Return to Transcripts main page


Republican Benghazi Committee Members Press Conference on Attack; Clinton, Democrats React to Republican Benghazi Report; Trump to Deliver Policy Speech, Changes on Muslim Ban; Rep. Marsha Blackburn Talks Trump's Muslim Policy Change. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 28, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] REP. TREY GOWDY, (R-S.C.), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE SELECT COMMITTEE ON BENGHAZI: -- including about the FBI, including the video with the demonstration, including saying that a handful of extremists hijacked and, otherwise, this is just stuff made up.

It would be one thing if it were in the talking points, multiple sets of talking points. It would be one thing if it were in there and they got it wrong, therefore she got it wrong. It's not even in there. It's just made up out of whole clothe. So I get that's not the person I've been asked about, but this is the person who made most of the public pronouncements on that Sunday, at least after the attacks.

I was told one more question.

Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You actually name in the report the officers who told that off the plane, did you name them?

GOWDY: No, sir.

Do we name the details or the names?


GOWDY: We tried to honor DOD's request with how high up you are before your name is used publicly as opposed to using the names of people who -- we tried to be sensitive to that, frankly, across all agencies. I don't think you're going the see the names of the people. You'll see the title. You'll be able to read the transcript, if we can ever get the transcripts cleared. And more importantly, you'll be able to see the underlying data. And that, to me, is what is important. You may read an e-mail from Ambassador Mullen differently than I do. I don't know how you could but you might. I want you to see what Pat Kennedy said during the firefight.

I don't want you to take my word from it. But I need a little bit of help from the administration to clear the data and the transcripts. I don't think this is lost on you all. I really don't. I think you all know all of the transcripts that I can make publicly available are going to be made publicly available. I don't think it is fair to piece-meal them out, but I think they ought to be made publicly available. And you ought to look at the underlying data and you can decide whether or not the report fairly addresses the testimony of Witness X. If you read the transcript and you say that's in context, yeah, I'll give them a check mark, that is in context or that's not in the context. Don't take my word for it. Read it for yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The president was asked publicly if the -- do you know in the drone captured that with respect to the White House?

GOWDY: I know the drone was in place at the time of the mortar attacks. I do not know the degree of granularity and particularity that the drone video footage has.

But you raise an interesting point. When you meet with the families privately, you hear questions that you would never hear in a press conference. They're incredibly personal questions. Because while these are four fellow Americans to us, they are a sons and husbands and brothers to the people we talked to in the very beginning and the last group that I talked to, which are the families. The questions are very, very different. And I -- even though it is not in the report, I am happy we were also able to answer some of the intimate questions that are asked by the family of those that were killed.


GOWDY: Thanks.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. You've been watching a very lengthy press conference of the House of Republicans on the Benghazi committee, kind of laying out their findings from the report that after a two-year investigation an 800-page report released this morning.

Republicans going one after another taking at the microphone, laying out their findings investigating the terror attack at the consulate in Benghazi, and also defending their work that was testy at times between reporters and the committee, defending their work, who the focus of their investigation was. At one point, several people said this report was never about one person. It was about much more than that. The one person obviously we're talking about is the presumptive Democratic nominee, then-secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who very famously spent 11 hours of testimony before this committee back in 2015.

Let's get to Dana Bash, who was in the room, who spoke to members of the Congress at this press conference.

Dana, what are your headlines here?

[11:04:55] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, first of all, just the fact that Trey Gowdy insisted ahead of time and insisted all throughout the past two years that he's been leading this investigation that it was comprehensive and that, at the end of the day, we're all going to see that it wasn't about Hillary Clinton. And, you know, he insists still that it wasn't. And the bottom line is that there are a lot of Republicans, his fellow Republicans, who wanted it to be about Hillary Clinton. And I think that was really on display on this stage. And the fact that two of his fellow Republicans on this committee felt the need to go ahead and have a separate report, which did draw conclusions, which the main 800-page report did not, and draw conclusions highly critical, very sharp when it comes to Hillary Clinton and the broader administration, making political decisions, they insist, and not based on the lives and the reality of what happened on the ground.

