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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Coverage and Analysis Of Hillary Clinton Facing Off Against Benghazi Committee. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired October 22, 2015 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: All this evidence suggesting that a terrorist attack was going to happen, it just doesn't add up.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, Paul, let me just say about Amanda's point, it would have been great if Chris Stevens, desperate for security, had the -- was able to get access to Secretary of State, Clinton in the same way that Sidney Blumenthal. No?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No.
BEGALA: I'm sorry to sound cruel, but no. Because, and this is not my opinion, Glenn Kessler, who actually came up earlier, he's the fact checker at The Washington Post, covered the State Department for 19 years, wrote a book about Condoleezza Rice in the State Department. He is an expert on the State Department in a way that I am not. Kessler has tweeted today, that would be chaos. There's 200 ambassadors. There is a chain-of-command. The State Department is the oldest department in our government and there's a hierarchy.
Now sometimes that can become ossified and that's a problem. But you can't have 200 ambassadors all around the world direct-dialing the secretary. This is why they have the professionals. Plus, Hillary has a lot of gifts, but she is not an expert on embassy security. So the State Department has permanent career people who are experts on embassy security. That's where those requests go.
TAPPER: Hang on, all of you. We're going to take a very quick break. When we come back more coverage on Hillary Clinton. We'll be any minute, back in front of the Benghazi Committee. We're going to take you back there live. Also some more commentary. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to The Lead. Any minute now we're expecting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to reappear in that committee hearing room in The Longworth House Office Building and resume her testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Republican members of congress trying to get answers from her about the State Department's role, what officials knew, and when, about the terrorist attack that killed four Americans on September 11, 2012.
Let's talk right now to the former spokesman for the White House National Security Council at the time, Tommy Vietor. Tommy is also a supporter of Hillary Clinton's presidential run. Tommy, thanks so much for joining us.
TOMMY VIETOR, FORMER SPOKESMAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Thanks for having me, Jake.
TAPPER: So I want to play for you one of the nuggets of new information that came out of the hearing so far. This is -- Secretary of State Clinton asked if Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed tragically that day, if he had her private email.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I do not believe that he had my personal email. He had the email and he had the direct line to everybody that he'd worked with for years.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: I was a little surprised by that I have to say. I thought, given the way that she has talked about him so effusively as her friend, and the fact that she had recruited him to become the ambassador, I thought that he would have a way to email her. Were you surprised at all?
VIETOR: I was not, Jake. I mean, I would assume a lot of the communications he would send up to Washington, D.C. would be classified and thus he'd use the cabling system. Or he would call securely to one of the senior aides to Secretary Clinton. Whether that's really the best way to get a message to a secretary. So, no, I was not surprised by that.
TAPPER: What's your impression of the hearing so far? Obviously you're biased. You're a Clinton supporter and a former member of the Obama administration.
TAPPER: But has anything come up that you thought has been interesting or worth exploring?
VIETOR: I mean, I think that my impression of this is that Secretary Clinton seems like the only person who understands and really cares about the substance. I think this hearing could have been an important discussion about whether or not we're doing enough to keep our diplomats safe abroad. I think that's a discussion where Secretary Kerry and the Obama administration should have their feet held to the fire and make sure we're implementing the ARB Report. It's disheartening that you're hearing about Sid Blumenthal's emails more than that. Literally no one cares about Sid Blumenthal's emails in America. They care about keeping people safe.
The various issues these Republicans have been upset about with respect to Benghazi have changed so many times over the past several (inaudible). And, you know, you cannot come away with any other impression that this is an effort to hurt her politically. So, you know, it's a disappointing taxpayer-funded fishing effort to damage her campaign.
TAPPER: Tommy, let me ask you, you know I was a White House correspondent, and at the time, you and I talked about this a lot at the time.
TAPPER: And I still don't, officially or unofficially, have any understanding. Why were all these security requests from Ambassador Stevens and others on the ground in Libya, why did the State Department not meet those requests?
