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Public Statements

Fox News "Fox News Sunday" - Transcript

Interview

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Joining us now, two leading senators on national security issues: Saxby Chambliss, vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, and Joe Lieberman, head of the Homeland Security Committee.

Senators, before we get to the Benghazi investigation, I want to ask you both about the growing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza.

Senator Lieberman, while Israel clearly has to be able to defend itself -- do you worry about a ground war in Gaza, especially, in this changing post-Arab Spring Middle East?

LIEBERMAN: Well, obviously it is in the first instance to Hamas, I don't think the Israelis really want a ground war. They'll go into Gaza if they feel they need to, to eliminate the remainder of the missiles, and a lot of which are supplied to Hamas by Iran, that have been coming over to Israel, hundreds of them, this year. So, really, the decision is up to Hamas, as to whether there will be a ground invasion of Gaza or not.

And remember, what Hamas is. It's not the Palestinian Authority, which has recognized the right of Israel to exist and has diplomatic relations with Israel and us. It's a terrorist group sworn to the destruction of Israel. It actually seized power in a coup from the Palestinian Authority.

So these people are bad actors and no nation would put up with what Israel has up until now and they have to defend their people and their nation.

WALLACE: But, Senator Chambliss, obviously the situation, all over the Middle East has changed dramatically, in the last year. Egypt is no longer run by a pro-American dictator. It's run by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Should President Obama put more pressure on the Egyptian government, even threaten to cut off aid, to get Hamas to stop firing those rockets?

CHAMBLISS: He needs to exert every kind of pressure he can, Chris, to try to make sure it doesn't escalate into a full-blown war between the Palestinians and the Israelis and, whatever that takes. But, you know, the problem the Israelis have is that these rockets are being fired on them, from places that they can't reach by flying over in the air. I mean, they are putting them in school yards where they are surrounded by schoolchildren and firing them from marketplaces crowded with people.

And, Israel has a right to protect itself. And, if sending ground troops in is the only way they can clean out these nests of rockets being fired at them, you know, you can't blame them for doing it.

WALLACE: All right, let's turn to Benghazi. Both of you held closed-door hearings this week with top administration officials and David Petraeus reportedly said in these closed door hearings while he always believed terrorists were behind the attack, that the administration watered down the talking points Susan Rice ends up using because they didn't want to tip off terrorists that they were on to them.

Let me start with you, Senator Chambliss, because you were in one of those closed door hearings with David Petraeus. One, did he say it? And if so, do you believe it?

CHAMBLISS: Petraeus did not say that in those words, Chris. And I did not interpret anything he said to be that.

General Petraeus, number one, is obviously a great man and great leader, both from a military standpoint and with, also, the role with the CIA and what he did say is from day one, we knew it was a terrorist attack. I mean, there was no question about it. You don't bring automatic weapons and RPGs and mortars to a so-called demonstration.

There, still, are some questions that are yet to be answered about the planning of this. Whether it was done over a period of time, or, whether it was truly a spontaneous reaction. There is no indication now that it was anything other than a planned attack.

WALLACE: But do you have an understanding as to why the talking points changed over the course of that first week? The White House said yesterday they made one change in the talking points and that was to change the word consulate to "diplomatic facility".

CHAMBLISS: Well, it was kind of interesting, Chris. At the hearing we had on Thursday and Friday, we had every leader of the intelligence community there, including folks from the State Department, the FBI, everybody there was asked, do you know who made these changes? And nobody knew. The only entity that reviewed the talking points that was not there was the White House.

So, you know, I don't know whether -- what they said yesterday is exactly right or not. But, what I do know is that every member of the intelligence community says that references to al Qaeda were removed by somebody, and they don't know who. And references to attacks versus demonstrations were removed by somebody.

WALLACE: Let me ask you a question. Will your committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, call Ambassador Susan Rice to ask her to testify?

CHAMBLISS: I don't know the answer to that question right now. Senator Feinstein and I will talk about that. We've got two more hearings scheduled where we've already got a list of witnesses --

WALLACE: Do you think she should be called?

CHAMBLISS: She's going to have to come in and testify at some point, whether it's in a closed hearing or an open hearing. We're going to have an open hearing, too. But at some point, she needs to come in and say what the president or the White House directed her to say.

