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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - Benghazi

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GREGORY: And we're back. We'll speak to our political roundtable in just a moment, but I want to begin with Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chair, of course, of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat of California. And, Senator, your reaction to what you've heard thus far, particular the ins and outs on these talking points and what seems to be the central charge that is these e-mails are rel-- revealed that the administration at various levels wanted to scrub the fact that there was a link to terrorism of this September 11th attack in Benghazi.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA, Chair, Intelligence Committee): Well, I disagree with the conclusion. We have held six separate hearings. We have interviewed every intelligence head. We have read the e-mails. We sent a subs-- spent a-- a considerable amount of time with David Petraeus when he was director of the agency with the CIA, analysts involved. We will shortly be producing what I hope will be a bipartisan review. You know, what-- what I hear being assessed is all kinds of ulterior motives, and I don't believe they existed. And I have looked through all of the intelligence proceeding, Benghazi. There was no tactical intelligence, but there was intelligence to the effect that there had been prior attacks, that this was a dangerous area. You can say the security was inadequate. It was. But it was-- this was not a consulate or an embassy, therefore it did not have marines. You can question whether it should have been there in the first place. But I don't think you can question that there was malevolence on the part of the president, on the part of the secretary of state or anyone else. It was a very unfortunate incident that turned in to be, I think, a great and very painful learning experience.

GREGORY: But when you see some of these e-mails that no doubt you already reviewed as Chair of the Intelligence Committee, all of this was reviewed with Intelligence Committee members, Republicans and Democrats. At the time, nobody accused anybody of a cover-up. But you do see-- that the talking points have from them removed, any reference to terrorist groups being involved. Can't you understand the accusation that…

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Yeah…

GREGORY: …people were spinning this as-- as something other than a terrorist attack?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: …well, let-- let me-- let me say this. I think the talking points were wrong. I think the talking points should not be written by the intelligence community. I think the intelligence community should not be doing talking points for members of Congress and our report will in essence say that. Talking points can't be done by committee either. And these were. They were passed from one to the other to the other. And changes were made. The White House made virtually no changes. The word "consulate" was changed to "mission" and John Brennan made a change in syntax of one sentence. That was it.

GREGORY: But you had the whole-- you had the State Department pushing back on what those talking points were and they were ultimately changed. And the White House was running that process, right, as an interagency process?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, as more became known, the talking points were changed. Senator McCain said, and I happen to agree with this…

GREGORY: Mm-Hm.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: …that when you see a group going up with RPGs and weapons to-- to break into one of our facilities, you can assume it's a terrorist attack. Unfortunately, the word extremist was used which is not as crystal clear as terrorist. The real-time video which we have all seen reveals that there was virtually no defense. The militia from Libya sent to guard the embassy disappeared the minute these people came down the street. These people just walked right into the facility…

GREGORY: Mm-Hm.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: …so that is the painful learning lesson that we have.

GREGORY: Well, there is also a political charge that is coursing through this. The pivotal moment of all of this. Back in-- in-- in February, Senator McCain was on this program, and this was the exchange with what he thought was-- the actual cover-up. Watch this.

(Videotape; February 17, 2013)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): And-- and shouldn't pe-- people be held accountable for the fact that four Americans died including…

GREGORY: For what? You said there is a cover-up, a cover-up of what?

SEN. MCCAIN: …including a very dear man. I-- I'm…

GREGORY: I'm just asking you a cover-up of what?

SEN. MCCAIN: …of the information-- of the information of 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.

Why did the president, for two weeks-- for two weeks during the heat of the campaign, continued 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 is decimated and everything's fine in that-- in that part of the world? Maybe. We don't know. But we need the answers.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Is that criticism warranted, Senator?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, I think some of it is. It was in the last of a political campaign. We have gone through all of this. Now, we are going through it again and my concern is when Hillary Clinton's name is mentioned 32 times in a hearing, that a point of the hearing is to discredit the secretary of state who has very high popularity and may well be a candidate for president. So I understand Republicans had a grievance because this happened a month before the election. And every effort has been made to turn it into something that's diabolical. I don't see that. And if I did, I would say it, but I don't see that.

GREGORY: Rand Paul says in Iowa as he is ramping up for a presidential run, talking about Secretary Clinton, "It was an inexcusable, it was a dereliction of duty," he said, it would-- "It should preclude her from holding higher office."

