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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript

Interview

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And with that, we go to the first of our two senatorial guests. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee. Senator Corker, I`ve laid it out as best I can. You senators have a right and a duty to decide, to advise and consent or not, to a president`s nominee.

Isn`t this strange that we`re having this debate about the qualifications of a candidate for the secretary of state position, and she hasn`t been nominated?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think it is. And it`s -- you know, as I mentioned yesterday, whoever the president does nominate, I certainly look
forward to giving a full hearing. I don`t actually know how this has, you know, gotten this way. I did have a long meeting yesterday, though, with the -- with the ambassador.

And I mean, you would have to say that there`s a lot of indications that at least there`s some balloon floating that`s taking place, and I don`t think...

MATTHEWS: Yes, there is.

CORKER: I don`t think otherwise, she would have spent an hour-and-a-half with me yesterday and an hour and 15 minutes with Susan Collins and others.
So I mean, you`re right, she`s not nominated, but it does appear something`s happening to just sort of gauge support, so...

MATTHEWS: Let me show you a piece of what the ambassador to the United
Nations, Susan Rice, said on "MEET THE PRESS" on September 16th, five days
after the attack on our facility in Benghazi. I think it`s the heart of the critique that people are making of her. I hope I`ve got it. You`ll tell if I`m right. Let`s listen.

CORKER: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: 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 the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video. What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So there you have it. What do you think about that? And what
role does that statement by her make in the concern about her qualifications?

CORKER: Yes. You know, Chris, one of the things that`s amplified some of the concerns around this is we had a classified briefing with about 65 or 70 senators on September the 20th, and I assure you if you were there, you would have thought it was most of the one bizarre briefings ever, where we had four, you know, distinguished people there who shared, like, no information.

I was in Libya about a week after that. It was a pre-planned trip. I didn`t go there because of Benghazi. Obviously, Benghazi was a big topic. And I sat there with our station chief, our head intelligence person, with the charge who was there serving after the ambassador had been killed. And they were telling me that in real time, they were letting folks back home know that this, in fact, was a terrorist attack and there was absolutely no protest.

So you can see how people have had concerns. I think, really, and in talking to Ambassador Rice yesterday -- we had a very long meeting -- you know, one of the things that she knows she shouldn`t have said was that we have decimated al Qaeda. And I know that you know this because you`re a student of what`s happening in the world, but certainly, nothing can be further from the truth.

So I do think there have been some fairly legitimate concerns that -- that this was all in the height of a political campaign, and it really did appear that she was very anxious to make it appear that things were a little different in the Middle East than they are.

Look, we can all get caught up in that, and certainly, we had a conversation to that effect yesterday, but I will tell you, as a person -- I think you asked me to come on because I hope you think I`m fairly level- headed. I`m really disgusted with everything from the intelligence to the security to, you know, the FBI to -- I mean, this whole thing really should not be where it is today. And I do think that part of it is she`s gotten caught up in some of the other things that -- although I have concerns and you`ve heard my concerns that I do...

MATTHEWS: Yes, well let me...

CORKER: I do -- I do feel like sometimes, Chris...

MATTHEWS: Let`s narrow them down.

CORKER: OK.

MATTHEWS: Let`s narrow them down, Senator.

CORKER: OK.

MATTHEWS: You`re concerned that she said it was a spontaneous uprising by,
as we`ve seen in Karachi and as we saw in Cairo on that day -- It was just part of the general outrage of the Islamic world against the video that came out of Los Angeles. And you say it definitely wasn`t and the people at the time knew it wasn`t.

CORKER: Right. Well, actually, Chris, I don`t even want to get into those -- those -- it`s actually beyond that. I like Susan Rice. She knows I like her. We`ve had a warm relationship. I think that she strikes me sometimes as more of a political operative...

MATTHEWS: Right.

CORKER: ... than somebody who is -- you know, the secretary of state, we hold to a very different standard. We do that with the secretary of treasury, sometimes the secretary of defense. They`re sort of first among equals of other cabinet members, and I think that most of us want to see a degree of independence.

I want you to say -- I want you to know I`m not disqualifying her, OK? I`m
telling you that, certainly, if she is nominated, I am going to give her a full hearing. I always do that...

MATTHEWS: OK, let me -- let me straighten it out...

CORKER: OK. OK.

MATTHEWS: Let me put that in the language we use here.

CORKER: OK.

MATTHEWS: You don`t see her as a principal. You see her as an ally or an
associate the president, rather than as a principal separate from him. Is that the way you`re trying to say it?

CORKER: Well, Chris, in all the conversations that I`ve had with her, you always feel it`s sort of pushing a political point of view.

MATTHEWS: I see.

CORKER: When I have those same conversations with Secretary Clinton, I feel -- she`s always supportive, obviously, of the president`s agenda, but you -- it`s a different sense of transparency and directness and pointing out, you know, things we need to be thinking about.

And I`m not saying that Ambassador Rice in that position couldn`t end up being that way, but initially, my sense of her is -- and we had this very direct conversation yesterday for about 30 minutes -- is I do -- I`ve always sensed her to be more of a political operative.

I know she`s steeped in policy and has spent lots of time in Africa, and I don`t take that away from her. But I do have some concerns. Again...

MATTHEWS: OK.

CORKER: ... if she`s nominated, I`m going to give her a full hearing, and I promise you it will be a fair full hearing.

MATTHEWS: Well, I take you at your word, Senator. It`s great for you to come on. It`s a very clear point of view you`ve given us tonight. Thank you for joining us on HARDBALL.

Yesterday, I spoke with Senator Susan Collins, who also said she had concerns about Ambassador Rice. Let`s listen to that interview.

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