While reporting on the tornado devastation in Oklahoma yesterday, I also spent an hour with former secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who came by the studio on his California book tour, and on the phone with the New York Times’ Michael Shear. I talked with both men about the Benghazi story, and with Shear about the surveillance of FNC’s James Rosen, which Shear called “absolutely chilling.”
Rumsfeld on the president and Secretary of State Clinton on Benghazi:
HH: In terms of, though, that piece of wisdom you gave in Rumsfeld’s Rules, first reports are often wrong, don’t react quickly, wait and see. I’m going to be on Hannity tonight talking about Benghazi and where the President was. Do you think he was waiting and watching the night of Benghazi?
DR: It certainly doesn’t seem that he paid a lot of attention to it. The reports are that he didn’t call the secretary of Defense or talk to people. And within a matter of hours, he left for Las Vegas for a campaign event. So I don’t, I certainly got the impression that he did not pay the kind of attention to it that one would think a leader would.
HH: Now this is a what if, and it’s Monday morning quarterbacking, but you served two tours as secretary of Defense. Had an embassy been attacked, or a consulate been attacked in the same way that this one was attacked, are you surprised at the lack of response from abroad that the Aviano jets did not scramble, that Special Forces did not deploy?
DR: I am. If you know that it’s the anniversary of September 11th, and that that is a time of danger, if you know that there are a lot of people milling around in Libya with a lot of weapons, if you know that the threats were so serious that the British consulate decided to evacuate because they weren’t able to protect their people, and if you know that the people in your facility in Benghazi requested additional security and were denied it, one would think that you would be having the capabilities that the United States military has arranged and arrayed in a way that they could be helpful. And we may, the hearings are going forward. I know I don’t know, but I do want to see the hearings go forward, because I think we’ll determine precisely what kinds of capabilities were in Tripoli, and I’m told there was a capable element there that had its own airlift not far away. And I’m also told that there was an element that came from Stuttgart down to Italy, and happened to be there. The element in Tripoli was there for a totally different reason, I’m told. It wasn’t there for protection. But it had capabilities that might have been used. So as I say, I just don’t know, and I think the hearings ought to clarify all of that. Why didn’t they provide the right kind of security? If not, why didn’t they pull the people out? What kinds of military assets were available given the known threat of al Qaeda-related terrorists in the vicinity, well-armed, as it turned out?
HH: Now over the weekend, I talked with Rorke Denver. Rorke is a Navy SEAL who retired recently, wrote a book called Damn Few. He starred in the movie Act Of Valor. And in the book, Damn Few, wholly unrelated to this, he tells the story of calling in an F-18 Super Hornet with no ordinance, it was out of ordinance, to do a flyover of al Qaeda in Iraq for the purposes of disbursing them, and it worked. Your successor at the Pentagon, Secretary Gates, said that’s too easy a conclusion to reach on, I believe, Face The Nation two weeks ago, that the Aviano jets ought to have been sent because shoulder-fired anti-air missiles had fallen into the hands of the Libyan resistance. What do you make of this idea that they could have at least had a flyover, and of Secretary Gates’ objection that perhaps one of the reasons a flyover didn’t happen is because of shoulder-fired missiles?
DR: I think former Secretary Gates was agreeing with former Secretary Panetta’s comment. And I didn’t hear either of them. I haven’t read them. And I don’t know the context. And as I say, I, rather than second-guessing, I’d kind of want to wait to see what the hearings produce.
HH: But legitimate inquiry as the assets and what they were, and why they…
HH: Now on Page 133 of Rumsfeld’s Rules, and by the way, magnificent book, America. You’re going to, no wonder it’s a bestseller already, because it’s imminently readable, and it’s a template for everything that’s happening right now. You write, “It is difficulties that show what men are.” Now very few people can answer this in the way that you can. On the night of Benghazi, Mr. Hicks testified he called Secretary of State Clinton at 2:00 in the morning, 8pm Washington time, briefed her on the situation. He was under attack, they had axe-wielding people destroying the secret data in Tripoli. They were preparing to evacuate in Tripoli to the CIA annex. The ambassador was missing. There had been an attack. Secretary of State Clinton signs off on the evacuation plan and hangs up. She never calls back. Is that, to you, striking that she never, after the ambassador’s death was confirmed, never got back in touch with number two, with whom she’d already been in touch?
DR: Well, it is. I think there are a number of things that are surprising. And until we have the hearings, and until we find ground truth, but the seeming inattentiveness by the senior people in the administration, I mean, the President not calling the secretary of Defense, the President leaving within a matter of a day or so for Las Vegas for a campaign event, it, not calling people into the Oval Office and sitting them down and saying well, let’s find out really what’s going on, what’s happening, the whole thing is surprising. The only thing where the President has seemed to have been directly involved, and acting as a leader, was the killing of bin Laden, which was a success. But a leader has to be dealing with the problems as well as the successes.
HH: There are, I think it was a search for deniability, that the reason we don’t find any footprints is that everyone knew this was a screw-up before the election, and no one wanted to be close to it. In your experience with President Bush, there was good news and there was bad news. There were terrible days, there were very good days. Did he ever change his pattern of accountability or accessibility to you, depending on the news cycle?
DR: Absolutely not. I never saw, certainly that wasn’t the case with President Ford. I never saw that with President Reagan, and certainly not with President George W. Bush. He was engaged, he was interested, he asked tough questions, he listened well. And the behavior was surprising for me.
HH: Let me play for you Dan Pfeiffer, the White House press spokesman sent out yesterday talking on Fox News Channel with Chris Wallace, cut number one:
CW: Do you not know whether he was in the Situation Room?
DP: I don’t remember what room the President was in on that night, and that’s a largely irrelevant fact.
CW: Well, the point is…
HH: He says it’s a largely irrelevant fact where the President was. Is that correct?
DR: Well, that fits with what Mrs. Clinton in her testimony. She said something to the effect at this point, what does it matter, and I think that when there are uncomfortable truths, that being dismissive of those truths is a pattern.
HH: You also wrote in Rumsfeld’s Rules, I like this, not all negative press is unearned. If you’re getting it, see if there’s a reason.
DR: Well, that’s true. I mean, all of us make mistakes in life, and you say things we wish we hadn’t said, and you do get negative press. My wife’s rule with respect to the press is that you don’t ever want to become infatuated with them or resentful of them. They have their job, and you have yours.