Donald Rumsfeld, Mark Steyn and Jake Tapper on Benghazi
I spoke about Benghazi with both former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Mark Steyn on today’s show. The transcripts and audio of both uinterviews will be posted here later.
HH: So pleased to welcome back now the Honorable Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense. Secretary Rumsfeld, welcome back, great to speak with you again.
DR: Well, thank you so much. It’s good to be with you.
HH: I know your book, Known And Unknown is out there, and all the proceeds from it are going to military charity, but one of the things you couldn’t have covered, even in the second or the paperback edition, is what happened in Benghazi, Mr. Secretary. What are your thoughts on that?
DR: Well, it’s of course a terrible thing to lose four Americans who are out there serving America, and including the ambassador. It’s a sad day. It’s certain a tragedy for each of them and their families. But it’s also the U.S. representative of the United States of America in a country, and it’s a symbol of our country. And it is, to be vulnerable to that kind of an attack, when you know beforehand that their security was inadequate, that they said their security was inadequate, and you knew beforehand that al Qaeda was active and had affiliates in that area, in training areas, and you also knew that the Libyan government was perfectly incapable of providing security. So many weapons floating around that country after the revolution, it shouldn’t be expected that they would be able to protect our people. It’s our job to do that, and clearly, it failed.
HH: Late this afternoon, Jake Tapper, the intrepid ABC reporter, filed a story – President Obama Waives Off Questions From ABC News’ Mary Bruce about when he would begin to provide answers on the numerous questions regarding Benghazi. And Jake wrote, “Ad of now, the White House has disclosed that President Obama was informed about the attack on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi at roughly 5PM by his national security advisor, Tom Donilon, as he was in a prescheduled meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey. At that meeting, senior administration officials say the President ordered that the U.S. begin moving military assets into the region to prepare for the range of contingencies. But beyond that,” Jake continues, “the White House has punted, saying that the accountability review board established by the State Department is investigating the matter and what went wrong.” Secretary Rumsfeld, is it plausible to you that having been briefed at the beginning of the attack, an hour into it, the President would not have been briefed for the following six hours on what was transpiring there?
DR: I cannot imagine a president of the United States, when he knows that our people and our embassy and our flag are under attack, that they would not devote their full attention to that, and stay in close contact. The fact that he went off to Las Vegas, Nevada for a political event, it seems to me to be an enormous misunderstanding of what the priorities were. I’ve, there’s no question but that he was aware. The National Security Advisor is in the White House for that purpose, and the Situation Room has all that information. And I would think that a president would be determined to see it through, and to be attentive to what was taking place. I can’t imagine that he would be inattentive.
HH: In your book, Known And Unknown, there area plethora of footnotes, detailed, minute by minute in some cases, explanation of where you were and what you did and when you did it. Is there any doubt in your mind that the White House already knows what the timeline is for Benghazi vis-à-vis what went on with the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Advisor, and events in Libya?
DR: No, I’m confident they do. They have people in the White House that record the beginnings of phone calls, and who’s on the call, who’s in the Oval Office at any given moment. They know what’s happening, and the White House, the Situation Room, is of course the repository of information coming from all over the world. And there is no lag in the updating of data that feeds into the Situation Room to the national security advisor and the White House chief of staff. I was chief of staff of the White House for President Ford, and I just can’t imagine that he could not have been, if he desired to be, in continuous contact as to what was taking place.
HH: Is there any doubt in your mind that they’re trying to run out the clock on the election, Secretary Rumsfeld?
DR: It certainly feels like that. You know, when people die, and are killed in a terrorist attack, and you have an administration that where the secretary of state of the United States, who had the responsibility for assuring that there was appropriate security there, or else she should have closed that embassy temporarily, goes out on television and talks about a hateful video when she knows, and the CIA knew, that in fact it was a terrorist attack. And it was not related to that. It was not spontaneous. And then to send her agent, the ambassador to the United Nations out to peddle the exact same misinformation to the American people, and to have the President go to the United Nations and repeat the information about this so-called “hateful” video, it is really disturbing. And I think the President really owes the American people a prompt discussion of what actually took place, and to be straight up with the American people about it. It’s an important matter, and I think he owes that to the American people.
HH: Before the election?
