MSNBC "Meet The Press" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: Nov. 18, 2012
Location: Unknown

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

GREGORY: We are back. Joined now by the man leading the charge against the Obama administration and U.N. ambassador Susan Rice on this issue of Benghazi, the senior senator from South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham. Senator, let's get right into it. You've just heard the chairs of the Intelligence Committees on Benghazi. The bottom line point, did Director Petraeus call this terrorism from the get go? They say yes. They don't understand why the administration didn't call it the same two days later. How do you react?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC; Armed Services Committee): Well, I think one of the reasons that Susan Rice told the story she did, if the truth came out a few weeks before the election that our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, had been overrun by an al Qaeda sponsored or affiliated militia, that destroys the narrative we've been hearing for months that al Qaeda has been dismantled, bin Laden is dead, we're safer. And Susan Rice just did not say it was a result of a mob spawned by a video like Cairo. She actually said on Face The Nation, "I want to remind the American people this president promised to go after bin Laden, refocus on al Qaeda. He got bin Laden. Al Qaeda has been dismantled. And the truth of the matter is nothing could've been further from the truth, and the story she told reinforced a political narrative helpful to the president, but disconnected from reality.

GREGORY: But let me just interrupt on that point. Let's be-- be very clear about what you're saying because you also heard Senator Feinstein say unequivocally the notion that there was a cover-up or an attempt to mislead for political reasons is absolutely wrong. She says that it's character assassination, the way you're criticizing her, who-- you believe the president of the United States sent his ambassador to the U.N. out to mislead the American people so that he could get some sort of political gain before the election? That's the cover-up you-- you're accusing them up?

SEN. GRAHAM: No. I'm saying that the ambassador that had nothing to do with Benghazi-- why would you choose someone who had nothing to do with Benghazi to tell us about Benghazi? That's kind of odd. The president said, why pick on her? She didn't know anything about Benghazi. She was the most politically compliant person they could find. I don't know what she knew but I know the story she told was misleading. I don't know why it was misleading. But let me put this in context. Would this White House mislead the American people about national security events? I think they might simply because when the bin Laden raid occurred, they leaked every detail about the raid. We have a Pakistani doctor in custody because he told about the role he played. The underwear bomber case where we stopped a plot in Yemen came out in the New York Times. They told us about how this administration stopped the cyber-- the role of cyber attacks on Iranian nuclear program in three weeks. We heard a lot of details about classified information to make this president look good. So would-- if they would leak classified information to make him look good, would they withhold information to prevent him from looking bad? I think you could say look at that. And secondly, our Democratic colleagues on the Valerie Plame case and Scooter Libby, all insisted the Bush administration could not investigate themselves. When we alleged that the leaks at the highest level of government that compromised classified information to help the president look strong politically, they would not agree to special counsel. You got two U.S. attorneys under Eric Holder investigating the highest levels of this government for crimes, leaking classified information to make themselves look good. Now, you have a situation where we're being the mis-- the American people are being misled, and details that could hurt them politically, are not coming forth until after the election.

GREGORY: Why Senator-- hold on, one second. Why did the…

SEN. GRAHAM: So, I want to get to the bottom of it.

GREGORY: Why did the office of the Director of National Intelligence on September 28th issue a statement in which they-- effectively bolstering the very remarks that Susan Rice made on this program and others, that there was a spontaneous element to this and there was-- contradictory information? Was she not working off the same-- talking points that the intelligence community was working off of and that were changed or were not said publicly, as Senator Feinstein said, for some reason to-- to cover up or to-- to not tip their hand that they were investigating these terror groups?

SEN. GRAHAM: Isn't it kind of odd, if the reason is to take al Qaeda out of the equation, to make sure that al Qaeda doesn't know that we are onto them, that the story they told helps the president enormously three weeks before the election because I don't buy that for one bit. That-- that makes no sense to me. Al Qaeda knew we knew about them. We had people in Germany that survived the attack that could be interviewed. We had drones overhead. I think it's very odd that the storyline they chose omitted al Qaeda…

GREGORY: Mm-Hm.

SEN. GRAHAM: …which would help the president enormously, and I don't buy it. So-- and I don't buy the Intel community did a great job. I-- I like Mike Rogers and Dianne Feinstein, but to say the intelligence committee-- community did a good job, what about the months before this attack? What about the rise of al Qaeda in Benghazi? What about the British ambassador closing the consulate in Benghazi because it was too dangerous for the British? What about the Red Cross leaving? What about all of the warnings come out of Benghazi? Did the CIA tell the president that Benghazi is falling into the hands of al Qaeda? And I blame the president more than anybody else. Susan rice is a bit player here. Was he-- was he informed of the June attack on our consulate where they blew a hole where 40 people could go through? Was he aware of the August 15th cable where Stevens was saying we can't withstand a coordinated al Qaeda attack? There are 10 militia groups all over Benghazi. I blame the president for…

GREGORY: Senator….