WALLACE: Senator Lieberman, Dianne Feinstein -- the Democratic chair of Senator Chambliss' Senate Intelligence Committee read the unclassified talking points to reporters and she says that they showed that Susan Rice was just sticking to the talking points. Do you buy that?

LIEBERMAN: You know, I've looked at the talking points, our committee heard testimony from the intelligence community, very important to say here. That during that first week after the attack on our mission in Benghazi, the initial opinion -- and they kept saying it was initial -- of the intelligence community was that there had been a protest before the terrorist attack. Nobody could deny it as Saxby said it was a terrorist attack and that is what the talking points reflected -- whether it used names like al Qaeda, the terrorist group or Ansar al-Sharia.

So I must say, as I look at what we now know the intelligence community was saying that week -- and I look at Ambassador Rice's statements on television on the following Sunday morning, I don't find anything inconsistent between those two.

But, I must tell you that I think we are focusing on questions that are not insignificant but they are not the most significant. Of course, there was a terrorist attack. Whether or not there was a protest before it is interesting, but not that critical to me. There was a terrorist attack and the question is: who did it?

And, then, much more important for the long run -- why in the midst of a rising crescendo of intelligence that made clear that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar al-Sharia, bunch of radical groups were coming into eastern Libya, in the surrounding of Benghazi did we leave our State Department personnel there without security? And why, when they were attacked did our Defense Department not have resources in a where nearby to come to their defense? I mean, long run, those are the critical questions.

WALLACE: Well, they're going to go through those.

And I want to ask both of you a series of questions in this regard, because you do hold these closed door hearings, this week with all of the top officials. And I'm going to try to ask you to do it in a lightning round, quick questions, quick answers -- as somebody said, good luck with that.

Senator Lieberman, after meeting with top -- this isn't quite to the point but I promise we're going to get there. After meeting with top FBI officials this week, are you satisfied with their decision not to notify Congress and the White House about the investigation of General Petraeus' affair until as late as they did which was last week?

LIEBERMAN: You know, I still have questions about that. I think, first, you have to acknowledge that the FBI has developed a very important cyber security capacity, which is important to our country.

Second, they got this --

WALLACE: We're in lightning round.

LIEBERMAN: We're in the lightning round already.

I haven't answered that to my satisfaction yet. In other words, I understand why they would keep an FBI investigation confidential from everybody until they saw there was a crime but this suddenly involves two of our highest ranking generals, Petraeus and Allen. And, I think that was a different circumstance and I still have an inclination to believe that somebody should have notified the White House of that early in the investigation.

WALLACE: Senator Chambliss, are you satisfied that this personal affair involving General Petraeus did not affect either, one, the way he conducted the whole Benghazi matter, and, two, his testimony to Congress either back in September or this week?

CHAMBLISS: I see nothing to indicate that that had any impact on his decisions that he made relative to Benghazi or any other issue, for that matter.

WALLACE: And, nothing -- no impact on his testimony, there has been -- perhaps he was toeing the line in September to try to keep his job.

CHAMBLISS: No. I don't there is no indication of his testimony on Friday of that. He has always been very straightforward and he was very straightforward on Friday.

WALLACE: All right. Senator Chambliss, this is of the issues that Senator Lieberman was raising. With all the warnings beforehand, who do you to you feel is responsible for the failure to beef up security at the Benghazi consulate before the attack ever happened.

CHAMBLISS: I think that's a question yet to be answered, Chris. We've got to get State Department officials into really explain why you send an ambassador, basically unguarded with a few Libyan guards and the CIA was not there to guard him. That's not their function. WALLACE: But didn't you have Patrick Kennedy, one of the top State Department people --

CHAMBLISS: He did. And he -- that's not his function to determine security, though. But we've got the right person coming in, for our next hearing, to talk about that. And I'm sure that Joe and Susan will do likewise. But we've got to find out from the State Department about why decisions were made relative to the diplomatic security and they were obviously inadequate -- woefully, inadequate.

WALLACE: Let me just ask you, both of you in this regard. Secretary of State Clinton has not testified. Is that someone you need to hear from on this subject?

