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CNN "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" - Transcript


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COOPER: Tonight our focus on the drama that played out in Washington today. Two foes who battled for the presidency back in 2008, back at it again. The battle is over the attacks in Benghazi that killed four Americans. Senator McCain has maintained for months either White House negligence or a cover-up. Today Mr. McCain took it a step further and said because of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's role in a confusing narrative that follow the attacks, he, Senator McCain, would try to block any effort to promote Miss Rice to Secretary of State should Hillary Clinton leave that post.

We'll talk to Senator McCain in a second. So, President Obama took the opportunity at his press conference this afternoon to fire back directly at the senator.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and besmirch her reputation is outrageous.


COOPER: Well, Senator McCain heard that remarks, 73 minutes later, took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to respond. Watch.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Mr. President, four brave Americans died. It has now been eight weeks. The American people have received nothing but contradictory statements from all levels of our government. This president and this administration has either been guilty of colossal incompetence or engaged in a cover-up, neither of which is acceptable to the American people.


COOPER: Now "Keeping Them Honest" more than two months after the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi there are still some very serious unanswered questions about the timeline of events and specifically the administration's remarks in the days and weeks that followed. Specifically, why didn't President Obama call it a terrorist attack the day after, on September 12th, in a "60 Minutes" interview.

When asked by Steve Kroft it was -- if it was a terrorist attack, the president said it was, quote, "too early to know exactly how this came about." Or during an appearance on "The View" on September 25th, when asked if it was an act of terrorism, the president said they were, quote, "still doing an investigation." Or even more to the point, how the ambassador described it five days after the attacks.


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.


COOPER: Ambassador Rice blaming the killings in Benghazi in that hateful anti-Muslim video made in the U.S. That turned out to be wrong. So some very legitimate questions Senator McCain is asking that he might get answers to this when congressional intelligence committees hold hearings.

But as for holding up Miss Rice's potential nomination as secretary of state over this? Well, "Keeping Them Honest," some key people in Washington have tripped up on false intelligence in the past. People like Condoleezza Rice who is national security adviser, you all remember, back in 2003, made the case for the war in Iraq, insisting Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It is time to stop the deceit, time to stop trying to deceive the world, and to offer up his weapons of mass destruction so that he can be disarmed.

The overwhelming bulk of the evidence in there, not about a data point here or data point there, but about what Saddam Hussein was doing, was that he had weapons of mass destruction.

Right up to the end, Saddam Hussein continued to harbor ambitions to threaten the world with mass -- weapons of mass destruction and to hide his illegal weapons activities.


COOPER: No nuclear weapons, no WMD every turned up in Iraq, of course. Now Condoleezza Rice when on to become secretary of state in the Bush administration and back then Senator McCain and a lot of other Republicans had no problems supporting her nomination despite the fact that she fell for bad intelligence. Listen.


MCCAIN: Condoleezza Rice is a great American success story. This is what America is all about. A young woman who grew up in a segregated part of America where Americans were not treated equally, to rise to the position of secretary of state. We should have been celebrating I believe this remarkable American success story.

Also, I thought that some of the remarks, and I'm not going to mention my colleagues' names, some of the remarks aimed at her during her hearings challenged her integrity. We can disagree on policy and we can disagree on a -- a lot of things but I think it is very clear that Condoleezza Rice is a person of integrity. And yes, I see this some lingering bitterness over a very tough campaign. I hope it dissipates soon.


COOPER: Senator John McCain joins me now.

Senator, you said today that you plan to do everything in your power to block Susan Rice's nomination to be secretary of state if President Obama nominates her. Her supporters say she was simply repeating the earliest assessment that she'd been given by the intelligence community about a Benghazi attack.

A spokesman, as you know, for the director of National Intelligence confirmed in late September that they'd disseminated the assessment that the attack against spontaneously following protest earlier in Cairo, and it was only later the intelligence assessment changed.

Do you not believe the DNI?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, talking points came from the White House not from the DNI. But second of all, it was obvious within 24 hours that the station chief from the CIA had said that this was a terrorist attack. It was obvious to one and all that this was not a, quote," spontaneous demonstration," because in real time, they saw that there was no demonstration.

The -- Miss Rise, I hope, saw -- Ambassador Rise, I hope saw when I was on "Face the Nation" that immediately after she spoke the head of the Libyan National Assembly, the president of it, said this was an al Qaeda attack. Everybody knew that it was an al Qaeda attack, and she continued to tell the world, through all the talk shows that it was a, quote, "spontaneous demonstration" sparked by a video. That's not competence in my view. And I think that she should have known and she has never yet to this -- at this point declared that she was wrong. And the president is the one who is ultimately responsible, but that is not an acceptable person in my view to be secretary of state.

COOPER: But the DNI seems to be backing her up saying we disseminated -- you know, the intelligence to the executive branch, to members of Congress. I mean, do you think they're falling on their swords? Do you think they didn't do that or -- I mean isn't it possible they were just wrong and gave out, you know, the early assessment and faulty intelligence?

MCCAIN: The DNI is saying one thing, the State -- the other -- CIA station chief within 24 hours said it was an al Qaeda affiliated attack. Didn't she have that information? The White House gave the talking points, the president incredibly over two weeks later continued to call this a spontaneous demonstration that sparked this attack which by then he must have known was totally false. He said that to the United Nations.

There's a lot of things wrong here and she is part of it. And she gave deceptive information to the American people when there was clearly counter information that affirmed that this was a terrorist attack orchestrated by an al Qaeda affiliated organization.

COOPER: Supporters of Ambassador Rise compare her comments to made to -- comments that Condoleezza Rice made back when she was national security advisor in 2002 when she made a very public case for the Iraq war, saying Saddam Hussein was pursuing nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction. That intelligence was incorrect. But when she was nominated for secretary of state, many Republicans spoke out strongly for her including herself, saying she was a success story and that any one who challenge her integrity was doing it based on politics.

They say there's a double standard. To that you say what?

MCCAIN: Well, I can say I appreciate them saying that, but the fact is four Americans died, four Americans died, and there was overwhelming evidence to the contrary that was clearly a al Qaeda affiliated attack that murdered four Americans that didn't need to happen. There were advance warnings that were sent on August 15th and 16th. They said that they -- in case of a concerted attack they could not guarantee that they could defend the consulate.

There was many warnings. There was previous attacks. All of that goes to the State Department and to this administration and our ambassador to the U.N. The -- raises the question, what was she doing out there anyway? And so the American people were told -- given false information when there was clearly information to counter that immediately. People don't go to spontaneous demonstrations with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

COOPER: I just want to push back on you a little bit --

MCCAIN: Sure. Sure.

COOPER: On the -- on the Condoleezza Rice comments because, you know, I mean, thousands were killed in the war in Iraq and yet people did not -- Republicans did not hold her accountable for misleading statements that she made in the run-up to the war when she was being nominated for secretary of state.

MCCAIN: And I respect that opinion and that view. I think these are two entirely different cases, but if somebody wants to make that case, and tell the American people that it was OK to go out and tell them that this was a spontaneous demonstration sparked by a hateful video that they're qualified for -- to be our secretary of state then they're entitled to that view. I'm entitled for my role and my advice and consent in the United States Senate, and my advice and consent, my constitutional obligation is that I will not vote and not agree to her appointment as secretary of state.

COOPER: Senator McCain, I appreciate your time, sir. Thank you.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on.


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