But because we are just a few months away from the election, Hillary Clinton is on everybody's mind. She was a big part of the question here, including something that I asked the chairman, let's take a listen.


GOWDY: Dana, shockingly, that was not what the House asked me to do. Look at the resolution. The resolution doesn't mention Secretary Clinton. Speaker Boehner nor Speaker Ryan have ever asked me to do anything about the 2016 presidential politics. Speaker Boehner asked me to find out what happened to four of our fellow citizens, and I believe that is what I have done.

You are welcome to read the report. I hope you will. I know you will. If you at the end of reading that report can conclude that it is about one person instead of about four people, I will be shocked.

BASH: Do you believe years that after all your time and millions of dollars, do you believe that based on this that the American people -- (INAUDIBLE).

GOWDY: I was with you until the last clause of you statement. I think the American people ought to look at it. They ought to look at it because fellow Americans died and fellow Americans were injured and fellow Americans went to heroic lengths to save other Americans. What conclusions they draw after up to them.


GOWDY: I wrote the report that I think is centered in the facts.


BASH: So that was certainly his conclusion there or his decision to stick with that, even when he's asked about bumper stickers that we see on the campaign trail at Republican rallies saying that Hillary Clinton lied, wouldn't go there, although others would.

Where he did go, Chairman Gowdy, was on the question of Susan Rice, who is now the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. She at the time, back in 2012, was the national security adviser at the time. She was the person who went out on all five Sunday talk shows and said that the reason for the attack was based on a video, a Muslim video. Well, he went there with regard to Susan Rice suggesting that she was misinformed, she was ill-informed, she was not prepared.

Let me just read you quickly one quote from the report about Susan Rice. And this is from a desk officer, senior Libya desk officer, talking about the way Rice initially described this. He said, "I think Rice was off the reservation on this one." And then another, "Off the reservation on five networks."

That kind of gives a little bit of insight into what was going on behind the scenes during that very controversial appearance, which, at the time, two years ago, was talked about for a very long time and has been one of the crux arguments, one of the core arguments of Republicans saying the administration was misleading on this issue, and why and how these attacks took place.

BOLDUAN: And, Dana, real quick, I think it is very easy for everyone to get lost in a lengthy press conference like this, an 800-page report, and a two-year investigation of an issue of a horrific attack that has made its way into the political sphere. This is something Donald Trump speaks about at almost every turn about -- as an attack towards Hillary Clinton. Did the committee, did Trey Gowdy, did they reach a conclusion? Is there a conclusion?

[11:09:17] BASH: No, there are no conclusions. There are a lot of pages and a lot of new interviews and a lot of new sort of explanations based on new e-mails, which you heard him talk about in the press conference, new interviews. But they intentionally did not draw conclusions.

But they did make recommendations. So I think the big takeaway is that a lot of the narrative that we heard here, we did know before. But what Trey Gowdy took issue with was the question of why is -- why isn't there anything new here. He insisted that there is, you have to read all the interviews and so forth. He said it's up to the American people to read it, and more importantly, up to lawmakers and people in the agencies that, this is about the State Department, the White House, the Defense Department, and to take the recommendations.

Because, at the end of the day, and you saw him getting emotional there, it was about four people who died who really did not have the backing of their government in terms of security. And lots of questions remain, and some recommendations on how to deal with that in the future, whether it's with regards to bureaucracy and military assets that should be closer to high-risk situations like Benghazi.

BOLDUAN: And they said, recommendations to make sure this never happens again.

A lot to work through, you have been working through it already.

Thank you, Dana Bash, on the headlines out of it.

Let me bring in right now, because not surprisingly, there's been a lot of reaction from the Democrats on the committee. They think -- they call it a conspiracy on steroids, is kind of what we hear, a conspiracy on steroids. Hillary Clinton's campaign reacting as well, saying, "Republicans on the Benghazi committee are finishing their work in the same partisan way that we have seen from them in the beginning. In refusing to issue its report on a bipartisan basis, the committee is breaking from the precedents set by other congressional inquiries into the Benghazi attacks.

