MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Adam Schiff
Date: Nov. 16, 2012
Location: Unknown

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Democratic congressman Adam Schiff of California sits on the Intelligence Committee and was in the House hearing room this morning. Congressman Schiff, this is so sensitive. Is it true or not true that the United Nations ambassador, Susan Rice, was given the correct known information about what happened in Benghazi when she went on those five television shows on Sunday a few days after the attack? Was she given the accurate, up-to-date information on what had really happened and that it was a terrorist attack?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, he was given the best assessment the intelligence committee had at the time. And I asked General Petraeus on this exact point, you know, Were the talking points we were given their best intelligence assessment at the time? And we were given that late in the day on Saturday, late in the afternoon. And he said, Yes, these were the best -- this was the best assessment they could do without disclosing classified information.

MATTHEWS: Whoa! Whoa! Stop right there! Stop right there!

SCHIFF: Yes.

MATTHEWS: He also said, according to what I`ve heard in the testimony
today, that he always believed that it was a terrorist attack.

SCHIFF: Yes, he did. He said that...

MATTHEWS: Well, how can that be both true?

SCHIFF: Well, he...

MATTHEWS: If he gave her the honest testimony to give to the television programs that Sunday after the attack, which was a terrorist attack, then she didn`t get -- she never got told that! He knew it and didn`t tell her.

SCHIFF: Well, no, you know, I think what the general was saying, that when he first briefed the Congress, he felt, and I think many of us did, you shoot mortars and RPGs at an American diplomatic post, that`s an act of terror.

The question really was not whether you describe it as terrorism. The question was, was it pre-planned? Who committed the acts and how do we find them and bring them to justice?

You know, what the intelligence community got wrong, and the general acknowledged that this was wrong, is that they thought initially that this was a protest that was either hijacked or got out of control, that certainly, terrorists and extremists were involved in, but that it began with a protest.

It did not begin with a protest. But the key thing in terms of the master (ph) is the ambassador was given, as we were, the best assessment at the time, as flawed as that was...
MATTHEWS: Look, I am a clear thinker, and I know you, are Congressman.

SCHIFF: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let`s be clear here.

Did he believe -- from the very earliest dispatches he got and cables he got on this, did he believe it began as a protest, or did he believe it was always a terrorist operation?

SCHIFF: No, he believed that it began as a protest, but he also believed that terrorists and extremists were involved, and that`s I think consistent with what he said at the time, although, you know, at the time he also caveated, as all of the intelligence community did, that these were very initial reports, that they were going to get a lot more information and that we need to be concerned that this was..

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s try it again.

SCHIFF: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let`s try it again.

SCHIFF: Yes.

MATTHEWS: From what I understand today is he said he didn`t give her all the information because he wanted to keep some of it classified, so he wouldn't give up our sources over there, our contacts.

SCHIFF: No, Chris, first of all, he didn`t say that he gave her this information.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the CIA director signed off on the talking points that she used to go on the TV shows, isn`t that right?

SCHIFF: Well, he said that -- he said that he signed off on the talking points that we were given as members of Congress. He doesn`t know what talking points the ambassador was given.

But I asked him that to the degree that what she said on those Sunday talk shows tracked to the talking points that we were given as members of Congress, and it tracked almost identically, was she giving the intelligence community`s best assessment at the time that did not divulge classified information? His answer was yes.

You know, it was clear from his testimony that, number one, they were wrong about the protest, the I.C., the intelligence community was wrong. Number two, there was never an effort to politicize this. There was never any manipulation by the White House.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. That`s not -- that`s a loaded word. Let`s stay away from loaded words.

SCHIFF: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHIFF: Well, Chris, this is the allegations that`s being made. And so to the degree that some of my colleagues on the other side...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That`s interpretative. But that`s interpretative. I want to get to the facts.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHIFF: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Look, here is the question. McCain and Graham, they`re out there pushing the case that she misled the American people, she should not be secretary of state or even considered for nomination because she misled on purpose. Is there any evidence that she did?

SCHIFF: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. And, in fact, if Ambassador Rice departed from what the intelligence community told her and told us was their best assessment, then she`s open to legitimate criticism. But she didn`t. She took what the intelligence community said, this is our best sense of what happened.

MATTHEWS: OK.

SCHIFF: How can you fault her for doing that?

MATTHEWS: Oh, no, I think she`s clean. My problem is with Petraeus. From the day he saw the news reports and what she said on the Sunday shows, including "Meet the Press" from our network, from the day how he saw how she categorized it as beginning as a protest and somehow being hijacked by the bad gives with RPGs and heavily armed and all that, from the minute he heard her say that and learned that that was not the case, why didn`t he correct the record?

SCHIFF: Well, at the time that he heard her say that, that is what he thought took place. He did think it began with protests.

MATTHEWS: When was he disabused of that? When did he learn the full story?

SCHIFF: I think we learned the fully story when...

MATTHEWS: When did he learn it?

SCHIFF: Well, I think he learned the full story in the most graphic way when we got the video evidence, and that was not until well after she appeared on those Sunday talk shows.

Now, there are legitimate questions about why didn`t we get that evidence sooner?

MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he give it to us?

SCHIFF: Why didn`t the general give it to us?

MATTHEWS: He knew the country was misled, perhaps by accident, I will take that, by the secretary -- or ambassador to the U.N. We were misled. We were all believing what she said. We all thought this thing was hijacked.

SCHIFF: Chris, hold on a second, hold on a second here. When you say misled, that is a politicized term. There was nothing deliberate about this. Unless you believe that General Petraeus and the deputy director, now acting Director Morell, and the DNI director were all in on some conspiracy, they were doing their job.

MATTHEWS: No, no.

SCHIFF: And, yes, they got it wrong. Their initial assessment was wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re missing my point. Congressman, you`re missing the point.

SCHIFF: OK.

MATTHEWS: I`m dealing with the news here as we get it.

SCHIFF: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I don`t like rolling disclosure. At some point, he got the full story. Why didn`t he come forward? Why did he have to be dragged into that hearing room today and put before both committees to get the truth? Why are we only getting the clarification today? Why didn`t he as CIA director go to the president, the public ought to know what really happened? Why didn`t he ever do that?

SCHIFF: Well, the intelligence community did put forward approved assessments over time that gave us the clear picture and debunked the idea that there was a protest.

And you can accuse them of being too slow to do that. And, information, we have asked them exactly these questions, why it took so long to get to the truth and to get a more accurate picture. Of course, they need to put this forward to us, Chris, in a way that doesn`t divulge classified information.

But I don`t think there`s any evidence -- I certainly haven`t seen any evidence, that General Petraeus or any of the other intelligence community were trying to mislead anyone. They are professional. They were trying to do their job. And we can fault them for getting the initial assessment wrong, but I don`t think we can ascribe any kind of malice or intent to deceive here.

MATTHEWS: No. But when your pants are on fire, someone should tell you your pants are on fire. You shouldn`t have to ask, are my pants on fire? He`s only now giving us the straight skinny. Anyway, that`s my view. I`m going to try to get some more information.

Congressman Adam Schiff from your California, thank you for your straight story on this.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Chris.

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