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Interview With Former Vice President Dick Cheney; Texas Abortion Law Struck Down

Aired October 28, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Does former Vice President Dick Cheney know more about what's going on at the NSA than President Obama?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody has asked that question before.


TAPPER: The national lead, my sit-down with Dick Cheney, from torture to the debt, to what heaven might look like and what about reports that the U.S. started eavesdropping on allies during the Bush/Cheney administration? Well, I will ask the former veep, why spy on our friends?



CHENEY: I really believe the Republican Party is in trouble.


TAPPER: The politics lead, Cheney refusing to shy away from the problems ailing his beloved GOP. But there is one up-and-coming Senate candidate who has his unwavering support,his daughter Liz.

And in our national lead, breaking just moments ago, remember when a Texas lawmaker filibustered a strict new abortion law, only to have the legislature pass it anyway in a special session? Well, a U.S. district judge just threw that law out.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In the national lead, we will begin by asking of the president those two questions that always seem to go hand in hand. What did he know and when did he know it regarding the NSA tapping the phones of nearly three dozen world leaders? Add President Obama himself to the list of those surprised to learn it was going on.

A senior administration official tells me President Obama did not learn until recently of the NSA surveillance of other world leaders, including allies, confirming a report that first appeared in this morning's "Wall Street Journal," citing U.S. officials that the White House did not know until an internal review over the summer after which it ended some of those programs.

The senior administration official tells me the program that monitored the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not end until quite recently. The White House today sidestepped any comment on that report while vaguely promising more accountability.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We recognize that there need to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence, but the president has directed us to review our surveillance capabilities. The entire review that is being led by the White House will be completed by the end of the year.


TAPPER: The official tells me that the president would not normally know about operational details conducted in surveillance, but some analysts and critics now wonder if President Obama really was in the dark about this NSA tapping of other leaders.

Could this be part of a bigger pattern within his administration? Recall last week, our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius when the president knew about the debacle with the federal Obamacare Web site.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you know when he first knew that there was a problem?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, I think it became clear fairly early on, the first couple of days that --

GUPTA: So, not before that, though? Not before October 1?


TAPPER: There is, one could argue, quite a difference between plausible deniability and being an absentee landlord.

Now, over the weekend, a German newspaper reported that the NSA may have been tapping Angela Merkel's phone for more than a decade, even before she became German chancellor. It may have been going on throughout President Obama's whole first term without him knowing about it or finding out about it, but it actually would have started during the Bush/Cheney administration.

Earlier today, I sat down with former Vice President Dick Cheney and I asked him about that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: Thanks so much for joining us.

CHENEY: Good to be here, Jake.

TAPPER: So the book, "Heart: An American Medical Odyssey," very fascinating. I want to get into in a second.

But first, I have to ask you about some big items in the news --


TAPPER: -- especially, the National Security Agency spying scandal, for want of a better word, all this news that the U.S. conducted surveillance on our own allies. Some of the documents posted by -- or leaked by Edward Snowden to the media indicate that these programs started in 2002.

Why spy upon an ally?

CHENEY: Jake, if there were such a program, it would be classified and I couldn't talk about it. It would be totally inappropriate, and I haven't been in the loop now obviously for more than four years. So it's just one of those subjects I couldn't discuss.

TAPPER: Without getting specific, on a theoretical basis, what is the interest of the United States in conducting surveillance on a country or a leader who is a clear ally of the United States?

CHENEY: I've -- I've got to go with the answer I've given you.

Let me -- let me say this. We do have a fantastic intelligence capability worldwide against all kinds of -- of potential issues and concerns. We are vulnerable, as was shown on 9/11, and you never know what you're going to need when you need it.

And the fact is, we do collect a lot of intelligence, without speaking about any particular target or group of targets. That intelligence capability is enormously important to the United States, to our conduct of foreign policy, to the defense matters, to economic matters. And I'm a strong supporter of it.

TAPPER: Of all of it?

CHENEY: I'm a strong supporter of our generic capability to collect intelligence. I don't want to comment on any one particular controversy or pieces of the programs.

TAPPER: The White House says that President Obama did not know about these spying programs on specific world leaders, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Obviously, you're not a member of the Obama administration, but do you find that credible?

