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White House Briefing on NSA Surveillance; Obamacare Website Up Again After Another Failure; Peter Baker Releases Book on Bush, Cheney; Jake Tapper interviews Dick Cheney.

Aired October 28, 2013 - 13:30   ET


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: When it comes to the relationship that we have with various allies, this is obviously something that has been of concern, and we are working to address those concerns diplomatically through diplomacy channels and also in the way that we're talking about these issues now.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Let me follow up. When you say constraints, what do you mean?

CARNEY: I'm saying that the programs are legal, obviously, through the Patriot Act. But that in these reviews, you know, that are under way, the president has talked about the fact that we could take steps perhaps to put in place greater oversight and transparency and constraints on the use of this authority. So ways to ensure that the programs both achieve what they were designed to achieve in terms of gathering intelligence that goes to the heart of protecting the United States and our people and our allies but does so in a way that strikes a balance when comes to matters of privacy and the other concerns that we share with Americans and others around the world.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jay, back in September, in Stockholm, the president said, "I can give assurance to the public in Europe and around the world that we're not snooping at people's e-mails or listening to their phone calls." Presumably, that would include the German chancellor. Is that statement still operative?

CARNEY: Jim, what the president said was true. What I can tell you is what I've just said when it comes to the questions about communications involving Chancellor Merkel, the fact we do not and will not monitor those communications, and the broader fact that we are engaged in a review that will look at that issue and other issues through the lens of making sure that we are focused on using the tools available to us to gather intelligence that we need, not just gather intelligence because we can.

ACOSTA: Because earlier in the summer, he was sort of making the distinction about U.S. persons.

CARNEY: I think you're conflating a couple of programs when it comes to e-mails. There are different programs --


CARNEY: -- and metadata programs and there's --


ACOSTA: You said we're not listening in on your phone calls and I can assure you, if you're a U.S. person, we're not listening in on your phone calls. I have the exact quotes.


CARNEY: I'm not sure what question you're asking because, when it comes to matters of Section 215 and Section 202, they're very distinct when it comes to metadata versus other kinds of collection. They're distinct. The president in all he has said about this issue, not just since the disclosures, but even before them, reflects his commitment to ensuring that we do everything we have to do within the law to keep America safe, keep Americans safe and keep our allies safe, but that we do so in a way that reflects the need to find balance and to -- that recognizes this sincere security -- I mean, rather privacy concerns that Americans have and that others have around the world.

ACOSTA: And the "Wall Street Journal" article that has been mentioned in this briefing, the main thrust of it is that the president was unaware that this kind you have surveillance was going on of foreign leaders. In the interview that the president gave with -- speaking of conflating -- I'm going to be grouping a couple of things. But in the interview with Sanjay Gupta, the president -- excuse me. Kathleen Sebelius said the president was not aware of the problems with the website before it launched October 1st. Even back when the IRS was at issue in May 13th, the targeting of political groups, the president at that time said he learned about that through news reports. Is there a concern in the White House -- Jay, is there a concern of the administration that the president is being kept in the dark on some of these issues? In finding out about them?

CARNEY: Well, you've -- it's certainly true that you've conflated a bunch of disparate issues. The fact of the matter is that the president believes that the work being done by our intelligence services is important and that it is focused on -- when it comes to the NSA -- gathering for intelligence that is designed to help keep Americans safe and Americans safe as well as our allies. The president has also initiated a review because he believes that we need to look at the fact that the world has changed so much in the last 10 years, in terms of the technological innovations that we've seen and the way that we communicate and we -- and the way our enemies communicate, as well as the capacities and tools we have available to us when it comes to gathering intelligence, and to basically run a review that looks at all of those issues and ensures two things, one, that we're -- that our programs are designed to gather the intelligence that we need in order to protect ourselves and our allies, and that we doing so mindful of the privacy concerns that we all share. So --

ACOSTA: Is the president learning about the full scope of say the surveillance issues? Obviously, it seems he's -- (CROSSTALK)

CARNEY: Can I just say this at the top? I'm not going to get into individual reports about specific programs. There is -- there are several reviews under way. There's one that's being run by the White House. And when those reviews, specifically the White House review, are complete, we will be able to share more information with you and provide a little more detail about the decisions that the president will make after the review is completed.

I can say as this review has been undertaken, some decisions have been made, even as the review has been under way and not completed. And those decisions are being made because to improve and -- to improve our intelligence gathering operations in a way that is consistent with the balance the president believes is necessary to strike.

