Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Former Vice President Dick Cheney; 40 Immigrants Flown Back Home

Aired July 15, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Regrets, Sinatra may have had a few. Our guest, former Vice President Dick Cheney, not so much.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.


MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: You said we would be greeted as liberators.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": It's crazy. It's laugh-out-loud territory.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: The fact that Dick Cheney has the gall to offer advice to anyone on Iraq is laughable.


TAPPER: There are those in the media who argue nobody blew the call in Iraq worse than Dick Cheney. The former veep will join us in moments amid this hail of criticism.

Spoiler alert: Don't expect any apologies.

The world lead. That was fast. The stab at a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas falls apart in hours. Of course, for a cease-fire to work, both sides have to agree to actually cease firing.

And the national lead. It's like a polar vortex, but it's coming in the middle of July, weather going haywire today, with 30 million people in the path of severe storms. We will tell you who needs to look out.

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

We will begin with the politics lead.

Vice President Dick Cheney doesn't do regrets. And in just a moment, the former vice president will join us. And he might be experiencing some international deja vu. Israel and Hamas are at each other's throats, just like they were in 2006 and 2007, when Hamas was seizing power in Gaza during Vice President Cheney's time at the White House.

Iraq is crumbling, just as it was in the months and years immediately following the U.S. invasion. Over the years, while former President Bush has stayed pretty quiet, Vice President Cheney has not, even weighing in on that George Lucas-inspired nickname.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we made the decision to go in Iraq in '03, I believed it in then. I look back on it now. It was absolutely the right thing to do.

I was a strong advocate and helped put together the enhanced interrogation program. Some people call it torture. It wasn't torture.

I don't spend a lot of time thinking about my faults.

If you want to be loved, go be a movie star.

I'm proud of the policies we put in place. I think I'm not inclined to make any mea culpas.

I have been asked if that nickname bothers me. And the answer is no. After all, Darth Vader is one of the nicer things I have been called recently.



TAPPER: And in the new "Weekly Standard," Vice President Cheney and his daughter, Liz, advocate more direct combat against Islamic terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere, halting the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and reversing the decline in Pentagon spending.

And the former Vice President Dick Cheney joins me now.

Mr. Vice President, thanks so much for being here.

CHENEY: Jake, it's good to be here today.

TAPPER: I have to ask you about this thing I just read.

"Newsweek" reporter Leah McGrath Goodman tweeted last night that, according to a senior Goldman Sachs official, in a private talk, you told Goldman Sachs top brass while you were still vice president the plan was to invade Iraq and Iran together. "And Cheney told Goldman Sachs bankers not doing a dual attack was his biggest regret. Banker says the statement was met with stunned silence."

Is that true?

CHENEY: Never happened.

TAPPER: Never happened?


TAPPER: Is that a regret of yours, not talking Iraq and Iran at the same time? CHENEY: I think Iran is a special case with respect to the nuclear


But I was a strong believer that, if we had to, we should use military force to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. I still believe that.

TAPPER: But it never came to that? You never advocated for that?


CHENEY: We never got to that point.

TAPPER: Never got to that point.


And Goldman Sachs, I don't mean to knock the firm. I have got some good friends there, but I have never had a session where I did that with anybody.

TAPPER: A new "Wall Street Journal" poll shows that 71 percent of the American people think going into Iraq was not worth it.

Now, you have been out there very forcefully in the last few weeks talking about what you think is a mistake by President Obama in Iraq. How do you respond to the vast majority of the American public who disagrees with you and, frankly, looks at some of the decisions made after the decision to go into Iraq, looks at those decisions and thinks, Vice President Cheney's not the guy who should be giving advice on Iraq?

CHENEY: No, listen, we made good decisions.

Remember, the problem we had in the aftermath of 9/11. We had had 19 guys with airline tickets and box cutters come here and kill 3,000 Americans on 9/11. And in the aftermath of that, we were especially concerned about a linkage, a hookup between terrorism on the one hand and weapons of mass destruction on the other, nuclear or gas.

But that was at the heart of the analysis.


TAPPER: But let's not go into the WMD.

CHENEY: No, but you have got to understand the problem we face now is that we're in a situation where that threat is even greater, where the spread of terrorism is significantly greater than it was on 9/11.

We used to have to worry about Afghanistan. Now it runs all the way across North Africa as well.


TAPPER: But do you think the decisions that you made, your administration really has nothing to do with what's going on in Iraq right now?

CHENEY: I think, when we left office, we had, in Iraq, a very stable situation. Barack Obama said as much.