Could it be that there would be surveillance programs of that type that President Obama would not know about? CHENEY: Jake, I'm not getting into specifics. It would be inappropriate. If there were such a program, I couldn't talk about it. It would be classified.

TAPPER: Do you think the Snowden leaks have hurt America's ability to defend itself?

CHENEY: I do. I think he's a traitor. I think -- I hope we can catch him at some point, and that he receives the justice he deserves.

TAPPER: How have they hurt the United States?

I think there are a lot of people, especially in the media or the civil libertarian community who think it's good that the American people now know of all the surveillance that is being conducted, purportedly to protect us.

CHENEY: Well, the -- the problem I have with Snowden is he had access to classified information. He violated the conditions under which he got those.

He's a traitor, pure and simple. And I don't think -- I don't think you can judge him any other way. There's some people who want to say, well, he's a whistle-blower. He's no whistle-blower. He's done enormous damage to the United States by talking about sources and methods and the way we collect intelligence.

And that's a violation of law.

TAPPER: President Obama has said, and I think you've said, along the lines of by the time the decisions get to the White House, they're not the easy decisions; they're the tough decisions. The easy ones have been made long before they get to the White House.

They think the question of overreach, whether it's massive data mining or surveillance of allies, or, in your cases, black sites or enhanced interrogation techniques, what others believe to be torture, how do you make a cost/benefit analysis that this ultimately, not just in the short-term, but the long term, will save more American lives than it -- than it risks costing?

CHENEY: Well, the way -- let -- let's take some of the programs we have talked and that have become public, such as the terrorist surveillance program that we set up in -- right after 9/11, or the enhanced interrogation techniques we used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11.

In both those cases, we went to great lengths to make certain we'd worked closely with the -- the lawyers and the Justice Department to know where the line was -- you can go this far and no further -- so that we didn't violate any international commitments or obligations.

So, when people say torture, that may be their opinion, but with respect to the attorneys and the lawyers that are charged with reviewing what we do, it was not torture. I don't believe it was torture. TAPPER: There are those who dispute it, that that is what caused him to give the information.

But even positing that it did, it has had tremendous propaganda value for the enemy.

CHENEY: Now, I see. We're going to trade propaganda value for lives?

TAPPER: But can't propaganda value cost lives?

CHENEY: No. I think in this case, there are bound to be critics out there. There's no question but what it was controversial. It was the right thing to do.

We looked at it very carefully. I was a chief advocate of it, helped to get it all set up and established. I believe deeply in what we did. I think it was the right thing to do.

TAPPER: In the midst of all these decisions, while you were serving as vice president you also were undergoing some heart issues, as you detail --

CHENEY: Mm-hmm.

TAPPER: -- in your book.

CHENEY: Right.

TAPPER: How many times do you think you've cheated death?


CHENEY: Well, I -- how many times have I -- nobody has asked that question before.

I -- clearly, there were circumstances where I was near death, the one in December of '09, a year after I left the White House. Backing the car out of the garage, I went into sudden cardiac arrest. That's normally fatal.

I had an implanted defibrillator. It does the same thing as the paddles to restart the heart.


CHENEY: It kicked in. In 16 seconds, I was back and I was fine. That was an instance where the technology and my doctor, Jon Reiner, who helped me write the book, saved my life.

You could talk about when I went into end stage heart failure in July of 2010. My liver and kidneys were shutting down. There simply wasn't enough blood being provided by my heart to the rest of my body for me to survive. I had hours to go.

They went in and operated on me for nine hours one night, over 20 units of blood, installed a left ventricular assist device -- it's a pump attached to my heart that operated at 9,000 RPMs and supplemented the blood flow throughout the rest of my body and saved my life. It bought me 20 months and then got me to the transplant.

So, right there, the -- the defibrillator, the LVAD, the transplanted heart, all three of those saved my life.

TAPPER: Pretty incredible. There's a great story in the book about when you had the LVAD installed.

CHENEY: Mm-hmm.

TAPPER: And people asked what you remembered --


TAPPER: -- from when you were under sedation.

CHENEY: Right.

TAPPER: Can you share that story --


TAPPER: -- because it's pretty remarkable?

