In this Fox News Sunday Show With Chris Wallace: Reps. Rogers, Smith spar over Benghazi; Mark Sanford talks political redemption
WALLACE: Hello again and Happy Mother’s Day from Fox News in Washington.
The controversy over the Benghazi talking points, how the Obama administration explained the attack to the American people blew up again this week with new revelations about how those points were written. It turns out the original draft talked about extremists with links to Al Qaeda and noted the CIA had warned for months about threats in Benghazi.
But all that was taken out before Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows.
We’ve invited congressmen from two key House panels, Mike Rogers, the Republican chair of the Intelligence Committee, and from Seattle, Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman Rogers, you were on “Fox News Sunday,” September 16th, right after Susan Rice came on the show, and she said it was a spontaneous reaction to a video that had been hijacked by extremists. From the very beginning, you doubted her account.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE ROGERS, R-MICH.: I have serious questions. It seems to be a military- style, coordinated. I’d just suspect that they could come to that conclusion so assuredly that it was a spontaneous effort given the coordination of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Congressman, after what you learned this week, the fact of what the State Department officials were saying during the attack, how often and dramatically the talking points were changed, did the Obama administration mislead or even lie to the American people?
ROGERS: Well, here is what we know: we know that the intelligence was accurate leading up to the event and, very shortly thereafter, within 24 hours, the committee was notified that, in fact, it was a terrorist attack, and that’s what led me to my statement on that following Sunday.
And we know that there was at least the general consensus at the time going into the 16th was, yes, it was a terrorist attack but they changed the narrative. And I think that’s what the investigation needs to focus on, why did they change the narrative? Did it have a consequence?
And I think those are really important questions to be asked.
WALLACE: And what’s your answer to both of those?
ROGERS: Well, I —
WALLACE: Why did they change the narrative?
ROGERS: Well, clearly some of the early indication is that they didn’t want the narrative that it was a terrorist attack on their watch. Clearly, that’s what it appears to be. But, again, that’s what a thorough investigation should determine, and did that culture of that not wanting to be what it was actually contribute to the lowering of the security standards and other things? That is a very important question that the investigations of all the committees need to find the answer to.
WALLACE: Congressman Smith, you contradicted the administration’s talking points even before Susan Rice went out on September 16th. In fact, on September 14th, here is what you said, “Mobs don’t come in and attack guns blazing. I think there is a growing consensus it was preplanned.”
So let me ask you the same question. After this week’s revelations, did the Obama administration mislead the American people?
REP. ADAM SMITH, D-WASH.: I really don’t think so. I think when you look at what was said in totality in that week, they didn’t reach conclusions. The way you just presented that was that by the Sunday afterwards, that the administration said here is what happened, here is our conclusion.
Look, the day after the attack, the president called it a terrorist attack. Susan Rice, in those interviews on Sunday, described violent extremist elements who took over the attack.
So I really think that this is — this has just become a very, very partisan-focused, scandal-focused attack by the Republicans investigating this. Instead of trying to figure out exactly what happened, the most interesting question to me is who are these violent extremist elements? I know Mike has done a ton of work on the Intel Committee — as Al Qaeda has metastasized beyond just what was in Pakistan and Yemen.
There’s a whole bunch of groups out there. We don’t have as much information as we need to about which one threatened us. I think that’s what led to Benghazi as much as anything.
But the president never said, no terrorism, no Al Qaeda. There was a dispute about how soon to lead to specific conclusions that now is being made into Watergate and Iran-Contra. I think the desire of the Republicans to create a scandal here has really undermined any ability to have a credible look at what actually happened.
WALLACE: Well, Congressman Smith, let me push back on you on several of those points. We now know —
SMITH: I’m not surprised, but go ahead.
WALLACE: Well, that is what I’m here for, sir. I’m not a potted plant. I’m here to ask some questions. We now know that there were 11 different versions of the talking points, 11 different versions —
SMITH: I thought (ph) it was (ph) twelve.
WALLACE: May I just please go ahead?
In the 24 hours before Ambassador Rice went on the Sunday talk shows, a dozen versions in all. We now know that Victoria Nuland, the spokesperson for the State Department demanded all references to Al Qaeda links, and all references to earlier warnings for months from the CIA be deleted.