We'd put together a program with the surge, the decision the president made and implemented it in '07-'08. And by the time we left office, Iraq was in relatively good shape. The plan was to have a stay-behind force that could continue to train the Iraqis and provide capabilities they didn't have themselves, intelligence, air and so forth.

And what happened was, that stay-behind agreement was never negotiated. So...

TAPPER: Well, the president...

CHENEY: ... when the Iraqi force fell apart -- and, obviously, Maliki bears some of the responsibility -- but Obama's failure to provide for a stay-behind force is what created the havoc we see in Iraq today.

TAPPER: The Obama administration says the problem was, is the Iraqi government wouldn't give immunity to U.S. troops.

CHENEY: We have 40 of those agreements around the world. There's always a discussion about immunity. That's always a sensitive subject. And we always manage to negotiate it. We have done it 40 times.

There are 40 SOFA agreements out there, status of forces agreement, providing for exactly the kind of situation we wanted in Iraq. I think part of the problem was that we had a military, for example, that came in and recommended a stay-behind force of 18,000 to 20,000. Obama said no. Then he came in at 10,000, the military did. Obama said no again.

TAPPER: How many do you want? How many troops would you have wanted?


CHENEY: I would have relied upon the judgment of the military about what was required in order to sustain the Iraqi armed forces, so they could defend themselves against the likes and ISIS and other groups. And they never got it.

TAPPER: You know a lot of members of ISIS and their allies are former members of the Saddam Hussein administration who were alienated from continuing to participate in the Iraqi government and politics by the de-Baathification that happened.

CHENEY: I think some of them have come in.

But, basically, ISIS, the core of it is al Qaeda. The head of al Qaeda in Iraq was Abu Musab al Zarqawi. We killed him June of 19 -- of 2007 -- 2006 -- with a 500-pounder. But he was the head of al Qaeda in Iraq. We eventually defeated all of them and drove them out of the country. They ended up in Syria. Now, a lot of them have regrouped, now called

ISIS, and have come back into the country and they have picked up allies as they came, not just in Iraq. One of the problems you have got now is a caliphate that includes part of Syria, part of Iraq, and you have got literally thousands of jihadist wannabes flooding into that part of the world from Europe, some of them probably from the United States, who want to participate in that conflict.

TAPPER: Without question, it's a threat, according to national security officials.

CHENEY: A threat to us, to the United States, not just to that part of the world.

TAPPER: No, I understand.

But I guess what I'm asking at is, aren't some of the decisions that were made by you and President Bush responsible for what is going on right now? Are you really saying it's all Maliki and Obama?

CHENEY: I think it's primarily Maliki and Obama. That's what I believe, and I think that's what the history books will show.

TAPPER: Let me turn to one thing going on in Israel right now.

We had General Anthony Zinni, the former U.S. special envoy under the Bush-Cheney administration, here yesterday. And he told me this about the latest crisis.


GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI (RET.), FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER: One of the opportunities I feel we missed is when Arafat left the scene and Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas, came in. That was a moment when I think that we, the United States, European Union and others, could have offered things, developed schools, clinics, investment in the areas and that might have enabled the people to support Fatah and reject Hamas.


TAPPER: Is there a responsibility of the United States and Israel to provide opportunity for the Palestinian people, so that more of them don't see violence as the only way out of their misery?

CHENEY: I think the big part of the problem is Hamas.

And if you look at Hamas, where it came from, it's a spinoff from the Muslim Brotherhood. It's a radical terrorist organization. It's supported by the Iranians, among others.

TAPPER: Right, so why not provide an alternative?

CHENEY: You are never -- I don't think you can negotiate a settlement with Hamas. I think they're absolutely sworn to fight to the death for the destruction of Israel.

TAPPER: Well, what's the solution? They're the governing body of Gaza.

CHENEY: There may not be a negotiated solution. You may be in a position where Israel has to defend itself against terrorist attacks.

They're now doing a very good job of it against the current Hamas attitude. Once Hamas took over Gaza, and as long as they're part of a governing coalition, my own belief is that Hamas' radical ideology, one of the most extreme out there, that there's no way that they're going to agree to any kind of a settlement. It just is not in their basic fundamental belief system.

TAPPER: It doesn't surprise me that you back the Israeli government.

But I just want to know, personally, as a father, as a grandfather, when you look at these images coming from Gaza and you see the innocent people who are being killed, do you really hold Hamas responsible for all of it?

CHENEY: Who started firing rockets? Of course, Hamas did.

