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Rice Clarifies "Honor and Distinction" Comments; Vets Honored on D-Day Anniversary; Milestone for U.S. Economy; Surprising Revelations in Hillary Clinton's New Book

Aired June 6, 2014 - 11:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: A CNN exclusive, she's been at the center of the controversy since her statement that Bowe Bergdahl served with honor and distinction. Now Susan Rice faces questions from CNN.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Major milestone for the economy today. Getting back all of the jobs lost during the recession. But are these the jobs we need?

BERMAN: Her book is not out for days, but we're making sure you know everything inside Hillary Clinton's "Hard Choices," the new details and the new distance she's creating between herself and the president.

Hello, everyone. Great to see you this Friday. I'm John Berman.

PEREIRA: Pretty happy it's Friday, aren't you?

BERMAN: Very happy.

PEREIRA: I'm Michaela Pereira, those stories and much more right now @THISHOUR.

We start with new developments regarding Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. We're just getting confirmation that a reintegration team from San Antonio Military Medical Center is in Germany, and they are standing by to transport Bergdahl back to the United States for a reunion with his parents, but they will do this when he's deemed fit to travel.

BERMAN: Whenever that is.

Now we also have new developments in the political firestorm over President Obama's deal with the Taliban that led to Bergdahl's freedom. We know the president has said he makes no apologies for exchanging five Taliban prisoners mid and high level for the U.S. former POW.

Now the president's national security adviser Susan Rice is making no apologies for calling Bergdahl's service honorable. That single statement upset a great many of Bergdahl's fellow soldiers, comrades who now claim to CNN that Bergdahl is a deserter.

So let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, you had an exclusive interview with Susan Rice uncomfortable at times, really the first time she's had to defend those controversial comments.

What does she say now?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John and Michaela, I think Susan Rice wanted to clarify her comments.

Obviously she realizes that those comments made a lot of controversy when she first uttered those words on "This Week" on ABC when she said that Bowe Bergdahl served with honor and distinction.

She does still continue to call his service honorable, but listen to the way she clarifies it. Here's a bit of that exchange.


SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Jim, I realize there's been a lot of discussion and controversy around this, but what I was referring to is the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That is itself a very honorable thing.

And --

ACOSTA: But honor and distinction?

RICE: Jim, really, this is a young man whose circumstances we are still going to learn about. He is, as all Americans, innocent until proven guilty.

He's now being tried in the court of public opinion after having gone through enormously traumatic five years of captivity.


ACOSTA: And Susan Rice later told me in interview she realizes that she's become sort of a GOP lightning rod, that not only did this interview stir up controversy but her interview about the talking points that were used after the Benghazi attacks on the Sunday talk shows.

But she went on to tell me in that interview, John and Michaela, that when she goes on these programs, she's not there to try to mislead people. She says she's just trying to present the facts as she best knows them during those interviews.

And she told me, if you get facts wrong, that doesn't make you a liar.

John and Michaela?

PEREIRA: That's a good point, but you still have to be held accountable for words you say.

I want to ask you about a lot is being made -- we that know Congress is upset about this 30-day notice overlooked, if you will, or --

BERMAN: Ignored. PEREIRA: Ignored, I guess that's the best way, ignored by the White House.

And they are using new justification about the fact that if -- they feel that if the secret had gotten out, if word had gotten leaked of this swap to release Sergeant Bergdahl, that the Taliban might have killed him.

What did she say about all of that?

ACOSTA: That's right, Michaela. We heard yesterday that at this background briefing to senators on Wednesday that those senators were told that had the Bowe Bergdahl trade deal been leaked by Congress, by anybody, to the general public, that he would have been killed.

And I asked Susan Rice, is that the reason why the administration did not notify Congress before this exchange took place?

Listen to how she describes that answer, that response. She didn't quite confirm it, but she did acknowledge there were big concerns inside the administration for Bowe Bergdahl's life.

Here's what she had to say.


RICE: We had reason to be concerned about his life, but we also had reason to be concerned that 30-day period that would normally be honored was too long, that had we waited that long, we may have well missed what General Dempsey had called the "last best opportunity to bring him back."

We don't leave anybody on the battlefield regardless of the conditions of their capture.

And as a prisoner of war, Bowe Bergdahl deserved, and we had the obligation, and the commander in chief had the obligation to do what was necessary to bring him home.


ACOSTA: So Susan Rice there explaining that the administration was basically a unified front. The national security team was unanimous in thinking this was a good idea to trade Bowe Bergdahl for those Taliban prisoners who were released from the detention center at Guantanamo.

And at another point in the interview, guys, she went on to say that Bowe Bergdahl needs to get his side of the story out, that while, yes, his fellow soldiers accused him of being a deserter and the facts are not known, quite frankly, about all that, she said until his time of the story is told and he has a chance to tell that side of the story, we just don't have the complete picture as to why he ended up in Taliban hands.