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, I think that's nonsense, and I think the American people will think it's nonsense. This is a woman who has devoted herself to the job, who has as traveled the earth, who has tried to bring countries and organizations and groups closer together. She's a builder, not a divider. And I think-- you know, I'm really sorry because what is happening is that the credibility is being lost when these attacks take place, first on the president, now on the secretary of state. And candidly, we have looked into this probably more than anyone in terms of time spent. And our-- our Intelligence Committee will have a report, and I hope we will put some of these things to rest.

GREGORY: I want to ask you about the other big issue you're working on this week, that is immigration. Is there going to be an overall immigration reform bill that's passed in the Senate? I don't have to tell you, you've been involved in the markup. The pushback from Republicans is, look, we have got to get border security right and it's got to be tough before we get to any of the business of a-- a citizenship pathway for those here illegally.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, we saw in the committee, we passed 32 amendments, Thursday. What we saw was a prodigious effect to say nobody could be on the pathway to a green card until the border was 100 percent or somehow 90 percent absolutely guaranteed secure. The border patrol has been doubled. There are nearly 25,000 border patrol now on the border. And intrusions have dropped dramatically. Of the fence, the Secretary of Homeland Security testified that about 300 mile-- excuse me, I think close to 350 miles of fence have already been built. And there's some left to do with less than 50 miles. We have air resources. You have drones. You have cameras. The-- the border has been fortified more than any time in our history. And I think that we need to move ahead with this. I think we will move ahead. I think it's our chance. If we fail this time, I think you're not going to have another chance in the next decade. So I am very hopeful the people-- the Gang of Eight has held together. They have sup-- they understand the break points. They are supporting one another. If that continues on the floor when the bill gets to the floor, I think we have a very good chance of success.

GREGORY: Let me widen this discussion. David Brooks, as we talk again about Benghazi, you know, here this morning and what's new this morning, the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee is falling short of saying this was Hillary Clinton and President Obama's fault. But he does say the administration essentially directed the intelligence community to back off what they wanted to say.

MR. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times): There's an underlying narrative here which I actually think is wrong. The underlying narrative is that the CIA is this bunch of technically pure non-political people and then they produce a product which is then doctored by a bunch of political people either at State or at the White House. My reading of the evidence is that a very terrible event happened at a CIA-- basically a CIA facility. They went into intense blame-shifting mood, trying to shift responsibility on to the State Department, on to anywhere else. And the State Department pushed back. They said no, it's not our fault, it was your facility. And so they pushed back and they said why are we suddenly releasing information that we haven't been releasing so far? So the CIA was super aggressive. There was some pushback. Out of that bureaucratic struggle, all the talking points were reduced to mush and then politics was inserted into it. So I don't think we should necessarily say this is politics intruding on a CIA pure operation.

GREGORY: Congressman, don't you see the muddle in all of this that it's not so clearly Watergate as some Republicans allege?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL, Foreign Affairs Committee/Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran): Look, I'm not out to try to bring anybody down. I just want the answers. And, you know, I look at a couple of things. Number one, who changed the talking points? These are questions that go to motivation. But I do know that Ambassador Rice went on every morning show and said this was a result of a YouTube video, this was not a terrorist attack. It was frankly told to us in a closed door meeting in Congress by Hillary Clinton, too. And the other question, you know, as a pilot in the military, I went to survival training and the first thing they tell you is, your country, just know, no matter how long you're in prison, your country will move heaven and earth to come get you and that it appears in this case the country didn't move heaven nor earth to come get them. And the administration says, well, we had seven hours, we couldn't have made it in time. And, to me, that's irrelevant. What matters is you didn't know when the second attack was coming. Why did you not pull out all the stops to get some assets in place to save these four men or any future attack that could be happening?

GREGORY: Wes Moore, you're also a veteran of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is something you hear a lot in this community, in the Special Forces community and diplomatic community. Which is why didn't they go after our guys to-- you know, to try to do something and was there enough contingency planning, that's a question I asked Ambassador Pickering to be able to move if something like this were to occur.

MR. WES MOORE (Author, The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates/Afghanistan War Veteran): Well, I think the challenge was both under contingency planning, but also coordination, about who actually had the jurisdiction to send in, what was the timeline because the fact is, you know, I-- I agree with you on the point that regardless of what the timeline was, there should have been contingency plans particularly once we heard about the level of the threat. Where the challenge though comes in, I think, this also comes into an idea of lesser included, right? Where we cannot by-- by trying to overstate the argument, we also undermine the argument where we have to also understand that at its fundamental core that investigations should happen. There needs to be more that we can understand and a baseline that we can understand from this issue. But then we can start clouding the issue by trying to put in all the other elements like what-- like what Senator Feinstein was talking about, you know, trying to indicate specific individuals who are responsible. That's where this issue becomes clouded and the fact is that's when the truth also becomes very muddled in as well.

