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MSNBC "Meet The Press" - Transcript

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GREGORY: And in the immediate term as I talk to Israeli officials, they still will not rule out a ground invasion which presumably could happen anytime. Andrea, Tom, we'll hear from you again later in the program as we get into our roundtable. Thank you both very much.

I want to turn now to the House and Senate intelligence chairs from Michigan Republican Congressman Mike Rogers and Democratic Senator from California Dianne Feinstein. Welcome to both of you.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA, Chair, Senate Intelligence Committee): Thank you.

GREGORY: I-- I want to stay in the Middle East and talk about what has been a-- a central preoccupation for you in hearings this week, and that is the aftermath of this terror attack on our consulate in Benghazi in Libya, of course. And again, as we're on the air this morning, the central question is, who knew what when, and how was this described to the American people? Did they-- did the government say what it was, when it first happened? And you had former CIA director David Petraeus testifying in private at the end of the week on Friday. This is how the AP describes his testimony, and one of the contradictions that it appears to bring up. "Ex-CIA Director Petraeus told lawmakers during private hearings Friday that he believed all along that the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a terrorist strike, even though that wasn't how the Obama administration initially described it publicly.

Representative Peter King of New York said Petraeus had briefed the House intelligence committee on September 14th, and he does not recall Petraeus being so positive at the time that it was a terrorist attack. He thought all along that he made it clear there was terrorist involvement, King said. That was not my recollection." So Senator Feinstein, did Petraeus contradict himself or has he contradicted the White House's version of events?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: We have a transcript of that meeting on that day. And Petraeus very clearly said that it was a terrorist attack and outlined who he thought might be involved in it. So any…

GREGORY: This is-- this is right after the attack?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: That's the day after the attack. I think there's no question about it. What-- what has concerned me about this is really the politicization of a public statement that was put out by the entire intelligence committee, which Susan Rice on the 16th, who was asked to go before the people and use that statement, did. I have read every one of the five interviews she did that day.

GREGORY: Right.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: She was within the context of that statement. And for this, she has been pilloried for two months. I don't understand it. It has to stop. If it continues, it's going to set up once again a partisan divide in these-- the House and the Senate, which Sena-- which Congressman Rogers and I have tried to overcome and have overcome with some success with respect to the intelligence committees.

GREGORY: But Congressman Rogers…

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI, Chair, House Intelligence Committee): Yeah.

GREGORY: …to my understanding, talking to government officials, is that what Susan Rice said on MEET THE PRESS five days after the attack and other programs as well, was very similar to what then Director Petraeus said privately on September 14th, that there appeared to be a terrorist element to it but that-- that it appeared first to be spontaneous but became a terrorist attack, and that that was his belief. So were they not speaking basically in the same way?

REP. ROGERS: Well, first of all, why-- why are we doing the investigation? I think that's important. So our job as chairman of the intelligence committee is to make sure we did not have an intelligence failure. Didn't-- was there an intelligence failure on that day? That's the first question we have to get right. And I'll tell you, I am with a high degree of confidence today will tell you that there was not an intelligence failure. The intelligence community had it right, and they had it right early. What happened was it worked its way up through the system of the so-called talking points, which everyone refers to, and then it went up to what's called a deputy's committee. And what I found fascinating about this investigation, and, again, my role here in my mind is to say, was there an intelligence failure? If so, how do we prevent it from happening again? It went to the so-called deputy's committee, that's populated by appointees from the administration. That's where the narrative changed. And so how that thing got back to Senator Rice, I think, is probably another question.

GREGORY: Ambassador Rice.

REP. ROGERS: What we do-- Ambassador Rice, excuse me. We do know-- we do know that the intelligence community as they presented it was accurate. And it did include terrorism and included the notion of what was asked.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well-- well, I'd like to respond to that.

GREGORY: Okay. But can I just do this to-- to frame this a little bit? We're showing Susan Rice there on MEET THE PRESS. Let me just play the critical clip from that morning and then have you make your point, senator. This is Susan Rice on five days after the attack.

(Videotape; September 16, 2012)

GREGORY: Can you say definitively that the attacks on-- on our consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Stevens and others there security personnel, that was spontaneous? Was it a planned attack? Was there a terrorist element to it?

SUSAN RICE (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations): Well, let us-- let me tell you the-- the best information we have at present. First of all, there's an FBI investigation which is ongoing, and we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired. But putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo. Almost a copycat of-- of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted of course by the video.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Senator, you said that two days before that, Director Petraeus said it was terrorism. Why didn't Ambassador Rice call it terrorism two days later?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Because she could speak publicly only on unclassified speaking points. I have some concern with those speaking points. But let me correct one thing.

