Congressman Ron DeSantis was my guest this morning:
HH: I’m joined by Congressman Ron DeSantis from the great state of Florida. I know he has been hard hit by this. Congressman, welcome back, good to talk to you. What is your reaction to the events of the last three days? Where were you when you learned the news of this? I know it’s not your district, but tell me the reaction of Floridians generally.
RD: Well, I’ll tell you, I saw a little thing across the transom in the wee hours of the morning. I was, I had woken up, and I just kind of saw a shooting. And as I woke up, it was just a massive attack. And it was really, really bracing. I think that I had been stressing around the state, I had a defeat the jihad tour, because I felt that people were starting to take the eye off the ball of the global jihad that we face. And we live in an age where ISIS running rampant in the Middle East with the potent propaganda network, they can inspire attacks without having any operational relationship with people here in our country. And I think that’s likely what happened here. So it’s really devastating for Central Florida, but it shows that after 15 years of this war, we’re not winning. And I think the President’s news conference yesterday was a really a good example of that.
HH: Now Congressman DeSantis, you represent the 6th Congressional District, which is Jacksonville. I’m sure like every Congressional district, it has a large LGBT population within it particularly traumatized by this. I have Frank Bruni coming up a little bit later. Republicans, he says, aren’t standing with the LGBT community. I don’t believe that. I see Paul Ryan standing out there and saying we understand and we support you, Donald Trump doing the same. What’s your reaction to that?
RD: Look, we are united against terrorism against any of our communities. The idea that we would pick and choose based on political ideology, to me, that’s just foreign to me. I mean, we’re all in this together. I will say I think it’ll come out whether this particular nightclub was targeted because there were gay people going there. He did case some other areas, so it’s just not clear what exactly his motivation was vis-à-vis the LBGT issue. And I know the FBI is working on that. But we definitely know that a militant Islamist, people who believe in a Sharia-based society, the fact of the matter is that is incredibly hostile to people who are gay or lesbian.
HH: We also know that they’re very good at covers. You were on the ground in Iraq embedded with a SEAL unit doing legal work for them during the war, and I’m sure you had to participate in interrogations where people just lie. They don’t tell you what they’re doing. They’re not, you know, yeah, I’m from this brand of jihadi and these are the people I answer to, and these are the people I want to kill. This is an investigation.
RD: No, absolutely, and I remember when I was in Guantanamo, the funny thing I learned was that almost all the detainees had the same story. They get picked up on Tora Bora and they just happen to be selling Korans. All of them were selling Korans. Yeah, they had an AK-47 on them and all this other stuff, but they were selling, so that was their story. So yeah, I mean, they’re going to lie and not be honest. I think the father came out and was telling fibs right off the bat right after the attack had been reported. And so you’ve got to dig deep and not take a lot of this stuff at face value when it’s coming out of the mouths of people that have a motivation to lie.
HH: Now Congressman, people know I’ve endorsed you for the United States Senate race. It’s an open primary right now. A lot of people are in it. At the same time, two days ago on this program, Senator Rubio indicated he is rethinking that. What’s your reaction to that? What will you do if he enters the race?
RD: Well, I happened to hear about that once you did it. Look, Marco’s a good Senator. Had he announced from the beginning that he was going to run for reelection, I would not have run. I would have supported him. And I don’t know what he’s going to do. I have no inside knowledge at all. And obviously, if he makes a decision to run, that changes a lot about how I look at the race, but I think the important thing is that if there’s a decision made, it should be made quickly, because I think what’s happened is a lot of the rumors over the last several weeks have made it more difficult for guys like me to get, continue on the path of success. And I just think it’s better for everyone if this decision is made sooner rather than later. Even if Marco runs, I mean, he’s going to want to have the opportunity to ramp back up. So I know no more than you, and I’ll wait and see what happens.
HH: Now a lot of people say you would vacate the field and run for Attorney General. I’m dismayed by that, because I think we need warriors in the House of Representatives. But is that an option for you to seek statewide office to Attorney General if Senator Rubio returns to the lists?
RD: It’s not an option this cycle, because I think that office is not up until 2018.
RD: So we’ll be here in 2016. And obviously, we’ll look at it. Look, I’ve been talking about these issues for a while now, both in the official capacity and on the campaign trail. And they’re issues that I want to be engaged in one way or another.