VIETOR: I don't know that answer, Jake. It's clearly a failure. You know, four brave people died. And, you know, there should have been more security. I think to the question of why did these requests not get to the secretary, I think that if you step back and think about, you know, security requests like this that are very technical in nature, you don't want a secretary coming in and sort of having either a political view or a sort of new set of issues before them every four years or however the turnover is. You want career professionals handling these issues. That have, you know, been there before that understand how tall a blast wall needs to be, how far it needs to be set back from a road. That's why we have these people in place and they are, you know, dedicated to what they do.
TAPPER: And, Tommy, is it not fair to say that there was some politics going on when it came to the post-attack talking points and the urging of people in the administration to blame this on a video as opposed to blaming it on terrorism? We were -- the country was just weeks away from the re-election day for President Obama. He was saying that Al Qaeda was on the run. Surely you can acknowledge that politics was part of this decision?
VIETOR: No. Jake, I'd ask you guys to remember what the weeks leading up to that attack had been like. You had this Innocence of Muslims video come out. And there were literally -- there were protests, violent ones, in dozens of countries across the world. On the evening of the attack in Benghazi, in the days following, there were news reports that interviewed attackers saying they were there because they were upset about the Innocence of Muslim videos. The New York Times did a deep dive that came out a year or so later, where they found more people who indicated that.
I remember talking to very senior intelligence officials every single morning and saying, what is the latest assessment of why this happened? And, based on open-source reporting, intercepts, human intelligence on the ground, we were constantly told that this was, you know, sort of, not a premeditated attack. But this was one that was based on the video inciting people to anger and a number of other factors. The major thing that we got wrong was --
TAPPER: But there was contradictory information -- there was contradictory information as well as we heard from the hearing with Secretary Clinton telling the Egyptian prime minister that this was not a matter of the video. This was a terrorist group claiming credit for the attack. VIETOR: Absolutely, Jake. There were a lot of pieces of information that came in. Oftentimes they were contradictory. Oftentimes that, you know, various pieces of intelligence didn't necessarily match up. So we went through a process led by the Intelligence Committee to try to sort through how this happened and what we got right and what we got wrong. And sort of that assessment was corrected over time. I think it is fair to be critical of the fact that it took too long to get it right and to put out the most accurate story we had.
TAPPER: Tommy Vietor, thank you as always.
VIETOR: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: Hillary Clinton's testimony's going to resume any moment. We're going to take you there live after this quick break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Carly Fiorina has said that Secretary Clinton has blood on her hands. Mike Huckabee accused her of ignoring the warning calls from dying Americans in Benghazi. Senator Ryan Paul said Benghazi was a 3:00 a.m. phone call that she never picked up. And Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted, "Where the hell were you on the night of the Benghazi attack?" Everyone on this panel knows these accusations are baseless.
TAPPER: Welcome back to The Lead. That's Congressman Elijah Cummings earlier this morning, the Democrat ranking member on the House Benghazi Committee. He was in front of former Secretary of State, Clinton, alleging that the only reason all eyes are on Capitol Hill today is because Republicans, especially those on the Benghazi Committee, are trying to ruin her chances at becoming the 45th president of the United States.
Let's bring back our panel, CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN political commentators, Amanda Carpenter and Paul Begala, as we await Clinton, who will resume her testimony any moment.
Jeff, we were talking during the break. There's a big question here that you have not heard answered, or even, necessarily, asked.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Which is, why were American officials in Benghazi at all? You know, Benghazi is not the capital of Libya. This was an outpost. You know, why, in this extremely dramatic moment, where Libya is edging towards chaos, did Ambassador Stevens, who wanted to be there, why did he go? And was that a smart idea? Another point, similar point, you know, we've heard a lot about the CIA's role in what happened in Benghazi.
TAPPER: Most of the Americans in Benghazi that night were CIA or CIA contractors.
TOOBIN: Exactly. Where were their employers? Where were the CIA bosses on the issue of security? This is not exclusively a State Department issue. It's very much a CIA issue. But it's being treated as if it's entirely a diplomatic security issue.