ACOSTA: Republican critics are making the case though that the president appears to be in the dark before some pretty significant stories that are swirling around this White House.

CARNEY: Well, Republican critics say a lot of things, Jim


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Jay, let me try more broadly --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So there you see the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, strongly defending the NSA surveillance program. If you read between the lines, he wasn't going to confirm the U.S. has been spying on cell phones of Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, or other allied leaders. But he did repeatedly say -- this is a relatively new line -- there's a whole new technology of trying to prevent terrorism out there and the U.S. has a responsibility to protect the American people. And he kept saying this, America's allies. The bottom line is that if the U.S. is, indeed, engaged, the NSA, in surveillance, whether in France or Germany or Spain or other countries like Brazil, where some of those leaders have bitterly complained of these latest reports, it's at least in part designed to help them because the U.S. presumably has a better intelligence capability, and maybe they can find out about some sort of looming terrorist plot before the respective governments can. He kept talking about the new technology that is available right now, the U.S. needs to protect the American people and America's allies. He kept saying "America's allies" over and over again.

On the other big subject of the day, the latest problems involving the Obamacare website, he did read that statement. The Department of Health and Human Services just released a statement saying they've fixed that latest problem which effectively shutdown the entire system overnight. A spokeswoman for HHS saying, "Verizon Terramark successfully resolved the issue with the networking component overnight. As of 7:00 a.m. eastern time this morning, the data services hub was fully operational. The technical team continued trouble shooting one issue with the online account creation process in the application and has now opened the enrollment tools back up to consumers." That statement from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Officials do say that there may still be some problems. "Users without an account may experience a wait time online while we continue to test this particular part of the system. We believe we will be able to resolve it by the end of the day to prevent any online wait times."

So there's a lot going on. Lots to dissect. Gloria Borger is standing by. We'll discuss with her when we come back.


BLITZER: All right. Just into CNN, we're getting this from Penn State University. Penn State will pay the Jerry Sandusky victims $59.7 million. Penn State University officials have announced they've reached a settlement with 26 of Sandusky's victims for nearly $60 million. Of the 26 settlements, 23 are fully signed, three are agreed in principle with final documentation, according to the statement expected within the next few weeks. That's a dramatic development. The figure will be reflected, by the way, in the university's audited financial statements for the year that ends June 30th -- that ended June 30th, 2013. Nearly $60 million goes to 26 of Jerry Sandusky's victims.

Let's get back to the controversy over the NSA spy targets. The "Wall Street Journal," as you know, has been reporting that President Obama wasn't briefed on specific efforts to listen in on world leaders. That includes the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others, key ally of the United States, whose cell phone was reportedly tapped. After a review earlier this year, those world leaders were taken off the watch list, according to the report.

Remember, early last week, in an interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, admitted that the president wasn't told there were website problems on that front, a few days before the disastrous roll out of, the website.

The president has been consistent when asked about issues like these and his role, his consistency begins with the words, the buck stops with him.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ultimately, the buck stops with me.

When I'm president, I'm responsible for a whole bunch of stuff that is done, and that's the nature of the game. Because Harry Truman says, the buck stops with you.

What I continue to believe is that, ultimately, the buck stops with me.

I'm the president and the buck stops with me.

I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer for, ultimately, the buck stops with me.

We are responsible though. The buck stops with me.

I won't have my vice president engineering my foreign policy for me. The buck will stop with me because I'll be the president.

I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out. So as Harry Truman said, the buck will stop with me.


BLITZER: Gloria Borger is here.

Gloria, so the president is --


BLITZER: -- under a lot of pressure right now.



BLITZER: Apparently, didn't know about Angela Merkel's cell phone. If you believe this latest report, he didn't know there were significant problems before the October 1st rollout of the Obamacare website, but he has often said the buck stops with him.

BORGER: Well, and I think the buck does stop with him. I think there are two different things here. The website is one thing. And I was talking to senior administration official who sort of explained to me what we all know, that many times the president is the last to know things because there's a huge funnel of things that come into the White House. The job of the White House chief of staff and senior advisors is to decide just what gets to the president's desk and what does not get to his desk. By the way, a lot of things don't even get to the White House.