CHENEY: Well, it's a -- I came out of that surgery in bad condition. I'd been very weak going in. I was so sick and -- and had lost 40 pounds, had pneumonia, heavily sedated for a long time on a respirator and so forth.

When I came to, they asked me what I remembered. And what I remembered was I had spent most of my time in Italy, north of Rome, about 40 or 50 miles north of Rome, a nice little village, drinking good Italian wine and eating good Italian food. That's what I had in my head.

And --

TAPPER: Was that heaven?

CHENEY: No. I --

TAPPER: What was that?

CHENEY: It was north of Rome, a nice villa in Italy. The family wanted to know if they were with me. And I said, well, no. And that wasn't the right answer. They were going through a terrible situation --


CHENEY: -- because from where they stood, I was near death and that it had been a very, very worrisome situation for them for some considerable period of time. They had to put me back on the respirator at one point. What I was struck by was the abyss between their experience and what they perceived during that period of time and what I remembered about that experience. And it wasn't at all unpleasant. It wasn't at all frightening.

It -- there was one part of it that I write about in the book. I remembered sitting on a patio watching a car, an old car drive up a hillside headed for the villa -- the village where I was living.

And some time later, I remember watching "Saving Private Ryan," one of my favorite movies. And there's a scene from that movie where the mother of Private Ryan is looking out her kitchen window, and that's what she sees, the same thing I saw, this car coming up the hillside, only, in her case, it came all the way to the house and an officer and a chaplain got out to inform her that three of her sons had been killed in action in World War II.

In my case, the car never got up to the front yard.

TAPPER: The book opens with you convinced you are about to die, in 2010. "If this is dying, it's not so bad."

Did you think you were going to heaven?

CHENEY: I talked about it as being a spiritual experience that it was for me, as well as for the medical team, a point that my doctor made. And I am a Christian. I do believe in -- in God and an afterlife.

In terms of talking about it, it's a private matter. I don't -- I don't write books about it or make speeches about it.

But that -- that's my faith.

TAPPER: You -- you write about it in terms of you being at peace.

CHENEY: Mm-hmm.

It didn't come as a sudden shock. I'd lived with heart disease for over 30 -- some 35 years at that point. And I always believed at some point, I was going to die of -- of congestive heart failure.

And I had been through the entire cycle of the -- of events of five heart attacks, an episode of sudden cardiac arrest, a quadruple coronary bypass, aneurysms in both knees, stents, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I'd had it all. And I had developed, over the years, a very reasonable expectation that, when my time was out, I'd -- I'd be in a place where it would be because we'd run out of technology, I'd run out of time, and then I would die of heart failure, just as my dad did.

And I'd reached that point where I believed I was there. And as I say, the feeling I had and the sensation I had at that point was one of -- of gratitude for a fantastic life, love for my family, but I wasn't fearful of reaching the end of life.


TAPPER: Much more from my interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney in a moment.

But, first, we have just got some breaking news from our justice correspondent, Evan Perez. A U.S. official tells Evan that when President Obama took office, he was briefed and given very detailed documents about the framework of U.S. intelligence gathering and that would have included the program for tapping other world leaders' phones.

And while it's not known whether the president was told specifically about the tap on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone, according to this official, the president would have been told about the countries being targeted.

And when we come back, more of my interview with Dick Cheney, why the former vice president thinks the Republican Party is in trouble and his answer to the question he says he's never been asked before.

Plus, we are getting word of a major ruling in Texas. A federal judge slaps down a controversial abortion measure just as the law was about to take effect. We will explain ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Now, for our politics lead and the rest of my conversation with former Vice President Dick Cheney. With public opinion approval of the Republican Party plummeting to historic lows this month, the GOP is in a bit of a makeover phase but bubbling underneath is the strange relationship between the more conservative grassroots wing of the party and the Republican establishment.

With Cheney's own daughter entering the political ring with a run for a Wyoming Senate seat, challenging an incumbent Republican senator, Mike Enzi, I asked Cheney for his take on the party and its future.


TAPPER: I want to talk about some tension right now in the Republican Party.

You've expressed sympathy for -- for want of a better term, Tea Party Republicans and their concerns about the astronomical national debt and the deficits.

But when I heard you commenting on it, I remembered former Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, saying in his book that you had told him Reagan proved that deficits don't matter.

