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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Senator McCain is joining us now from the debate site at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to talk about your unique perspective on debating these two individuals later. Let's go through some issues, beginning with Libya right now.

"The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the president's daily intelligence brief for a week after the 9/11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi for a week was suggesting this was a spontaneous protest that resulted in the death of these four Americans.

It looks -- if that's true, that looks like a major intelligence blunder, but what do you say?

MCCAIN: Well, I'd say we should then question everything we hear from the intelligence community. That's gross incompetence. But also the president had other sources of information.

Wolf, I had open information -- all of us did, who have any knowledge whatsoever that this was not a spontaneous demonstration that was triggered by a video. There was no demonstration.

You don't have to have an intelligence estimate to know that. They had realtime video from the site itself in a drone overhead. It's ridiculous and outrageous to blame it on intelligence sources when facts are obvious before your very eyes. So it's ridiculous.

It's an attempt to put the blame -- first they threw Hillary under the bus. Now I guess they're going to throw the CIA under the bus, but the president is the one responsible.

And he told people in the world and in this country that it was a spontaneous demonstration and they kept talking about the hateful video when it was not true.

BLITZER: Because as far as the U.S. Ambassador, Susan Rice, is concerned, the briefings that she received, the guidance from the intelligence community apparently was what she said on those five Sunday morning television shows that day. So the question, I guess, to you is, is she to blame for trusting the intelligence community, the CIA, the National Intelligence Center or whatever, or is the intelligence community to blame for giving her bad information?

MCCAIN: I think it's probably a combination of the two, common sense, as I said before, common sense -- I was on one of the Sunday shows, unfortunately not CNN at the time, or one of the Sunday shows.

And the president of the Libyan National Conference came on immediately after her and said this was an al Qaeda attack. I mean, he knew it. We knew it. We knew that you don't take mortars to spontaneous demonstrations.

You don't do that. It was -- I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I don't know whether they were wilfully deceiving the American people or whether it was incompetence to the degree that I've never seen the likes of which.

BLITZER: I know you have great admiration for General Petraeus, the director of the CIA. But if the CIA was providing bad information, I assume you'd want to know about that.

MCCAIN: Yes, I would, but it's a debacle. And the president is the one who's responsible for -- in April and in June, there was attacks on our consulate. The British closed their embassy. The International Red Cross closed theirs.

There was an attack on the British ambassador. The last message we got from Chris Stevens was his concern about security at the consulate. I don't expect the president to know when 16 people are moved in or out or something like that.

But I certainly expect him to know in his daily intelligence brief that things were deteriorating in Benghazi to a terrible degree. And then, of course, when it happened, we saw all this business of spontaneous demonstrations, which anyone with any knowledge knew --

By the way, the CIA station chief in Benghazi's first message back was that this was a terrorist attack and we all knew and they knew that there was an al Qaeda-affiliated organization there. This is really an unacceptable screw-up and obviously the president should have known better.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the debate tonight because you're unique in this regard. You've debated both Mitt Romney when he was seeking the Republican nomination, you won. You debated the president when you were the Republican nominee. He won that. I'm going to play a couple of clips of you debating both of these individuals four years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: My hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt used to say, talk softly, but carry a big stick. Senator Obama likes to talk loudly. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Senator McCain, this is the guy who's saying, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That, I don't think, is an example of speaking softly.

MCCAIN: Timetables was the buzz word for withdrawals --

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Why do you insist on not using the actual quote?

MCCAIN: The actual quote is, we don't want them to lay in the weeds until we leave. That is the actual quote.

ROMNEY: What does that mean?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, Senator, who's the better debater, from your perspective? I know you're not an honest guy. You'll tell us what you really think.

MCCAIN: I think they're both excellent. I think the president has a great deal of charisma and likability on the part of the American people. I think we saw in the first debate that maybe he'd dulled a little bit after four years.

And Mitt, obviously, had to sharpen his skills going through those rather unpleasant debates that he went through. So I think they're both going to be excellent tonight. I think it was pretty much a stand-off the second debate. So I think they're both excellent.

BLITZER: I know you'll be watching. Have you given Governor Romney any advice?

MCCAIN: Could I say both better than me? I think that one of the things that Mitt will do tonight is to tell the American people, we believe in peace through strength.

We think that that's the best way to avoid conflicts, not to allow President Obama to paint him as some guy who's going to be hair trigger, that's going to get us into a conflict.

He understands the limits of American power as well as the possibilities of American power. And I think that's the major message that he needs to get across tonight.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, thanks for joining us.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Wolf.

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