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Will Prisoner Exchange Put Soldiers at Risk?; Bergdahl: Deserter or Hero?

Aired June 3, 2014 - 18:28   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Good to see you, Wolf. Look, President Obama made a decision to get this soldier home, and it turned the Republicans nuts. They've got the attack machine going overtime.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Well, I don't know: since when did asking legitimate questions become an attack machine?

The debate starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, President Obama answers tough questions about his trade with the Taliban.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We still get an American soldier back if he's held in captivity, period, full stop.

ANNOUNCER: Is Bowe Bergdahl a hero or a deserter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I immediately said, he walked away. He walked away.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp.

In the CROSSFIRE, Larry Korb, who supports the deal, and Cliff May, who's against it.

Is the prisoner swap legal? Will it put our troops at risk? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

JONES: And I'm Van Jones on the left. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got guests who actually disagree on the deal that freed Sergeant Bergdahl. Now, you remember that warm feeling you got when you first heard that we'd finally gotten our last captive soldier home from Afghanistan? Remember that feeling? I do, too. Unfortunately, the Republicans desperately want us all to forget about it.

Now I admit, there are some important answers we've got to answer here, but Sergeant Bergdahl isn't even out of the hospital yet, and already the airwaves are being filled, mysteriously, with former soldiers just trashing the guy. What is going on here?

Well, it turns out that there are Republican operatives who are working behind the scenes to get some of those guys on television. This is an orchestrated smear campaign. The implication is that President Obama should have left a U.S. soldier to die, but if he had done that, the same Republicans would be attacking him for doing that, so the whole thing is completely outrageous, S.E.

CUPP: Well, Van, I didn't have to call any GOP operatives. I just called my soldier friends, and they all have deep, deep concerns. But we'll get into that.

First, we have some breaking news from the Pentagon. Let's go to CNN's Barbara Starr.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, S.E.

Well, I just talked to a military official who was actually briefed on the findings of the initial investigation report when Bergdahl disappeared back in 2009, when they took a look at it and tried to figure out what happened.

In fact, we now know that that report determined that Bergdahl did leave the post of his own free will, and the big piece of evidence that they came to this conclusion by was that his bullet-proof vest, his night vision goggles, and his weapon were left behind deliberately.

Now this does not mean that they ever came to a finding of desertion, because in the military, to make a finding of desertion, you have to be able to determine intent. You have to know that that military person intended to desert the U.S. military. And because, of course, they couldn't talk to Bergdahl, the investigation couldn't wrap that point up.

Now a new investigation will begin when he is able to talk. They will talk to him. And they will try and get the facts, get his version of events about what really happened -- S.E.

CUPP: Good reporting, thanks, Barbara.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, former assistant defense secretary Larry Korb and Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Larry, let me start with you. I know Van wants this to be a cabal of some kind, but these were not Republican inventions. Here's what Bowe Bergdahl said in one of his e-mails to his parents. He says, "The system is wrong. I'm ashamed to be an American, and the title of U.S. soldier is just the lie of fools. The horror that is America is disgusting."

And here's what his own team leader told CNN's Jake Tapper today about the attacks on his team after Bergdahl disappeared. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EVAN BUETOW, BERGDAHL'S FORMER TEAM LEADER: IEDs started going off directly under the truck. They're getting perfect hits every time. Their ambushes were very calculated, very methodical. Like they knew what we were going to do.

Obviously, there's no way to prove that Bergdahl was feeding them that information. At least I cannot do that, and it is -- but it's very suspicious that he did know how many trucks go on patrol, who's driving in each truck, how many members are in each vehicle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: So Larry, why is it political or partisan to ask these serious questions about Bowe Bergdahl's disappearance that day?

LARRY KORB, FORMER ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, General Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, put it very well. He said, "Let's get this young man well, and then we'll find out, to have an investigation."

But these are accusations that may or may not be proved, and the real question is, he was a person who volunteered to fight for this country, and we don't leave people who do that on the battlefield.