HH: Let’s assume for a moment that Senator Rubio maintains his decision to retire. And now, terrorism is front and center. Is anyone else in the race with you for the Republican nomination, other than Senator Rubio who’s on the sidelines at this point, remotely as experienced in this issue? That’s why I supported you from the beginning. You’re a warrior, you’ve been on the battlefield, you know this. Does anyone else have those credentials? I’m sure they’re good people, but does anyone have that set of credentials?
RD: No, I think I’m the guy who’s been involved in the policy fights from dealing with ISIS to fighting the Iran deal across the board. And I think that the good thing about me is that I have a good contrast with the two Democrats who are running, because we’ve been taking a lot of the same votes. I fought the Iran deal. They supported the Iran deal. Both of the Democrats who are running for this seat voted to defund air strikes against ISIS just as ISIS was taking over Mosul back in 2014. Both of them want to release the terrorists from Gitmo, even though we know that released detainees from Gitmo have killed Americans in the field in Afghanistan. So I think in that sense, in terms of a general election as well, I think it’s an important contrast that’ll be good for our side of the aisle.
HH: Ron DeSantis, you’re chairman of the Oversight Committee’s National Security subcommittee, so you’re well-positioned to answer this question. Do you believe the FBI has had enough time to figure out his dark web, the killer’s dark web, deep web? And there’s a distinction there. The deep web, people can get to eventually. The dark web is encrypted. Do you think the FBI’s had a chance to get in there and actually know what drove this killer, this insane jihadi?
RD: So I know that they are getting a lot of information, and it seems like that’s gone very well. They have not processed it all, yet, but we’re anticipating that we get, really, the full picture of this guy. And obviously, you want that to know his motivation, but we also want to know what other threats are there. The mosque that he went to in Port St. Lucie was the same mosque that Abu Salha went to. Abu Salha was the first American suicide bomber in Syria. He was trained by the al-Nusra Front and committed a jihad attack for al-Nusra. And so they had at least an acquaintanceship. So what is it about that particular mosque? Is there radicalism being preached there? So there’s a bunch of stuff that I think is going to come out of this, and I’m encouraged that the FBI feels that they really do have access to a lot of information already.
HH: I asked Marc Caputo this question last hour, Congressman DeSantis. Maybe you know that answer. The FBI obviously had the killer under surveillance, had him on the watch list twice and dropped him. Did they communicate their concerns to local law enforcement in Port St. Lucie? Was Port St. Lucie aware of the threat within?
RD: I’d imagine that they would have had to have been, because a lot of this was done through the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which does have the state officials on it as well. So it would be hard for me to think that somehow that information was not conveyed in one way or another to Port St. Lucie. And so that’s going to be the question, is they had investigated him, they just didn’t think there was anywhere else that they could go, so they closed the investigation. But obviously, this was a guy that was prime to commit a really significant terrorist attack. So I think that needs to be fully vetted. But there should have been a notification if for no other reason that you do have state law enforcement working in conjunction with federal law enforcement on this task force.
HH: And to your understanding, how many other Mateen’s are there, not that they will go violent, but that they have been on the FBI watch list in Florida? Do you have an order of magnitude about the number of people who have that level of concern to the Bureau and the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Florida?
RD: We, so what the FBI will say, there’s obviously a lot of people. What they will say is part of the reason why they close investigations if they don’t think somebody is a threat is because they have limited resources, and they want to focus it on the people who have the most alarming indicators at the moment And so those people said well, why don’t you just continue to surveil the guy? I mean, you knew there was possibilities, and I think what they would say is we have so many other people that come in the pipeline that we’ve got to direct our resources to the most pressing threats. Now that’s going to be, there’s going to be oversight over that. That’s going to be vetted, that decision. The FBI at this point thinks they basically did what they should have done, and they followed proper protocol. But I think the Director has been honest at saying look, we need to go back and see is there some things we missed? Should we have done things differently? And I think he’s open to that process. And so that’ll be important, because when you have these guys in the mist, I mean, it’s hard to stop every attack. But when you have guys that are displaying indicators, you definitely want to make sure that they are being watched.
HH: Are there scores of those, hundreds, or thousands in Florida, Congressman DeSantis?
RD: They didn’t break it down exactly in those numbers, but I would imagine that when you’re talking about a state as big as Florida, I would be shocked if it were less than in the thousands.
HH: Last quick question, if Senator Rubio runs for reelection, will you run for reelection to the House, Congressman?
RD: That would definitely be a possibility. So we’ll wait and see what happens, and we’ll make the appropriate decision at the right time.
HH: We can’t lose you from the Congress. I appreciate you taking the time, Congressman.
End of interview.