GREGORY: Right. But what are the concerns and why speak at all? In other words, why were-- why was there a reference to it being a terrorist attack taken out of the public talking points?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: That is something that we're going to find out. But they-- but it was. That's the point. Now, with the allegation that the White House changed those talking points, that is false. There is only one thing that was changed, and I've checked into this. I believe it to be absolute fact. And that was the word consulate was changed to mission. That's the only change that anyone in the White House made, and I have checked this out.

REP. ROGERS: And-- and this one is a counterpoint here, and-- and again, we get along well, we may disagree on this issue. But we get along well on many, many issues. What they-- what was said and-- and as I conclude the course of that investigation was that at some point, that those so-called talking points, in other words, the narrative of how we would call this event, went up to what's called a deputy's meeting. When-- when asked, there was no one in the professional intelligence community could tell us who changed what. So that-- there-- there goes the disconnect. So the intelligence community said this is-- this was a terrorist act.

(Cross talk)

GREGORY: Why wouldn't we call it what it was? That's what I don't get.

REP. ROGERS: That's a great question.

GREGORY: Why not just call it what it was? Who-- why are we protecting?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: I happen to think that's absolutely correct. I don't know who we were-- who we were protecting. I do know that the answer given to us is we didn't want to name a group until we had some certainty. Well, where-- where this went awry is anybody that brings weapons and mortars and RPGs and breaks into an asset of the United States is a terrorist in my view. I mean, that's pretty-- pretty clear. Also the other point was, once the video was put together, it was clear there was no demonstration. This should have been known much earlier. It also raises the concern of talking points by committee. And I have some concern about that.

GREGORY: But was there a cover-up? Do you believe that the president or anybody serving the president deliberately misled the American people about the true nature of this attack for political reasons?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: No, no.

GREGORY: Absolutely not, senator?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: That's correct.

REP. ROGERS: I don't…

GREGORY: Do you-- do you believe anyone misled the American people deliberately for political reasons?

REP. ROGERS: Well, this is what I know. I know the narrative was wrong and the intelligence was right. Now, getting between there and there, I think you have to be careful about making those accusations. I think you should have to prove it-- as an old FBI agent, you should prove it first.

GREGORY: So bottom line, as you say Petraeus…

REP. ROGERS: But the narrative was…

GREGORY: …does contradict Susan Rice. This is important. You're saying, Petraeus says, look, I said it was terrorism all along. Susan Rice told the American people…

REP. ROGERS: Well.

GREGORY: …no, we thought it was spontaneous. There's a disconnect.

REP. ROGERS: And even more important-- even more important than that, the-- the narrative as it went from the-- at least the CIA and other intelligence agencies was accurate as for what we know today. It was an act of terrorism. We knew that. So the difference was what happened when it went outside the intelligence community for, as-- as the senator called it, you know, a committee to look at this thing and make the determination on what the narrative was. The narrative was wrong. And why that's important, this isn't just about…

GREGORY: Yeah.

REP. ROGERS: …parsing words and who was right. There were some policy decisions made based on the narrative that was not consistent with the intelligence that we had. That's my concern. And we need to say, hey, we need to figure out how that happened, and let's make sure this doesn't happen again.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: We gave…

GREGORY: Did our people die because we didn't protect them adequately? Is that the bottom line here?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: …we gave the direc-- David, we gave the direction yesterday that this whole process is going to be checked out.

GREGORY: Right.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: We are going to find out who made changes in the original statement. Until we do, I really think it's unwarranted to make accusations.

GREGORY: But can I ask this? Did our people die in that consulate because of the government's failure to adequately protect them? Be that the State Department, be that the CIA?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, that's another subject. That's another subject.

(Cross talk)

REP. ROGERS: There are two issues here. One is the physical security of the consulate itself. Based on all the intelligence that we knew, all of that information said clearly there was a high degree of threat. I believe that there was a catastrophic failure in recognizing that threat posture clearly on that date. That's a separate issue than the intelligence issue. We had-- clearly, the intelligence was right. Clearly, others had made decision based on that threat including other nations had pulled out of Benghazi. We knew all of that was going on through the investigation. But the State Department for whatever reason didn't make the adjustments. I argue, and I think the Senator would argue, would have been prudent to protect the lives of the-- that's one issue. The second issue is the narrative that was created following it did not match the intelligence. And did the policy decisions that happen afterward cause problems for the United States? And I argue it has, which is why we have agreed together we're going to get to the bottom of how that happened.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: If I might say, I think we are vulnerable. Intelligence should be used in assessing the safety of our 285 diplomatic missions all over the world. And there should have some precise effect. As of mid-August, we know that Ambassador Stevens was very unhappy with the level of security. And we've seen that testimony. We also know that some improvements were made to the annex. I believe that the security aspect of this is one of the biggest things. I went through hundreds of threat warnings, threat warning, after threat warning, after threat warning over the last six months. And also the prior events that had taken place. There is no question that Benghazi was one of the most difficult places. It should have had much better security, and no one should believe that these militias who were unarmed, who were stationed in front of his security are going do anything other than run when they see people approaching them with guns.

