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Senator John McCain On Immigration, And The Need For A Select Committee On Boston And Benghazi

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

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HH: I begin this hour with United States Senator John McCain. Senator, always a pleasure and an honor to have you back, great to talk to you.

JM: Well, thank you, Hugh. I’m always glad to be with you, and could I bring up one topic with you, preempt you a bit, and that is that Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte and I wrote a letter to the President saying again that if he thinks that they’ve given all the information about Benghazi that’s necessary, why not start with giving us the names of the people who were evacuated the morning after the attacks and taken to Germany. We still can’t even get that. And there are significant information out there that they are very unhappy, and I can assure you from meeting with the families of our brave American, the families don’t believe they’ve gotten all the information, either.

HH: Not only can you preempt me, I wanted to begin there. I wanted to begin with Jay Carney at the White House earlier today, Senator McCain. Here’s what he said about Benghazi.

EH: Last thing on Benghazi. Since the President spoke yesterday briefly about that, the Defense Department and the State Department have both had written letters, as I understand it, to Republican Darrell Issa saying that they’re not aware of anyone coming to them asking for security clearances for their counsel or anything to come forward. First, is that your understanding? And second, if someone were to come forward, if they just haven’t technically told their superior or something, if they were to come forward, is the White House willing to let them testify?

JC: Well, again, I mean, that’s a hypothetical. But let’s be clear. Benghazi happened a long time ago. We are unaware of any agency blocking an employee who would like to appear before Congress to provide information related to Benghazi.

HH: So Senator McCain, Benghazi happened a long time ago. Why are you and Senators Graham and Ayotte still worried about this?

JM: For the first time in months, I find myself agreeing with Mr. Carney. And it has been a long time ago, and it’s been a case, and I have concluded, that it’s stonewalling. How else would you describe a situation where they won’t even give you the names of the people so that Congress could at least talk to them, who were evacuated? We are hearing, and I don’t know if it’s true or not, Hugh, and so I want to be very careful. But there are stories out there that there are people that are so unhappy, that were in the agency, and were involved in this, that they want to come forward with whistleblower status. And I wouldn’t have repeated it unless it’s fairly well substantiated. But the fact is, we do not know what happened in Benghazi. We do not know why seven and a half hours went by. Remember, the last two were killed in the last hour of this conflict, and there was nothing done that was effective to help them. And again, I have talked to family members. They have come to my office. They believe they have not gotten all the information, so that they put their minds and themselves to rest over the tragedy of the loss of their loved ones.

HH: Senator McCain, here’s what the President said yesterday. I used the word stonewalling yesterday, or limited modified hangout came to mind, and I’m an old Nixon guy. Here’s what the President said in response to a question yesterday, cut number two:

EH: There are people in your own State Department saying they’ve been blocked from coming forward, that they survived the terror attack, and they want to tell their story. Will you help them come forward and just say it once and for all?

BO: Ed, I’m not familiar with this notion that anybody’s been blocked from testifying, so what I’ll do is I will find out what exactly you’re referring to.

HH: So Senator, you’re more familiar than most the President’s…

JM: The notion, Hugh, the notion. Aren’t you tired of the notion?

HH: Well, you know this fellow better than most, Senator McCain. You debated him a number of times, and that convoluted construction, what’s it suggest to you?

JM: It suggests to me that the President is either not informed when he made a statement like that, or he’s forgotten, or he knows better, one of the three, because it’s absolutely false that we have given, that they have given all the information. I know that you have Congressman Darrell Issa on from time to time.

HH: Yes.

JM: Darrell Issa has done everything that he possibly can to try to get this information. We are hampered in the Senate, obviously, by a Democrat majority that doesn’t want to address this issue. Could I mention just one other aspect of this issue?

HH: Please.

JM: We are now finding out, we’re now finding out that people have been able to move in and out of this country because of the bombing, the tragedy in Boston, be able to move in and out of this country on expired visas, that we haven’t been able to track them. When they leave, well, one agency has been able to, and has not informed the other agencies. The whole purpose of the 9/11 Commission was to stop the stovepiping, so that information would be shared. And obviously, it’s not. The immigration, comprehensive immigration reform bill will be on the floor at some point. I think that that would be a perfect opportunity for us to review the procedures that the government is using, what stovepiping is going on, why do we allow people from Dagestan, or someone who’s in this country on a humanitarian visa, and then goes back to the country that he’s supposed to be fleeing from. There’s a whole lot of things, I think, that need to be addressed about our national security aspect of immigration.

HH: One more quote from the President on this very subject, concerning your colleague and friend, Lindsey Graham, at yesterday’s press conference. Here’s what the President said.