BERMAN: His side of the story, Jim, is something a lot of people are waiting to hear. Jim Acosta in France, a really terrific interview, thanks so much, Jim, for being with us.

Want to bring in now our political commentators, Marc Lamont Hill and Reihan Salam.

Reihan, first, you know, Susan Rice, once again at the center of this controversy, the political side of this controversy, she did say honor and distinction on the Sunday shows in describing Bowe Bergdahl's service.

Now she explains herself to Jim Acosta, what she says she meant. A convincing argument?

REIHAN SALAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that Susan Rice is a good soldier, and frankly, I kind of feel a lot of sympathy for her because it's the White House's story that's changed. And it's Susan Rice has to go out there and defend it, depending on what the story and which time of day.

So I think that fixating on her is not the right move. Rather, we ought to think about these strategic choices that have been made and the people who are, frankly, setting the policy, and she was just one of many people who was part of that decision.

PEREIRA: Do you agree, Marc?

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. I think that the general problem here is that no matter how wise a decision it was, no matter how exigent the circumstances were, they understand how unpalatable it is to American people to swap Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban individuals.

And as a result, they're developing stories and reshaping stories in ways that they think will be more responsive to the American people. It hasn't worked as of yet.

I do think she overplayed her hand by calling him -- by pointing out that he served with honor and distinction. I think just saying that he was an honorable soldier and a life worth saving would have been more than enough to speak to the American people.

PEREIRA: Marc, is she making, in your assessment, a better argument this time, or is it a bit of a misstep, reminding you a little bit, maybe, of when she inaccurately linked the Benghazi attack to protests over that anti-Islam film?

HILL: This is nowhere near Benghazi. Again, Republicans would love to tie Benghazi to this because it makes political sense, but there's absolutely no connection in terms of the level of inaccurate information or the level of political fallout.

The truth here is that she makes a compelling case. One, there was an urgency here that 30-days would not have held. This is the best window of opportunity. All of our intelligence suggests that. Hamid Karzai would agree with that, to the extent that he's essentially said, I'm uncomfortable with the United States negotiating directly with the Taliban, and as such, he would undermine negotiations.

The extremists in the Taliban would not have allowed 30 days to pass for this deal to go.

This had to be an undercover deal on a short bit of notice. She made that case. She made the security case. She made the health case. I think she's right this time.

BERMAN: Reihan, let me ask you. She makes the claim, the argument, that people need to wait to hear Bowe Bergdahl.

There are really two separate issues here. Did the White House make the right deal? Did they break the law in telling Congress? And then who is Bowe Bergdahl and what were circumstances of his capture?

Let's talk about Bowe Bergdahl for a second right now. She says we need to hear his side of the story. There are people who have been very critical of Bergdahl on the right. Don't we need to hear his side of the story?

SALAM: I think the issue is not Bowe Bergdahl's side of the story. The issue is the larger strategic decision that's been made.

We constantly hear about how political this is and how Republicans are going after the White House on this, and they're being opportunistic.

But the thing is that we're a democracy, and we've always debated these larger strategic questions. So the issue is not whether Bowe Bergdahl is a good buy or bad guy. The issue is whether it made sense to make this trade, and it's not just Republicans who are raising their eyebrows at what happened.

This is a very serious decision that will have consequences for American service members for many years to come.

BERMAN: Fair enough. Does the type of service, his honor and distinction, as it were, does it factor into the strategic decision that was made?

SALAM: Senator John McCain, who himself had been a prisoner of war for six years, said that really the issue is the larger strategic consequence.

When you volunteer for the military, and that is indeed an honorable thing to do, particularly in wartime -- when you volunteer, you accept that the military's role is to serve as instrument of national policy.

And so you need to make a national consideration. It's -- of course, Bowe Bergdahl -- I don't think -- I'm not saying that he's a bad person or a good person or whatever else.

The question is, what is best for the United States and for American national security, and that's why this is not about political opportunism. This is about making a larger argument about what are sound strategic choices for the country, as a whole.

PEREIRA: We're going to leave it there for a second, but I'm going to ask you both to stick around with us.

Sorry to interrupt you. Marc, Reihan, we have another discussion we want to have with you both.

We'll put to the question some of the excerpts that we're see about Hillary Clinton's new book ahead.

Stay where you are, all right?

BERMAN: Some other news we want to tell you about right.

This just in, our affiliate WSB reports police in Georgia say a deputy has been shot in front of the Forsyth County courthouse.

A witness told CNN he heard two or three pops in front of that courthouse, and then several deputies opened fire on someone.

The area is under lockdown. WSB reports police say a suspect is in custody.

PEREIRA: The suspect in a fatal shooting, meanwhile, at Seattle Pacific University is heading to court today. Authorities say 26-year- old Aaron Ybarra killed one student.

