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Senator Rand Paul and Congressman Tom Cotton

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Senator Paul and Congressman Cotton both questioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today and then appeared on my show to discuss the hearings.  The transcripts are below:

Senator Paul’s interview:

HH: Beginning the program and this hour with Senator Rand Paul of the great state of Kentucky. Senator, welcome back, it’s always good to have you. 

RP: Great to be with you, Hugh.

HH: I want to thank you at the beginning just for your straightforward statement regarding the culpability of Secretary Clinton for Benghazi and the acts. There’s quite a lot of comment on this. How long ago had you reached that conclusion that she was indeed culpable?

RP: Well you know, when I first heard about it, everybody seemed to be so concerned about sort of the cover up of everybody talking about was this a movie, or was this regarding a movie. Well, that’s important. To me, it always seemed to be more important why there wasn’t adequate security there, why there weren’t Marines there, why wasn’t this embassy protected like the embassy in Iraq. They just emerged from a war. And so I can understand people making bad decisions immediately in the aftermath, not making an appropriate decision during a gunfight, but I can see no excuse for not reading the cables, the repeated cables and requests and pleas for help, the pleas for security. I find that inexcusable, and I really think whoever made those decisions should never, ever be in that position again, and I think this really disqualifies her from holding higher office, because it’s a serious judgment, it’s a serious error of judgment for her to have put ambassadors and diplomats into an area where there wasn’t adequate security.

HH: Earlier, a couple of hours ago, my colleague, my friend, Sean Hannity, had former Speaker Gingrich on, who said about your remarks that it’s really not all that surprising that a Republican who wouldn’t have appointed her in the first place would say that. But I disagree. I think it’s very surprising. How did your colleagues react?

RP: Some of them called me bad names and profane names as they were huffing out of the room. Those were Democrats. But on our side, no one’s really responded to me on that. I went to lunch, and no one threw anything at me. So no, I think that most of them are disturbed this, also. Many of them have been more disturbed with Ambassador Rice’s comments about whether this was pertaining to a movie. But to me, it’s always been more important that there wasn’t security in advance. I’ve asked repeatedly in speeches, where in the hell were the Marines, and they say oh, well, the Marines are there to guard the paper, and the host country is to guard the ambassador. And I’m like, well, that may be true in Vienna or Paris, but this is a war zone. And to send our ambassador in and have some guys who can’t speak English running around in a Jeep from a militia with a machine gun bungee corded in the back and say oh, this is your protection, that’s inexcusable. We have the resources. There’s no reason why military resources should not be designated in a war zone if you want to have an embassy there. And they should protect, set up a perimeter. This is the way it should be done. I’m fearful that this will happen again in Libya, that it could happen in Egypt, that it could happen if a government forms in Syria, if we’re going to decide to treat embassies the same way in war zones that we treat them in the civilized world, I think it’s a huge mistake.

HH: Now all that aside, why do journalists, who have four minutes to prepare and manage to coordinate their questions for Mitt Romney, but the Republicans in the House and the Senate, who have four months to prepare for this, can’t get their questions sequenced so we get to the bottom of some key issues, Senator? Is there any coordination among staffs before these things come down?

RP: Very little, and I think that’s a problem, too, because you know, one of the questions that I had was whether she read the August 16th memo. Now people did get to that before me. I was one of the last people to ask questions. But that strikes me, and that’s what I wanted to hear, was did you read any of the security requests. And the fact that she didn’t really, to me, that’s the inexcusable error that she made in judgment. You know, she’s done a lot of traveling, but why wasn’t she reading about Libya? Why wasn’t she reading the ambassador to Libya’s memos and cables? Now people say oh, she can’t read every memo, and that’s probably true. She can’t read Bolivia’s and Peru’s every month. But the thing is, Libya was one of the probably top five hot spots in the [world], maybe the top spot in the world, and she wasn’t reading the memos and the calls for security? I just think that’s inexcusable, and it’s bad judgment on her part.

HH: Congressman Tom Cotton just finished questioning her on the House side. And of course, he’s a Harvard-trained lawyer. He’s pretty smart at this, even though he’s a rookie. And he elicited from her the admission that she has spoken to the Libyans about the release of the Tunisian terrorist. And he didn’t have any more time, so he couldn’t follow up with her afterwards. Are you surprised that the Secretary of State has spoken to the Libyans about the release of the Tunisian terrorists and we don’t have details on what was said?

