from intelligence officials. Why don't we have more answers yet?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER COONS (D-DE), SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, Erin, first, thank you for the opportunity to be on. And let's focus on what President Obama said today at the U.N. meeting at the general -- the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. He laid out in a strong and clear speech that America is determined under his leadership to make sure that those who killed our ambassador to Libya and three other Americans will be brought to justice. That is a statement that has weight and credibility, because he has successfully led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and an effort over several years to deliver withering attacks at the leadership of al Qaeda.

I have been, as many other senators have been, a participant in a secure, classified briefing, and I can't talk very much about the details of what we were told there. But I will tell you that I am comfortable that the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the FBI promptly launched a thorough and searching investigation on the ground in Benghazi to learn exactly what happened and what was a chaotic and confusing situation. And I am confident that we continue to have a leadership role in the world as the president laid out today in front of the United Nations, rooted in American values, but that will not allow Islamist jihadist terrorists to push us back out of the region.

BURNETT: So when you say that you're confident in what is happening on the ground, let me put the question directly to you, then. Why is that when that CNN was in the consulate days after the horrible attack that they found that the -- the diary of Ambassador Stevens' thoughts and his fears and not the U.S. investigators. Why weren't they the ones who found something like that which was -- was just lying there?

COONS: That's an excellent question. We did not get briefed on the specifics of CNN's acquisition and use of the private diary of Ambassador Stevens. That wasn't one of the topics on which we were briefed. That does raise a real question about the appropriateness of the use of material from a private diary. But it does, as you put it, raise a question. If it was just actually lying out in the open was there in fact appropriate efforts to secure the consulate?

One of the larger points I hope watchers take into mind is that we rely on host country police and national military forces to secure our embassies and consulates around the world. We have seen a whole wave of protests in countries around the region. And frankly, the cooperation we've gotten from the Libyan national government after this tragic event has, as the president said, been positive.

BURNETT: Right.

COONS: But it was deeply concerning that in other parts of the region we didn't get the support and the response we hoped for and expect from allies and partners of the United States.

BURNETT: And I know there's been a lot of questions about that as well. What about, though, the take-away that I laid out at the top, which some people are coming to this conclusion. You know, when the Libyan government from the beginning said this was pre-planned and first Susan Rice and then Jay Carney said it was not preplanned, although obviously there has been a little bit of change in the position from the administration on that front. But that -- and when there were the warnings given by Libyan officials to American Embassy officials on the ground, the State Department says they were never made aware of those. Now, all of that may be completely true. But doesn't it lend itself to this situation or impression that the State Department is trying to say, well, we didn't know. And because no one told us, you can't hold us accountable for what happened on the ground.

COONS: Erin, I think what's going to matter here is the conclusions that come out from a thorough and searching forensic review of the evidence on the ground. Now that there are FBI intelligence community and diplomatic security forces in place, reviewing the details, interrogating suspects, working in partnership with the Libyan national government, I'm confident that when the Senate returns to session in November, we will get a thorough briefing on the lessons learned from this tragic incident and on what we should be doing going forward to ensure security for U.S. diplomats and representatives in this uncertain and troubled part of the world.

But let me be clear about this. This tragedy, this loss of an American ambassador and three others shouldn't be made part of the partisan fight that is our presidential election and other elections around the country. And I think it is difficult at times, frankly regrettable that some candidates have tried to seek political gain in characterizing this one way or the other. I really think what we should be focusing on is the important lessons we can learn from this, and sustaining America's engagement in a critical part of the world, whereas you know, there are so many other places that demand and need our attention and engagement.

BURNETT: Yes, there are and I know you spend a lot of time focusing on those, as well. Senator Coons, thank you very much. One of them of course is Mali and we'll be joined exclusively by the prime minister of Mali later on in the program.

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