Hamas burrows into the Palestinian population, launches rockets from neighborhoods that are populated by innocent Palestinians, in terms of where...

TAPPER: So, that justifies what Israel does?

CHENEY: Israel has every right to defend itself against those kind of attacks.

Now, they developed a very good defensive system, the Iron Dome. It is working very well. So, I think they prefer to operate on defense. But I'm not at all surprised that they're going after Hamas. They should go after Hamas. And we need to recognize, and as should much of the Arab world, that Hamas is a terrorist organization of the first order absolutely pledged to the destruction of Israel.

TAPPER: One of the reasons we wanted to have you on the show is because there is a battle going on for the soul of the Republican Party right now, especially when it comes to national security and international policy.

Now, I know that you're not going to criticize Rand Paul, per se, even though you have said that some of the things that he said sound a little bit like isolationism to you, and that's the wrong direction.

But you know what is -- I was wondering about, because you have said that Hillary Clinton you think would have been a better president than Barack Obama. She and you...

CHENEY: Jimmy Carter might have been a better president than Barack Obama, and I didn't think I would ever say that.

TAPPER: So, Hillary Clinton -- but I guess -- because you and Hillary Clinton don't disagree on everything. You disagree on a lot, but you don't disagree on everything. You probably have more in tune with her. She now leads the pack for

the Democratic candidates. Rand Paul, according to polling, leads the pack among Republicans. Between Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton, who would be better on international policy?

CHENEY: I will support my ticket and the candidate...


TAPPER: I know, but that's why I didn't ask you who you're going to vote for.

CHENEY: And I would hope to be able to -- being part of the process to support a Republican Party that is, as it has traditionally been, the go-to guys with respect to national security and defense policy, the party that's absolutely committed to reversing Barack Obama's devastating policies on military spending, on defense, and on the U.S. role in the world.

TAPPER: Hillary Clinton is somebody who you think would be better than Obama? How bad is Rand Paul compared to Hillary Clinton?

CHENEY: Well, I -- we're just starting the process on our side.

And I have not endorsed or condemned any of the candidates yet, and won't. But I will...

TAPPER: You will endorse a candidate?

CHENEY: I may at some point.

TAPPER: Really?

CHENEY: My concern, basically, is to make certain that the fundamental issues of national security are addressed by our party going forward.

I think there will be another mass casualty attack against the United States. I don't know when. I think it will be more devastating, with deadlier weapons, than the last one on 9/11. I think we have to be prepared for that. And I think we have to play a prominent role in the Middle East, support our friends, oppose our foes, and we have got to be, here at home, very strong from the standpoint of the military.

But Barack Obama doesn't believe any of those things. And I'm looking for a candidate on our side that I can support for the Republican nomination.

TAPPER: Just as a point of fact, I'm sure President Obama would disagree with your characterization.

CHENEY: I have no doubt about it.

TAPPER: But you said this before. You said this recently about you think there being -- there would be a devastating attack, perhaps even worse than 9/11. And I know that you think President Obama's policies are not the right

ones for this country. But don't you think, even had you and George Bush been president for 16 years, wouldn't there still be this be chance, this threat that we would be attacked again, and it would be worse than 9/11? Isn't that just the nature of this threat?

CHENEY: Well, the question is whether or not you can do anything about it.

And I think, as I say with respect to Iraq, when we left, Iraq was a relatively stable place. We defeated al Qaeda. We had a coalition government in place. Today, what we have is that part of Iraq now is part of a caliphate that includes Eastern Syria. In Syria, we had a nuclear reactor built by the North Koreans for the Syrians. The Israelis, fortunately, took it out.

But there's the problem of spreading terrorism, of increased sanctuary and safe harbor, and of a terrorist organization, in this case ISIS, that has taken control of a large piece of geography that's got a significant amount of money. Once they get to the point where they have deadlier technology, I assume they will try to use it against us.

TAPPER: Just as a point of fact, obviously, AQAP took hold while you were vice president.


TAPPER: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen.

CHENEY: Right.

TAPPER: And, obviously, President Obama would point to the death of bin Laden as a point that he takes the terrorist threat seriously.

CHENEY: Which we got to the partly through our process of enhanced interrogation techniques that provided the intelligence we needed in order to get bin Laden.

TAPPER: Again, a disputed -- a disputed point.

CHENEY: I have got to defend my point of view.

TAPPER: I understand it and I appreciate that.

Your successor as vice president nominee in 2008, Sarah Palin, recently called for the impeachment of President Obama. What do you think about that?