DR: Oh, of course. I mean, you know, I worry about this election. I watched the debates, like I suppose a lot of folks do, and I thought about the undecided voters and what they were thinking of as they watched those debates, and trying to find some demarcation between the two candidates – Governor Romney and President Obama. And the thing that struck me was that Governor Romney was not attacking his opponent. He was making his case, explaining what he wanted to do. And if honesty is as important as I know it is to the American people, he seemed so direct and so honest and so straightforward. And then to have it contrasted with the Biden and President Obama’s attacks on their opponents, and interrupting their opponents, and in this instance, with respect to Benghazi, not being straightforward with the American people, for me, at least, honesty is important in government. I just think it’s critical. It’s central. You know, in our country, you lead by consent, not command. And to have consent from the American people, there’s got to be trust. And trust comes from confidence in what people are saying and how they handle themselves. You don’t have to be right all the time in government. But you darn well ought to be straightforward.
HH: Now Secretary Rumsfeld, you mentioned command. There are reports abroad that the head of Africa Command, General Ham, has been relieved in the aftermath of Benghazi. Obviously, you maintain quite a lot of contacts in DOD and throughout the Defense establishment. Have you heard those? And have you confirmed that?
DR: I have heard that he’s been relieved, and I have been told that it is not connected to this, that the difficulty that the African Command had is that they had not been properly staffed up. They did not have the kind of assets that the Central Command or the Southern Command, or the Pacific Command or the European Command all have. And the failure to properly staff them up left the combatant commander in that command without the ability to immediately send special operations forces to assist.
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HH: Secretary Rumsfeld, obviously the media and you had some memorable clashes. And when Abu Ghraib happened, you met with them. When the…every single…the looting happened in Iraq, you met with them. The media has laid down on Benghazi, in my opinion. What do you think of the media and the job they’re doing on following up the Benghazi story?
DR: I guess in the military what we’d say is they’re absent without leave. They’re AWOL. The mainstream media is, I guess has arrived at a point, which is sad to say in my adult lifetime, where they’re unwilling to carry a story and pursue a story, and to ask the tough questions that a democracy really needs. We need reasonable transparency, and yet they are unwilling to discuss it, to talk about it, to ask the tough questions in the White House press corps. And thank goodness we have multiple media outlets. We have a variety of talk radio, we’ve got cable television, we’ve got networks, we’ve got all these…the internet, ways that people can communicate, because for a democracy to survive, you simply have to have a free flow of information to the American people so that they can make judgments. And what you’ve got is the so-called elite media, the mainstream media, the networks and the New York Times and the Washington Post unwilling to tackle this story directly, frontally, the way they would have attacked any other story. I mean, think what they did with Watergate, where no one was killed in Watergate. They broke into a hotel.
HH: Do you think, if you could ask one question of the President, or see the media pursue one or two questions to the President concerning Benghazi-gate, what would it be, Secretary Rumsfeld?
DR: I would, you know, I’m not a journalist. I would look him in the eye and say Mr. President, you owe it to the American people to tell the truth. It’s going to come out eventually anyway. You’re better off doing it right now.
HH: You’ve done a lot of Sunday shows in your life, and when Ambassador Rice did five Sunday shows and said the same thing five times about the video precipitating this event, had she been briefed by the White House, in your experience? Did that have to have happened?
DR: Absolutely. I don’t know the woman, but I really, I almost feel sorry for her, because the way it works is that the White House communications people work with the chief of staff and the national security advisor and the President, and they decide what talk shows they want to put people on, and what the message ought to be. And she was told, without question she was told by the White House, we want you to go on these shows, and here’s what we want you to say. There can be no doubt about that.
HH: Is there a cover up, in your opinion, underway, Mr. Secretary?
DR: Oh, I don’t see how you could, anyone who understands the English language, could come up with any other characterization. It is, without question, a case of people being uncomfortable with the truth, grabbing arguments of convenience that seem to fit the narrative they’d like the American people to believe, and then finding that people don’t like that out there, that there’s someone in the CIA said well, wait a minute, we didn’t tell anyone to stand down. And all of a sudden, that contradicts what the White House is putting out. And then the intelligence agency looks at it and says well, no, it wasn’t spontaneous. We had warnings that al Qaeda affiliates were active in the area. And piece by piece, it comes out. You know the old story in Washington. It’s not what you do, it’s the cover up that counts.
