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CNN "Erin Burnett Outfront" - Transcript

Interview

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SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, the president clearly stated on September 12th, it was an act of terror. It was in the context of the death of Ambassador Stevens and his security detail. That's why he was there. That's why he was praising both the courage and sacrifice of individuals in making clear it was an act of terror.

BURNETT: And let me ask you about this, though, because -- how do you explain the actions of the administration then?

For a full week after the attack when spokesman Jay Carney was asked about it on the 13th, he didn't use the word, terror.

Ambassador Susan Rice, of course, on the 16th, said, "We don't have information at present that leads us to conclude this was premeditated or preplanned."

On the 17th, the State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland asked if she regarded it as an act of terrorism, the formal word, said, "I don't think we know enough."

And then on September 25th on "The View" when the president was asked about it, he said there's no doubt "the ongoing assault, that it wasn't just a mob action," which was also still unclear.

Why what appears to be a real hesitancy to use the formal words?

REED: I don't think it's the hesitancy. I think it was a recognition, quite early on, that this was an extraordinarily, chaotic situation in Benghazi. That it was difficult to get accurate information about what precisely went on. In fact, that's why the president, actually, the secretary of state, called on Ambassador Thomas Pickering to conduct a formal inquiry.

BURNETT: Why then, though, did they -- if they were so careful to not say anything, did they say that it was linked to a movie? That it wasn't premeditated or preplanned?

REED: Well, here's the situation. One, there was an hour long attack, if you will, on the legation in Benghazi. It was clear and the president said the day after, this was an act of terror. This was not an accidental occurrence.

It wasn't -- and I don't think he made any reference to the video in the context of this attack on the legation. But it's not clear. It's still trying to establish the facts of whether this was an opportunity unfortunately seized on by terrorists or was preplanned. That has to be determined carefully by Ambassador Pickering and he's doing that right now.

BURNETT: CNN has reported that the government knew within 24 hours that it was not only a terrorist attack, but there were phone calls intercepted with groups linked to al Qaeda, things of which, of course, the intelligence community was aware, and some say that the lack of mention of an al Qaeda linked group for such a long period of time from the government may stem in part from the fact that vanquishing al Qaeda was a specific part of this president's foreign policy achievements.

I want to play you a speech he gave last Thursday, a little piece of it, Senator, then I'll show you something else. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I said that we end the war in Afghanistan and we are. I said that we'd refocus on the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 and today, al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is dead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Now, the president gave a speech that sounds extremely similar today in Iowa, except for something really important doesn't seem to be there. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Four years ago, I told you we'd end the war in Iraq and I did. I said we'd end the war in Afghanistan and we are. I said we'd focus on the terrorist who actually attacked us on 9/11 and we have and bin Laden is dead. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And he obviously didn't include the part about al Qaeda being on the run. So is there something to this line of questioning, that al Qaeda on the run was such an important narrative for this administration that they didn't want to talk about al Qaeda's involvement here?

REED: Al Qaeda has been set back dramatically, most particularly by the death of bin Laden, which the president ordered, conducted heroically by Navy SEALs. The fact that there are groups that identify with jihad, identify with Sharia law, identify with extreme radical positions, they still exist and this is a continuing struggle.

But to suggest al Qaeda is still being led by bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11 and others, is completely wrong.

BURNETT: Senator Reed, thank you so much for your time tonight, sir.

REED: Thank you, Erin.

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