Here is what the White House spokesman Jay Carney told the media, told the country last November.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARNEY: The White House and State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of these two institutions changing the word “consulate” to “diplomatic facility”, because consulate was inaccurate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Congressman, that’s not the truth. That wasn’t the only change that the White House and the State Department made.
SMITH: Well, look, there was unquestionably a dispute, as you said in the opening, between the CIA and the State Department on exactly what to put into this statement. Now, who changed what when, the dispute is clear. The dispute was how soon to leap to the conclusion about specific groups being involved in this.
WALLACE: Simple question — if I may, sir.
WALLACE: Simple question. Was Jay Carney telling the truth on November when he said the State Department and the White House made one stylistic change? Was that the truth or not?
SMITH: I don’t know specifically who Jay Carney was referring to.
WALLACE: He said the White House and the State Department. It seems pretty self-evident.
SMITH: Well, yes, but I don’t know specifically which person he was talking to.
Look, clearly, there were more changes made than his statement made. What Jay Carney knew about who made those at that particular moment? But, again, we’re talking about talking points. There was no question this was a terrorist attack. They didn’t deny it.
I would much rather get into investigation of the groups that threatened the U.S., how we can figure out who they are, and how we can stop them instead of debating how one memo was put together in the immediate days after the attack.
WALLACE: Let’s pick up on that.
Congressman Rogers, the fact is, here we are eight-plus months later, not a single person has been brought to justice — not a single person has been brought to justice for the Benghazi attack. Has the administration done everything it could? And does the fact that these people have gone free, play a role, and the fact that we’re now seeing militias running wild and U.S. personnel being pulled out of Libya?
ROGERS: I mean, the short answer is: I, as the chairman of intelligence, I’m not happy with the progress of the investigation. We have a serious problem. The more time that grew between the actual event and bringing those who were responsible to justice causes us national security troubles overseas.
One of the 9/11 Commission findings was that, in fact, because we did not react to the USS Cole bombing, that emboldened Al Qaeda, which they believe was a contributing factor leading to the 9/11 event. They believe that they have cover to do what they need to do.
When you look at the trouble in Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, all across Northern Africa, including Libya, the trouble is growing. It’s not getting smaller. And we’re seeing a more regional effort for these folks to move around.
The fact that we haven’t taken that step I think is critically important and it’s a problem, a critically important problem that we need to solve.
WALLACE: I want to get to this point, though, that Congressman Smith brings up, which is the idea this is all politics. We learned this week that former Vice President Cheney visited with House Republicans and suggested, recommended, that Hillary Clinton be subpoenaed to testify again. And two conservative groups came up this week, went up with attack ads linking Clinton to Benghazi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AMERICANCROSSROADS.ORG)
AD NARRATOR: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is briefed at 2:00 a.m. by the ambassador’s deputy that it was, in fact, terrorism.
GREG HICKS, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION IN LIBYA: I briefed her on the developments.
AD NARRATOR: Yet two days later, Secretary Clinton and others blamed protesters and —
HILLARY CLINTON, THEN-SECRETARY OF STATE: The awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Congressman Rogers, that sure makes it look political.
ROGERS: Well, certainly, I think people are going to take advantage of every situation and make it political. I don’t think you can say about the committee’s investigation — I clearly have been a part of this investigation since the beginning. I doubt anyone can say we’ve been partisan or political in this. I do believe you have to have a fact-based investigation. And I think that’s what we’re doing.
As a matter of fact, the people who testified, these are — these are serious 20-year veterans, at least in one case, of the State Department who felt so strongly they wanted to come out and testify. And I will tell you we have had people come forward because of the testimony and say we would also like to talk. We feel a little bit intimidated by this, but we have information we think is valuable.
WALLACE: So, new whistle-blowers?
ROGERS: I do think we’re going to see more whistle-blowers. I know certainly my committee has been contacted. I think other committees have as well.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, I want to turn to Syria.
Congressman Rogers, there are now reports that the Assad regime is beginning to turn the tide, is gaining ground in the civil war in Syria, and there was a terrible car bomb attack — two bombs, that went off yesterday on the border between Syria and Turkey that killed more than 40 people.
Is Assad now winning?
ROGERS: I can’t say you — I can’t say for sure he’s winning. I’ll tell you what’s happening, is Iran has gone into full proxy mode in Syria. They believe they have a lot to lose.
