Jake Tapper On Benghazi Coverage, And A Request For More Witnesses To Come Forward
HH: July 16th, 1973, may have been the most important day in the history of Congressional investigations. It’s when Alexander Butterfield revealed to a Senate committee the existence of a White House taping system. Tomorrow, the Government Affairs and Oversight Committee of the House meets to consider the Benghazi affair with three key witnesses. Joining me to discuss the importance potential of this, is it a Butterfield, or is it a bust, is Jake Tapper, of course, the host of CNN’s The Lead. He’s covered a lot of Washington, D.C. scandals. Jake Tapper, on the Richter Scale of scandal, what’s the potential for tomorrow’s hearing?
JT: That’s a tough one. You know, the potential is always very, very strong, not Watergate strong in terms of anything leading to President Obama’s resignation, but you have the deputy chief of mission, the number two from the embassy in Libya, Greg Hicks, will be testifying. And he has lots of questions and lots of facts that are not comfortable ones for the administration, starting with, well, working backwards, starting, you know, talking about how he knew, and everybody knew that it was a terrorist attack, he was never consulted, he couldn’t believe when he saw Dr. Rice on the Sunday shows saying what she was saying, undercutting the president of Libya who was saying the exact opposite, the president of Libya saying it was Islamic extremists with ties to terrorist groups, and then moving backward in time, he says he has, he has questions about why more wasn’t done militarily, whether sending a jet over the area to scare away the terrorists, or there were four special operations troops at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, and they were eager to fly to Benghazi after the first attack, but before the second one, but they were not given permission to go, to fly there on a Libyan plane. We’ve never really heard much about that before. And then before, of course, there are all these questions about, and to me, this is the stuff that has been proven the most, all these requests for added security made by diplomats and people on the ground in Libya, whether in Tripoli or Benghazi, and they were not met. And we’ve never really gotten a good answer as to why that is.
HH: Now Jake Tapper, the hearings get underway at 11:30 tomorrow, and I am told by key members of the committee they’re expected to go about four hours, which will put the conclusion sometime after 3:30. Your show starts at 4, which means you’re going to go into the wheelhouse just as these hearings conclude. Just take us, in the back of your mind, how are you going to prepare on what to cover tomorrow?
JT: Well obviously, we’re preparing for Benghazi. We’ve done a lot of segments on Benghazi today. We interviewed, we did a spot explaining for people as kind of a catch-up on what’s new and what the issues are, and then we interviewed Pat Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, who was the State Department information specialist who was killed in the attack. You know, one of the things about doing live TV is that you have to prepare for all sorts of contingencies. So for instance, going into today’s show, we knew that Governor Chris Christie was going to be doing an event in Newark, New Jersey at 3:30, and then he might take questions afterwards, and we kind of had to be nimble enough to prepare for that. So we’ll do a Benghazi segment, at the very least, one segment. One of the questions is who, what guests can we prepare, can we plan on having, because obviously, Democrats and Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee might not be able to commit. So we’ll have to figure it out, but we’ll definitely be carrying the, I know we’ll be anchoring, Wolf and I will be anchoring the beginning of the hearing, at the very least, live, and we’ll definitely be covering it on my show.
HH: That’s what I wanted to know. I wanted to know if CNN considers it of significant news importance that it will do a live feed from the House tomorrow, at least in part.
JT: Yeah, no, definitely. Wolf Blitzer and I will be anchoring the coverage. As you say, the hearing starts at 11:30 Eastern, and we’ll be doing that. I don’t know whether we’ll cover the whole thing. You know, I think we covered all of when Hillary Clinton testified in, I believe that was February or March, but I don’t know. I guess it really depends on the hearing. Obviously, there’s a lot going on in the world right now with…
HH: Israel, yeah.
JT: Boston and Syria and Israel and Cleveland and all sorts of things. But we’re definitely planning on covering it.
HH: Now I talked to six members of the Committee on yesterday’s show. I have another five members of the Committee lined up today. I think the Republicans kind of have a game plan. I’m not sure it’s the greatest game plan in the world, but the key question I want to know is if any of these witnesses feel like the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, then-Secretary of State Clinton, or then-Secretary of Defense Panetta, have lied? And I don’t know that they’re going to work up a direct question in that regard. I do know they’re going to work up a direct question with regards to the cancellation of the deployment of Special Forces. What’s your reporting on that, Jake Tapper, as to whether or not that cancel order actually happened?
