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CNN "The Situation Room" Transcript: Benghazi Report and Hagel Nomination

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BLITZER: Kate Bolduan is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with me.

Senator John McCain is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator McCain, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thanks.

BLITZER: Are you satisfied with this report?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it was significant and I think it was very helpful. And I have a lot of confidence in the witnesses, especially Thomas Pickering and Bill Burns.

Obviously, we still want the secretary of state to testify. But, Wolf, there are many unanswered questions ranging from the talking points and what -- why classified information was not used, which would've changed the entire narrative, to what was the president and the secretary of state doing? Why was the warning -- why were the warnings ignored both before and during?

Why would not DOD, Department of Defense, military capability available over a seven-hour period? There's a long list of questions that need to be answered. So I still think we need an independent commission. But I -- but I appreciate the testimony today.

BLITZER: An independent commission beyond this report that Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen helped put together. What specifically do you want to hear from the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, when she testifies supposedly mid-January some time?

MCCAIN: Well, among other things, what did she know about these warnings, these constant warnings that she received as late as August 16, where they stated unequivocally that in the case of an attack that the consulate was not defensible?

What actions were taken? What did she know about it? Why is it that Ambassador Stevens' last message before he was killed was his concerns about security? Why was there so few people there? There are so many, as I say, so many questions, and ranging from before, during, and after, including this whole business of giving the American people information, the president of the United States as late as September 25, before the U.N., where he talked about hateful videos.

Why did the president of the United States say in his debate with Romney that he had called it a terrorist attack on September the 12th, when now we know that that very day he gave an interview with CBS which we didn't find out until after the election that he said he didn't know whether it was a terrorist attack or not.

There's a whole bunch of -- and why would secretary -- Ambassador Rice say that al Qaeda is decimated? We know al Qaeda wasn't decimated. Why is it that she would say that the security of our consulates and embassies were -- is good, when we all know now that they are clearly not

BLITZER: I want to move on to some other subjects, Senator.

MCCAIN: Sure.

BLITZER: But the ambassador, Susan Rice, she is not going to be the next secretary of state. Four State Department officials have now resigned in the aftermath of this report that was released this week. Is that enough? Should more heads roll?

MCCAIN: Well, again, we want to know what the president and the secretary of state knew, what did they -- where was the president during these seven hours? Where was the secretary of state during these seven hours? We have had plenty of views of them watching the raid that took out bin Laden. What were their actions during this period of time as well? So, of course, supposedly, the buck stops at the president's desk.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Senator, I want to turn to this movie "Zero Dark Thirty." You have written a letter to the studio along with Senator Feinstein, as well as Senator Levin, saying the movie is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its depiction of the use of harsh interrogation techniques in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Why come out so forcefully against a movie?

MCCAIN: Well, several reasons, Kate.

One is obviously movies, particularly by very highly credentialed producers, directors, and cast, does have an effect on public opinion, not only in the United States, but around the world. First of all, the brutality depicted there is very disturbing.

But the thing that we, Senator Levin and Senator Feinstein and I, have focused on is that you believe when watching this movie that water-boarding and torture leads to information that leads then to the elimination of Osama bin Laden.

That's not the case. In fact, when KSM, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was water-boarded, he gave information that was false about the courier, the guy that eventually led to Osama bin Laden, said he had retired. The moral of the story is that torture does not work, it is hateful, it is harmful, incredibly harmful to the United States of America. And to somehow make people believe that it was responsible for the elimination of Osama bin Laden is in my view unacceptable.

BLITZER: Was none of that so-called enhancement interrogation techniques that were used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, none of it provided any useful information that eventually resulted in the killing of bin Laden?

MCCAIN: It did not, and that's what this study, that intensive study that the Intelligence Committee just completed, thousands of pages and a yearlong study, indicate clearly that they found out about the courier from an outside source that was outside the country.

There is no information whatsoever that shows that. In fact, there's information that they misled the interrogators while this violation of the Geneva Conventions, torturing people, was going on. And they -- again, the moral of the story is, if you inflict enough pain on someone, they will tell you anything they think that will make the pain stop. And that's what was happening in these interrogations, and it did not lead to eliminating Osama bin Laden, which -- a goal we all shared.

And to tell the American people that it did, I think, is really harmful.

BOLDUAN: But let me button it up with this, Senator.

MCCAIN: Sure. BOLDUAN: With so many problems and issues on the plate of the Senate right now, the attack on Benghazi, as we were just talking, the consulate in Benghazi, the fiscal cliff, what to do with Syria, just to name a few, why is it important? Why is it so important, with so much else going on in the world, to take on this issue, when we know it's -- when they stay it's a fictional movie?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, Kate, I have been involved in this issue for a long time, as you know. The Senate voted 93-3 that this kind of thing was unacceptable, not to mention the Geneva Conventions for treatment of detainees, which we are a signatory to.

But I think it really goes to what America is all about. Do we really want to do things which are inhumane and basically immoral, in other words, torturing people? Do we want to do that? And what is the impact of our image in the world when we do do that?

We are in a vast, long twilight, ideological struggle with the forces of radical Islam. And this gives them all kinds of ammunition when they have a movie that shows we are torturing people. You see my point?

BLITZER: We see your point, certainly do, Senator.

Let's talk about Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator from Nebraska, a man you know. You served with him. If the president nominates him to succeed Leon Panetta as the secretary of defense, will you vote to confirm him?

MCCAIN: I want to give him the opportunity if he's nominated to testify. He will pay visits to people, before the Armed Services Committee, which I'm a member, as you know.

But I do believe that with any nomination that we will exercise our responsibilities of advise and consent. As you know, Chuck Hagel and I had had some differences over the years, for example, over the surge, which he said would be the worst mistake since the Vietnam War, and obviously it was successful.

But I think we need to look at his record and exercise our responsibilities. But I don't think we will be pre-judging him.

BOLDUAN: Let's turn to the fiscal cliff, Senator, since the days are ticking down, as you well know. This plan B that they're voting on in the House this evening, if it passes the House, will you support it in the Senate?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it's a good proposal.

I think that it is now going to -- what their intention is to put the ball into the Senate's court. What I'm still hoping is that really -- I'm praying, actually, because of the consequences of not only the cliff, but sequestration, is that maybe the president will call these individuals and leaders down to the White House and sit down and say, look, let's get this settled. I think it's really important that at least he do that. I think if he said, look, we're not going to leave this Oval Office until -- until we have an agreement -- I don't think they have made enough of that effort.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, Senator.

MCCAIN: Sure.

BLITZER: Will you support that assault weapons ban that Senator Feinstein and the president are now proposing?

MCCAIN: I want a commission that -- such as Senator Lieberman has proposed, where we can look at every aspect of this terrible tragedy. I believe that American people want us to act.

I think we're ready to act. But, you know, there are cases in Norway. They have very tough gun control, as you know. And yet a person was able to go out and kill, slaughter, a massacre, a terrible, tragic situation. I think we have got to look at its entirety, rather than just say we're going to rifle shot it.

And I will be glad to consider anything, but I would like to see a commission of people we respect and admire and their recommendations before I would support most any measure.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, thanks very much for joining us.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Senator.

MCCAIN: Good to be with you.


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