GREGORY: I want to return to the personal aspect of Director Petraeus who had to resign because of his affair with Paula Broadwell. Senator, you initially thought it was too bad that he had to resign, that you wished the president hadn't accepted it. I know he testified before you, apologized for his affair, but he did so privately. I was last with Director Petraeus when he was commanding our forces in Afghanistan. That was back in 2010 and I remember spending a lot of time with him there. And at that time, he was so-- so relished the opportunity to be back in the theater of war, commanding our forces, he seemed to be improving his relationship with the Obama administration where that had been strained. Can you give me some personal sense of how he appeared before you on the substantive matters but also the personal matters at hand?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Yes, I can. For me, personally, this is a heartbreak. I respect David Petraeus. I respect his 37 years of service to our country. I respect his command ability. I respect this great intellect that he has where he can speak literally on dozens of subjects. You know, training manuals, counterinsurgency, various military tactics. And he is one of our brightest and our best. There is no counter to that. Here's a problem that we have. Our tours are long. They are multiple. Whether you're a private or a four star, coming back into civilian society is difficult. Here's a man, and you see TimeMagazine, and you see the medals he has. You see the stars. One day, he takes all of that off. He's in a plain blue suit like this. He looks no different from you or you or you. He looks a bit different from us. Having said that, there's-- there's no entourage. There's no driver. He gives an order at the CIA. There's discussion. There's flak. People don't like this. And then he goes home to wash dishes. It is a major adjustment. I think we need to look at this transitioning of people. I think we need to look at our tours. Now this is not an excuse.

GREGORY: Right. You're getting closer to excusing men for behaving badly.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: I am not. I'm not excusing him. As you look at it, it became more complicated. I think he did the right thing in resigning.

GREGORY: By resigning. You do think it was the right thing.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: And I think the president did the right thing in accepting the resignation.

GREGORY: Is his government service over in your judgment?

REP. ROGERS: I don't know. Remember, this is still ongoing. Let me-- how this started is very important. Because you hear a lot of people thinking this was the FBI investigating a sexual undisclosed affair. Not the case. This started by a cyber threat that certainly had elements that would rise to the level of, well, blackmail. Now, a senior government official, not Mister Petraeus, also weighed in at some point in this investigation-- before the investigation was open, and said I think we have a security threat issue here that needs to be investigated. Now, that's how this case got started. And why that's important is because if you are a brand new CIA officer, and I have all the respect for David Petraeus and I hope his family goes through a healing process and then he'll move on with his life, but if you're a brand new case officer at the CIA and have an undisclosed relationship and an undisclosed way of communicating outside of the bounds, you get fired. Why? Because it's a counterintelligence threat to someone who has very sensitive and classified information. That's how it got started. And it probably should have been brought forward earlier as a national security threat, both to Congress and other players.

GREGORY: You think the president should have been told before Election Day?

REP. ROGERS: I'm not-- I'm not sure the president hasn't-- was not told before Election Day. The attorney general said that the State Department-- excuse me-- the Department of Justice did not notify the president. But we don't know if the attorney general did.

GREGORY: You think the president-- that's new-- that's news that the president knew before Election Day.

REP. ROGERS: I didn't say that.

GREGORY: You don't…

REP. ROGERS: I said-- I said I don't know. I will tell you…

GREGORY: You think there's no evidence that he did.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: There is no evidence of that.

REP. ROGERS: The attorney general knew months before this.

GREGORY: Yeah.

REP. ROGERS: There was no formal notice to both Congress or the intelligence community.

GREGORY: Right.

REP. ROGERS: I find it-- we just have to ask the question. I hope he'll come out and talk to us about it.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: I spoke to the attorney general.

REP. ROGERS: We could-- we could resolve-- we could resolve this very quickly with a conversation in the intelligence spaces if he did have that conversation with the president.

GREGORY: All right, final point here, senator? Final point.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, I spoke to the attorney general. He explained the process that the FBI carried out, and that there's a reason for that. And the reason for not disclosing it is so that there is no manipulation, that there's an ability to move ahead without any political weighing in on any side.

GREGORY: All right, more to come on this. Thank you both very much.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

REP. ROGERS: Thank you very much.

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