LIEBERMAN: Yes.

CHAMBLISS: I think she's agreed to come testify and she needs to.

LIEBERMAN: No, it's very important. Look, with -- what we know now about the intelligence of the terrorists who were in the vicinity of Benghazi, in my opinion, it was irresponsible to have our State Department personnel there, with only three security guards, they were easily overrun in the attack of September 11th. Either we should have given them the protection they deserved, or should have closed that mission in Benghazi, as the British government had done a short while before.

The second point is really an important one -- we are cutting back in supporting our defense, we -- during the war in Libya against Gadhafi, we had ships offshore. If those ships were still there, they could have some sent resources to knock out the second round of terrorist attacks --

WALLACE: Let me interrupt because I want to ask you that.

LIEBERMAN: Yes.

WALLACE: During the seven hours --

LIEBERMAN: Yes.

WALLACE: -- between the first attack on the consulate and the second on the annex, given the forces we had on the ground, could U.S. forces have done more realistically to protect the U.S. forces and protect -- to U.S. personnel, and, prevented the last two folks from dying?

LIEBERMAN: That's the key and it goes to preventing the last two, the former SEALs, from being killed. The answer is we didn't have resource in range. Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey acted quickly, but they had to get somebody from Spain, somebody from Croatia and some -- a group of Special Operation forces from the East Coast to the U.S. who arrived much too late.

If he had -- they sent a drone, but it was an unarmed drone. If we had an armed drone in that dangerous part of the world, it probably could have knocked out the people who are firing those mortars that killed the two SEALs.

WALLACE: But given what we had there, you are saying --

LIEBERMAN: There was no capacity to defend our personnel, in a timely way. Once the attacks occurred and we can't let that happen again. And, part of what we have to do to make sure it doesn't happen again is we adequately support our defense budget.

(CROSSTALK)

CHAMBLISS: And the one question there, too -- was it DOD's fault or was that State's fault? And we don't know the answer.

WALLACE: OK. And, finally, we've got about a minute left.

Senators John McCain and Graham this week called for a special congressional committee to investigate Benghazi. Let's look at what Senator Graham said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R - SC, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Watergate investigation benefited from a joint select committee. Iran-Contra benefitted from a select committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: I want to ask you both briefly, do you think that we need -- let me start first with you, Senator Chambliss.

Do we need a special committee or can your standing committees do it?

CHAMBLISS: Well, first of all, these two guys are two of my best friends and two of Joe's best friends, and we travel a lot together to some very dangerous places. But the committees within the United States Senate are very capable of investigating this in the right way. And this is one time I have a slight disagreement with my good friends.
LIEBERMAN: Yes, I respectfully separate from my two amigos on this one and agree with Saxby. This was a tragedy but doesn't rise to the level of 9/11/01. Our committees can handle this and come up with the answers. And if for some reason our colleagues think when we're done we haven't done a good job -- well, let them think about a special committee.

WALLACE: And I can't let you go, Senator Lieberman, you are retiring from Congress at the end of the year, 24 years, and there's been some speculation and I know you're not even been that close to this president, but there has been some speculation, have there been any talks with the administration about taking over the top spot at State, at Defense, at CIA -- any talks about it and do you have any interest?

LIEBERMAN: The answer is -- no. There have been no talks.

Second, it's not what I'm planning for the next chapter of my life. But, really, as I've always said before when it has come up, when a President of the United States, asks to you serve your country that I love, and, believe in so deeply, you've got to give it serious consideration.

But, I'm not waiting by the phone. I don't expect the call.

WALLACE: So --

CHAMBLISS: He's got my vote for confirmation, on any of the above. We're going to miss this guy, Chris.

WALLACE: Well, let me just say, Senator Lieberman, no more -- but you may be back here in a few months as Secretary Lieberman.

LIEBERMAN: That would surprise me. But it would always be good to be with you on the fair and balanced Fox Sunday show.

WALLACE: There you go! Senator, I wasn't -- I wasn't --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Senator Lieberman, Senator Chambliss -- thank you both and we'll stay on top of Benghazi and, of course, the conflict in Gaza. Thank you both, gentlemen.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

CHAMBLISS: Thank you.

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