GREGORY: You know, Katty Kay, a historical precedent I think is interesting, and I have been looking at it this week and that's the Beirut bombing of 1983 when our servicemen were killed respectively on a landing strip there, a deadly video. There were recriminations politically, the president taking responsibility. I was looking at the time. Sam Gibbons of Florida saying I've only got three words, Lebanon, Reagan's, Vietnam. Senator Fritz Hollings saying that, the deployment of American troops in this type of situation borders on the criminal. All they are doing is sitting there, hunkered down at the end of a runway, waiting to be killed and on and on he goes. A tragedy that became a political issue here in Benghazi, it somehow becomes a scandal. What is the difference between tragedy and actual scandal?

MS. KATTY KAY (Washington Correspondent, BBC World News America/Anchor, BBC World News America): It is the insertion of politics. And if you are a Republican who feels that this is a cover-up, you feel you've been vindicated this week. Democrats feel that the Republicans are trying to smear the White House with this. And I think actually for the American public, the points of whether there were twelve different versions of the talking points and the e-mails that were sent, that's not what concerns them or perhaps should concern them. The bigger picture here is one about missing intelligence in Benghazi in the run-up to this attack, the fact that there were 40 separate attacks against foreigners in the six months before the attack against this facility. Why were those not connected? Why was the security not sufficient? Those are the issues that should concern us. Those are the issues that actually matter to American security abroad. This issue of talking points I think is becoming so intensely political, so confusing, that it's going to be missed by the American people and probably should be missed by the American people.

GREGORY: Before I go to a break, Senator Feinstein, the kind of bottom line is, if there is something you would have liked to have seen the president or the secretary of state do differently after this broke, it would have been what?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Oh, to move faster, to say yes, this was in fact a terrorist act. I mean, it was so evident and…

GREGORY: But why did they drag their heels on the same?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: …you know, we know there're training camps all around there.

GREGORY: If you believe that, why did they drag their heels?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: I-- I can't-- because they-- I think this is a cautious administration. You see it in other respects. I respect that. But this is one instance where, you know, it was what it was. And you saw it. The minute you knew what happened, you knew it was a terrorist attack. And you knew these groups had camps all around the area. So…

GREGORY: Did you think the political campaign was a factor?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Hard for me to tell because I'm not sure what impact it would have had if someone had said from the administration, yes, our mission was attacked. We believe it was some terrorist groups. We need to identify which one.

GREGORY: Mm-Hm.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: I-- I don't see what harm that would have done to the administration.

GREGORY: All right. Let me-- let me get to a break here. I want to come back and talk about another big issue this week, that sexual assaults in the military. What should be done about it? We've some key voices around the table to be able to address that. Plus, this IRS story especially with news this morning about some conflicting statements about why certain groups were targeted. We'll get the Senator's reaction to that as well and more from our roundtable, right after this.

(Announcements)

(Videotape; March 22, 2012)

MR. DOUGLAS SHULMAN (IRS Commissioner): There's absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens when people apply for a 501(c)(4) status.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: So that was March of last year from the IRS commissioner. News this morning from the AP that in fact, he and other senior officials at the IRS knew there were conservative groups, groups with the word "patriot" in their names trying to get tax exempt status-- status who were put through kind of extra regulatory hoops to get that status. You heard Chairman Issa talk about that. Senator Feinstein, are you concerned about that?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Yeah, I'm concerned about that. My understanding is the inspector general is doing a report. That report should be out shortly. And I think we have to take a good look at it.

GREGORY: There's no proof that the director himself of the IRS was personally aware of this…

SEN. FEINSTEIN: That's my understanding.

GREGORY: Yeah. But-- but that's a question certainly about…

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Somebody made the decision that they would give extra scrutiny to this particular group. And I think we have to understand why.

GREGORY: Is this…

SEN. FEINSTEIN: I don't understand why.

GREGORY: …this is kind of lumped in this morning. We look at The Washington Post this morning, David Brooks, kind of a second term curse.

MR. BROOKS: Yeah.

