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CBS "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer" - Transcript

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SCHIEFFER: Welcome back to Face the Nation. Joining me now Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. She is a member of the Senate intelligence committee, a well-known moderate Republican who is retiring after 18 years in the Senate. And I have to say, Senator, to me it was another sign, a real sign that our political system is broken when you announced that you were retiring from the Senate, because you just couldn't get anything done there anymore. And it will be the Senate's loss. But we wish you well. Let me just talk to you -- and I do want to talk to you about your reasons and all of that, but first, you're a member of the intelligence commit. Where do you weigh in on this whole Benghazi situation?

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE, (R) MAINE: Well, first and foremost, we have to get to the truth. And as a member of the Senate intelligence committee, we're doing exactly that. We have had at least eight hours of hearings this last week. We intend to have at least three more hearings and publish a report at the conclusion of those hearings. What is most disturbing, in my estimation, is the discrepancy about those talking points and the reality that existed on the ground, and why the administration wasn't able to get the information and a more accurate picture of what transpired and delivered to the American people with confidence, and pulling the pieces together in a way that we knew exactly who was responsible you know, for killing four of our Americans and attacking our facilities. And, unfortunately, they didn't do that. It took so long. In fact, it took 17 days for the director of national intelligence even to issue a statement to say that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack. That's unacceptable in today's environment.

SCHIEFFER: Do you have any answers yet as to why -- we know that they had asked to maintain their -- the current level of security and that was turned down. Do we have any idea on what that decision was based on?

SNOWE: No. And we're still getting to the bottom of that. That's one of my primary concerns. And that's certainly what I'm driving to first of all, why there was failure for adequate security at the temporary mission. And secondly, why they didn't assess the security risks posed to that facility? They had abundance of threat reports and incidents, both to that facility and other consulates that would have suggested that they were in a high-threat environment. I sponsored -- I cosponsored the initial legislation -- I was the lead Republican in the House -- to create this diplomat security bureau and the accountability review board that also has been initiated so we can get to the bottom of it who is responsible. But essentially there was very minimal security. There were the physical barriers weren't sufficient. The attackers, the mob, overran the complex. The militia that we were depending on disbursed, did not provide any defense. And we had very few security personnel in the most high threat environment possible.

SCHIEFFER: On the anniversary of 9/11.

SNOWE: Exactly.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this, have you established why the ambassador went there on 9/11. I mean, obviously, the ambassador in any country knows the intelligence situation. He should be the most informed person in the country, because the station chief of the CIA reports to him, basically, as does everyone else in the country. Do we know why he went there?

SNOWE: Well, my understanding is that he had pre-established meetings, obviously aware of the environment that existed there. But he liked to commingle with the people in Libya and in Benghazi. And, you know, had prepared for this trip and didn't disrupt it in making those decisions about preplanned activities. But it's clear, we've got a lot of answers to secure regarding the overall lack of security and why the intelligence community weren't -- wasn't able to get the message out and the administration as to why we didn't have a full and complete pictures too who was responsible in the days following that event.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, I want to ask you about your retirement, because I really did think it was kind of a marker in time. When a member of the Senate would say this is no longer the place that one can accomplish anything. This must been a hard decision for you.

SNOWE: It was very much so, Bob. And I appreciate your comments. And I did. And It was something I had to think about, and I started to think about the future of the senate and what had transpired. It wasn't what I had been accustomed to in building bipartisan bridges. And I felt I could be a more effective voice on the outside and building bridges and providing a support system and a network to support members of congress who are willing to work across the political aisle. I'm building a web site, through social media as well, so people reward those individuals who are willing to compromise.

SCHIEFFER: What has gone wrong? When I came to Washington people compromised. Now it's a dirty word. When did that happen?

SNOWE: Well, you know, it's a good question. It happened, unfortunately, very rapidly. And somehow people think that compromising is capitulating on your principles. You couldn't be far from it. People understand you have got to solve problems, so you've got to talk to people whom you disagree. And so I thought how best that I contribute my 34 years of experience and voice on the outside so that we don't return to this kind of dysfunction ever again, especially at this moment in time for our history. But the essence of public service is solving problems. And we've lost that central purpose. And we have to return to it. And hopefully, we have some starters here with the fiscal cliff decisions, that we can have confidence-building measures in the final analysis. Because there's a sense of urgency. So hopefully the conciliation of words will turn into urgency of action.

SCHIEFFER: Are you optimistic at all about them finding some way to get past this fiscal cliff?

SNOWE: I think they will. You know, I think on the short term they have to, because every tick of the clock is going to ratchet up the risk to the economy. We've already seen a 600-point drop in the Dow Jones. Europe has returned to a recession. We could trigger a double-dip recession. So we can ill afford to repeat the debacle surrounding the debt ceiling crisis in 2011 that created based on one study the highest level of policy uncertainty over the last 20 years, surpassing the wars, surpassing 9/11, and even surpassing the financial crisis. So, we have no choice. So, I hope they have gotten the message from the last election. People want their elected officials to work together.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, I want to thank you for being with us this morning. I want to wish you the best of luck, and Washington will be less because are you no longer a member of the Senate. We wish you well.

SNOWE: Thank you, Bob, very much for those kind words.

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