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MSNBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - Benghazi

Interview

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DAVID GREGORY:
All right, we're going to get more from the roundtable in just a minute. Let me bring in Senator McCain. He's in Phoenix this morning. Senator, welcome back to the program. Always good to have you.

JOHN MCCAIN:
Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:
So at a time when Congress is in such low esteem-- you seem to candidly offer the reason why Hagel's facing such trouble. You spoke to Fox News on Thursday and this is what you said.

(Videotape)

JOHN MCCAIN:
As far as secretary of defense is concerned, but-- to be honest with you, Neil, it goes back to there's a lot of ill will towards-- Senator Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked-- President Bush mercilessly. At one point said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover-- said that-- the-- surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which is nonsense. And-- was very anti his own party and people. People don't forget that. You can disagree, but if you're disagreeable, then people don't forget that.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
So is that to say, Senator, that it's payback time for Chuck Hagel? That's what this process has amounted to?

JOHN MCCAIN:
Of course not. That is-- fact-- in fact, most of those senators who will be voting weren't even in the Senate when Mr. Hagel-- did those things. He's a friend of mine-- and that is a part of it. The major part as The Washington Post editorialized, he's to the left of President Obama.

He has been taken-- and-- and by the way-- last week I believe it was Mr. Gibbs-- who I don't often agree with said, "He was the most unprepared-- and unimpressive-- nominee that he'd ever seen." Certainly the most-- unimpressive that I've ever seen. It really is-- 99% of it is to do with the positions that Senator Hagel has taken, whether it be votes against sanctions to-- against Iran, whether it be his belief that the surge would be the worst thing since the Vietnam War. And-- the positions that he has taken on various issues is frankly-- been out of-- not only out of mainstream, but far to the left.

DAVID GREGORY:
You asked-- reasked about his qualifications, which is now an issue. You said he's not qualified to be secretary of defense. You come a long way on this, Senator McCain. Back in 2000, you were running for president in your stomping grounds of New Hampshire, this is what you said.

JOHN MCCAIN (ON TAPE):
Secretary of defen-- there-- there's a lotta people that-- that could do that. One of 'em, I think, is Senator Chuck Hagel.

DAVID GREGORY:
What's changed?

JOHN MCCAIN:
That-- that was-- time and Chuck Hagel's positions, which has put him from the mainstream-- right of center Republican, which he was re-- representing the state of Nebraska to what The Washington Post has described in their editorial as to the left of President Obama. And the fact is-- that-- Chuck Hagel made statements and took votes in the United States Senate, particularly vis-à-vis Iran.

His comment about Israel were atrocious. And-- but he will be confirmed. And let me just point out-- that-- they-- we-- we delayed-- Bolton to the point where he never got a vote. The word was, "No nomination without information." They tried to-- filibuster Justice Alito. And the worst thing that I've ever seen in my life was the crucifixion of John Tower, where they delayed for three months and destroyed-- a good and decent man.

So what we are saying, it was reported out by Tuesday, they wanted a vote on Thursday. We had-- I thought we had an agreement do-- just to wait a week so the remaining questions would be answered. But I understand the White House wanted a vote, they got a vote, and we will have a vote when we get back.

And I'm confident that-- Senator Hagel will probably have the votes necessary to be confirmed as the secretary of defense. We have an obligation of advice and consent. I don't intend to give those up when other senators continue to have reasonable questions. And I mean reasonable.

DAVID GREGORY:
But you're not a yes vote for your old friend?

JOHN MCCAIN:
No. I don't believe he is qualified. But I don't believe that we should hold up his nomination any further, because I think it's a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered, not two days' worth.

DAVID GREGORY:
It's striking though, Senator, because-- some members are saying, "Look, we need more time to look at his speeches, to see if he really is anti-Israel." Others are saying, "No, we're going to use this moment of leverage to get more information about Benghazi, about what the president said, who he called the night of the attack."

Or getting some of the emails about who changed the talking point. The president said this week on the issue of Benghazi, "You guys are running out of things to ask about." So let me ask you, at the end of the day here on Benghazi, if the worst thing is true, what is that truth about how the president handled the-- this crisis?

JOHN MCCAIN:
Well, I don't know the answer to that question. I do know that there are so many answers we don't know. For example, what did the president do the night of the attack? We know that-- well the-- well, the secretary of defense and the cha-- chairman of joint chiefs of staff on-- another issue and then never talked to them again.

