HH: We begin today’s program with Candy Crowley of CNN. You can watch her, of course, on State Of The Union on Sunday, and she’s got a great lineup of guests on the fiscal cliff. Candy, welcome back, it’s the first time we’ve spoken since the election.
CC: It is true, and it seems like now with this fiscal cliff the election was months ago, doesn’t it?
HH: It does, but I have to begin by asking you about the debate, obviously, since it’s the first time I’ve talked to you since then. Looking back at not just your role but the media generally, are you happy with how it turned out? Is it pride, misgivings or both?
CC: Do you mean about the debate itself?
CC: Oh, no. I thought in the series of debates that you saw, whether it was Jim Lehrer or Bob Schieffer, Martha Raddatz or myself, that what you saw was a reflection of the styles of the four people, and you got a really good idea as to who these candidates were. So I’m good with it. I do think that the compilation and the, you know, what the Commission wanted to do was kind of have one debate build on another. I think they accomplished that, and I think more than that, because it’s not about the Debate Commission, it’s about the voters. I think they got a good view of these men under varying circumstances.
HH: Now there was some pretty ferocious criticism directed at you, Candy. Here’s Joe Scarborough on MSNBC.
JC: What I don’t understand is that Susan Rice said this five days in, the President, remember the President at the debate saying you know, and Candy Crowley for some reason basically making up history on the run…
HH: Then AEI’s Stan Veuger called it “an outrageous intervention” in which you “shamelessly provided cover for the President’s lies”, and then following, Charles Krauthammer on Fox said this.
CK: We got Candy Crowley’s intervention, which was essentially incorrect, supporting Obama on the transcript. He did not call it a terror incident. There was a big opening that was missed, and I think it was contaminated by the actions of the moderator.
HH: Now what do you think about this, Candy? I’ve been defending you for years as one of the best in the business. But you get all of these conservative critics of how the debate went. How do you react to it?
CC: You know, I, look, in the sense that this is a free country, there’s certainly, anybody is willing, anybody certainly has the ability to criticize, the freedom to criticize. I think if you go back and look at that Rose Garden statement, remember we were talking about one specific thing – what happened in the Rose Garden. I stand by it. Do I understand that conservatives thought this was a missed opportunity? I’ll tell you, the only thing I objected to all along was the idea that there was a motivating force to somehow support the President or somehow undermine Mitt Romney. And I can, it is one thing that actually I don’t like about politics anymore is that everyone’s always looking at everybody else’s motivation and can’t possibly know. So I think the motivation stuff bothers me, but certainly, you know, criticism is part of the game.
HH: And I don’t believe for a moment, and I’ve said that on the show since the debate. On the other hand, Susan Rice would be nominated today except for what she said about Benghazi. In your opinion, Candy, did she lie?
CC: She certainly, you know, to me there’s a difference between…here’s what I don’t know, and I would better be able to answer that question if I knew this. Republicans say that Susan Rice, we’re now talking about, on the Sunday after the Benghazi attack, saw the actual information from the CIA, and that in that information, again, this is what Republicans are saying, because I haven’t seen the documents, and that in that information, it said that it was an al Qaeda or an al Qaeda-inspired group that was responsible, et cetera, et cetera. If she saw that, it sure as heck wasn’t the full truth. I don’t know if she saw that, or if she was handed talking points and said go on out there.
HH: Now the day after that attack, the President did an interview with 60 Minutes, the first question and answer of which were simply not released by 60 Minutes until two days before the election, long after the debate you moderated. That exchange that didn’t make into the public is this.
SK: Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya attack.
SK: Do you believe that this was a terrorist attack?
BO: Well, it’s too early to know exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.
HH: Now Candy, would you have interjected the same way if you had seen that 60 Minutes excerpt before the debate?
CC: Had I seen it before the debate, you know what, Hugh, no. But let’s again remember that this was about what he said in the Rose Garden. And what he said in the Rose Garden, this was the day after the September 11th attack. He was referring to the attack, and he was talking about the attack in Benghazi. That’s why he was in the Rose Garden. He went on to talk about 9/11, and then he said these acts of terror, blah, blah, blah, and today we mourn, he mentions those folks that were murdered in Libya. So we were talking about that specific moment in that specific Rose Garden. Remember…
CC: You know, because Romney kept saying I’m talking about the Rose Garden. In the Rose, you said this, et cetera, et cetera. So it doesn’t seem to me what he said in the Rose Garden, certainly afterwards, other people and now, of course, the President, shied away from that. But we were talking at the time with the knowledge we had about what went on in the Rose Garden.