CUPP: Right, but should these accusations against him, should they matter?

KORB: No, they should not matter, because they're not proved. They're accusations. Look, I was in the service. Lots of things happen in chaos, and you've got one person's version against another. So let's find out what happened.

CUPP: Cliff.

CLIFF MAY, PRESIDENT, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Yes. I think what we should be able to agree on at this table is that the American people deserve the truth, and they shouldn't be told untruths by the U.S. government.

Now we had Susan Rice go on the Sunday shows and say that Bergdahl served with honor and distinction. I think we know that's at least in question. She said he was taken on the battlefield. That's not true if he walked off his base, which I think we do know he did. And I think it's very important for us to be able to debate whether this was a good deal or a bad deal. Five Taliban commanders have been let go.

CUPP: We'll get to Susan Rice, believe me.

JONES: Nobody's saying we shouldn't be able to have the debate, but a couple things here.

First of all, we do have a policy, a longstanding policy that says, leave no man behind. Leave no soldier behind. Do you think that now that we should change the policy? Should it be leave nobody behind, but there's some terms and conditions, and we're going to have a whole checklist of stuff to figure if you're worthy? Because what the Republicans are doing now...

MAY: Not just for this guy.

JONES: Do you think this guy's not worthy of being saved?

MAY: I've never said that he's not worthy. I think we should bring soldiers home. I think it's a good thing we do bring soldiers home, even though there will be questions about the soldiers.

But we also have a policy that we don't negotiate with terrorists, with al Qaeda, with the Taliban. And in this case, we did using the Qataris as intermediaries.

And we don't know the deal that was struck. We don't know what the memorandum of understanding that the Qataris say. These five guys who are now in Qatar are evidently free to walk around, free to raise funds for terrorists, free to plan their next...

JONES: We're going to get to that...

MAY: The point is -- the point is this. The point is this. Very few people are saying, "No, don't bring him home." What they're saying is this may be a bad deal. They're saying that Congress should have been consulted when you're going to negotiate with terrorists and you're going to release terrorists.

JONES: Why -- why do you have people on the air, across -- across the board, attacking this man, trying to bring his credibility down? To me this seems to be a part of a deliberate strategy.

MAY: Are you saying...

JONES: Why are Republican operatives -- let me ask you a question. I know you say it's totally legitimate (ph).

MAY: OK.

JONES: Why are Republican operatives, though, coordinating a press conference to get this...

CUPP: We're not coordinating, Van.

JONES: ... first today. Republican operatives. Why are you making...

CUPP: The military has questions.

JONES: But the military's not coordinating -- putting people in...

(CROSSTALK)

KORB: Military leadership doesn't have questions. Some soldiers who were...

MAY: Who served with him. KORB: General Dempsey...

CUPP: Served alongside him, including his commander.

KORB: Wait, wait. But General Dempsey is the -- he is the highest ranking military officer. He said this was a good deal, and we should find out what happened.

CUPP: But Larry, let me -- let me ask you this. The policy isn't leave no man behind at any cost. Let's talk about the potential cost. Because of the 614 Gitmo prisoners that we've already released, we know that nearly 30 percent have returned to terrorism and terrorist activities. So what assurances do we have that these five terrorists aren't going to go back onto the battlefield and do the same thing?

KORB: Well, wait a second. They have been in prison on average of 13 years. They're pretty old to be going back and fighting...

CUPP: Wait, whoa, whoa, whoa, that's your rationale? That they're too old.

KORB: I didn't say -- I didn't say that. What I'm saying -- and they are going to be under lock and key in Qatar.

MAY: We don't know that.

KORB: Yes, they are. That's the agreement.

MAY: Last we heard is they're walking around freely in Qatar. Do we know -- do you know, Larry...

KORB: Have you ever been to Qatar. I have been to Qatar.

MAY: Let me ask you if you've...

KORB: Let me get to this -- let me get to this point...