HH: Thanks so much for joining us, Donald Rumsfeld. Known And Unknown, of course, his memoir, all proceeds of which go to the military charities who he knows do the best thing by the troops. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
End of interview.
HH: It’s the Thursday before the election, and we’re so pleased to begin this hour with Mark Steyn, Columnist To the World, www.steynonline.com. Mark, any predictions in New Hampshire?
MS: I’m hoping that we can squeeze out a victory here. As I think I said to you last week, Hugh, I’m confident that both the governor’s race and the presidential race will fall the right way on Tuesday.
HH: Now about the impact of Sandy, and especially of the President’s trip with Chris Christie. Do you judge it a non-event in terms of electoral impact? Or is it the decisive moment that the left is proclaiming it to be?
MS: I think it’s irrelevant, and I don’t attach anything to it one way or the other. I mean, basically he’s issued a photograph of himself sitting in the Situation Room looking concerned. There’s a photo op of him walking around looking concerned, he’s taking a telephone call. I find this stuff rather pathetic and unworthy. I don’t think it’s the right approach to disaster. I mean, you want to preventive approach to disaste.r I mean, here in New Hampshire, we weren’t hit by a hurricane, but we nevertheless had over 200,000 people out of power. Why? Because we’ve got a pathetic electrical system that relies on poles going up and down roads even in built up areas. If they’d taken the trillion dollar stimulus and spent that burying every electric pole on the eastern seaboard, Hurricane Sandy’s impact would have been confined just to the flooding, to the areas where the real hurricane actually hit, not to all the people at the end of the electric poles who were knocked out of power for a week, including my assistant. So I think that’s a good example of how big…if by big government, you mean Obama and photographing himself looking serious in the Situation Room, that’s one thing. If by big government you mean spending a trillion dollars and actually having something to show for it, this administration is a joke.
HH: Mark Steyn, the President did make two statements, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday. I want to play for you back to back to get your reaction. He was talking, of course, about Sandy, but there was a second level on which to understand this, from Tuesday.
BO: This is a tough time for a lot of people, millions of folks all across the eastern seaboard, but America is tougher, and we’re tougher because we pull together, and we leave nobody behind. We make sure that we respond as a nation, and remind ourselves that whenever an American is in need, all of us stand together to make sure that we’re providing the help that’s necessary.
HH: And on Wednesday:
BO: We are not going to tolerate red tape. We’re not going to tolerate bureaucracy. And I’ve instituted a 15 minute rule, essentially, on my team. You return everybody’s phone called in 15 minutes, whether it’s the mayors, the governors, county officials. If they need something, we figure out a way to say yes.
HH: So Mark Steyn, we leave nobody behind. Whenever an American is in need, we help them. There’s a 15 minute rule. Of course, this is an odd set of comments as we study the details of the Benghazi massacre.
MS: Yeah, because it wasn’t 15 minutes. Those guys in Benghazi, Glenn Dougherty and Tyrone Woods, called and called and called again, and hours went by. And the 15 minute man made no response to them. We leave nobody behind. That is a term with precise military echoes. The government of the United States chose to leave behind the staff of its consulate in Benghazi. And the only reason that there are four dead as opposed to somewhere between seven and twenty, we don’t know the exact number of people in that compound, is because Glenn Dougherty and Tyrone Woods disobeyed their orders to stand down and went back and fought off them all. Otherwise, the President would have left maybe up to two dozen people behind to die while the 15 minute man watched them on live footage, apparently, for hours on end. And what’s interesting about that is the bubble the President lives in. No one who has been following Benghazi, or who was thinking about Benghazi, could have uttered those words. The fact that he was able to utter them shows that in fact he’s living in his bubble, and he thinks this is not an issue. And as far as he’s concerned, those four Americans, he’s already sloughed them off. They’re dead and buried, and move on.
HH: I think that bubble encompasses his Chicago team, Mark Steyn. I’m an optimist about this election because of sub-groups like Catholics in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Michael Barone has talked about the upper middle class of the suburbs moving decisively. Gallup and Pew have both said independents have broken to Mitt Romney decisively. Do you think Axelrod’s in the bubble? Or is he just trying to keep, along with Nate Silver, the dynamic duo of denialism?