RP: Well, she admitted in our hearing that she has, but you know, the Tunisians basically have released him. And one of the questions in our hearing was whether or not he’s down in Mali fighting, or in Algeria. Was he part of the violence down there? And she says well, we’ve asked them to watch him. But really, you know, we have nobody in custody after several months, nobody in custody for this. And I had an amendment shortly after this that would have said that aid to these countries would be contingent on them agreeing and showing the ability to defend our embassies, and turning over those who were guilty for the assassination or our ambassador. And I think that’s the very least we should do as far as conditioning aid.

HH: If there are more questions to be asked, and I believe that there are, why confirm Senator Kerry or vote on the confirmation unless and until she comes back and answers more questions? I mean, we have a right to know the answers to these things.

RP: Yeah, I agree, but I think they made an agreement already that basically, we’ll have a hearing tomorrow, and I will ask him some of the same questions, because see, the problem doesn’t end with Secretary Clinton going. When you have a Secretary Kerry in charge, there’s still the question remains, are we adequately protecting our embassy in Libya, and should it be under the State Department? Or really, should it be under the Department of Defense? I really think the Department of Defense and a general should be making decisions for security in Libya because it’s a war zone. I think it’s a mistake to have a couple of Marines there who they say do not protect the ambassador. And the decision on how best to protect an embassy in Tripoli, and probably in Somalia, and probably in Yemen, probably in a dozen places around the world, really needs to be much tighter in conjunction with the Department of Defense, and with actual generals who know how to protect a perimeter.

HH: I’m talking with Senator Rand Paul about the testimony today of still Secretary of State Clinton, soon to be former. Senator Paul, Jamie Weinstein recently wrote that you want people to know that you’re pro-Israel. You just went to Israel. They just had elections yesterday. Are you surprised by the result, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s narrow reelection?

RP: Well, I think people have been predicting for a long time that he would win, and that his coalition would still be the dominant coalition. When we were there, we also met with Naftali Bennett, who has a new party that’s forming. They got fourth place. Some had predicted that he would score higher. I think the one thing that I’m aware of, and I think people in our country need to be more aware of, is that Israel is a very pluralistic society. Over here, sometimes, I think the debate over what should happen in the Middle East seems to be all one-sided without a lot of debate. In Israel, there’s a great deal of debate, and they live close to the problem. They’re the ones who have the missiles raining down on their head from Gaza. So I think we need to realize and recognize how the debate is pluralistic over there, and how it’s not always easy. You don’t always know what your enemies will do if you react in one way or another. And so I just caution people that we, the problems are complicated, and we don’t always know what the best answer is, but that we need to fully think these things through before we fully decide what is our response, and how we’re going to handle Middle East problems.

HH: You will soon have to vote on Senator Hagel’s nomination. Here is what Senator Hagel said about Israel.

CH: The reality is that you intimidate a lot, not you, but the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. And again, I’ve always argued against some of the dumb things they do, because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel.

HH: Do you intend to vote for Senator Hagel? And what did you make of his comments there referring to the Jewish lobby?

RP: You know, I haven’t made up my mind, yet. I have been listening, reading all sides on this. On the other side of the coin, I would say that you know, he’s a guy who served honorably in the military, and I think that people who have served honorably, have been wounded in combat, are people who do know a lot about war. And I think that they have a healthy reluctance to go to war, but they also have a desire to have a strong national defense. And so I think that can be said on one side of the coin. Many of his other statements, I don’t necessarily agree with. I don’t really agree with almost anything Senator Kerry supports, but may well vote for Senator Kerry as well.

HH: Senator Paul, though, is there a Jewish lobby?

RP: Well, I think there’s a lobby that is in favor of strong relations with Israel. They aren’t all Jewish. They’re often Evangelical Christians as well, and just ordinary folks. So yeah, there’s a lot of people interested in the issue, but I would also say that every Jewish American doesn’t have the same beliefs, every Israeli Jew doesn’t have the same beliefs. So I think there’s really more diversity of opinion than people let on.

HH: And does that at all figure in our calculus of Senator Hagel’s fitness, given the looming confrontation with Iran and his opposition to Iranian sanctions?

RP: I think we’re pretty unified in favor of the sanctions on Iran. I have voted for the sanctions on Iran, and I’ve said repeatedly that I think the only way the sanctions will ultimately work, and the only way we can avoid, hopefully avoid war over there, is that if we get China and Russia engaged in this. China and Russia are big trading partners, as is Japan and India as far as buying Iranian oil. I think the only way we make this work is we need to enlist China and Russia. And it’s not going to happen through show votes in the Security Council. It needs to be us letting them know that we’re big trading partners of theirs, and if they want to continue being big trading partners of ours, they need to help us with their trading partner, Iran. And I think if we had them on board, I think we actually could talk Iran down.