HH: Given that you would have done it differently if 60 Minutes had provided us all, and they did not provide you with the record. I want to make sure the audience understands. You didn’t know it, and I didn’t know it. Did 60 Minutes make a mistake in not providing material that central to one of the key issues before, I mean, when it happened?
CC: I, you know what? I am sort of, I don’t know CBS’ policy. I don’t know if it was out on the website. I don’t, honestly, people have asked me about this, and I don’t know…obviously, we all cut things, although I mean, 60 Minutes is somewhat different. I don’t think we cut presidential speeches, but I’m not going to, you know, again, I’m not sure. I’m sorry, presidential interviews. Listen, I think anything that adds to the body of knowledge, but I don’t, I honestly don’t remember the CBS interview, what the main thrust of it was, what they were talking about. And you know, something, sometimes things that are happening, you don’t see until two weeks later that’s like oh my gosh.
CC: No, he said this, or this person said that. So I don’t want to, you know, I just am not going to get on the bandwagon in criticizing CBS, because I don’t know what went into these decisions.
HH: All right, now my personal, most interesting aspect of the debate was the Fast & Furious exchange, because I had brought it up with you actually a couple of weeks beforehand, urging that you ask about it. Here’s how that went down. Mitt Romney began to discuss it.
MR: This was a program of the government. For what purpose it was put in place, I can’t imagine. But it’s one of the great tragedies related to violence in our society which has occurred during this administration, which I think the American people would like to understand fully. It’s been investigated to a degree, but the administration has carried out executive privilege to prevent all the information from coming out. I’d like to understand who it was that did this, what the idea was behind it, why it led to the violence. Thousands of guns going to Mexican drug lords?
CC: Governor, Governor, if I could, the question was about these assault weapons that once were banned, and are no longer banned.
HH: So Candy, why not go with Fast & Furious when the Governor went there? I know you probably can’t even remember what you were thinking during the debate.
CC: No, actually, for the same reason that when the question was about gas prices, I don’t know if you remember, but the second question was you know, Mr. President, your Energy secretary has said he doesn’t, it’s not his role to bring down gas prices or something. And do you agree with that? And the next thing we knew, they were talking about drilling on public lands, which is related, but you know, wasn’t exactly about what Secretary Liu had said about gas prices. So I went back and said but the question was about gas prices. What I was trying to do, and one of the things they wanted me to do, was try to keep them on track. It’s darned near impossible. I will give you that, because there were so many times they were so off track. But that’s what was behind that.
HH: All right, last question on the debate…
CC: …was you know, the question was about…go ahead.
HH: Did your debate impact the election, perhaps not as much as Sandy or Orca’s collapse, but enough to change the trajectory of the race?
CC: I think you know, look, I think everything impacts an election. Do I think this changed the outcome of the election? I don’t.
HH: Do you still have questions about Benghazi?
CC: Absolutely. I think everybody still has questions about Benghazi. Were they adequately protected? But it’s not even about the aftermath. It’s about what the heck happened there, you know, why on September 11th was basically an unprotected ambassador, I mean, he had some protection. You know, what, who responded…and let’s remember the original Benghazi question was who was responsible for not giving more security there. So yeah, absolutely.
HH: And 30 seconds, do you think the Secretary of State has answered the questions she ought to have answered on this, Candy?
CC: The Secretary, Hillary Clinton?
CC: In…no, and I’m not even sure I think she thinks that, because haven’t they all been, you know, again, so much has happened in the past couple of days…
CC: I don’t know about it, but in the end, they have laid this all off on we’re waiting for a report to see what happened. I mean, the question is should there have been more security?
HH: We will watch, we’ll be watching State of the Union to see that, the fiscal cliff conversation with Tom Cole, the Republican who wants to do the deal and Marsha Blackburn. Lots ahead on CNN, Candy Crowley, thanks for being back, look forward to having you next week.
End of interview.