GREGORY: You've got the Benghazi investigation going. Now, questions about the IRS. Does this further poison the well in Washington?

MR. BROOKS: Yeah. I mean, the-- the second terms are generally hit with scandal. In the Obama administration, you're not going to have a monetary scandal. These people are not financially corrupt. You're not going to have a sexual scandal. But they are very political. And so you could have this means spread that this is a hyper-politicized group of people who will twist things. And this IRS story is going to be big. It's going to confirm a lot of suspicions a lot of Republicans have. You combine that with the Benghazi thing, you combine it with even the red line in Syria where that looks like a political thing now because you wouldn't carry through it. So what the president needs I think is a group of people put out there who are the clearly above politics, who are senior older people; show that a significant part of this administration and the core of this administration is not hyper-political and that has been a problem for the administration I think since the get-go.

GREGORY: Huge story this week, if I can, is the sexual assault in the military and the figures that were revealed this week, Katty Kay, from 2010 to 2012, an increase of 35 percent within the military; the president very angry about it. This is men and women who are being assaulted. And this gets to a core issue which is, who you report assaults to in the military and the role of a military commander to even do away with the verdicts or decide whether the cases are brought.

MS. KAY: And almost as shocking as the number of case is the fact that 92 percent of reported assaults in the military never actually make it to a court process. So, there are two issues. One is that it's incredibly scary for young women and young men in an organization where following orders is what you are meant to do and where it is very hierarchical to go to seniors when those seniors might in some cases have been the perpetrators and say I've been the victim of assault.

GREGORY: Right.

MS. KAY: It's particularly hard in the military. And the prosecutorial process is flawed because it's left up to military commanders. Now, Senator Gillibrand this week is going to propose legislation that that gets taken away from military commanders, as it is in the UK where you have an independent review.

GREGORY: But-- right. But-- but Secretary Hagel is saying he's not prepared to do that, that there is still an issue with order and discipline. This is not a democracy, that's a-- Senator Graham pointing that out, that you can't change this process that dramatically. You've been in the military.

MR. MOORE: Yeah. Um, I…

GREGORY: Can you get real reporting if it goes up the-- the-- the chain of command?

MR. MOORE: I don't think-- I-- I don't think it's that difficult to change-- to change reporting. In fact, when you look at these numbers, I think it's something that has to be looked at.

GREGORY: Mm-Hm.

MR. MOORE: Because this isn't just an issue about fairness and equity, it's also an issue about recruiting and retention. You know, in 2016, we're going to have-- the military is going to be fully integrated where we're going to have women who will be allowed to serve in all different combat arms operations. This is something and-- and we can't act like this is something that hasn't been noticed by females and males who are serving in the military. I mean, one of the things I'm most proud of the military for and proud of my service is the fact that the military has actually always been ahead of society on so many issues. We integrated before society integrated. We had equal pay for men and women before society. Society still doesn't have the same measure. We also-- everything-- and also you look at even-- even basic issues of allotments of-- of jobs and criteria. This is one issue where we're still far behind on. And I think that if the military cannot figure out a process in order to sustain that, and we're talking about 93 percent of cases that actually don't get prosecuted, then I think we-- we have an obligation to be able to look at other means of being able to be examine, to investigate, and then to convict people who are guilty of crimes which is what they are.

SEN. FEINSTEIN: David, I think the key is what these two have just said. I think it has to be taken out of the command decision-making. It's clear that there is too much excuse. And this has got to stop. And there has to be zero tolerance. And that has to be supported by a separate judicial process whether it's a full court-martial process or anything else aside-- apart from the military command structure. And, you-- you-- you know, what's happening too, to women all over the world, the rapes in India, wh-- what's happening in this country (Unintelligible) the concern over the abuse of women against their will, it's got to stop. And the military ought to set the tone for a new day because it cannot continue like this.

GREGORY: Congressman, as I said, you're-- you-- you've been in the military. How do you feel about it?

REP. KINZINGER: This is a tragic situation. I mean, look, you have young women that are basically volunteering in some cases to give their lives for our country and they put themselves in some cases in a hostile environment. So I-- I think the military has got to be very open about saying any level officer, any level supervisor, if you hear of something, you have to report it up the chain. I can tell you as an officer, I have heard of-- if I would have heard of anybody in my command being mistreated, not only will I have reported up the chain, I would have dealt with it right there immediately. And people need to be encouraged to do that because-- look, you have to have the freedom to feel right where you are.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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