Can you square the two, the concerns about deficits now versus during the Bush-Cheney administration?

CHENEY: Sure. Well, the -- at the time that is referred to in the O'Neill book was back at the beginning of the Bush administration. At the time, frankly, we had surpluses. And the issue was whether or not we could both build up military force at the same time that we were concerned about deficit spending.

And my point was -- and Ronald Reagan had done exactly that, that he had run a deficit in order to build up our military capability back in the early '80s. And, it proved a remarkable decision on his part.

TAPPER: And to cut taxes both under Reagan and -

CHENEY: Yes, and cut taxes at the same time.

So, the -- I'm not opposed, under certain circumstances, to running deficits.

The debt is another problem. And we've gotten to the point now, where especially because of entitlement programs, but because there really hasn't been much done by way of trying to restrain spending, we now have, you know, trillion dollar deficits every year and a $17 trillion debt that we're passing on to our kids and grandkids.

That concerns me.

TAPPER: A lot of economists look at the data and say a lot of the reason for the debt, in addition to the entitlement programs you're talking about, are things that you and President Bush did in terms of funding or not funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, in terms of the Medicare prescription drug benefit --

CHENEY: Right.

TAPPER: -- and in terms of the tax cuts.

CHENEY: Uh-huh.

TAPPER: Are you and President Bush not also responsible for the deficit the way they are?

CHENEY: Well, in terms of the prescription drug benefits for seniors, that's something the president campaigned on before I ever got involved. I think it was a good program.

TAPPER: Without taking issue with the policies of Iraq and Afghanistan wars --

CHENEY: Right.

TAPPER: -- and the Medicare prescription drug benefit or the tax cuts, I think the question is how were they being paid for?

CHENEY: Well, the -- what we tried very hard to do -- I -- first of all, I believe tax cuts are -- are an appropriate part of the policy to achieve economic growth, that, in fact, there's a -- I'm a Jack Kemp-Art Laffer kind of Republican, I believe that -- that it's important to leave as much as we can with the individual wage owner and business so that they can invest and create more jobs. And that, in and of itself, creates more tax revenue down the road.

So, I'm not opposed to that proposition at all.

TAPPER: What about paying for the wars, paying for the Medicare prescription drug benefit?

CHENEY: Well, the wars were paid for. I mean the funds were appropriated.

TAPPER: Right.

All right, I want to move on.

Your daughter Liz, obviously, is primarying Senator Mike Enzi in Wyoming.


TAPPER: Not just running for office on her own, but actually a primary challenge.

Make the case for her. Why should she be elected, and Senator Mike Enzi be defeated in the primary?

CHENEY: Well, there are several reasons. First of all, obviously, I'm a big supporter of my daughter.


CHENEY: But I really believe the Republican Party is in trouble. You know, we've lost the last two presidential elections. And we badly need, I think, to bring along a new generation of talent, new leaders -- recruit new folks into the party.

I think Liz does exactly that -- a mom with five kids, (INAUDIBLE) of University of Chicago, two tours in the State Department, bright, capable, talented. And so, she's offered herself as a candidate in Wyoming.

Mike's not a bad guy. He's had three terms in the U.S. Senate. In the 100-year history since we've been electing senators directly in this country, there's only been one time when the Wyoming senator had more than three terms. It's always sort of been the norm, the limit.

Mike told a lot of people he wasn't going to run, and then he decided he was going to run.

But we're going to -- there's going to be a primary. There's nothing wrong with that. I had to run in a primary when I ran the first time around.

TAPPER: That's when you had your first heart attack.

CHENEY: That's when I had the first heart attack, three weeks -- or three months before the election. So I think it's going to be a good, healthy contest. I think Liz is a great candidate. I think she's -- has done very well. The first financial report, she outraised Mike. She has done -- mounted a very effective campaign. We've got many months to go. The primary is not until August.

But, I'm delighted she's doing it, and, want to do everything I can to support her. She's out there earning it one voter at a time, which is the way you've got to do it in Wyoming. And I think she can win.

TAPPER: Yes, a big state. One --


CHENEY: A big state, about one voter per square mile.

TAPPER: So one thing that she did that I thought was interesting was she came out against same-sex marriage.

CHENEY: Uh-huh.