So, now, that we see regular Hezbollah units, some in uniform, standing aside of the Assad forces in-fighting has bolstered the regime’s capability to continue to fight.
What you’re seeing is a drawing in of a regional conflict. This is dangerous and it’s deteriorating rapidly. The refugee problem: some 800,000 in Turkey, over 100,000 in Jordan. Lebanon is having problems. Now is the time for U.S. leadership on this particular issue before this problem escalates.
WALLACE: Well, I want to pick up on that with you, Congressman Smith, because you say you’re not sure, you’re still not sure whether or not the U.S. needs to get involved militarily.
Does that mean that we stand by and watch the slaughter continue and watch the violence spread to surrounding countries like Turkey and Jordan?
SMITH: Well, your question and Congressman Rogers’ comment implies there’s some specific military option. And I’m wide open to it, if Mike has one that’s going to make the situation better. But I have met with DOD officials, I have looked what the options, at the way the civil war is going, at how fractured the opposition is, how Al Qaeda is a huge part of that opposition.
And it’s not that I’m not sure. Right now, my position is, if we were to go in there and try to arm rebel groups, it would make the situation worse and there would be enormous risk of us getting dragged into a war that we don’t know the first thing about how it would come out. And, second, that we would wind up arming groups and individuals that would wind up threatening us.
Look, this is a terrible humanitarian crisis. I agree with that. What’s been absent from a lot of the criticism is what is the specific U.S. military plan that makes this better —
WALLACE: OK, really quickly, because I want to get to the —
WALLACE: I want to get to the IRS.
Congressman Rogers, briefly.
ROGERS: Nobody is calling for military action in Syria. No one.
SMITH: Then, what are we calling for?
ROGERS: There are some great options. And, Adam, I think you know those, and we shouldn’t even debate. This is not something we should be arguing about.
The Arab League partners have lost confidence in the United States. They’re asking us not to be on the ground. They don’t want our boots on the ground, but they need help coordinating the effort between the Arab League partners who are, in fact, already giving weapons to the opposition. The problem is, they’re getting to places that we don’t want them to go.
WALLACE: Gentlemen —
SMITH: I’m sorry. I just have got to say —
WALLACE: Real quick.
SMITH: We — the administration is absolutely doing that. They are coordinating with the Arab League.
ROGERS: No, that’s just not true, Adam.
SMITH: You and I met with King Abdullah and others and he said, look, we’re working with the White House. They are involved in those discussions. They are in fact —
WALLACE: Gentlemen, we can continue this conversation but I really want to get you on the record about the IRS. Dramatic developments this week. We only have limited time.
The IRS admits that it targeted Tea Party and other conservative patriot groups that had that in their name for extra scrutiny. And it now turns out today new reports that some officials within the IRS knew about this as early as 2011, not 2012. And the then-IRS commissioner flatly denied it in the spring of 2012.
Congressman Smith, you first. Your reaction?
SMITH: It’s really the first I’m hearing of it and as with many of these things, I’m not going to lead to conclusions based on initial reports. We need to look at exactly what happened before we can lead to conclusions and start accusing people of things.
I think it definitely is worth looking into. But, right now, the information is far, far too preliminary to reach any conclusions.
WALLACE: Congressman Rogers?
ROGERS: Well, the conclusion that the IRS came to is that they did have agents who were engaged in intimidation of political groups. As dangerous a problem the government can have and I don’t care if you’re a conservative, a liberal, a Democrat or a Republican, this should send a chill up your spine. This is something that we cannot let stand. It needs to have a full investigation.
I don’t know where it stops or who is involved, whoever is involved, through a fact-based investigation, and it has to be external. It’s clearly shown they can’t do it themselves. And I think Congress needs to have that oversight.
And I also want to invite Adam, my good friend, by the way, down to the intelligence base so that we can talk about the real capabilities we have that does not include military action that our Arab League partners are asking for in Syria and we have not been able to deliver. I think we can all get to this.
WALLACE: Can we come with our FOX News cameras?
ROGERS: Well, Adam — neither Adam nor I look good in orange jumpsuits with the numbers on the back. And (INAUDIBLE) —
WALLACE: All right. Congressman Rogers, Congressman Smith, I want to thank you both so much for coming in today. We’ll stay on top of all these stories, a lot of news today. Thank you.
SMITH: Thanks for the chance.
ROGERS: Thanks, Adam.
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