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CBS "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer" - Transcript

Interview

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So to get some reaction to that and other things, we go to our go-to guy in Arizona for news, weather, and sports, John McCain.

How's the weather out there, senator? And good morning to you.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: It's very nice and balmy. I think the storm may not reach Arizona. But, obviously, the disruption of the airline -- the whole nation, obviously. And our prayers and thoughts are with those who lie in the path of the storm. And we'll keep praying.

SCHIEFFER: All right.I want to ask you about that endorsement by the Des Moines Register. I mean, sometimes endorsements matter, sometimes they don't. What about this one?

MCCAIN: I think in a close race, the Register is very well regarded. And of course it's almost a man bites dog story because the Register has not endorsed a Republican since, I guess, Calvin Coolidge. I don't know. But - so I think that aspect of it is -- makes it a big story. And of course it's bound to help a little bit, at least in a very close race. And we view Iowa as almost a toss-up.

SCHIEFFER: Actually, not since Richard Nixon. He was the last republican.

MCCAIN: OK.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this, senator-- in the last days of this campaign, if this storm turns out to be what they're telling us it's going too, who gets hurt the most by it?

MCCAIN: I'm not sure that it gets hurt. But I-- I think that the president of the United States is the commander in chief. The American people look to him, and I'm sure he will conduct himself and play his leadership role in a fine fashion. So I would imagine that might help him a little bit.

But I'm not sure it will affect votes. People have been exposed to this very long campaign. For the first time, foreign policy is now part of this discussion that we're having. I've been traveling all over. This tragedy turned into a debacle and massive cover-up or massive incompetence in Libya is having an effect on the voter because of their view of the commander in chief. And it is now the worst cover-up or incompetence that I have ever observed in my life.

SCHIEFFER: Let me get back to that just in a second. Let me just ask you what you said there. Are you saying the president should he come off the campaign trial now and devote himself to directing storm-relief efforts and that sort of thing?

MCCAIN: I'm sure he will. At least for a period of time I'm sure that the president will. We all remember New Orleans.

SCHIEFFER: What about -- what about what you just said about Libya? Are you saying now that this was a deliberate cover-up coming out of the Libya, that in fact this was not what the administration said it was, but something else entirely. And that, I guess, if it was a cover-up, are you saying they did it for political reasons?

MCCAIN: I don't know if it's either cover-up or gross -- the worst kind of incompetence, which doesn't allow -- doesn't qualify the president as commander in chief. You've got to -- the buildup to it. We knew of two attacks on our consulate. The British ambassador assassination attempt. Repeated warnings. Repeated warnings. The last message our beloved ambassador sent to us concerns about security in Benghazi. He had even voiced them to me when I was in Tripoli. Nothing was done.

I may not expect the president to know about movement of a few people back and forth, but he certainly should have known about the deteriorating situation. And nothing was done.

On the day of, obviously, there was no military either capability or orders to intervene in a seven-hour fight. And probably the worst of all of this, of course, is the gross, gross, outrageous statements that he made and his-- I was on your program when Susan Rice came on. And I was slack-jawed when she went through that routine of the-- that this was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a video. We now know there was no demonstration. There was no mob. So how could intelligence community ever reach a conclusion that there was a spontaneous demonstration when there wasn't?

You know, this administration is very good at touting and giving all the details like when they got Bin Laden. But now, we know that there were tapes, recordings inside the consulate during this fight, and they've gotten-- they came-- the FBI finally got in and took those, and now they're classified as "Top Secret." Why would they be top secret?

So the president went on various shows, despite what he said he said in the Rose Garden, about terrorist acts, he went on several programs, including The View including Letterman, including before the UN where he continued to refer, days later, many days later, to this as a spontaneous demonstration because of a hateful video. We know that is patently false.

What did the president know? When did he know it? And what did he do about it?

SCHIEFFER: Well, I was just going to say, senator, you have called for declassifying the drone pictures. Apparently there were drone pictures. Why -- have you seen those pictures, senator?

MCCAIN: No, I have not. But what I do know is, that those in the surveillance records from inside and around the consulate will show that there was no demonstration. The Turkish ambassador left his -- the consulate and said good-bye to Chris Stevens at 8:30 at night. There was no demonstration.

So for literally days and days, they told the American people something that had no basis in fact whatsoever. And that is the president of the United States. And so, also, by the way, he said he immediately ordered action to be taken. Well, no action was taken over seven hours. Now we find out the secretary of Defense decided not to take any action.

You know, somebody the other day said to me this is as bad as Watergate. Well, nobody died in Watergate. But this is either a massive cover-up or incompetence that is not acceptable service to the American people.

SCHIEFFER: What do you think Mitt Romney needs to do if he called and you said, what, I do need to do now, John, to close this?" What would you tell him?

MCCAIN: I'd say keep doing what he's doing. I think that national security, as I said, foreign policy, is now entered into this discussion. I think he is got some momentum. It isn't over till it's over, as Yogi used to say. But I think, again, project the image of leadership, a capability to be commander in chief, and by the way, this-- this whole debacle in Libya has exposed the failures of the Obama foreign policy whether it be in Iraq, where al Qaeda is now on the upswing. There's al Qaeda training camps in Iraq. There's Iranian planes flying weapons to Bashar Assad over Iraq. Syria, 34,000 people now killed, and it's now spilling over into Lebanon, Turkey, et cetera.

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