JT: You’re referring to the four Special Forces that were at the embassy in Tripoli? Or you’re referring to the Special Forces that were in Europe?
HH: In Europe. There was an alleged order, actually, I thought they were in Tripoli, that they were supposed to suit up and go, and then an order came down, the CBS report earlier this week.
JT: So I mean, that’s what Greg Hicks will be talking about. There were four Special Operations soldiers ready to go. They didn’t have a way to get there. Now you can get into, there’s a lot of stuff behind that. There’s, first of all, the fact that the diplomats used to have their own DC-3 airplanes, but that was taken away from them in May. And then there’s the question about why weren’t there American jets that were ready to go? They were in Italy, and they were going to take about two or three hours to get ready, but there were not tankers to fuel them, so they couldn’t have gotten there. But in any case, when the Libyan, I believe it was the prime minister, called the deputy chief of mission, Greg Hicks, in the middle of the night, he obviously knew he was sleeping, and told him that Ambassador Stevens had been killed. He also offered, this is according to Hicks, what Hicks has told investigators, he also offered a Libyan C-130 plane was going to be flying from Tripoli to Benghazi, and he said that they had room on it, and the four Special Operations soldiers were supposed to get on it. They were, according to Hicks, they were on their way to the cars to take them to the planes, and then they were told from somebody at U.S. Command, Africa, to not get on those planes. I don’t know why that is. We haven’t heard an actual explanation. I’ve heard all sorts of whispers about why it might have been. But I have not gotten a concrete answer as to why that was.
HH: On Page 11 of the interim report on the matter from the five committees, it states that Ambassador Stevens traveled to Benghazi on September 10th, 2012, to fill staffing gaps between principal officers in Benghazi, and to allow him to reconnect with local contacts. He also planned to attend the establishment of a new American corner at a local Benghazi school. Now I’ve asked every member of the Committee I’ve talked to thus far, what does it mean to reconnect with local contacts, and does it have anything to do with Syrian arms, to the opposition. Have you heard anything in regard to this, Jake Tapper? And do you think we know for sure why Chris Stevens went to Benghazi so poorly secured on such a significant date?
JT: No, we don’t. I haven’t. I mean, I’ve heard that rumor, but I have not heard it. I mean, one of the issues with reporting the Benghazi story, and this is why even people, even Republicans on the Intelligence Committee and the like have not been as forthcoming with information is because there obviously was a CIA annex there. It was the second place attacked in the early morning, September 12th, 2012. And there was something going on that was clandestine. And we still don’t know what that was. And we still haven’t been informed. I don’t know what it was. I mean, I could speculate, as anybody else could, but I don’t know. It’s one of the reasons why there have not been full answers on this. That doesn’t, of course, excuse all of the things that have not been answered, all of the questions that have been stonewalled or ignored. But it does provide some perspective on some of them.
HH: Last question, Jake Tapper, Jim Jordan said on the show yesterday he hopes these hearings will encourage other people in the government to step forward, and if not contact Congress, then I imagine contact favorable or fair members of the media. Have you been approached, yet, you, Jake Tapper, by anyone in the government to tell their side of this story?
JT: No, and obviously, I would like to. I mean, one of the issues here is that fairly or unfairly, a lot of the questions have been coming from, and I’m not talking about media now, but they’ve been coming from partisans, you know, literally partisans – Jason Chaffetz, Darrell Issa, people who are Republicans. And I think what is needed for, in the hopes of getting more answers, is for individuals who are not perceived as partisan, whether that’s Bret Baier or me or whoever, to be able to get some opportunities to ask some of these questions. I think that will help, because it is one of the biggest gifts to the Democrats who don’t want there to be scrutiny on this, is the fact that so many people involved in asking the questions are Republicans, and not just Republicans, but with the reputation of being fairly partisan. That makes it easier for Democrats to ignore the question.
HH: I hope someone listening, absolutely correct, and I hope if someone’s in the government, they’ll give Jake Tapper a call over at CNN’s The Lead. Thank you, Jake.
End of interview.