TAPPER: And this is one of the criticisms from that guy, the investigator I interviewed a couple of weeks ago, who used to be on the Republican side of staff before the Benghazi Committee. He had no problem with looking at Clinton. But he also wanted to look at the CIA and the National Security Council and the Defense Department. And in point of fact, neither Petraeus, who was then director of the CIA, nor Panetta, who was then Secretary of Defense, have testified before this committee.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. And the tragedy that happened there, it's not solely Hillary Clinton's responsibility, although, clearly, as Secretary of State, she has a lot of responsibility for it. I think this gets to the Democrat foreign policy leaders as a whole, President Obama, Vice President Biden, UN Ambassador Rice, Hillary Clinton, everyone made a decision to go into Benghazi. Nobody understands why.
And we know, as you've mentioned several times, there were many requests for more security. And we don't know why those weren't made. But we do know the consequence of it. I'd look at the AIRB Report, where they find that, you know, a lot of these things were preventable. Senate Intelligence Report says, these attacks were very likely preventable based on the known security shortfalls. And so we don't know why we're there. We know it was dangerous and could have been prevented.
TAPPER: We just heard Tommy Vietor, former spokesman for the White House National Security Council, call it a failure and say, he doesn't know why they weren't met --
CARPENTER: Yeah. Everyone agrees on these things.
TAPPER: -- Paul, you want to get in here, I know.
CARPENTER: So it's incumbent on the Obama administration to explain why we were there, just like you said.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's the conversation we ought to have. And it's not the conversation we're having at this hearing because the hearing's not on the level. It is a partisan witch hunt. This is real. By the way, and we can go back. You know, it was the policy of the United States of America to support the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
TAPPER: And to save the people of Benghazi by the way.
BEGALA: And to try to save the people of Benghazi. And by the way, it wasn't just Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It was John McCain and Lindsey Graham, some of the strongest foreign policy hawks in the Republican Party.
TAPPER: And France and the UK and, you know, the Europeans, yes.
BEGALA: And our allies in Europe and many of our Arab allies. It may have been a bad policy. It may not have worked for America. That's a conversation we should have. But don't fool yourself. That's not what this thing is about in the least.
TAPPER: Right. Well, Hillary Clinton's been talking --
BEGALA: Why don't we have the conversation in the hearing?
TAPPER: Secretary Clinton started talking about smart power and the use of power. But I think one of the things that we haven't heard enough about is, okay, once you achieve your objective, what then? What do you do in Libya after Gaddafi has been deposed? Or in Iraq. Or in Syria. Or wherever.
CARPENTER: And they were --
BEGALA: She also talked about her belief that the job of diplomats is not exclusively to sit behind a desk in an embassy. It's to go out in the countries that they represent.
TAPPER: Right, she wrote that 19th Century diplomats, I believe -- Amanda.
CARPENTER: They do tell us a few things about Hillary Clinton's foreign policy vision because of this hearing. She talked about her willingness to put diplomats in dangerous situations. She called that expeditionary diplomacy. She believes, as we saw from the last Democratic debate, that the success she thinks in Libya, was an example of smart power and how it was beneficial for the Obama administration to lead from behind. I find that a very hard argument to make looking at the consequences of the situation on the ground in Libya now, where we had 21 Christians beheaded on the beach earlier this year and ISIS has a stronger foothold. We need to have a discussion about that.
BEGALA: She didn't say lead from behind. That's a phrase you used.
CARPENTER: No, she mentioned that in specific. She said this is an example of smart power and --
TAPPER: It's just like somebody used -- an aide used it in a New Yorker profile.
BEGALA: New Yorker profile, yes.
TAPPER: Stay with us. We have to take a very quick break. Amanda Carpenter, Paul Begala, Jeffrey Toobin, stick around. Very quick break. Hillary Clinton expected back in that committee room any moment. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE POMPEO (R), KANSAS: Madame Secretary, Mr. Blumenthal wrote you 150 emails. It appears from the materials that we've read that all of those reached your desk. Can you tell us why security requests from your professionals, the men that you just testified, and with which I agree, are incredibly professional, incredibly capable people, trained in the art of keeping us all safe, none of those made it to you? But a man who was a friend of yours, who had never been to Libya, didn't know much about it, at least that's his testimony, didn't know much about it -- every one of those reports that he sent on to you that had to do with situations on the ground in Libya, those made it to your desk?