MS: Yeah, I think to a certain extent, they are in the bubble. I think a lot of the things they get caught up in, the bayonets and horses line, for example, is the kind of stuff that everyone in your circle thinks it’s cute. You know, you can imagine them sitting around and coming up, and saying wow, that’s a real zinger, yeah. The fact that to any casual observer it seems at best petty and unworthy, and at worst, actually, factually inaccurate, escapes these guys. And I think that that bubble is actually why they’ve had such a disastrous time since Benghazi tossing all this irrelevant stuff about vote for Obama, sacrifice your virgin daughter to Obama, or whatever that commercial a couple of days ago was. This complete sort of so-called cool, edgy, hip stuff that appeals to the guys in the bubble, and of course, isn’t cool, edgy and hip when the government’s doing it. By definition, if the government’s doing the cool, edgy, hip commercial, it isn’t cool, edgy and hip. And I think that that kind of, the cocoon that these guys live in has absolutely clobbered them these last six weeks.
HH: I also have to bring up your famous line that we are the brokest nation in history. Brokest nations in history have no reserve funds with which to rush aid to battered cities, no matter how badly their subway system and their road system is compromised, or to provide bailouts to people who have lost everything, Mark Steyn. We’ve spend the seed corn.
MS: Yeah, and that’s why the waste of money…you know, this guy has added $6 trillion dollars to the national debt, and has nothing to show for it. It’s an astonishing feat. I would have thought it was impossible. I would have thought if the Guinness Book of World Records had had a global competition to ask somebody…it sounds like one of those around the world in $6 trillion dollars, where David Niven accepts a wager to see if he can blow through $6 trillion bucks without leaving a trace. It’s absolutely incredible that he has been able to do that. And as a result, when you do need money in a situation like this, there actually isn’t any. As I said, think of what…if he hadn’t spent it on basically tossed it in small bills into the Potomac and watched it float out to sea, imagine what that money could be doing now.
HH: Now Mark Steyn, I want to finish by talking with you about Mitt Romney. I think he’s run a very disciplined campaign, and I think he’s counting on, he’s sort of a throwback guy, back when people ran for office based upon their records as opposed to glossies. But I think he’s run a very good campaign. But what do you think about the Romney campaign?
MS: Yeah, I think he has, too. And you know, I have to say you were right on this, Hugh, and a lot of us who were having concerns during the primary season basically have been proved wrong. I think he has run a disciplined campaign. And I think in a sense that the sort of lack of excitement of it, the calmness of it, is what people are looking for. You know, I have my personal favorites from primary season. I loved Michele Bachmann. It’s no secret. Everybody knows I was a big fan of hers. And in a sense, you would love to have like a red meat figure like her just battering Obama relentlessly. But I think the election now is going to be decided by people basically who voted for this guy in 2008, and want a candidate who reassures them that it’s okay to put that 2008 vote in the trash can of history and move on. And Romney’s done a terrific job of that, and he’ll be rewarded for it on Tuesday.
HH: And the legacy of Barack Obama, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, because I am an optimist. But when they write the history of the Obama campaign, what will be the subtitle on that?
MS: Well, it was a disastrous campaign, but when you say they write the history of Barack Obama, you are now counting your chickens, Hugh, because I wouldn’t put it past this guy to be the second coming of Grover Cleveland, and to be back among us with Hope And Change II in 2016. So you may be speaking a little bit too soon there, Hugh.
HH: You invented the term the margin of lawyer, Mark Steyn.
HH: However, since you said it on this show, we’re going to say you didn’t build it. We’re going to copyright it. But the margin of lawyer, I thought you were about to say Romney might win and then have it taken from him. Are you still worried about the margin of lawyer in places like Ohio?
MS: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think, the one point I disagree with my friends on the right on is having U.N. observers come in and watch the elections, because the more, the merrier. And it is personally embarrassing to me the way elections run in so many parts of this country. Basically, Romney needs to win big in order, by the time we’ve got through the margin of lawyer, for him to eke out those 270 Electoral College votes. So no matter how inevitable you think his victory is, everybody needs to be in the polling booth on Tuesday, because as your book title put it, if it’s not close, they can’t cheat.
HH: But now, I’ve seen everything. Mark Steyn puts on a blue helmet on the Hugh Hewitt Show. I never thought that would happen. Thank you, Mark Steyn. www.steynonline.com, America.
End of interview.