When it came to the web site, the question is, what did Kathleen Sebelius know? What got to her desk? You might be surprised to know, a lot of times when things go wrong in government, people actually cover it up. They don't tell the truth to supervisors. Kathleen Sebelius is a former governor. One would assume if she knew how badly things were going, she might have put the kibosh on it. This is sometimes how badly government works, which is people cover up things that are going badly. I have a hard time believing the president didn't ask, how is the rollout going.

BLITZER: This is his signature issue though.

BORGER: Of course.

BLITZER: This is the most important achievement of his presidency. You would think before the October 1st roll out, he would call in Sebelius, he would call in others and say --

BORGER: Right. Right.

BLITZER: -- is everything ready to go. Have we tested out thoroughly, the website, the program, all the connections?

BORGER: Right. Right.

BLITZER: He would have presumably done that.

BORGER: Of course. Have you ever heard of people, when things aren't going very well, sort of hiding it from the boss?

BLITZER: That's not doing the boss a favor.

BORGER: Of course not. They may have been hiding it from Sebelius. So in that situation, the question is -- as it was put to me -- what does the president know, how accurate is the information? If Sebelius didn't have accurate information, if she was misinformed, then it's not going to go up that tree.

Now, the question on the NSA surveillance and whether the president of the United States should know that his surveillance agency was tapping the phone of Angela Merkel is a whole other story. Some people at the NSA say that's just another data point. The president doesn't have to know all of those details.

However, Wolf, these are world leaders, with whom you deal every day. They may not have gotten a lot of information out of her phone tap, OK? But I would argue that if the president didn't know, then somebody at the NSA should have told him that piece of information.

BLITZER: If he didn't know about that --

BORGER: He may be asking why he didn't know.

BLITZER: He should have known that. He should have known there's problems with the website.


BLITZER: If he didn't know that there was a blunder there, a major blunder, and the president should understandably be very, very upset.

BORGER: And I think --


BLITZER: And maybe he's probably saying to himself, maybe I should have been more aggressive in questioning my own aides.

BORGER: You know what's interesting here? In most cases -- you may be right. He should have been more assertive. This former senior administration official said to me, the sad part about all of this is, if the president were to try and find out why he didn't know, he might never get a straight answer to that question particularly as it's regarding the website.

BLITZER: These kinds you have questions the president should know.

BORGER: I agree. I agree.

BLITZER: We'll continue to work this story.

Just ahead, we'll take a look at another relationship, the relationship between the former President George W. Bush and the former vice president, Dick Cheney. Peter Baker, the author of an excellent new book, "Days of Fire," is standing by live.


BLITZER: By the way, coming up later today, at 4:00 p.m. eastern on "The Lead" with Jake Tapper, Jake's one-on-one interview with the former vice president, Dick Cheney. Cheney addressed a wide range of issues with Jake, from NSA spying to -- on allies to a near fatal heart attack -- heart attacks, I should say.

The journalist, Peter Baker, covered the Cheney White House for the "Washington Post" and in "The New York Times." His brand new book is entitled "Days of Fire" and it explores the controversial relationship between Dick Cheney and then-President Bush.

Peter Baker is here right now, joining us.

Thanks very much for coming in.

PETER BAKER, JOURNALIST & AUTHOR: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Why did you decide to write this book?

BAKER: It's a great question. This is a very interesting relationship. We only got to the surface of it, you and I, back then. And to go back and research it for a book, it unveils all sorts of surprises. It turns out it was a much more Shakespearean tale than I think we knew at the time. And puncturing that kind mythology is important, I think, in journalism.

BLITZER: Did you know his own book on his own heart would be coming out at the same time as your book?

BAKER: That's a great question. I knew it was coming out in October. I didn't know it was coming out literally the same day.

BLITZER: Was your publisher anxious to have them come out at the same time.

BAKER: No, they didn't focus on it, but it raises the profile at the moment. And there was a lot of questions for Dick Cheney and it gives him a chance to answer them on CNN and other places.

BLITZER: I thought your book was terrific. And I went through it. I covered a lot of that really going back to Dick Cheney when he was a member of the House of Representatives and then when he was defense secretary and all those years he was vice president of the United States. The relationship that ended on a really sour note, when he left office and Bush left office. Not just because of Bush refused to give Scooter Libby that pardon.