CUPP: A year in Qatar. For a year they're in Qatar being tracked. What happens after that?

KORB: After that -- well, after that, we'll be out of Afghanistan.

CUPP: Well, what if no one tells them that the war is over?

KORB: Wait, the president's already made the decision. And by the way, do not negotiate with terrorists? What about the Sons of Iraq that the Bush administration made the deal with? They had killed more Americans than these people had, and we negotiated with them so we could get out of Iraq. And they're back there fighting now.

MAY: The reason we got into Afghanistan is because the Taliban and al Qaeda planned a dreadful attack against the Americans. These guys are likely to go back there and do that again when we're out of there. Does that not disturb you a little bit?

KORB: Well, what do you mean? Going to go back and do that? Bin Laden is dead. The Taliban -- al Qaeda has morphed into a different part of the world. They're not back there anymore.

MAY: Al Qaeda has -- you're right, al Qaeda is in more countries now than ever. Al Qaeda is not defeated, as this administration...

KORB: But they're not.

MAY: Al Qaeda is stronger.

KORB: They don't have the global reach. They no longer have a global reach.

MAY: How much global reach does it take from Kandahar to plan the 9/11 attacks? They did it because people like you were saying they didn't have...

KORB: The attacks were planned in Germany.

MAY: So then we should have been fighting in Germany, not Afghanistan.

CUPP: OK, well in just a moment, I want to talk about the other costs of this terrible deal. It isn't a five for one exchange that we've all been hearing about. I'm going to tell you about the six for one that you haven't.

But first, today's "CROSSFIRE Quiz." How many U.S. troops are in Afghanistan right now? Is it approximately 33,000, 57,000, or 102,000? We'll have the answer when we get back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUPP: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Today, there are a lot of serious questions about President Obama's go-it-alone deal to trade five Taliban leaders for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. The president and his people keep quoting the U.S. policy "leave no man behind," but that's exactly what Bowe Bergdahl did when he abandoned his unit.

Take a look at these faces. It's believed these six soldiers were killed in action died while pursuing Bergdahl's recovery. In fact, his own former team leader said this to CNN's Jake Tapper today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EVAN BUETOW, BERGDAHL'S FORMER TEAM LEADER: My goal here is not to -- I don't really want to get in the political side of anything. My goal is to show that Bergdahl is a deserter and he's not a hero and that he needs to answer for what he did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: Our own soldiers have serious questions about Bowe Bergdahl's service, which brings us to the answer to today's CROSSFIRE quiz. Approximately 33,000 troops are still in Afghanistan.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Larry Korb and Cliff May.

Larry, we brought this up earlier. You just heard what Bergdahl's team leader said. Let me play what Susan Rice had to say about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He's going to be safely reunited with his family. He served the United States with honor and distinction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: It's like deja vu. Talk about politicizing this.

If we don't --

KORB: She's not -- wait, she's not politicizing it.

(CROSSTALK)

KORB: He has not been accused of anything. He has been there for five years, no formal charges.

So, look, let me tell you how the military works. If what they are saying is true, it would have already been done. I was in the service. That's what we do.

So, your saying this, people saying, people who served with you, this is nonsense.

CUPP: But, Larry, even the White House is walking that back today. That's an inaccurate statement.

KORB: No, no, no, no.

CUPP: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

KORB: All right. He has been promoted twice.

CUPP: While in captivity.

KORB: Yes, but if he had done these things you're accusing him of -- you can't get promoted unless your supervisors --

CUPP: I don't know he's a deserter, you don't know he's a hero.

KORB: He had people in his unit -- let me tell you -- when were you in the service? When were you in the service?

MAY: Here's what --

KORB: When you were in the service?

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: That has nothing to do with it. KORB: He was a private --

MAY: You're the only one that gets to speak.

KORB: OK, yes! OK, you spoke longer the first time.

Let me tell you something -- he was a private. He got promoted twice. He could not get promoted unless his commanders under whom he served, gave him a satisfactory report. That's the truth.