Reporter: Now Lindsey Graham, who’s a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, has said that Benghazi and Boston are both examples of the U.S. going backwards on national security. Is he right? And did you intelligence miss something?

BO: No, Mr. Graham is not right on this issue, although I’m sure it generated some headlines.

HH: So Senator McCain, is your colleague motivated by headlines?

JM: Listen, Lindsey Graham, he’s been on your show many times, Hugh. You know what an incredible person he is. He has the most incisive mind. Lindsey Graham has the ability to get to the heart of a problem. And Lindsey Graham is asking the right questions. And Lindsey Graham is raising the right issues. And for the President to say that he’s seeking headlines, well, I say with great respect, this is a man who is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, who for the last 12 years, has spent his active duty in either Iraq or Afghanistan serving this country. I’m so proud of him and the work that he has been doing, and Lindsey Graham said it right. Eight Americans have lost their lives in the combination of those two tragedies, and this administration has gone backwards.

HH: So do you think the President is trying to divert attention from the failures in national security, domestic security, by attacking and politicizing it, by attacking Lindsey Graham?

JM: You know, I don’t know the answer, because I don’t think it’s very smart. You certainly do give some, when the president of the United States mentions your name, you kind of get some credibility, at least, with a certain part of the American public, people like you and me, don’t you think?

HH: I do. I think he is in a defensive crouch, Senator. I think you guys have him on the run here, and he’s got scandals piling up, and failures piling up all around him. And I think yesterday’s press conference was not profiles in leadership. Jack Kennedy’s not going to have to, no one, the estate’s not going to have to issue a new edition.

JM: Well, you remember for the first four years, it was BIOB – blame it on Bush. Now, it’s BIOC – blame it on Congress. Every answer was well, it’s the Congress. Well, it’s the Congress. The Congress won’t do this. You know, I always kind of was under the impression that presidents should lead, but maybe I don’t have the right idea.

HH: Now Jake Tapper this afternoon, to go to the larger issues of immigration, which I want to talk to you about…

JM: Yeah.

HH: Jake Tapper is reporting this afternoon that a government official has told him that one of the Kazakhstan students who was arrested today, “shouldn’t have been let in. Bells should have gone off when he was allowed to return to the United States on January 20th.” Has the case for immigration reform gotten harder to make post-Boston and all these visa violations? Or has it become easier to make, Senator McCain?

JM: I think you could argue with increased border security with e-verify, with bringing these people out of the shadows, who will have to identify themselves, and have a legal status or be forced to leave the country. I think all of those arguments can be made that the nation will be more secure if we pass it. But in light of these events, Hugh, I think we need to review the whole system of how we allow people in, what circumstances they’re allowed in, why is it, by the way, exit visas is part of our, I mean, exit, tracking exit as well as entry is part of it. But why is it that there’s 40% of the people who are in this country illegally, they’re not there because they crossed the border. They overstay their visas. Is there any tracking of people who have overstayed their visas? You see, I think that it would be a good opportunity to examine our whole system of immigration in light of our national security problems, and the fact they are recruiting radical Islamists who want to do anything they can to destroy this nation all over the world. And the place they want to do it first is the United States of America. You see my point?

HH: I do, and I agree with that. And I think the case for a comprehensive border security and exit/entry visas is growing very strong, the reform. Now, though, I want to switch to the southern border specifically. I discussed it at length yesterday with your colleague, Marco Rubio. And I think…

JM: He did a good job, didn’t he?

HH: He did. He’s very, very good on this.

JM: Yeah.

HH: He’s very passionate. But I think that the key to getting Republican support in the House is to mandate the timing, the design, the location, and the construction of a double sided fence for hundreds, if not thousand plus miles. Charles Krauthammer said on this show last week, from east to west, from left to right, except for the mountains. Why not do that and get those 90% of the conservatives who just want to see a fence that if Hezbollah heads north, they’re at least going to have to slow down a bit?

JM: Well, one of the things, aspects of this that has changed, and if there’s anything coming out of the Iraq war that’s good, is that thanks to General Petraeus, I think the smartest general certainly of my generation, we have now developed technology, a radar called Vader Radar. And I’m not against, by the way, in fact, part of it, of our bill, demands dramatic increase in fencing. But with surveillance, we can apprehend these people. Most of the border, not all of it, but most of the border, there are long distances between the border and the first place they can get to where a major highway or a town or a city. With this radar, which by the way, tracks people back to where they came from, if you can believe that, that was developed because they were trying to stop the IED’s. This radar detects people planting the IED’s, and then tracks them back to where they came from. But with that kind of technology and drones, we need 24 hour, seven days a week, drone coverage of the entire border. We can intercept these people before they get to a place where they can disappear into the population. So technology is very important. A fence is only as good as the, as having people and capability around it, because obviously, somebody can just cut a hole in the fence if there’s nobody there to enforce it and to make sure it works. So I’m very big on this Vader Radar and drones, so that we can detect these people when they come across, and send out teams to intercept them rather than have a person sitting on the Sonora, Arizona border in 120 degree heat in a vehicle. You see my point?