HH: Senator Rand Paul, thanks for joining us.

End of interview.


Congressman Cotton’s interview:


HH: I hope you got a chance to see Congressman Tom Cotton of Arkansas in his brief exchange with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, putting on a little clinic for his more senior colleagues on how to ask questions and not make statements. He joins me now. Congressman Cotton, Happy New Year, welcome back. 

TC: Happy New Year, Hugh, it’s always great to be on your show.

HH: Did you learn what you had hoped to learn in the little bit of time that was allocated to you today?

TC: Not entirely, no. I wanted to ask the Secretary about the status of the investigation. And while she said her change in tone did not indicate concern about the direction of the investigation, I was also a little surprised to hear that she was not distressed by the fact that the Tunisian government had released Ali Harzi a couple of weeks ago. He was the main suspect. I would also have liked to have explored a little bit more fully the relationship between the al Qaeda operatives who conducted the attack in Benghazi, the ones who conducted the protests in Egypt and in Yemen, and then most recently at the Algerian gas plant, because I think there is clear ties between all of these attacks that show that al Qaeda is not defeated, but is in fact on the march across Northern Africa and the Middle East.

HH: Yeah, I was surprised by her responses to both of your questions as to the idea that the core of al Qaeda is severely depleted. That’s simply not true, but she said that under oath to you. I don’t know what she’s talking about, but the core of al Qaeda is obviously quite well and alive in Algeria and other places. And I also was surprised, as you were, but I said to Rand Paul, I used the wrong country, Libyan, but she talked to the Tunisian authorities, and then she didn’t tell you what they said. What in the world is going on there?

TC: It’s very unclear, and the reporting I’ve seen, both internally in the House and also just open source reporting that you can find on the internet does not indicate why the Tunisian government released him, or what steps they’re taking to ensure that he’s being surveilled. Likewise with the Libyan authorities. Tunisia, we provided 2% of their budget over the last 18 months. Libya, we actually helped create the government in the first place. You would think these governments might be a little bit more cooperative in our needs to bring these terrorists to justice.

HH: Now Congressman Cotton, your chairman is an old friend of mine, Ed Royce. Good man, very smart. But when you have that many Congressmen stepping over each other trying to get a line of questioning, the lawyer in you must be very frustrated, because you can’t really develop any kind of a line of questioning in that setting.

TC: Yeah, I’m still new to Congress, Hugh, but I have observed several of my peers that it can be hard to conduct a thematic and compelling hearing when each Congressman has a different series of questions they want to ask, or a little bit more regrettably, a statement they want to make. You know, we have some great prosecutors in our Republican conference like Trey Gowdy, and I would like to say that we should follow the Trey Gowdy rule. Imagine him cross-examining the witness, and then let’s try to do the coordination necessary to get as close to that ideal as we can.

HH: Amen, and I have been saying this, that in the radio business, you get nine minutes. You learn it’s important to ask questions and then let the witness respond. You did that today. But I found over the Senate side especially there was so much interruption and cross-talk that you really don’t get anything out of the witness.

TC: It is the case often times. I say again, just as an observer over the years, these hearings were often not very thematically coherent. And this is my first hearing today. I’ve done the same thing to some degree there. I think that it would be a little more efficient if we asked more questions rather than made more statements, and let the witness answer those questions, especially when it’s someone as prominent as Secretary Clinton. But we’ll see going forward if we can work together as a team to develop that prosecutorial standard.

HH: What subcommittees are you going to be on, Congressman Cotton, on Foreign Affairs?

TC: On Foreign Affairs, I’m on the Middle Eastern and Northern Africa subcommittees, so I’ll be revisiting these issues routinely. And I’m on the Terrorism, Trade and Non-Proliferation subcommittee.

HH: Oh, these are excellent, those are terrific assignments, and I hope that they use the hearing authority. How about on Financial Services? Which subcommittees are you on?

TC: I am on Financial Institutions, which is very important for Arkansas, because that’s the subcommittee that will be overseeing Dodd-Frank and its impact on community banks, which is really all we have in Arkansas, but it’s also very critical for our economy. And then, Hugh, you may be sad to hear this, I’m on Monetary Policy with your friend, John Campbell.

HH: Oh, no. Oh, no. You’ll never get a word in edgewise. I mean, he’s from USC. He talks and talks and talks. Have you ever heard him on this show? He never, I can’t get a question in. Well, good luck to you on that, but you do get to talk to the chairman of the Fed then.

TC: I do, yes, in a few weeks.