MAY: Now, here's what we know -- we know pretty much based on a Pentagon report, "Associated Press" has talked about it today, he walked off his base without his -- without any arms in 2009. The Pentagon reports in 2010.

Now, he could have deserted or he could have gone AWOL or he could have gone for a beer, but he should not have walked off his base, which is how he got captured, not on a battlefield. That much we know.

KORB: No, we don't know that. We don't know that.

MAY: According to the Pentagon, we know that.

KORB: No, we don't know that.

MAY: Tell me what you know that's different than the Pentagon.

KORB: OK. All we know is he was captured, OK?

MAY: We don't know he left his base?

KORB: We don't know the circumstances.

MAY: Do we know he walked off his base?

KORB: We don't know that.

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: There's a Pentagon report from 2010 --

KORB: No, no, no, the pentagon didn't say that. He got promoted. If he did that, the Pentagon --

MAY: Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 that the evidence was incontrovertible that Bergdahl walked away from his unit. This is from "The Associated Press" today.

KORB: "Associated Press", that's a press statement. Why would they promote him?

MAY: Another of the questions we need to answer --

KORB: The military promotes, it's not done politically. CUPP: Sir, let me just remind you in the beginning of the show we played a clip from Barbara Starr, one of our reporters, talking about the Pentagon report saying that Bowe Bergdahl walked off his base of his own will. We at least know that.

JONES: Hold on a second. First of all, this whole thing started when you were trying to put Susan Rice in the toilet, and -- hold on a second, just in her defense, if I could say something in her defense. When you're talking about the battlefield, she means Afghanistan as a battlefield, doesn't mean -- not even a front in Afghanistan. The whole place is a battlefield, number one.

And when she talks about honor and distinction, she is talking to the fact he was promoted twice. So, let's not try to politicize against Susan Rice.

Let me ask you a question, if we were dealing with a different headline today, if the headline were that Bergdahl had died in Afghanistan and we were sitting here talking about that today, you would be attacking the president for having done nothing. Am I right or wrong?

MAY: I think you're wrong.

JONES: No.

MAY: We should agree at least the president should have consulted with Congress about this, because Congress --

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: Congress was aware for at least two years that Bergdahl was in captivity and there were talks going on and they were trying to strike a deal. Shouldn't Dianne Feinstein, who is the Democratic chairwoman of the --

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: Let me tell you, let me do this one, Senator Feinstein herself already agrees with you.

MAY: I know she does.

CUPP: And the White House apologized today.

JONES: They didn't apologize, they clarify. But let me tell you this --

CUPP: OK, I heard it wrong then.

JONES: Well, actually they (INAUDIBLE).

I want to get clarification (ph) from you, do you think the Republicans would be praising this president -- if Bergdahl had died in there, do you think Republicans would be praising the president for not having -- gotten him out of there? Do you think he would be a hero to you if he died over there?

MAY: Let me be as clear as I can -- I never, ever want to see an American soldier die. I'd never want to see an American soldier left behind. That doesn't mean the president obeyed the law, I'm afraid he didn't. That doesn't this was a good deal. I'm afraid it wasn't. And it doesn't mean that Americans are not going to die because five hardened terrorists are going to be let loose on the battlefield.

KORB: Come on, come on. The Israelis gave over a thousand Palestinian to get one soldier. That's what democracies do.

MAY: I have no --

KORB: Five for one is a good deal. They gave 1,027 Palestinian terrorists back to get Private Shalit. That's what democracies do. That's what we do.

If I was in the service, I expected them to do that for me, OK? That's what I expected. Five for one is not bad deal.

CUPP: Larry, if these five terrorists return to the battlefield and kill innocent Americans, will it be a bad deal then?

KORB: Look, there are pool there that are going to try to kill innocent Americans.

CUPP: That doesn't answer my question.

KORB: They're not going to have any -- a march in the row (ph), five out of how many?

MAY: Wait a minute, wait a minute.