HH: I do, but I have two responses. One is you can’t turn off a fence, and I don’t trust Democrats not to turn off the drones and the radar. I think it would have been the first thing to go in the sequester, just like the FAA. I just don’t trust them. But number two, why not do both, because politically, if you guys mandate the fence, you win this. I think it’s over if you mandate the fence, it actually has to be built, and it’s such a relatively inexpensive gesture, it’s the outward expression of an inward resolve concerning border security. If an amendment mandating construction design and funding comes forward, and notwithstanding any other law language, Senator, will you support it?

JM: Again, I’d have to know the cost, and I would have to disagree with you to some degree. Depending upon what you mean by a fence, too. If it’s just a low barrier, barrier, that’s one thing. If you’re talking about double and triple fencing, you are talking about multi-billions of dollars in cost when you can achieve the same goal with surveillance and oversight, and not have to go to that expense. And I’ll be glad to send you information. But if it’s 50 miles from the border to the nearest highway or the nearest town, you can surveil that area, and when they come across, you can intercept them. Now when it’s in San Diego, where we have built and need a triple fence, and that has changed dramatically, they now have effective control in those areas, absolutely.

HH: I am talking double fencing with access roads, and I am talking billions of dollars of construction. I know that. But to me, that’s what, you know, I’m one of these guys who was against Proposition 187 when it was in California years ago, and against the 2007 bill, and I think this is a pretty doggone good bill. But I need a fence, and I can’t support a bill without a fence. If that’s the price of getting the bill through, Senator, is it worth it to you? If you hav enough colleagues…

JM: Yeah, I mean, anything to get it through. But I’d be glad, frankly, try to maybe get some of these people that have learned the lessons of Iraq to talk to you about the effectiveness of surveillance.

HH: Oh, I think it’s effective. I just think they’re turn it off.

JM: You don’t want to needlessly spend the taxpayers’ dollars on an area where it’s not needed.

HH: But Senator, they turned off the FAA towers. These Democrats will turn off anything. Why wouldn’t they turn off the surveillance?

JM: I don’t trust, you know I don’t trust them either, Hugh, but I do believe that we’re going to make it so strong in the law that they can’t avoid it. Look, I know who we’re dealing with. I’ve been asking, we’ve been asking for the names and the backgrounds of those 3,000 people that ICE people released a few weeks ago in the name of sequestration, remember that?

HH: Yes.

JM: 3,000 people. Some of them, I am told, were guilty of manslaughter, and I don’t know if it’s true or not, because we haven’t got the names, yet. So look, don’t think I trust them. It’s got to be ironclad in the law.

HH: All right, last question, back to Benghazi and Boston.

JM: Sure.

HH: I know that the President and your colleague, Senator Reid, will block a select committee on both of those. But should Speaker Boehner empanel a select committee to focus exclusively on Benghazi and Boston, put his best people on it…

JM: That would…

HH: Go ahead, Senator.

JM: Listen, Hugh, Hugh, it is absolutely necessary. As Mr. Carney said, it’s been a long time since Benghazi. We still haven’t gotten the answers. But I hope that when you have one of these leaders on the program, the chairman of one of these committees, some of them are more interested in their turf than they are in a select committee. You see what I mean?

HH: Yes.

JM: I won’t name any names, but we need a select committee. I agree with you that Harry Reid will not agree to it. If it has to be the House of Representatives, God speed. I would like to see the pressure, pressure on Harry Reid to make it a real joint committee, because I think some of us have to, have things to contribute. But if it has to be in the House, fine with me, but let’s get going. These families deserve answers. Put yourself in the place of these loved ones. You know, it’s disgraceful.

HH: I agree. Have you had a chance to ask Speaker Boehner to do that, yet, Senator?

JM: Oh, yeah, we’ve sent letters, and we’ve talked to him and everything like that. But one of the, you know, we’ve got to have a little straight talk here. Some of the people that are resisting it are the committee chairmen who see that they would be losing some of their areas of responsibility, et cetera. But I think he could overcome it. And it’s badly needed now. It’s not going to go away. I pray it won’t go away.

HH: I appreciate that straight talk, and I hope it is widely heard and acted on soon, Senator John McCain. Always a pleasure, thank you, Senator.

JM: Thank you, Hugh.

End of interview.

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