We'll talk about the Democratic response to this. We'll bring in Mo Elleithee. He worked on Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign and is now the director of the Georgetown Institute on Politics and Public Service.

Thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: You listened to that lengthy press conference and watched this investigation over the past two years, 11 hours of testimony that Hillary Clinton offered before the committee in 2015. What is your reaction as this is now wrapped up, they release it today, what is your reaction?

ELLEITHEE: I'm going to maybe have a slightly different perspective or response to that than some of my former colleagues in the party. I'm glad. I'm glad that they did this. I'm glad that they are out there. Because if you take an entity like this, which is about as partisan as you're going to get --


BOLDUAN: You mean the House of Representatives?

ELLEITHEE: The House Republicans, right? About as partisan as you're going to get. And they threw everything they had, millions of dollars, two years into putting together an 800-page report that really didn't break any new ground than the seven previous investigations into this, then I think we might finally be at a point where we can put this -- begin to put this episode behind us politically. That doesn't mean it won't come up in the context of the campaign. Of course, it will. Donald Trump said he will continue to hammer this. But the Republicans threw the best they had, the most partisan -- these were folks who went into this looking to find a way to take Secretary Clinton down.


BOLDUAN: They disagree. They say that is not what their job was.

ELLEITHEE: Absolutely. But the fact they couldn't do it, the fact they weren't able to provide any new smoking gun, any new information here, maybe a little bit of context, maybe some new narrative, but no real new information, I don't know what else there is. We are now at seven or eight full investigations that have all provided the same essential narrative of what happened. Maybe now we can actually move forward with some of the recommendations to make sure it doesn't happen again.

BOLDUAN: Do you think the statement coming out from Brian Fallon, it went too partisan in their reaction? What you said is it is slightly different than what we are hearing from the campaign.


BOLDUAN: And Trey Gowdy said up there, he did get emotional, this is not about one person, this is about four people, and many more people who died, the families who want answers. It is muddy. Because there is --


BOLDUAN: -- people died.

ELLEITHEE: People died. And we can't take -- it's unfortunate that these deaths have become such a partisan issue, and they have been now for a couple years, going back to the night of the attack when -- in the middle of the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney stood up and turned it into a partisan attack before the episode was barely over. So it's -- I'm hopeful. I am hopeful that we've got a few more months in his presidential campaign. Obviously, Donald Trump is going to make this an issue. But I'm hopeful now that the Republicans in the House have struck out in finding a new way to politicize this issue, that maybe we can actually get to the recommendations to prevent them from ever happening again.

BOLDUAN: Well, thank you for your perspective. You'll be back. We have a lot more to talk about this morning.

I am also -- speaking of politics, we are awaiting a major policy speech coming from Donald Trump today, in just a few hours. He'll be talking about trade and the economy. We're also waiting to learn more about the shift on what appears to be a major proposal in shifts in his campaign, his proposed ban on Muslims entering the country. There seems to be a revision there. Details ahead.

[11:15:04] Plus, turmoil and damage control in the U.K. Leaders in Europe telling Britain that they can't cherry-pick the parts they like when you're leaving the family.

We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: We're counting down right now to a big policy speech from Donald Trump coming up in a couple hours in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. He'll be talking about trade. But we're also waiting to learn more about what appears to be a shift on the major proposal and one of the major controversies of his campaign, a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

It's been met with criticism from Democrats and people in his own party, including Paul Ryan. The Trump campaign is now saying they are revising their proposal -- revising the play having to do with immigration, no longer to focus only on Muslims. Instead, on people coming from terror states. A lot of clarity needs to be offered on that point.

We'll go over to CNN's White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, watching more on this.