CUPP: How do you know this? Where's your crystal ball?

MAY: Let me tell you don't know this because Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, he is celebrating this as a great victory over the West. I'm not sure he is wrong. And I think these men will be his national security council going forward for the next few years.

KORB: They've been out of it for 12 years.

MAY: What we know is that those released from Gitmo come back tanned, rested, and ready for the fight because they've been fed so well and treated so well at Gitmo, compared to probably the way Bergdahl has been treated. Very differently.

JONES: First of all, everybody needs to be concerned. These are dangerous people.

MAY: True.

JONES: These are enemies of the country. This president made a decision that it was worth it to send them back.

Let me ask you a question, though. Under our laws as this war comes to an end, a lot of these people are about to be sent back anyway. Isn't it better -- give me that -- isn't it better if you're going send the people back anyway to get something for it and save an American life? Yes or no?

MAY: I think you have a point. But the point I do think you're missing is while the battle in Afghanistan is coming to an end, you are wrong, and the president is wrong to think that this war is coming to an end.

This is a long war. It's going to go on for years on other battlefields. We have to understand this enemy and understand the fight that we're in.

JONES: Nobody is arguing that.

Stay here. We're going to be back. I want you guys at home to get in on today's debate.

You at home, when Bowe Bergdahl, I want you to answer this question, should the Army investigate whether or not he deserted? We are talking about it. You should get on this. Tweet yes or no using #crossfire. We're going to give you the results when we get back to the break.

We also will have the outrages of the day. Now, believe it or not, I'm outraged about something not in politics, it's in pop culture. It involves one of the most ludicrous families in reality television, when we get back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JONES: Welcome back. Now, it's time for the outrages of the day.

I am outraged by something that Khloe Kardashian, younger sister of Kim Kardashian, posted on Instagram. Now, this photo with her maybe boyfriend, rapper French Montana, is reportedly from the set of a music video. He's brandishing what appears to be a semiautomatic rifle, also known as scary-looking gun. Kardashian capturing the photo about to go Gucci (ph), man. Montana was more direct with a simple "bang, bang."

Now, granted, she has a right to own the weapon and to post a photo. But as a member of one of America's most famous families, for better or for worse, she also has some responsibilities. Glamorizing dangerous weapons is dangerous, OK? So, Kardashian clan, some advise for you: why don't you stick to fashion?

CUPP: OK. Well, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned -- a woman hurricane, that is. What? Well, according to a study by the totally real proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, hurricanes with female names have been far deadlier than hurricanes with male names, because people don't take the female named hurricane seriously. Well, I hear you, sisters. Story of my life.

My advice to the girl hurricanes, try wearing some officious-looking glasses. Now, aside from sounding ridiculous, the study findings are also easily dismantled. See, they only started alternating male and female hurricane names in 1979. And since then, hurricanes have gotten less deadly. You can do the math, unless you're a woman.

So, instead of dismissing the next hurricane Courtney as just PMS-ing, maybe you should listen to what she had to say. And (INAUDIBLE) up here, thank you very much.

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: All right. Now, let's check on our "Fireback" results. When Bowe Bergdahl returns home, should the Army investigate whether or not he deserted? Right now, 81 percent of you say yes, 19 percent of you say no.

So, what do you think about those results?

KORB: Well, I think they should investigate. But let's not forget, when we debrief him, we're going to get intelligence about the Taliban and this is the beginning of negotiations with the Taliban that you're going to have to do, just like we did in Korea and Vietnam to end the war.

CUPP: Yes. This isn't over, right, Cliff?

MAY: Yes, I think that's very important point, that this is not over, that those who proclaimed to be jihadist, whether they're Shia, whether they're Sunni, whether they're Iranians, whether they're -- whatever they are, they intend to fight a war that may last a century.

CUPP: Right.

JONES: Well, I want to thank both Larry Korb and Cliff May.

This debate will continue online at CNN.com/Crossfire, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. From the left, I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.