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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


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It's truly a shocking story. Shocking that a country that receives billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money can tell an American congressman he's not welcome to visit that country even for a few days. It's also shocking that the highest U.S. officials, even fellow members of Congress would go along with this outrage, but that's exactly what happened when the Afghan President Hamid Karzai made clear to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, a key member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee would not be allowed into Afghanistan.

Congressman Rohrabacher is joining us now. Congressman thanks very much for coming in. When I heard about this, I was outraged. You were with five other members of Congress getting ready to board a U.S. military plane to fly from Dubai to Kabul when you got a call. Briefly tell our viewers what happened.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R-CA), FOREIGN AFFAIRS CMTE.: Well first of all, you have to remember I am not just a member of Congress and not just a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, a senior member. I am also the chairman of the Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. So I actually, I think it's part of my job to make sure they I am going into places like Afghanistan and talking to people on -- from various factions and getting an understanding of what is going on and whether or not the strategy we have can succeed or not considering it's costing so much blood and treasure on the parts of the Americans. Well, I got on this CODEL (ph). It was a six-person CODEL (ph).

BLITZER: That's a congressional delegation.

ROHRABACHER: Right, congressional delegation and Louie Gohmert (ph) was the head of it. Well they already had six people, but two days before it left one of them decided not to go. So I told him I would be happy to fill that slot, and we flew commercial to Dubai. I might add I had to fly coach for 13.5 hours and when we got there we were supposed to go on a military plane to Kabul and we get this call from both the Defense Department which telling Louie that, I'm sorry, the military plane will not take off if Congressman Rohrabacher is on it.

BLITZER: Who called you from the Defense Department? Was it the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta?

ROHRABACHER: I think -- I did not talk to Leon, but I think that -- yes, the answer is Louie was talking to Panetta --

BLITZER: And Panetta said that they wouldn't let that U.S. military plane take off if you were on it, a member of Congress?

ROHRABACHER: And the chairman of the Oversight Investigation Subcommittee was on it and that's me, and then when I said that's OK, Louie. I'll look into going commercial which there are commercial flights from Dubai to Kabul, at that point I got a call from Hillary and --

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state.

ROHRABACHER: Excuse me, the secretary of state, Clinton, and to be fair about it, you know, we didn't have time to work out these glitches before. I was -- it was a very short time before when I got on this CODEL (ph) and by the time we were going to have to leave --

BLITZER: Well, what did the secretary of state say to you?

ROHRABACHER: She basically said that she'd been through many -- a lot of mini crises there in Afghanistan with the burning of the Korans and our soldiers urinating on these dead bodies and then one of them going crazy and killing civilians and she just felt that another mini crisis which might erupt because Karzai hated me so much that he would create a crisis and she just thought it would be disruptive to our ability to get her job done.

BLITZER: And so a country like Afghanistan that receives about -- maintaining 90,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and costs American taxpayers $2 billion every week --

ROHRABACHER: That's right.

BLITZER: -- $100 billion a year, so she would allow Hamid Karzai to dictate that an American congressman cannot visit his country?

ROHRABACHER: Well I think that she should have stood up for that, but however, she asked me to do that and I complied with her wishes. I thought she was asking me in a respectful way, but she was having to deal with this corrupt prima donna who heads that country and realizing that, look, members of Congress should be over there to see if the dynamics are such that we're not just wasting people's lives and money, and there are changes that need to happen for us to be able to succeed. They have pushed aside those people who defeated the Taliban originally. We need to get the Uzbeks (ph) and the Tajiks (ph) and the other people not -- that Karzai has kept out of his government and put them together with the Taliban and everybody else --

BLITZER: You know.

ROHRABACHER: -- but they won't -- that won't succeed if they don't have a change.

BLITZER: I write this on my blog today, Congressman. "It's 'A', an outrage that Karzai won't let you visit his country. 'B', it's an outrage that the secretary of state and the secretary of defense go along with this and tell you, you can't board a U.S. military plane to go inspect -- meet with the troops and see what's going on in Afghanistan, but to me it was also an outrage that the five other members of your congressional delegation went along with this. They decided to leave you behind in Dubai and they went off to Afghanistan --


BLITZER: And I called Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and I spoke to her about that because she was on that delegation.

ROHRABACHER: But let me -- let me correct that. They actually offered to stay behind with me. They offered to say if Rohrabacher is not going we're going to stay here --

BLITZER: You were a gentleman. You were a gentleman, but to me it was pretty outrageous that they would allow --


BLITZER: They would participate in going along with this.

ROHRABACHER: Well, I don't think -- I would have to say my colleagues didn't go along with it. I suggested for them -- there was a special mission they had to accomplish in Afghanistan which is why Karzai was so opposed to me going and that was we had leaders of the Northern Alliance, opposition members and political leaders in that country who wanted to talk to American congressmen to make sure that we can -- we are not going to leave the Taliban in charge of Afghanistan. They needed to meet with these people and Louie led that, and I wanted him to go and have that meeting and they did. It's just that I wasn't able to be there to participate. BLITZER: Yes, well you were being a gentleman and you were being gracious I must say. And I told that to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. And she is just as outraged, by the way, as a lot of folks, including myself are about the behavior of Hamid Karzai, behavior of the secretary of state, the behavior of the secretary of defense in allowing this kind of outrage to go forward.


BLITZER: Here's the question to you, Congressman.


BLITZER: Are you going to continue supporting assistance, military aid, U.S. taxpayer money to help Karzai?

ROHRABACHER: About a year ago I decided that unless they were willing to make changes that we should withdraw our troops as soon as possible because every one of our soldiers who dies now is dying for no reason. It's futile and how can we ask our people to make that kind of sacrifice? So about a year ago I decided it was time for us to get our combat troops out, but there is still time for us to make changes in the structure of the Afghan government so that we bring the Afghan government's most centralized system now in the world where they have a decentralized village and tribal culture.

We can make that change that will ensure that the population will not side with the Taliban once we leave, but changes have to be made. So I think I would vote to get the troops out right now, and I would vote unless there are some changes in the structure for us on to quit wasting billions of dollars on a crooked, corrupt administration, but it's crooked and corrupt because we insisted on a centralized structure eight years ago rather than a decentralized structure which we could have had.

BLITZER: All right. Yes, what the secretary of state and the secretary of defense just have said to Karzai, Mr. President, with all due respect this is unacceptable. A Democratically-elected representative of the United States Congress, something you don't have in Afghanistan, something we've worked on for 10 years to try to achieve wants to come visit your country. You may have been critical of him. He's critical of you, but this is democracy in action. They should have stood up to him and said you're on that plane and if you don't like it, lump it. But that's something --


BLITZER: -- continue this conversation down the road. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.



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