Jim, what are we expecting to hear from Trump today in this speech and also on the Muslim ban? [11:19:58] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi,

Kate. Yeah, Donald Trump will be returning to some of those things he was testing out over the weekend after the vote in Britain to break in the European Union. You recall after the Brexit vote Trump said he hopes Americans will re-declare their independence this fall.

Well, the presumptive GOP nominee will deliver a speech today on trade that has been dubbed, quote, "declaring American economic independence," at a factory outside of Pittsburgh, in a state Trump has put no his target list for the fall. He will go after trade deals like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He will slam the White House and Hillary Clinton as politicians who betrayed American workers for the sake of globalism.

Now the Clinton camp has already offered a rebuttal to much of what Donald Trump will say today. They are accusing the New York businessman of peddling a slew of products over the years that were manufactured overseas, from ties to furniture.

Now as for the Muslim ban, Trump has been hinting to this change over weeks saying he would welcome a Muslim into the U.S., if they were coming in from Scotland. Campaign sources tell us that yesterday advisers were putting the finishing touches on a new policy that would no longer propose a temporary ban on Muslims immigrating into the U.S. Instead, as you mentioned, that ban would apply to countries with no terrorist links.

Obviously, there's a lot of questions to be asked and we'll see if Donald Trump talks about this today. My sense is he will not during this speech, so we will be watching for policy announcements. The campaign has simply not announced this yet, but I talked to an adviser yesterday who said they were working on this new policy over the weekend as Donald Trump was in Scotland making these remarks that was basically sending reporters in all sorts of different directions trying to figure out where the campaign stands on it at this point. But this adviser I talked to yesterday said the policy change is coming soon -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And this is significant as we wait to hear about it, Jim. This is one of the few areas where Donald Trump has very early and been very specific on a proposal that he would like to put in place when becoming president.

Jim Acosta on this. Thank you so much.

We'll talk more about Trump's new position on the Muslim ban he's proposed.

Let's bring Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, from Tennessee.

Congresswoman, thank you for joining me.


BOLDUAN: You have endorsed -- you have endorsed Donald Trump and support his position. Do you consider it a change -- what we're hearing coming from the campaign, do you consider this a change from his original position?

BLACKBURN: You know, I'm so pleased to see there be more specificity and it comes more in line on the legislation we are working on in the House and the Senate. Both Senator Sessions and I have legislation, he in the Senate, me in the House, that would dealing with this halting and pausing of the resettlement program until the president can give us a definitive plan. Let us know how people are going to be vetted. Look at the long-temple costs. Look at the annual costs. And then also making sure that DHS can tell us who has come into the country since 2001, and do we have any coming in on the terrorist watch list. So I'm pleased to see this step. I think it is positive. And it is exactly, precisely what I hear from people every day that they want to see happen.

BOLDUAN: You mentioned, just position, the campaign when asked about it yesterday said there's no change in his proposal. But it is a change, yes?

BLACKBURN: I think there is clarification here because you're looking at people that are coming from countries that have a known link to terrorism. And you're asking our government to do their part.


BOLDUAN: So that is a change. Do you think clarification is a change or no?

BLACKBURN: I think clarification brings some more specificity to tell us exactly what you're going to say. And I think realizing, too, Kate, as we are going into the convention and the end of the general election, you're going to see that. Go back to Hillary Clinton last December, who said she would not use the term "radical Islam." Look at what she just recently did last week. She used the term "radical Islam," which I thought that was a positive for her. We have, it seems on the Democratic side of the aisle, a lot of people who are terror deniers. Look at what has transpired as facts have come forward through the Benghazi report. Look at what is happening with the presence of ISIS in the terrorist cells that are now, according to the FBI, in all 50 states. And so I think the more we can say this is how we're going to get behind this, this is how we're going to be more watchful. I talked to constituents very involved with the missions programs and outreach. They want to make certain that people that are coming into the country are who they claim to be. And that they are where --


BOLDUAN: So a positive step in clarifying his position, is the clarification banning Muslims or all people coming from terror states?

