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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript - Government Oversight and Regional Instability in the Middle East


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BLITZER: Let's talk about these controversies and a lot more. Joining us now is Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina. What's your reaction? You hear about those numbers --


BLITZER: In the scheme of billions of billions and dollars, it is not a lot of money, but it is millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

GRAHAM: I think it's an attitude more than anything else. I mean, put yourself in the shoes of a hardworking American family paying their taxes, trying to run their family business and barely getting by, and they see their government spending the money this way. It's the difference between spending someone else's money and spending your own. And people in government tend to not treat government taxpayer dollars as they would their own. And that's a cultural problem.

BLITZER: You know, we hear these stories coming up all the time. I've been covering Washington, as you know, for years. You always hear about outrageous government -- taxpayer money that's being wasted. So, here's the question, Senator, what can you -- what can members of Congress really do to make sure these practices end?

GRAHAM: Well, just make sure that people that we nominate to do the job understand the difference between, you know, accountability and frivolous spending, put the right people in place. Have oversight, expose it.

You're doing more than the Congress is doing by airing this. I mean, it's good that the House Oversight Committees have dug in and found these abuses. But this is why you need an independent media, to look at the way the government spends people's money. I think you've probably -- your network and other networks have done more to change the habits in Washington by exposing the story than any hearing will have.

BLITZER: Well, thank you for that compliment. We'll continue to try to do our best on these kinds of stories.

Let me get your quick reaction, if you don't mind. Darrell Issa, who is the chair of this investigatory committee on the House side, he was on "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley on Sunday and said this.


ISSA: Their paid liar, their spokesperson, picture behind, he's still making up things about what happened and calling this local rogue. There's no indication -- the reason that Lois Lerner tried to take the Fifth is not because there's a rogue in Cincinnati. It's because this is a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters, and we're getting to proving it.


BLITZER: Did he go too far in calling Jay Carney, the president's press secretary, a paid liar?

GRAHAM: Yes. He's actually done a very good job on Benghazi and all of these issues of trying to find the truth. He's right. Ms. Lerner didn't take the Fifth Amendment because it was some rogue. I don't know where this goes, but it's very disturbing that she would take the Fifth Amendment.

And the prior commissioner, acting commissioner, said he only went to the White House one time that he could remember, and that was an Easter egg hunt, and he actually went 150 something times. But, you know, Jay Carney -- calling the president's press secretary a paid liar doesn't help get to the truth. It's a distraction. It's inappropriate. If somebody called Darrell a liar, I'd be defending him. And Darrell, you've done a good job, but you shouldn't have done that.

BLITZER: Shouldn't have called Jay Carney --

GRAHAM: No, he shouldn't have done that.

BLITZER: -- paid liar, which is obviously harsh, harsh terms.

Let's talk about Syria for a moment. Because I know you're passionate about that, as is John McCain, and he actually visited Syria the other day. The French are now saying they have no doubt that chemical weapons were used, that this red line that the president and others have spoken about has been crossed. Do you? Do you believe the red line was crossed?

GRAHAM: Oh, yes. There's no doubt that chemical weapons in my view have been used against the rebels in Syria.

But let's just put this problem in context. If you provided heavy weapons to the rebel forces, could some of those weapons work their way in the hands of al Qaeda extremists who are now in the fight? The answer is, yes, they could.

But here's the dilemma we face as a nation. If this war goes on six more months or a year, the king of Jordan is going to be deposed, and his kingdom is going to collapse. One of the strongest forces for moderation peace in the Mideast will be silenced. If this war goes on much longer, the radical Islamists that we're worried about giving weapons to are going to be able have access to chemical weapons, and that's a game changer for the world.

If this war goes on much longer and the Russians continue to supply advanced weaponry to Assad, then Israel's national security dynamic fundamentally changes. So, the risk of the war going on longer is far greater than arming the rebels in my view.

BLITZER: What about a no-fly zone? Would you support the U.S. participating in that?

GRAHAM: That's -- yes, I would rather do that, quite frankly. I would rather crater the runways using international forces, American forces to be involved, no boots on the ground, to neutralize the air power that Assad enjoys. You could -- there are four airfields they're using. You could stop flying from those airfields. You could use Patriot missile batteries into the rebel-held areas to give them some breathing room without having to provide the rebels anti-aircraft weaponry that could be used when they -- against us or our allies. I think we could do a no-fly zone without interjecting weapons into the rebel ranks.

BLITZER: But you know, Senator, after Iraq and Afghanistan the American public doesn't want to get involved in another war.

GRAHAM: I got it, but I hope the American public doesn't want radical Islamists to have access to chemical weapons, and that's what's going to happen if this war continues to go on. I hope the American public understands that the king of Jordan is a very valuable ally to this country, second only the Israel. And I hope the world understands, not just the people of the United States, that if the Syrian conflict is creating regional instability. And this is a difficult decision to make, but I'm trying to prevent the war from spreading.

And I hate to say this to a war-wary public, there is no substitute for American leadership, and that's just the way it is. And I embrace that. We don't need boots on the ground, but we need to be leading and ending this war because we'll pay a higher price later if it continues to go on. So those are our options.

BLITZER: Options are not good ones.

GRAHAM: They're not good ones.

BLITZER: Very quickly on Egypt before I let you go. Very harsh statement today from the secretary of state John Kerry. Egypt sentenced 43 non-governmental organization workers, including some Americans, to jail today for just doing their job. Trying to promote human rights, if you will, democracy. Kerry saying "this decision runs contrary to the universal principle of freedom of association and is incompatible with the transition to democracy."

You know, some members of the Senate like Rand Paul want to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt right now, about $1.3 billion in military assistance this year alone. Is it time to cut that aid, U.S. taxpayer money going to Egypt?

GRAHAM: Well, they sure harder for a person like myself and Senator McCain who condemned this just as harshly as Secretary Kerry. You know, with friends like this, you really don't need any enemies. Egypt's revolution, the Arab Spring started in Tunisia and spread in Egypt, which is the big prize. It's the largest Arab nation, it is the center of the Arab world. And to see this happen, these organizations have worldwide respect. And to condemn them and consider them criminal enterprises and put people in jail, sentence them to prison for doing what they do all over the world says a lot about Egypt.

But having said that, the Egyptian military is the glue that holds the country together. I wish we could just withdraw from the world, and nothing bad would happen. Egypt has made it so much harder for Lindsey Graham to help them. They made it so much harder to make the case that American aid should be given to the Egyptian government in light of this court decision.

But having said that, we have to do what's best for us. And if Egypt falls apart and it collapses and becomes a failed state, that would be the biggest blow to our national security in Israel's national security short of radical Islamists, nuclear weapons or chemical weapons. It would be a nightmare for the region. As long as we have leverage, there is hope and quite frankly the only leverage we have is our resources.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, thanks very much for coming in.

GRAHAM: Thank you.


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