He wounded three others before a student security guard armed with pepper spray was able to tackle him and keep him restrained.

Police say Ybarra was not a student at that school. There is no word yet about a possible motive. But police tell a Seattle TV station he was obsessed with Columbine and even visited that school.

BERMAN: @THISHOUR, the sacrifice made 70 years ago today, remembered and honored in our nation's capital, this is a live picture right now of a commemoration ceremony and wreath-laying at the World War II Memorial.

D-Day veterans and representatives from the nation's that took part in the D-Day landing are taking part in this celebration. President Obama in Normandy spoke at the ceremonies there.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Although I know we already gave them a rousing round of applause, along with all our veterans of D-Day, if you can stand, please stand. If not, please raise your hand. Let us recognize your service, once more.

These men waged war so that we might know peace. They sacrificed so that we might be free. They fought in hopes of a day when we'd no longer need to fight. We are grateful to them.


BERMAN: The president said whenever the world makes you cynical, think of these men, the men who served 70 years ago.

PEREIRA: That's a great reminder for all of us.

Ahead @THISHOUR, it took four years, but the U.S. has now gained back the 8 million-plus jobs that were lost during the recession, but many Americans haven't really benefited from it.

We'll look at this and take a look at why.


PEREIRA: Quite a big milestone for the economy reached today. The U.S. has now regained all of the 8.7 million jobs lost during the recession. It took almost four years. More than four years, in fact, to get those jobs back.

BERMAN: Get them back and then some. 217,000 jobs were added last month. The unemployment rate did stay put at 6.3 percent. So what does this mean?

Joining us to discuss this, our global economic analyst Rana Faroohar. Rana, I want to start with the good here. I know there are caveats but there are more jobs in the United States than there have ever been in history.

RANA FAROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: That's right. That's great news. That's four months now of a really strong jobs report. And this month we're seeing really broad based increases not just in retail and healthcare, which we had seen before, but also manufacturing and tradeables, so this is a good report. No way around that.

PEREIRA: I don't want to be Debbie downer, cause you kind of set me up for that.

BERMAN: I did.

PEREIRA: Were they good jobs?

FAROOHAR: Okay. So that's the rub. Fifty percent of these jobs were in low income sectors. So clerical position, restaurant workers, positions in casinos, tourism's things like that. That's what economists are really worried about. The other point is that wage growth is still pretty low. Only about 2 percent a month. It should be more like 4 percent in order for all of us to start really feeling this in our pocketbooks.

PEREIRA: Some areas are still struggling. Like I know Arizona and Nevada, those are two states that are not necessarily feeling this.

FAROOHAR: That's right, and that goes to another point. This is a very bifurcated recovery. If you're in a city that is booming, you are feeling pretty good about life right now, if you have got a college degree, if you are educated, at the top end of the food chain, the recovery is robust. But if you are in cities that are still under water from the housing crisis, of which there are many, if you don't have a college degree, if you are working in a low pay service sector, then you're not feeling it.

BERMAN: I love the phrase bifurcated economy, thank you so much for using that. There are also a lot of contradictions here, because again, this is now the longest recovery in history. The most jobs consistently added in a recovery in history. But at the same time, there are so many people who still feel like times are not good. Things are just not working out for them. I just wonder, if in a recession like we had, in a crisis like we had when something gets broken like the economy was broken, if it just won't feel the same again.

FAROOHAR: This is something economists are really struggling with right now. The fact is that every recession and recovery since the early 1990's has been weaker and taken longer than the one previously. That's a trend. It's not even just this recovery. Although this is the longest as you say. Economists are really puzzling over why are things taking so long to repair and why is wage growth still slow. A lot of people think technology might have something to do with that. We've already lost, over the last two or three decades, many jobs, low end factory jobs to software and robots. That's now happening higher up the food chain. You have got radiologists in India that can be emailed medical records to read and those are sent back. Globalization and technology are displacing elsewhere and they are displacing workers higher up the food chain.

BERMAN: Productivity can be a four-letter word. If you are a factory worker. Great to have you here.

PEREIRA: Happy Friday Rana.

FAROOHAR: Thank you.

BERMAN: Ahead for us @THISHOUR, Hillary Clinton, don't know if you know this, but she has a new book coming out. It's not out yet but nearly everything inside of it is. We are going to break down all of the juicy tidbits, including what she calls her awkward first date with the president. When we come back.


PEREIRA: Hillary Clinton has a new book called "Hard Choices". It's not out yet, it's out on Tuesday. We're hearing a lot about it. She opens up about all sorts of things -- politics, family, and tough decisions she had to make in Washington. In fact, here is what she said about meeting President Obama after the campaign. "We stared at each other like two teenagers on an awkward first date. Taking a few sips of Chardonnay, both Barack and I, and out staffs had long lists of grievances. It was time to clear the air."

It occurs to me that if they were teenagers on a first date sipping chardonnay, they were breaking the law, they were under 18 drinking. That just occurred to me for the first time. This book is already scandalous. Hillary Clinton in the spotlight.

There are other issues she discussed as well on the Iraq war authorization vote. She of course voted for it. She writes now, "I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had and I wasn't alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple."

That's a lot more of a simple explanation than she ever had in the 2008 campaign. So interesting she comes out with that now. So let's bring in our political commentators to discuss this. Marc Lamont Hill, and Reihan Salam.

Marc, I have got to say to me it seems like what the secretary of state is doing is laying down markers on very many key issues here. On Iraq, she has a very simple explanation now. She didn't really have it in 2008 on Syria for instance. She actually puts distance between herself and the president. This is all very interesting to me.

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is interesting to me too. If I am reading you correctly you're saying this is like a campaign book or something. I can't believe you would say such a thing.

BERMAN: I didn't use those word. But since you say that --

HILL: It's a wild coincidence. They have this literary impulse right around the time they want to be president. It's a great strategy here. Hillary is in a unique position. She can tie herself to all the, so called, victories of the Obama administration on foreign policy and when things didn't turn out well, she can say that wasn't my choice. She's careful in the book to talk about her disagreement with Syria. She wanted to arm rebels. Obama wanted to stay the course.

People don't like the result in Syria. She can distance herself from that. She can take claim for everything from Osama bin Laden to successful drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan. She's in great position. She can tell stories and distance herself from losses and own the victory. She's going to be in very good position because of this.

PEREIRA: I want to bring another quote for the book since we have so many excerpts. I want to read another one, Reihan I will read this one to you.

"I acknowledged, as I had many times before, that opening the door to negotiations with the Taliban would be hard to swallow for many Americans after so many years of war. I returned to Washington reasonably confident if we decided to begin arming and training moderate Syrian rebels, we could put in place effective coordination with our regional partners."

I mean she is laying it out on -- She's clearing the air. Setting the groundwork. It seems pretty apparent.

REIHAN SALAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have to say, if I were a Democrat, particularly if I were a Democrat loyal to President Obama, I would have to wonder about this. Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense, also wrote a book that was quite critical of the president in many respects, but of course Gates was a Republican. He was a holdover from the previous administration.

Now you have Hillary Clinton. Shouldn't Hillary Clinton be demonstrating she's loyal to the president? And yet actually undercutting him. Assad appears to have won his civil war. I'm not sure about which foreign policy success's Marc has in mind for Obama administration, but I think that one can make the strong case that the foreign policy record has really unraveled and now Hillary Clinton is distancing herself from it. That's saying something.

BERMAN: I think what's interesting here is the genius in this is that she is distances herself from the president on certain things and embracing him on others. Take, for instance, Osama bin Laden, she goes out of her way to heap praise on the president.

Listen to this quote, "I looked at the president. He was calm. Rarely have I been prouder to serve by his side as I was that day. After an eternity, but was actually about 15 minutes word came from Admiral William McRaven that the team had found bin Laden and he was E-KIA, enemy killed in action. Osama bin Laden was dead."

I do think that Mrs. Clinton knows and she needs - And I will address this to Marc, the secretary of state knows she needs Obama supporters who were not her supporters in 2008 Marc.

HILL: Well I think that's a non-issue. I don't think -- there's no other game in town. Obama supporters may not be enthusiastic. When she gets to South Carolina in the primary there may be some concerns with certain demographics coming out, but Hillary Clinton has Obama people. I think the key now is her showing her foreign policy bona fides to people that may still question them despite being a very successful secretary of state.

And again, I don't necessarily agree that these were foreign policy victories but never the less, people saw the killing of Osama bin Laden as a victory and she can say that was me. People see drawdown in Iraq as victory. She can say I was partially responsible for that. At the same time she can say, look, I didn't agree with Syria, I didn't with Libya, whatever the issue might be. She can also make the perfunctory, I was wrong gesture.

One of the things you always want to do as a leader when you are running for president is to show that you made a mistake and you are willing to own it. She's able to do it in the most low stakes investment around which is Iraq. Everybody was wrong on Iraq because they got bad information. She wouldn't do that in 2008 when there was something at stake. But she's willing to do it now. She's got great game plan laid out for this book.

PEREIRA: And literally, in a book, you get to control your own narrative for real. That's what it's all about. A big thanks to Marc Lamont Hill, Reihan Salam. It was really wonderful to meet you. Come back often. You know you are always welcome here, Marc. Thanks guys.. Ahead @THISHOUR, members of Congress got to see Bowe Bergdahl's proof

of life video. We have talked about it quite a lot here on this program. One senator says Bergdahl was not sick but rather that he was drugged when that clip was made. We'll discuss.