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: He's a friend of mine. He sent me information he thought might be of interest. Some of it was. Some of it wasn't.
POMPEO: Madame Secretary --
CLINTON: He had no official position in the government. And he was not at all my advisor on Libya. He was a friend who sent me information that he thought might be, in some way, helpful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Welcome back to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper. Congressman Mike Pompeo, with a very tough line of questioning on why pleas for more security from Ambassador Chris Stevens never made it all the way up to the ladder. All the way up the ladder to then, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, but other things did.
Let's bring in Republican congressman from Ohio, Mike Turner. Congressman, thanks for joining me. Do you share your colleagues' interest in the Sid Blumenthal/Hillary Clinton relationship? And if so, why? Why is it so significant?
REP. MIKE TURNER (R), OHIO: Well, you know, the bottom line here is, is that, you know, this is an investigation about why was there insufficient security? Why there was an insufficient backup? Why there was not an administration backup plan, you know, post-Gaddafi regime, to protect Americans? And now, obviously, as you go through that investigation, there are people who come in and out of it who are advising the Secretary of State who actually, you know, have an impact both on policy and upon the direction that the country goes.
And, you know, but I was just on the House floor voting and I talked to Trey Gowdy. And Trey made the point that, you know, the Secretary, Hillary Clinton, is one of 80 people who are testifying. There are a number of things that they've got to get to the bottom of. But the bottom line is this goes to four Americans that died tragically. You know, we need to look at how and how we can avoid this in the future.
TAPPER: I don't disagree with you in terms of what the hearing should be focused on. And we should note for our viewers that people, witnesses, are starting to come back in the room. And we'll bring Hillary Clinton's testimony to you live when it resumes. But, Congressman, it seems like there's been a lot of focus on things that maybe the American people don't necessarily understand what they have to do with security and securing American diplomats and others abroad. Such as this emphasis on Sid Blumenthal and why Hillary Clinton read emails from him. I understand that that's not where you would focus your attention, were you in charge of the hearings. But a great deal of this hearing so far has been about that. TURNER: Well, I think that when you look at any of the policy that the administration has pursued, or that the secretary has pursued, with respect to Libya, and you get to the issue of a post-Gaddafi plan, you look at the advisors. You look at those who they were having conversations with and, really, what elements were going into their overall planning for the security of Americans. Now there are a lot that is unknown yet in this investigation.
And so, this is just one part of it, as Trey Gowdy said, you know, one of 80 witnesses. They have to pursue every aspect of it because they're trying to get to the bottom line of how can we make certain that this doesn't happen again? How can we make certain that Americans are protected and that Americans are secure? That's what this is about. And, as they pursue that, I think we'll get answers that will be very important.
TAPPER: One of the points that members of the committee, Republican members, have been making has to do with the fact that Ambassador Chris Stevens did not, according to Secretary Clinton, did not have her email address. Those who cover the State Department, those who have worked in government, say that's actually not so unusual. You can't have 200 or so ambassadors all reaching out to the Secretary of State. Where do you come down on this?
TURNER: Well I think an important issue here is the fact that, you know, the United States going into Libya was, at the initiation of both the President and Secretary Clinton. And you would have thought, especially with how dangerous it was on the ground, how personal this initiation was to the Secretary, you know, that she would have had hands-on and a great understanding of what was occurring. I think that certainly is, that distance, I think, is part of what's been highlighted. And that certainly results in some of the risks. But this is all about national security. And, of course, Hillary Clinton's testifying on the very day that the President has vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act. National security being sort of our theme of, you know, where is the administration? Do they have a half-hearted attempt at foreign policy and military intervention? In Libya there should have been a very strong post-Gaddafi plan. And clearly, we see that this has cost American lives.
TAPPER: Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio, thank you so much. Appreciate your coming on the show.
TURNER: Thank you.
TAPPER: Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter. I'm Jake Tapper. You can tweet the show at The Lead CNN. That is it for The Lead. Hillary Clinton is going to be coming back to testify and we will bring that to you live. I now turn the show over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door, in a place I like to call The Situation Room.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: Hi, I'm Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room.