TAPPER: Obviously, your other daughter, Mary, married her long-time partner, Heather --

CHENEY: Uh-huh.

TAPPER: -- last year.

I assume that Liz, you, the whole family was there and supportive. I know you've -- you were, for many years, to the left of President Obama when it came to some of these issues.

Is that going to be an awkward Christmas table conversation?

CHENEY: Well, I -- my position on that issue is well known. I've enunciated it in 2000 in a debate with Joe Lieberman. It hasn't changed. And, I'll let my daughters speak for themselves.

TAPPER: Fair enough.

Let's go back to your book, a fascinating book. The -- you had a heart transplant. You have somebody else's heart in your body, right?

CHENEY: Right.

TAPPER: You don't know whose it is.

Do you want to?

CHENEY: I think of it as my new heart. I have enormous regard, and, always try to go out of my way to thank the donor and the donor's family. I wouldn't be here today if -- if it hadn't been for that gift.

And --

TAPPER: You're an organ donor, right?

CHENEY: I'm an organ donor.

TAPPER: I am -- I am, as well.

CHENEY: I've got that little symbol on my driver's license. I'd urge everybody to be a donor. You may need one some day. And it's very important that we increase the donor base out there.

But in terms of knowing a lot about the donor, I don't. They don't tell you ordinarily. There is a process you can go through, a third party. And both the donor's family and the recipient can, conceivably, communicate through that third party if there's a desire to do so on both sides.

At the outset, they don't encourage it, partly because when I came out of that surgery after I had received the new heart, I'm ecstatic. I mean, my life has been extended for who knows how long?

From the standpoint of the donor's family, they've just been through a terrible tragedy and they've lost someone they love, an important member of the family. As I say, when I talk about it at this stage, I'm enormously grateful for the donor and that decision.

But, also, I think of it as my new heart and -- and that's the way I live with it.

TAPPER: Has it changed you at all having -- I know it's you're new heart, but it --


CHENEY: You mean am I a Democrat now?


TAPPER: No, no, I didn't say it was bleeding.

But, I mean, is there -- have you noticed anything different about yourself?


TAPPER: No, not at all?

CHENEY: No, I tell my wife my hair is growing back but she doesn't believe it.


TAPPER: I can't really tell.

You had, I think it's fair to say, the best health care somebody in your condition could have. And you also lucked out in terms of your doctor, told me -- and you quote him in the book -- like driving in the road, and there are all these red lights -- CHENEY: Yes.

TAPPER: -- and every time you approached the intersection, it turns green.

CHENEY: Right.

TAPPER: All this technology -- stents, Lipitor, all these devices created just in the nick of time for you.

Who paid for all this?

CHENEY: Well, it's a -- the same way anybody else would. Most of it was Blue Cross Blue Shield. I carried Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance when I was a government employee. When I wasn't a government employee, after I left the White House, back in '77, I paid the whole tab myself.

And then when I -- I think that covered me basically up through my time in the White House. And I believe then, when I came out of -- of my service, uh, as vice president, then Medicare kicked in for me. And I carried Blue Cross and Blue Shield as a supplement.

TAPPER: So, is this basically anyone with insurance could have had this same experience in terms of benefiting from technology?


TAPPER: Incredible.

The last question for you, just because we've been talking about death so much. And you've escaped it narrowly several times, as you write about in this -- in this fascinating book with your doctor.

What do you want them to say about you when you're gone?

CHENEY: Well, I recently had an experience in Wyoming. I mean we have a thing out there called the one shot animal (INAUDIBLE), sponsored by folks in Lander. It's been going on for seven years in the -- the Shoshone tribe, which is right there on the reservation.

And, I competed this year. And every year, they give the shooters that compete an Indian name. And this year, the Indian name they gave mine was Two Heart. That might be appropriate.

TAPPER: Two Heart?

CHENEY: Two Heart.

TAPPER: Vice President Dick Cheney, thank you so much.

CHENEY: Thank you.


TAPPER: Coming up next, a law in Texas restricting abortion struck down just hours before taking effect. Details on the ruling, next.

Plus, after weeks of issues, at least one thing has changed on the site. That smiling woman has vanished. Republicans have noticed. They're on the lookout for her.

Stay with us.