We know that the security of state, who said she was clear-eyed never saw the warnings about the fact that the consulate could not-- s-- withstand an attack. Why was that? We don't even still know who's-- we've had five different versions of who put together the talking points. We want to know why the president alleged to Mitt Romney in the debate that he had called it a terrorist attack when he hadn't, and an interview that very night of September 12th, he'd said he didn't know what it was.
And for two weeks later, kept saying he didn't know what kind of an attack it was. And in testimony with secretary of defense and chief of sta-- the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff both said they knew that night. There's-- so many questions about Benghazi. We've had two movies-- about getting bin Laden and we don't even know who the people were who were evacuated from-- the consulate the next day after the attack. So there are many, many questions. And we have had-- a massive cover-up on the part of--

DAVID GREGORY:
But a massive cover-up of what?

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
--I mean, Susan Ri-- wait a minute--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
Susan Rice said there was a lot of--

JOHN MCCAIN:
Do you care--

DAVID GREGORY:
--confusion.

JOHN MCCAIN:
Do you care--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
I'm asking you--

JOHN MCCAIN:
Do you care to--

DAVID GREGORY:
--what is the Republican way--

JOHN MCCAIN:
I'm asking you, do you care-- I-- I'm-- I'm asking you, do you care whether four Americans died? Or do you-- the reasons for that? And-- and shouldn't pe-- people be held accountable for the fact that four Americans died--

DAVID GREGORY:
Well, what you said was the cover-up--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
A cover-up of what?

JOHN MCCAIN:
Of the information-- concerning the deaths of four brave Americans. The information has not been forthcoming. You can obviously believe that it has. I know that it hasn't. And I'll be glad to send you a list of the questions that have not been answered, including what did the president do and who did he talk to the night of the attack on Benghazi?

And why was it? Why was it that we-- that the f-- the people who were evacuated from the-- from the consulate the next day were not interviewed the next day. And then they would've known that it was not a spontaneous demonstration. Why did the president for two weeks, for two weeks during the heat of the campaign continue to say he didn't know whether it was a terrorist attack or not?

Is it because it interfered with the line of Al Qaeda has decimated? And everything's fine in that-- in that part of the world? Maybe. We don't know. But we need the answers. Then we'll reach conclusions. But we have not received the answers. And that's a fact.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator, just a couple of quick areas before I let you go. On the sequester, you had said last week that the Republicans should be open to additional tax revenues. Is that what it's going to take here to avoid these massive cuts?

JOHN MCCAIN:
I said that I would be glad to close some loopholes about these kinds of subsidies that are outrageous and disgraceful. And I have said that it's time for the president, who said, "Sequester won't happen," to maybe sit down with some Republicans and talk to them about this issue, so that maybe we can get it-- get it resolved. I didn't say, "Sequester won't happen."

I went around the country warning about what s-- would happen with sequester. Now we have the army chiefs-- of staff who's saying he can't send replacements to Afghanistan because he can't train 'em well enough to serve. Republicans deserve blame, I'll take some blame for it. But the President of the United States is supposed to lead. Why doesn't he call people over and we sit down and prevent the sequestration from happening rather than s-- and-- and-- and fulfill the comment that he made during the campaign that sequester, quote, "Won't happen."

DAVID GREGORY:
The-- the president-- obviously has some thoughts about immigration reform, which he's drafted and gotten his agencies to comment on. If the president proposes legislation, do you think it will fail?

JOHN MCCAIN:
Of course. Of course it will. And that's why we are working together. Republicans and Democrats. By the way, he's had no communications with Republicans on the issue, unlike the previous four presidents that I have dealt with. And-- I believe we are making progress on a bipartisan basis. I believe we can come up with-- with-- with a product.

Leaks don't happen in Washington by accident. This raises the question that many of us-- continue to wonder about. Do the-- does the president really want a result, or does he want another (UNINTEL) to beat up Republicans so that he can get political advantage in the next election?

DAVID GREGORY:
Finally-- Senator-- we're going to talk to Mark Kelly in just a moment, Gabby Gifford's hub-- husband, of course. Are you prepared at least to support universal background checks, if that's all that comes outta this, would you be support-- prepared to support that?

JOHN MCCAIN:
There's-- some Senators, bipartisan again-- Senator Coburn and Senator Manchin and some others who are working on a package that I think that most of us will be able to support. I applaud their efforts and obviously we want to do everything we can to prevent guns from falling into the hands of people who are mentally unbalanced or criminals.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right. Senator, I know it was your mom's birthday, Roberta turned 101 years old. God bless her. You come from good and feisty genes. And we saw-- (LAUGH) we saw it here this morning. We thank you as always.

JOHN MCCAIN:
Thank you again, David.


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