HH: All right, now stepping back, going back to the hearings today, at the end of this, what do we need to know that we don’t know about Benghazi, Congressman Tom Cotton?

TC: One thing that we didn’t hear much about in the hearing today is what happened in the seven or eight hours of the attack. I’m still waiting for a clear picture of that. I did not think Secretary Clinton was necessarily the best witness, and our committee might not even be the best committee to understand that. That might be something for the Armed Services Committee or the Intelligence Committee to see exactly what kind of requests for assistance were made, and what the response was from whom in the government. That’s one big point. The second big point is what we actually are doing to bring these terrorists to justice, or bring justice to them, because based on the reporting that I’ve seen, and the hearing today, it’s not clear that the investigation into this is much further along that it was four months ago.

HH: Now I also think it’s the second time in four months Americans have been attacked and killed by al Qaeda-aligned terrorists in Algeria. And when the Secretary of State says the core of al Qaeda is severely depleted, we have a major issue. It affects your entire worldview. What do you think about that, Tom Cotton? Is the core of al Qaeda severely depleted?

TC: No, I don’t. I mean, honestly, the President succeeded, along with our military almost two years, in killing Osama bin Laden. But Ayman al-Zawahiri is still at large, and he’s leading al Qaeda, and he’s been used in the number two role for a decade before that. And more generally, though, I think the President is taking a nonchalant attitude towards the risk we face in the world. If you look at his inauguration, he said almost nothing about foreign policy. He didn’t mention Iran getting a nuclear weapon, which is one of the most significant crisis we face in the world. And he just spoke generally of ending war. Wars aren’t ended, Hugh. Wars are won or lost, and right now, I worry that the President is not committed to winning the wars. And if you don’t win the war, then you by definition can’t win the peace, as he said in his inauguration.

HH: I have also been following the evolution of politics in Egypt, where the Sinai has basically become a lawless frontier with al Qaeda elements operating along the Israeli border, with numerous Salafist elements rising in both power and in the shadows. And I just don’t know…and Syria is a complete nightmare. Do you have any sense as to whether or not al Qaeda has effectively intervened and infiltrated the Syrian opposition?

TC: From open source reporting that I’ve read, it seems clear to me that there are at least some al Qaeda elements, yes, within the Syrian opposition. Not all of the opposition, not even necessarily the original opposition, but they are taking advantage of this, and specifically, AQI, al Qaeda in Iraq, the remnants there from when we withdrew all of our troops. And then also, as you say, there seem to be some connections not just between Syria and Egypt, but going on into Libya, Tunisia and Mali.

HH: I know you’re familiar with the book The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. And in fact, I’m reading his new book now on scientology. But I want to go back to the old book. There was a period of time up to 9/11, five years in fact, when no one knew that al Qaeda was forming and shaping, after the attacks on the embassies, after the Cole. No one was looking for it, and of course, 9/11 followed. Are we in a period of growing danger like that, Congressman Cotton?

TC: I do worry very much, Hugh, that we are. Yeah, sometimes I’m asked why should we care about Mali in 2013, and I say to those who ask, for the exact same reason we should have cared about Afghanistan in 2000, that if we don’t continue to pursue these radical, Islamic jihadists all around the world wherever we find them, then they can establish bases to project power, and ultimately attack the American homeland or our interests and allies abroad.

HH: Okay, and a last question, Tom Cotton, you’ve only been sworn in for a couple of weeks. Is it beginning to make sense to you, the rhythms of the House? Can you see what the next year is going to be like, vis-à-vis opposing the President on both his financial services policies and on his foreign affairs?

TC: Yes, I mean, we’ve got the majority in the House, but we’re the opposition party. Bill Kristol had a good editorial about that this week in the Weekly Standard, In Opposition. It’s a time to speak boldly on principle and take stands and force the President, and especially the Senate Democrats, to respond to those stands. I think the Republicans in the House are fully aligned around that goal as you saw today with the bill that we passed to extend the debt ceiling over the short term, so we can actually have the time to pass a ten year balanced budget, which is something the President didn’t mention at all in his speech, and something Harry Reid certainly doesn’t want to bring to the floor if his conduct over the past four years is any indication.

HH: And a last comment, I caught your introduction of the Secretary of State today, and you wished that she’d won the primary. Did anyone else notice that and draw its import?

TC: I didn’t get as many laughs in the room as I expected, but a colleague of mine pointed out that most of the people in that room are Obama Democrats.

HH: They did not appreciate it. Congressman Tom Cotton, thank you for joining us, well done today, and quite a debut on the national stage with a riveting exchange with Secretary of State Clinton. Thank you, Tom.

End of interview.


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