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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript


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CROWLEY: It was testimony that seemed to challenge White House explanations of who knew what when about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed four Americans.

Joining me is Missouri Senator Roy Blunt and Maryland congressman Dutch Ruppersberger. Thank you both so much for joining us.

Let's just start off with the last point, and that is when you all listened to General Petraeus, was he saying something different than the White House was saying in the days after Benghazi about what it was, what the attack was about?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, when he came before our committee, he said really the same thing that he said September the 14th. I think on September the 14th, though, when you walked away from that hearing, you felt that it was more based on a protest. He did say when he communicated to us, but he felt that there were terrorist involved and there could be an al Qaeda-type link. He then reiterated this at that time.

But there's no question that the impression to the American public was that it was a protest, but at this point that was changed, intelligence evolved, and the administration did state that it was not a protest.

CROWLEY: So at this point we know it was not a protest. We still don't know if it was planned or not. But we know it went on for hours.

The point here for people who may be confused as to why is this all important is that folks on the Republican side believe that the president and his administration deliberately didn't tell the truth about what went on because they were using the storyline in the election that they had all but taken care of al Qaeda and that this seemed to be al Qaeda connected.

Do you believe that?

BLUNT: That seems to be the case for me. I mean, you have this discussion about, well, we have classified material and unclassified material. I think that really -- you have to have a really good reason why you don't give the American people the information you had unless you think you're somehow going to really endanger the people that are in other parts of the world.

I mean, we had the people out of Benghazi that survived that attack on September the 12th. No reason they couldn't have been talked to. This idea for days until somehow we get the surveillance film we, don't really know for sure that there's not a protest. It's clear from the surveillance film there was never a protest. We had people out of there the next day.

It's also clear that there had to be some planning. I mean, the first people are killed really early at the mission, but it's six or seven hours later before the other two people are killed a mile and a half away. That clearly was something that intended to happen. It wasn't seven hours later. People get excited again. We knew that. And we knew that from the very start.

CROWLEY: So, you basically think that it was put out there because they didn't want to have the direct conversation about this being a terrorist attack.

BLUNT: Well, I think until you hear a better explanation that's the only conclusion you could reach.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the attack itself because we still don't know. Do either one of you feel that you know exactly what happened and who did it?

RUPPERSBERGER: From what I know, and the information that we received, is that the first attack was more of a chaotic type of attack. There didn't seem...

CROWLEY: This is the one that killed the ambassador.

RUPPERSBERGER: The ambassador, who died of smoke inhalation. It wasn't gunfire.

And that at that point that it was more chaotic. Fires were set. You had people looting.

But then seven hours later the attack at the compound was a lot different. That was well organized. You had people who knew how to shoot mortars. There seemed to be command and control. And that was a lot more planning, in my opinion, and they were a lot more effective, And that's when we had our other two Americans who were on the perimeter protecting the citizens.

Remember, we had people from the first attack who worked for the State Department. They were all taken, and their lives were saved thanks to the security, taken to the second compound, and the people who were killed were in the perimeter while they were being put on planes or helicopters or whatever to get them to safety.

BLUNT: And Candy, I think Dutch and I saw the same compilation of surveillance video. Even the first attack, while more chaotic and maybe not as well planned, these are people who suddenly get through the gate with weapons in most cases, and they start doing bad things from the very first moment. And I would agree totally that the second attack where you had relatively good use of the weapons that had to fire the mortars, precise hits, this is several hours later. Clearly, somebody who knows what they're doing is behind that attack and the first attack, again, was not in any way you could look at it coming out of the spontaneous demonstration because there wasn't was one. CROWLEY: Were there calls for help? Were they denied? Do we know the answer to that? RUPPERSBERGER: Absolutely they were not denied. There was an issue that appeared in the media that when the State Department -- the State Department was at the first location. When they called out for the CIA for help, immediately within, I believe, 20 minutes they were getting their ammunition together, they were getting together, and they did come. And they also received firepower when they got there.

So they almost had to fight their way in. And once they got there, they were able to get all of the people, Americans, to the area of safety at the second location. Other than the ambassador, who decided to stay, and his press person. And he died of smoke inhalation.

CROWLEY: Senator, let me have you pause here a second because I want to take a quick break, and I'll let you answer that on the other side.

But we also want to focus on the Middle East right after this break.


CROWLEY: I'm back with Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger and Senator Roy Blunt.