BAKER: No. In fact, by that point, they had drifted apart in their view of what they should be doing in the White House. Vice President Cheney was still very focused, very single-mindedly focused on protecting the country, as he saw it, and he saw President Bush moving in another direction, more towards diplomacy, more towards shaving some of the edges off some of the policies they had put in place, and they were, by the end, on opposite sides of lots of different issues -- Iran, North Korea, Syria, Russia, the auto bailout, gay rights, gun rights, climate change, Donald Rumsfeld.

BLITZER: Almost everything. How is the relationship today? Do you sense these that two guys even talk to each other frequently?

BAKER: I don't think they talk a lot. They have a very proper relationship. They respect each other, but they're not close. They're not buddies. They don't go hunting and fishing together these days. They were together at the library opening in April. President Bush had very gracious words for Vice President Cheney, but Cheney was not part of the program. He was not given a speaking role in that. If you went in the library, you saw how President Bush is presenting his presidency now. Portraits of Laura Bush and the kids, the dogs, but not a lot of Dick Cheney.

BLITZER: Did he cooperate a lot when he was writing this book with you?

BAKER: President Bush chose not to cooperate. Didn't want to --

BLITZER: At all?

BAKER: -- interview at all.

BLITZER: What about Cheney?

BAKER: Vice President Cheney gave several interviews. And 275 people who were involved gave interviews as well.

BLITZER: Did Cheney have any remorse at all about the intelligence blunders that led to the war in Iraq?

BAKER: No. He's sorry that it happened, but he believes Osama bin Laden was a threat, and he had every reason to believe the intelligence, even though it was wrong at the time.

BLITZER: The book is entitled Days of Fire," an excellent read. Good reporting.

Peter, thanks for coming in.

BAKER: Thanks so much.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. Right after the break, Jake Tapper is here. We'll discuss his one-on- one interview today with the former vice president, Dick Cheney. Stand by.


BLITZER: Few vice presidents have wielded as much power behind the scenes as Dick Cheney. Jake Tapper sat down with the former vice president earlier today in a one-on-one interview.

How did it go?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it went well. We'll air the whole thing at 4:00 p.m. eastern on "The Lead."

I asked him about the latest revelations about the NSA spying scandal right off the bat.


TAPPER: 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 these programs started in 2002. Why spy on an ally?

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 for more than four years. So it's one of those subjects I couldn't discuss.

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

CHENEY: I've got to go with the answer I have given you. Let me say this, we do have a fantastic intelligence capability worldwide against all kinds 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. The fact is we do collect a lot of intelligence. Without speaking about any particular target group of targets, that intelligence capability is important to the United States for our conduct of intelligence policy, to defense matters, for economic matters, and I am a strong supporter of it.

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

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


TAPPER: Of course, Wolf, we also asked him about his book, "Heart," which details his five heart attacks. It's a medical odyssey, as it says right there. I asked him how many times he thinks he's cheated death. We talked about the deficit, his daughter's Senate campaign, who is running against incumbent Republican Senator Mike Enzi, of Wyoming, and much, much more.

BLITZER: He's pretty blunt. He's still very blunt nowadays. He hasn't changed on that front at all.

TAPPER: No, he is blunt. And buried in his refusal to talk about the NSA spying program, he was very clear that he's not going to acknowledge anything, but buried in the answer, you heard him say, you never know what you're going to need when you need it, and it's enormously important to the U.S. to conduct foreign policy, economic matters. There's your answer as to why spying on allies.

BLITZER: That heart transplant really seems to have worked. He looks pretty good.

TAPPER: And his doctor told me that --

BLITZER: Dr. Reiner (ph).

TAPPER: Dr Reiner (ph) -- that he was hours away from death.


TAPPER: Hours, literally, hours away.

BLITZER: When he had the transplant?

TAPPER: No, no. In 2010, when he had this major procedure. And, in fact, he had this very odd moment where he woke up after been sedated and he had this dream -- his family had been terrified. He had been dreaming that he was in northern Italy. He goes into detail about that in the book and in the interview coming up at 4:00.

BLITZER: Amazing medical story in that book. I've gone through it. It really is good.

TAPPER: It's well written, also. Very well written.

BLITZER: Who helped him write it?

TAPPER: I think Liz Cheney, his daughter, helped him write it.

BLITZER: She's a good writer.

TAPPER: Apparently.

BLITZER: See you.

Don't forget, Jake's full interview with Dick Cheney later today on "The Lead," 4:00 p.m. eastern, only here on CNN.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM continues right now with Brooke Baldwin.