CHENEY: I'm not prepared at this point to call for the impeachment of the president.

I think he is the worst president of my lifetime. I fundamentally disagree with him. I think he's doing a lot of things wrong. I'm glad to see that the House Republicans are challenging him, at least legally at this point. But I think that gets to be a bit of a distraction, just like the

impeachment of Bill Clinton did. Everybody could get geared up to have a big fight over it, but it wasn't going anyplace. And I think at this point that we have got to aggressively pursue sound policies. We have got to advocate those things we believe in that we think are vital to the future of the republic. And that's where we ought to...


TAPPER: Do you think Sarah Palin is problematic for the Republican Party, in the sense that she says something like this, and House Republicans then have to respond to it, and it ends up being the distraction you talked about?

CHENEY: No, I've met Sarah Palin a few times. I like her. I think she's entitled to her opinion, say whatever she wants to say. My view would be at this point, that would be pushing impeachment isn't productive.

TAPPER: There's a big crisis at the border right now in Texas, a humanitarian crisis. A lot of the people, including a new memo that was just uncovered by "Breitbart" suggests that one of the reasons, one of the major reasons why so many people from Central America are coming here is because of the law that President Bush signed into law in 2008, making it so people fleeing violence in Central America would be treated differently than for instance Mexicans who come into the country and are snagged and sent back immediately.

Was that law a mistake?

CHENEY: Well, I think a lot of that as I recall and I don't remember all details. A lot of it had to do with trying to deal with the problems of --

TAPPER: Human trafficking, yes.

CHENEY: Human trafficking.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

CHENEY: And I think it had widespread support. I don't think there was anything very controversial about it at the time. I think partly what's happened here is that there is an absolutely obviously, this administration is doing nothing in terms of enforcing the border. I think we need -- it's a painful difficult thing to do, but I think we need to send back to their home countries a lot of those folks that are now fleeing into the United States. Until you do that, the traffickers, the coyotes, are going to get away with peddling the notion in Central America that if you just give me a few thousand dollars, I'll take your son or daughter up and we'll put them in the United States where they'll be welcomed with open arms and become citizens of the United States.

We have lost the integrity, if you will, of our borders, and I think that's in large part because this administration clearly isn't supporting security on the border. TAPPER: Again, an issue I'm sure President Obama would disagree with.

One last question for you, sir, and that is, what do you say when there are consecutives who agree with you but wish that you would not -- and believe me, people in the media do not feel this way, we obviously like interviewing former vice presidents and former presidents -- but conservatives who think maybe you're not the best messenger, maybe you bring too much baggage, your approval ratings are not astoundingly high, that maybe it's time for you to get off the stage and let a new generation of Republicans --

CHENEY: Jake, I'm perfectly happy to help that new generation of Republicans. I'm 73 years old. Every day I get up is a gift.

I was in end stage heart failure two years ago, got a new heart. That does wonders for your attitude. From my perspective, I feel very strongly these things need to be said. And if I don't say them, I don't know who else will from the standpoint of the Republican Party or somebody who has my background and experience over the last 40 years.

I believe these things very deeply. I always have. My views haven't changed. But I think it's very important to be part of the debate. And that's what I intend to do.

Now, you know, I've got a lot of critics out there. In my business, I learned that success is 50 percent plus one.

I feel strongly about these issues. I think the republic is in danger. I think the situation is growing more perilous as long as Barack Obama is in office pursuing unwise policies. I think I have a responsibility to stand up and be heard.

TAPPER: Vice President Dick Cheney, thank you so much. Good to have you here. Thank you for answering my questions.

CHENEY: I like your new book, by the way.

TAPPER: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Coming up, speak into the mic, please? The Veterans Affairs Department accused of copying some NSA moves against those investigating it.

Plus, flooding, lightning and winds that could peel your paint off. Thirty million Americans in the path of severe weather. Are you one of them?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

More politics now. Today, 40 undocumented immigrants, 18 mothers and 22 children, are now back in the country of Honduras, also known affectionately as the murder capital of the world, after being apprehended trying to cross the United States border. They were sent home yesterday on a plane by the department of homeland security. That's 40 undocumented immigrants, 4-0. Of course, more than 50,000 undocumented minors have flooded over the U.S. border since October.

Now, "Breitbart News" is citing a leaked report from the El Paso Intelligence Center that says they may not actually be running from the violence but instead towards the promise of some sort of amnesty.

Let's bring in our panel to talk about it and more, Ruth Marcus, columnist for "The Washington Post," Peter Baker, White House correspondent for "The New York Times" and the author of the book "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House."