SEN. GRAHAM: ….making this a death trap. I blame the president for not having assets available to help these people for eight hours. We need a select committee not only to look at intelligence failures, but how could the Department of Defense not help these poor people for over eight hours and why did the Department of State for months ignore pleas for help? We need to get this under one roof.

GREGORY: Senator, can Susan Rice-- can Susan Rice be confirmed of Secretary of State if nominated by the president?

SEN. GRAHAM: I-- I don't know. You know, I'm deferential to the president's picks. I voted for Kagan and Sotomayor. President, oh-- Senator Obama voted against John Bolton, Elido and Roberts. He had a very high bar for confirmation. I have a very low bar. I'm going to listen to what Susan Rice has to say, put her entire record in context, but I'm not going to give her a plus for passing on a narrative…

GREGORY: But your…

SEN. GRAHAM: …that was misleading to the American people…

GREGORY: You wouldn't filibuster her nomination?

SEN. GRAHAM: ….and whether she knew it was misleading or not. I'm going to wait and see what the State Department's review has, but I'm very disappointed in-- Susan Rice, somebody who had nothing-- who knew nothing about Benghazi, telling a story that was disconnected from reality that did make the president look good at a time when quite frankly the narrative should-- should have been challenged, not reinforced that al Qaeda was dismantled. That's what they wanted us to believe, that al Qaeda was dismantled, and Benghazi was exhibit A that that storyline was not working and was untrue.

GREGORY: Let me turn to the issue of David Petraeus and his resignation because of his affair. He's been central to this Benghazi testimony. But the cover of-- Time magazine gets to something else, the headline, The Petraeus Affair. How his fall, it says, exposes a system failure at the highest levels of national security. You just heard Chairman Rogers say that he actually thinks the president knew before Election Day about this affair with Paula Broadwell. Do you believe that?

SEN. GRAHAM: I could see how he would not know, to be honest with you. I'm just not here to pick on the president. I look forward to working with him on immigration and solving the fiscal cliff problems. But I'm going to get to the bottom of Benghazi and hold him accountable for a national security breakdown, but when it comes to the affair itself, it seems the oddest story in the world that an FBI agent on his own decided to get the FBI to look in e-mails that were threatening. If that's going to be the standard of federal investigations, they better increase the FBI by a 100 percent. That whole thing is bizarre to me. I'm not interested in it unless there's a national security component. And actually I could see how the president would not know that.

GREGORY: Before you go, Senator, I know it's-- it's head spinning. There's so much to talk about, including politics and the future of your party. But all of these things are very much on the menu right now. Mitt Romney…

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

GREGORY: …got a lot of attention this week by talking about gifts he thinks the president gave to minorities to get their vote, to fundraisers. This is a portion of what he said. I want to get your reaction to it.

MR. MITT ROMNEY (Donor Conference Call; Wednesday): What the president-- president's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government and-- and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote. And-- and that strategy worked.

GREGORY: What's your reaction to that?

SEN. GRAHAM: We're in a big hole. We're not getting out of it by comments like that. When you're in a hole, stop digging. He keeps digging. The Hispanic community, 71 percent voted for President Obama, and they're all disappointed in President Obama. There's high unemployment among the Hispanic community. President Obama did not embrace comprehensive immigration reform like he promised. But they voted for him because he's a lesser of two evils. Self deportation being pushed by Mitt Romney hurt our chances. We're in a death spiral with Hispanic voters because of rhetoric around immigration. And candidate Romney and the primary dug the hole deeper. You know, people can be on public assistance and scheme the system. That's real. And these programs are teetering on bankruptcy. But most people…

GREGORY: Yeah.

SEN. GRAHAM: …on public assistance don't have a character flaw. They just have a tough life. I want to create more jobs and the focus should be on how to create more jobs, not demonize those who find themselves in hard times. Our party can adjust. Conservatism is an asset. But rhetoric like this keeps digging a hole for the Republican Party and if we don't stop digging, we're never going to get out of it.

GREGORY: Senator, there's more to get to but I have to leave it there this morning. I thank you very much.

SEN. GRAHAM: Egypt. Watch what you do and how you do it. You're teetering with the Congress on having your aid cut off if you keep inciting violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

GREGORY: We've covered it all. Senator, thank you for that. I appreciate it very much. Yeah, other than that, have a nice day.

SEN. GRAHAM: I can't think of anything else to say.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT