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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - Syria and Foreign Affairs

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, Andrea Mitchell with the latest. I know you'll be following us, Andrea. Thank you very much. Let me first initially turn to some reaction. This is Senator Leahy, Congressman Cotton, two members of Congress. Senator, do you think the administration is getting closer to providing lethal aid to the opposition in Syria?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
I do. And I think that Andrea's analysis is very correct. I can remind the Israelis were using weapons that have been supplied by the United States. Some of our F-16s, and others. They, of course, have enormous prowess with those weapons, highly trained. But very sophisticated weapons.

I think the fact that they were able to go in there shows that perhaps the Russian-supplied air defense systems are not as good as were said. Our problem in who to supply is that some of these groups are strong Islamists, al-Qaeda and others. And we've seen, like in Libya and Egypt and elsewhere, the Islamists tend to get the upper hand if they get in there.

But we have given hundreds of millions of dollars in refugee aid. We've given anti-aircraft equipment to Turkey. And the idea of getting weapons in, if we know the right people to get them, my guess is we'll give them to them.

DAVID GREGORY:
Congressman, what would you like to see the president do at this point?

REP. TOM COTTON:
Well, I hope that Senator Leahy is correct, that we are moving closer towards arming the reform-minded, pro-Western rebels. This is something that should have been done many months ago, something that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, C.I.A. Director David Patraeus all proposed last year, according to Wall Street Journal reporting, and the president refused to do.

Right now, you have the Al-Nusra front, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, which is on the ground, providing the best fighters, providing the most weapons, providing the most humanitarian assistance, radicalizing some elements of the opposition. So we have to arm the opposition. I think we also need to move towards imposing a no-fly zone so Bashar al-Assad cannot continue to use helicopter gun ships against civilians, and so his refugee-- so the refugees he's creating aren't destabilizing our allies like Jordan.

DAVID GREGORY:
Jane Harmon, quickly, before I move on to another topic, the reporting this morning is striking. I mean it underscores why this issue of the red line is so difficult for the president, because the U.S. does not want a true presence in Syria.

FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN:
Well, the U.S. doesn't want boots on the ground. And I think there's no chance we will have boots on the ground. I have been, for some time, for arming the opposition we trust. But this is very complicated. Andrea hinted at this, too. Hezbollah is Shia. And this crescent that supports action is Sunni. So let's understand this isn't just the Bashar group, his sect, against the rest of the world, this is now a real full-blown civil war. And the missiles that were intercepted are not dumb scuds, they're smarter Fateh three missiles that have range from southern Lebanon to hit Tel Aviv. So this is a big escalated problem. I wish we had acted sooner.

REP. TOM COTTON:
And I would just say, like, boots on the ground right now is not the question. The question is imposing a no-fly zone using aircraft and using naval gunfire. As Senator Leahy said, the Israeli strikes over the last 48 hours have indicated that those Russian air defense systems are not as robust as they're sometimes reported to be. We can stop Bashar al-Assad from killing his own people. And we can stop some of the worst violence in Syria if we use aircraft--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
I want to move on. I want to bring Mayor Giuliani in here.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
And I want to widen this out. Hold on, sir. I want to widen this out a little bit, because I think there's the broader topic that we're broaching here about national security, about our personal freedoms in America, coming out of the Boston bombing is, in part, ongoing concern about terrorism. The graphic this week in The Wall Street Journal about that growing al-Qaeda threat, even a couple of years now after Osama bin Laden is killed.

Looking in North Africa, in the Persian Gulf states, where you either have al-Qaeda with a safe haven, or, indeed, more activity. And it leads, too, to what happened last 9-11 in Benghazi, and the ongoing questions about what the United States knew about that, what the administration knew. Did they do enough to stop it? And now, new hearings coming up, new details being reported on, Mr. Mayor. Is there something here that somehow gets to why we're more vulnerable now and whether the administration has done enough, in your estimation?

RUDY GIULIANI:
Well, I don't know. That has to be investigated. I think it would be wise if the administration would kind of ratchet up its focus on this, because I think that, since the capture of bin Laden, there's been a kind of sense that al-Qaeda's on the run, the threat is less. The threat isn't less. The threat is actually more diverse now, and maybe even more complex.

And you can detect, through the Benghazi defense, which of course did come about during the election, and even during some of this Boston bombing thing. There's sort of a tendency to underplay what is, in fact, I think, a growing and pretty dangerous, and to some extent, a different kind of threat than what we were facing, you know, three or four years ago.

So whether they didn't catch it fast enough, whether this is a product of, you know, leading from behind, like I think happened in Syria, where a lot of action could have been taken a year ago that may have precluded this. But the president kind of prefers to watch these things play out before he makes a decision. I think they'd be well advised to get a lot more proactive now, because things are really heating up.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator Leahy, is there a "there" there when it comes to Benghazi? Are there questions that have to be answered that reflect on--

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
Oh, there--

DAVID GREGORY:
--how vulnerable we are and what we're doing about it?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
Oh, there are questions should be asked. I know I chair a committee that handles the State Department's budget. We put in extra money, a great deal of extra money, for embassy security.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
I mean that's what we're hearing about--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
Let me finish. And that was blocked by the House. They said they didn't want to spend the money. Whether that would have made a difference or not, I don't know. Should we look at Benghazi? Yes. But keep in mind that's just one place. We should look at our security throughout our embassies, because there will always be easy targets.
If you can attack an embassy, no matter where it is, you attack the United States of America. And the symbolism is almost as great as what they knocked out. They didn't destroy any part of America's capability, as tragic as it was, in going to Benghazi. But the symbolism was enormous, and that's what they were aiming for.

DAVID GREGORY:
Were warnings ignored on Benghazi, Congressman, in your judgment?

REP. TOM COTTON:
I think that there are cables before the Benghazi attack that suggest that the people in Tripoli and in Benghazi knew that they were going to be facing a potential attack. Steve Hayes's reporting over the weekend shows that the C.I.A. was aware during the attack happening, certainly before Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows the Sunday after the attacks, that these were al-Qaeda-affiliated operatives. And then, during the attacks, the president said that he issued a directive, and there was no follow-up on the directive. He didn't go to the White House Security Room, and he didn't follow up to see if that directive had been pursued.

DAVID GREGORY:
Jane Harman, and Mayor Giuliani, as we look at all of this, whether it's jihadist elements operating in Syria, whether we look at, now, this widening plot out of the Boston bombings, they wanted to attack, reportedly, on July Fourth, there are others now involved, friends of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, who show their pictures, who are involved, at some level, of clearing out some of the materials from his room, what does this tell us about what we're up against here, specifically in the Boston plot, and this question of, "Are we any safer?" Jane?

FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN:
The answer to that question is yes and no. I agree with Rudy Giuliani that the threat has evolved. We have decimated core al-Qaeda. And President Obama deserves a lot of credit for doing that. But now there are these affiliated terror groups, al-Nusra is one, in Syria, and that are capable of morphing and changing and attacking.
And then there's homegrown radicalism, which is what I think we really have to talk about. The Tsarnaev brothers may have had some training, we'll learn, in Dagestan (PH), maybe. And we may have missed a clue from the Russians. But be that as it may, there are going to be other people like this. They have to be right once, we have to be right 100%.

DAVID GREGORY:
Right.

FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN:
That's not going to happen. Our tactics are really pretty good. But we need a narrative about what the United States stands for--

DAVID GREGORY:
You know--

FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN:
--that will win the argument with the next kids. And that is why we need to close, in my view, Guantanamo Bay. And we need to put a clear set of rules around how we use drones. I support drone strikes. But it needs to be clearer that we are living our values.

DAVID GREGORY:
Mayor Giuliani, you've spoken out pretty strikingly this week about your views of what's happening in the investigation into Boston this week. What do you make of it?

RUDY GIULIANI:
Well, I think the investigation since the time of the bombing has been excellent. I think that, unfortunately, there were an awful lot of signals that were missed beforehand. And Jane Harman is absolutely right, this has kind of morphed into a situation in America where we have these homegrown terrorists. But we shouldn't claim surprise. This has been going on since 2005-2006.

FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN:
Yeah.

RUDY GIULIANI:
I mean the attack in London in 2005 was homegrown terrorists in London. That should have said to us, "We're going to have the same problem here." Chris Christie, when he was U.S. attorney, had a case involving an attack, an attempted attack, on Fort Hood. Once again, homegrown terrorist. He was the first to really alert me to the fact that this was a much bigger problem than exists.

So we shouldn't be claiming, "Oh my goodness, we just found this out." We should be trying to figure out why the heck didn't we react to this faster three, four and five years ago? And with regard to the investigation, the point that I'd like to make is that these men who were arrested, who were involved in the cover-up and were involved in obstructing justice, like to point out something that hasn't been focusing on enough. They were aware of the fact, according to the complaint now, the F.B.I.'s sworn complaint, they were aware of the fact that those two brothers were involved in the bombing three to four hours before Officer Collier was murdered.

DAVID GREGORY:
At MIT.

RUDY GIULIANI:
If these three men-- yes. If these three men had not engaged in that obstruction of justice cover-up, if they had notified the police, the way any decent young men would do, there is a chance, and a pretty good chance, that Officer Collier would be alive today.

DAVID GREGORY:
Congressman, you're--

RUDY GIULIANI:
And if I were the U.S. attorney--

DAVID GREGORY:
But, yeah, let--

RUDY GIULIANI:
If I were U.S. attorney, I'd be charging them with a conspiracy that embraced murder as a predicate act. Because one of them actually said something very dramatic. One of them said, "I didn't expect to ever see him again alive." So that conspiracy embraced the possibility of a violent aftermath to this situation.

DAVID GREGORY:
Congressman, the larger point that the president made this week is we're dealing with something new, we're dealing with radicalization inside the homeland, how do we deal with it? I want you to take on what he said during his press conference this week. Watch.

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
One of the dangers that we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States -- in some cases, may not be part of any kind of network, but because of whatever warped, twisted ideas they may have, may decide to carry out an attack. And those are in some ways more difficult to prevent.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
And the polling shows this, too, obviously there's some things we just can't prevent.

REP. TOM COTTON:
Well, we don't know if Tamerlan Tsarnaev was purely homegrown or if he was affiliated with al-Qaeda operatives in his return to Dagestan, a place from which he had sought refugee status with his family. More broadly, though, we have to recognize we are still in a global war against radical Islamic jihadists.

And the president, by his policies and by the words of senior officials in his administration, are removing us from a war footing and putting us back into a law enforcement model. Five terrorists have reached their targets under Barack Obama's administration. All five of those were promptly given their Miranda warnings and treated like common criminals. We haven't sent a terrorist to Guantanamo Bay in over four years.

(OVERTALK)

REP. TOM COTTON:
We captured Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, a hardened terrorist, a member of al-Qaeda central. We didn't send him to Guantanamo Bay for interrogation, we sent him to New York, where he got Miranda rights, taxpayer--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
Okay, let me--

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
Let me respond on that. Because it is a shibboleth to suggest that sending him to Guantanamo would help. He was given his Miranda warning, and as the public accounts have been, he wouldn't shut up. He kept on, kept on, kept on. He has given an enormous amount of intelligence.

We've had a tiny handful, four, five, six, military commission successful prosecutions. We've had hundreds in our courts. What are we afraid of? What are we afraid of? The law enforcement did a superb job in Boston. These people are before courts. Mayor Giuliani and I are both prosecutors. We would love to prosecute this case.

DAVID GREGORY:
But signals were missed here.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
And--

DAVID GREGORY:
Signals of--

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
Signal--

DAVID GREGORY:
--this radicalization were missed.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
Okay.

DAVID GREGORY:
Tamerlan Tsarnaev--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
And but that has nothing to do with Guantanamo. The fact is we will always have-- we're a nation of 325 million people. Are there going to be people like the man who blew up Oklahoma City? He was radicalized in a different way. Let us figure out how we respond on this.

My committee will have the director of the F.B.I. and others before it. I want to know how much did the Russians give us before. Were signals missed there? Sure, ask those questions. But let's not overlook the fact that our law enforcement did a superb job here--

DAVID GREGORY:
Fair enough.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
--as there are people who should be prosecuted them in court including--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
Jane Harman--

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
--covered up.

DAVID GREGORY:
--here's the question that Time Magazine asks on its provocative cover this week: "Homeland Insecurity" is the banner headline of the edition. And the question is do we need to sacrifice privacy in order to be safer? Is that going to be the immediate lesson from the Boston bombings?

FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN:
Well, I think we could use more cameras in common areas. That's what Britain has. And that's why they were able to identify the subway and bus bombers in 2005 very quickly. And Boston has a small police department. In New York, if these folks had tried this, they probably would have been identified faster.

But let me make a couple of points. First of all, not all of these plots are associated, in any way, with al-Qaeda training. These are people who go on the internet and look at Inspire Magazine. This guy admitted it. And there are the directions for how to build a bomb in the kitchen of your mom. And you can figure this out.

He also was in inspired by al-Awlaki's preaching, which are online, even though he was taken out by a drone strike, as was the original writer of Inspire Magazine. So we have to think ahead. And the best way to do this is to build trust with communities so that families and teachers and neighbors alert law enforcement--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
--Mayor Giuliani. Because there have been some calls for more ethnic profiling. Is there cooperation in the Muslim community? Or is it greater tracking and monitoring in mosques and in the Muslim community, to detect what was missed here with Tsarnaev, who apparently was challenging his imam and all the rest?

RUDY GIULIANI:
Well, you have to go where the evidence takes you. I mean this whole idea of profiling, profiling is perfectly legal and perfectly legitimate if you're following leads, if you're following objective evidence. Somebody tells you that the person who committed the crime is 6'4" and he's white, you don't go look for a 5'4", you know, Asian. So the reality is profiling is perfectly appropriate if it relates to objective facts, and not to some attempt to just smear someone.

And reality is, unfortunately, a significant number, not all, but a significant number of these attacks come about from this distorted Islamic extremist ideology. So you can't ignore it. You've got to go after it. We don't have to sacrifice privacy to do it. But we also shouldn't sacrifice common sense. The president could help us here a lot if he would designate the Major Hasan shooting of several years ago as a terrorist act and not workplace violence. I think that sent the wrong signals to the bureaucracy.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, let me--

RUDY GIULIANI:
And I think it makes a lot of people in the bureaucracy afraid to really call it as it is.

DAVID GREGORY:
Quickly, Congressman, then I want to move on to immigration.

REP. TOM COTTON:
Well, and I mean the mayor makes the core point, is that jihadists around the world don't attack us for the actions we take, they attack us for who we are. We are freedom's home, and we are freedom's defender. It didn't take Guantanamo Bay, it didn't take drones, to knock down those towers on 9-11. If we grounded every drone, if we close Guantanamo Bay, they'd find another pretext to attack us.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right. That debate needs to go on.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
But it's going to go on. But before I let all of you go, as I run out of time, Senator Leahy, immigration. You're pushing this, as are others, to get an immigration reform bill passed. You want to amend the bill to include same-sex partners to be able to come into the country. Marco Rubio and others have said that effort would kill this legislation.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
You know, we've had about ten different things that people say will kill it. If we don't make the fence long enough, that kills it. If we don't have a high enough fine, that kills it. Well, the fact is, a lot of people who want to kill an immigration bill, no matter what.
We will have votes on this. People can vote for or against any one of these amendments. Now, I've had 20-some-odd hearings in all on immigration judiciary. We will start marking up the bill this week. Everybody can bring up whatever they want. And we're going to have a fair and open thing, and then vote it up or vote it down.

DAVID GREGORY:
Is immigration going to pass? Is reform going to pass?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
I hope it does, because I think it would be a huge--

DAVID GREGORY:
Well, I know you hope it will. But I mean what--

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
--huge mistake. I think--

DAVID GREGORY:
What's your read into the politics?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
I think it can. I think it can. I think the so-called "gang of eight," four Democrats, four Republicans, across the political spectrum, deserve an enormous amongst of credit for the work they've done. I met with them many times. And I think we can get--

DAVID GREGORY:
All right.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:
--it passed.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, I'm going to leave it there. Senator, Congressman, Jane Harman, Mayor Giuliani, thank you all very much for engaging in this debate, which is to be continued. Thank you very much.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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