So, I will get to immigration in a second, but Mr. "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House", what struck you from the Vice President Cheney interview, if anything?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: What always strikes you about him he does feel very certain about his point of view. He is not willing to retreat an inch, on anything. A lot of politicians would good-bye a little bit in order to make their case. He doesn't believe he needs to do that. You asked him the question whether he's the flawed messenger.

And he -- I think, you know, he sees a void out there. The reason he's out there making his case is because the Republican Party, as you mentioned, is so discombobulated at the moment. He doesn't hear enough voices that he's used to hearing about national security out there. So, he's trying to fill the void.

TAPPER: What do you think, Ruth? Is he a flawed messenger?


TAPPER: No, in reality.

MARCUS: In reality, sure. I think he's a powerful messenger for a piece of the party but I think he is associated with what many people, Republicans and Democrats, think of as a foreign policy catastrophe of the greatest order which is not to say that he may not have a point about what followed the Bush-Cheney administration in Iraq, but there's enough blame in Iraq to go around. It would be kind of nice to see Vice President Cheney. It's not in his character take on a small piece of that.

TAPPER: The -- let's turn to another issue where there's a lot of blame to go around. That's the immigration crisis. This report that Breitbart broke which we have confirmed is an accurate report from the El Paso Intelligence Center indicates these people are not necessarily fleeing violence in Honduras. They actually just believe if they come to the United States, they're going to be given amnesty and become citizens. This obviously helps the Obama administration as it sends 40 of these undocumented immigrants back to Honduras.

But he's got a real problem, President Obama, because he doesn't want to alienate Latinos and he doesn't want to seem callus. BAKER: Exactly right. And, of course, this will feed into the

argument that a lot of his critics have, which is that his own policies that are responsible for this, that the decision in 2012 to in effect provide a form of amnesty for young immigrants --

TAPPER: The baby DREAMers.

BAKER: The baby DREAMers, you know, creates an atmosphere which people think it is OK to come across. He's going to get this through eventually. If we go there, there is a shelter of some sort. That's the argument that will be made against him. For him, it's one more thing he doesn't want to have to deal with at this point, is the path toward any kind I have immigration legislation is difficult enough.

And even now, the path for an executive form of some partial fix to the system as he sees it is now much more complicated.

TAPPER: Ruth, is the Obama administration doing enough to stop this misimpression? They started running ads. Governor Rick Perry of Texas, he says -- and he has a letter, he warned the administration about this two years ago.

MARCUS: Complained about it several years ago. I think that's an entirely legitimate point. The response from the Obama administration is yes, but the real surge did not happen until very, very recently. They've got a terrible problem on their hands. This Breitbart report cannot possibly be helpful.

Strikes me that as with Iraq, a bunch of realities can simultaneously be true. It's clear if you listen to the stories of the folks from Honduras and elsewhere, that they are fleeing both terrible poverty and terrible violence. It also seems clear that they are coming with the hope and it's not an entirely irrational hope that they will be able to stay in the United States at least temporarily if not for longer. So both things can simultaneously be true.

How the president mediates between the demands of his base and Hispanic immigration groups to be more permissive with these folks and the real serious concerns about the capacity of the United States to absorb tens of thousands of people is really going to be very difficult and I think Peter makes a wonderful point about the impact on the executive orders that he was promising and where that goes from here.

TAPPER: And, Peter, very quickly -- I don't know one Democratic official, elected Democratic official, who thinks it was a good idea for President Obama to not go to the border last week when he was in Texas.

BAKER: Well, that's -- you know, look, obviously he took a lot of grief for that. He says I'm not for just doing simple much photo ops. Of course, what he was doing photo-ops. He was doing photo-ops in other places, trying to make other points, other messages.

Having said, going to the border would have also been damaging to him in a lot of ways. It would have made him the owner of that problem in a very visible way and it might have also sent an unintended message to the people in the region, here's the president of the United States literally almost welcoming people. There's a lot of different ways you could look at that and none of them probably were helpful to him.

TAPPER: Peter Baker, Ruth Marcus, thank you so much for coming in. Really appreciate it.

Coming up on THE LEAD: Put the beach towels back in the closet. Instead, fire up the Netflix. Thunder and floods bearing down on 30 million people on the East Coast. Are you one of them?

Plus, for a few brief moments, it looked like a ceasefire could happen. But now, with that deal in doubt and the first Israeli death from this military encounter, is it only a matter of time before a ground invasion in Gaza?