Senator, just the last word, if you will, before we get to the Middle East on whether there were calls for help and whether they were denied. Congressman says no.

BLUNT: Well, I'm not sure yet. And there are really two questions here. One is the level of security at the temporary mission and why it wasn't better. Dutch is -- my understand is exactly right, once people in Benghazi were called, they got there pretty quickly within -- they had left their location within 24 minutes of the call, but my other question would be there was nobody anywhere in the world that we could get there in six or seven hours to save those last two lives and potentially other lives that could have been lost in that attack that occurs hours after the ambassador is killed and the mission statement -- the mission itself has been abandoned to the second facility.


Let me move you on to the Middle East, because tensions, to put it mildly, are high. You have this confrontation between Israel and Hamas over the Gaza, and you have added on to that the Arab Spring, which gave us new leadership in Egypt. How scary is this at this point, how confident are you, that President Mohammed Morsi is going to be a force for good in calming this down?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, the first thing I think clearly Israel has a right to defend itself. And they have to do whatever they have to do to protect their citizens. We have to remember the United States it's as if Washington, D.C. was being attacked from the state of Maryland. So it's very, very serious what's happening there.

I think as far as the Arab Spring, clearly the dynamic has changed. And I think that the United States now is looking to Morsi to use his influence with Hamas to get them to stop shooting the missiles. Hopefully you could take advantage of this negative situation and start talking about peace. History shows that is unlikely at this point.

But Israel has to stand -- protect their citizens at all costs. And you cannot continue to have these rockets sent in. CROWLEY: But President Morsi has his own problems at home, too, in terms of trying to be tough on Hamas, which, after all, is part of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian sense. Do you think he can be helpful? Has he been helpful?

BLUNT: I don't know that he has. Clearly we've benefited from almost 40 years now of having peace partners between Israel and Egypt even though the Egyptian government never told the people of Egypt how important this was to maintain this peaceful relationship. And we don't have that right now.

I think the prime minister of Egypt -- not Morsi, but the prime minister went to Gaza, high-ranking person went to Gaza last week, met with them. They've expressed all kinds of sympathy. Certainly the senate passed a resolution last week unanimously that's in line with what the congressman just said about the right to defend yourselves. But we've got people who have traditionally been our allies in trying to maintain the peace in Turkey, in Tunisia, in Egypt that now are encouraging the things that clearly will not keep the peace if Hamas is allowed to continue to do what Israel can't, frankly, allow it, Candy, to continue to do.

CROWLEY: Let me add in the other element here, and that's Iran. Is Iran arming Hamas? We know where these weapons are coming in. Iran says they're not. But is there evidence to the contrary, is Iran involved in the arming of Hamas and what seems to be a little bit at least of increased capacity with these missiles coming from Gaza?

BLUNT: Well, they're coming in, and they're getting there from somewhere. My guess is Iran is involved. My guess is there has to be some tacit involvement in Egypt and the border or these things wouldn't be getting in to Gaza. And there's all kinds of public encouragement of what we would consider terrible misdeeds perpetrated on innocent people in Israel coming out of Gaza.

RUPPERSBERGER: I think Iran is a very dangerous country, very dangerous to Israel, to the Middle East and also to the United States. They export terrorism. And they also have the ability to manufacture rockets and missiles.

I have had a conversation with the ambassador to Israel. Clearly the rockets that were sent in are Iranian rockets. They support Hamas. And I think that they're very serious. And by the way, to answer your question, you talked about Morsi. I think a bigger player here is Erdogan, President Erdogan of Turkey. They've become very powerful. They have a lot more influence in the Arab area. And I think Erdogan is going to be a key player if there's going to be any issue of calming down the hostility as it relates to Hamas.

CROWLEY: In the last 20, 30 seconds we have that President Obama as far as we know doing everything he can. Are you satisfied with what the U.S. has said and done so far as regards to...

BLUNT: His statements yesterday I thought they were helpful. They are in line with what the congressman and I have said here today, and I hope we're aggressively pursuing that idea that Israel has a right to protect itself. But people all over the world have a real interest in trying to stop this violence from being initiated by Hamas and Gaza.

CROWLEY: Because the president has also said apparently said apparently, please don't equate Gaza to Israel.

RUPPERSBERGER: I think president after president has always stood behind Israel. We always will. They're our ally there. And we have to do whatever we can help them to protect their citizens.

CROWLEY: Congressman Ruppersberger, Senator Blunt, thank you both so much for being here today.


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