[11:25:13] BLACKBURN: I think that it is going to be a halt. Many of us in Congress have said, let's just pause, let's take a pause, and let's make certain that the administration has a plan for ban on all Muslims --

(CROSSTALK) BLACKBURN: That's smart and that's common sense.

BOLDUAN: -- or on all people coming in?

BLACKBURN: I can only talk to you about what we have done in Congress. I have not spoken with Mr. Trump. But what we have done in Congress is to say, let's take a temporary pause, a time-out, let's get our act together on this. Let's make certain that we know who people are, where they are coming from, what their intentions are, and be certain that we know what the cost is going to be.


BOLDUAN: Do you have a clear idea of what terror states we are talking about here? What is a terror state?

BLACKBURN: I think you're looking at countries that would have link or a sponsorship to terror. And we know that many of those exist in the Middle East. So let's wait and let's let the campaign come forward with their plan.


BLACKBURN: I can't speak for their plan until I --


BLACKBURN: I can just tell you what we have looked at in Congress as we've looked at the security issues of this country. National security is the top issue in this campaign. And --


BOLDUAN: Does it concern you that when they define it as links -- the way they define terror attacks or attempts launched against the United States and European allies, is how they have described it, that would include the U.K. and France and Belgium.

BLACKBURN: Let's let them move forward with their plan. What we want to make certain is those coming into the country are not going to do us harm. And that is the reason for looking at this.

And I've got to tell you, as you at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, there's not a lot of transparency there. As you talk with them trying to get information, their reports are delayed. When you talk with individuals that are handling some of the unaccompanied alien individuals and children, they will tell you don't know if the individuals they are releasing, these unaccompanied alien children, if they are in the country illegally. They don't know the relationship to those children. That is something that is difficult to confirm.

I have friends that are very involved in fighting trafficking, sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and they are quite concerned -- gangs, what is going on in some of the links there. So I think that for the security of the nation, let's pause it. Let's

get our act together on this. Let's be sure the office of Refugee Resettlement is working appropriately.

BOLDUAN: We'll wait to see how Donald Trump clarifies it.


BLACKBURN: Yes, we will. Yes, we will.

BOLDUAN: Congresswoman Blackburn --

BLACKBURN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: -- thank you for your time, as always. Appreciate it.


Lots to discuss. Our political panel is here to discuss. Mo Elleithee is back with us; and Jason Osborne, a Trump supporter who worked on the Ben Carson campaign; and Ana Navarro, CNN political commentator, who supported Jeb Bush's campaign.

Great to see you guys.

Ana, on the issue of Donald Trump, we are waiting for clarity. If it looks like a pivot, sounds like a pivot, is it a pivot and does it make you happy?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have absolutely no idea what it is because, frankly, it is a moving target. It's very difficult to figure out what the position is. What we saw yesterday was two Warren spokespeople from the same campaign. One said it was a changing, the other one said absolutely no change. Bottom line, he's held more positions now than the Kama Sutra.

We just saw that from Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, bless her soul, she had to speak to what Congress is doing because being able to articulate what the Trump campaign is advocating has become an extremely difficult task. If you can do it, good for you. I can't tell you what the current decision is. I can tell you the last thing he said, the last statement from Donald Trump, was that it was an absolute and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. If he has changed, it will be a pivot. That is yet to see. And we will see it if and when it comes out of his mouth.

BOLDUAN: Jason, if it's a pivot, does it make you happy? This is what -- when you look at the numbers in exit polls, during the primary in South Carolina, 75 percent of Republican primary voters agreed with the all-out complete ban the way Donald Trump originally prescribed it. Super Tuesday, two-thirds of GOP primary voters supported him. This is one of the things, why they supported him. This is one of the things that got him where he is today. And now he's pivoting.


OSBORNE: I think you have to look at the broader complex -- you have to look at what he has been saying all along, which is there's been a deep concern among Americans that state-sponsored terrorism should be restricted -- those people coming from countries where there is state- sponsored terrorism.