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Sen. Dianne Feinstein Visits NBC's MEET THE PRESS

Related: MEET THE PRESS with DAVID GREGORY, NBC

Yesterday's MEET THE PRESS WITH David Gregory featured interviews with Chair of the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and a roundtable conversation with Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, Republican strategist Mike Murphy, and NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

Below are highlights of the program:

Feinstein: politicization of Rice’s statement will set up a partisan divide

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: We have a transcript of that meeting on that day. And Petraeus very clearly said that it was a terrorist attack and outlined who he thought might be involved in it. … What has concerned me about this is really the politicization of a public statement that was put out by the entire intelligence committee, which Susan Rice, on the 16th, who was asked to go before the people and use that statement, did. ... She was within the context of that statement. And for this, she has been pilloried for two months. I don't understand it. It has to stop. If it continues, it's going to set up, once again, a partisan divide in the House and the Senate, which Congressman Rogers and I have tried to overcome, and have overcome with some success, with respect to the Intelligence Committee.


Rogers on Benghazi attack: “I...with a high degree of confidence today will tell you there was not an intelligence failure”

REP. MIKE ROGERS: Our job as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, is to make sure we did not have an intelligence failure. Was there an intelligence failure on that day? That's the first question we have to get right. And I'll tell you, I am, with a high degree of confidence today will tell you there was not an intelligence failure. The intelligence community had it right, and they had it right early.


Rogers: “the narrative was wrong and the intelligence was right”

David Gregory: Do you believe anyone misled the American people deliberately for political reasons?

REP. MIKE ROGERS: Well, this is what I know. I know the narrative was wrong and the intelligence was right. Now, getting between there and there, I think you have to be careful about making those accusations. I think you should have to prove it.


Rogers on Benghazi attack: “There was a catastrophic failure in recognizing that threat posture clearly on that day”

David Gregory: Did our people die in that consulate because of the government's failure to adequately protect them, be that the State Department, be that the C.I.A.?

REP. MIKE ROGERS: There are two issues here. One is the physical security of the consulate itself, based on all the intelligence that we knew, all of that information said clearly there was a high degree of threat. I believe that there was a catastrophic failure in recognizing that threat posture clearly on that day. … The second issue is the narrative that was created following it did not match the intelligence. And did the policy decisions that happened afterward cause problems for the United States? And I argue it has, which is why we've agreed together we're going to get to the bottom of how that happened.


Feinstein: “There is no question that Benghazi was one of the most difficult places. It should have had much better security.”

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: As of mid-August we know that Ambassador Stevens was very unhappy with the level of security. And we've seen that testimony. We also know that some improvements were made to the annex. I believe that the security aspect of this is one of the biggest things. … There is no question that Benghazi was one of the most difficult places. It should have had much better security. And no one should believe that these militias, who are unarmed, who are stationed in front of a security, are going to do anything other than run when they see people approaching them with guns.


Feinstein: “heartbreak” over Petraeus, but “he did the right thing in resigning”

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: For me personally, this is a heartbreak. I respect David Petraeus. ... He is one of our brightest and our best. There is no counter to that. Here's a problem that we have. Our tours are long. They are multiple. Whether you're a private or a four-star, coming back into civilian society is difficult. … I think we need to look at this transitioning of people. I think we need to look at our tours. Now this is not an excuse. … I think he did the right thing in resigning. And I think the president did the right thing in accepting the resignation.


Rogers on Petraeus affair: “not sure the president was not told before election day”

David Gregory: You think the president should have been told before election day?

REP. MIKE ROGERS: I'm not sure the president was not told before election day. The Attorney General said that ...the Department of Justice did not notify the president. But we don't know if the Attorney General--

David Gregory: That's new. That's new, that the president knew before election day.

REP. MIKE ROGERS: I didn't say that. I said I don't know. … The attorney general knew months before this. There was no formal notice to both Congress or the intelligence community. I find it-- we just have to ask the question. I hope he'll come up and talk to us about it.


Graham on Rice: “the story she told reinforced a political narrative helpful to the president”

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think one of the reasons that Susan Rice told the story she did, if the truth came out a few weeks before the election that our consulate in Benghazi, Libya had been overrun by an al-Qaeda sponsored or affiliated militia, that destroys the narrative we'd been hearing for months that al-Qaeda's been dismantled, bin Laden's dead, we're safer. ... And the story she told reinforced a political narrative helpful to the president.


Graham on Benghazi attack: “I blame the president”

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I blame the president more than absolutely else. Susan Rice is a bit player here. Was he informed of the June attack on our consulate where they blew a hole where 40 people could go through? Was he aware of the August 15th cable where Stevens with saying, "We can't withstand a coordinated attack, there are ten militia groups all over Benghazi?" I blame the president for making this a death trap. I blame the president for not having assets available to help these people for eight hours. We need a select committee, not only to look at intelligence failures, but how could the Department of the Defense not help these poor people for over eight hours? And why did the Department of State, for months, ignore pleas for help? We need to get this under one roof.


Graham on possible Rice nomination: would “put her entire record in context”

David Gregory: Can Susan Rice be confirmed as Secretary of State if nominated by the president?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I don't know. You know, I'm deferential to the President's picks. I voted for Kagan and Sotomayor. Senator Obama voted against John Bolton, Alito and Roberts. He had a very high bar for confirmation. I have a very low bar. I'm going to listen to what Susan Rice has to say, put her entire record in context. But I'm not going to give her a plus for passing around a narrative that was misleading to the American people.


Graham on Romney “gifts” comment: “rhetoric like this keeps digging a hole for the Republican Party”

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: We're in a big hole. We're not getting out of it by comments like that. When you're in a hole, stop digging. He keeps digging. ... We're in a death spiral with Hispanic voters because of rhetoric around immigration. And Candidate Romney, in the primary, he dug the hole deeper. … Our party can adjust. Conservatism is an asset. But rhetoric like this keeps digging a hole for the Republican Party. And if we don't stop digging, we're never going to get out of it.


Graham warns Egypt: “You're teetering with the Congress on having your aid cut off”

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Egypt, watch what you do and how you do it. You're teetering with the Congress on having your aid cut off if you keep inciting violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians.


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Below is a RUSH transcript of this morning’s broadcast -- mandatory attribution to NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” A final transcript of the program will be available at www.MeetThePressNBC.com.

“MEET THE PRESS WITH David Gregory
November 18, 2012

David Gregory: This morning on Meet the Press, How the Petraeus affair and the political fight over Libya have rattled Washington just as the president hoped for a new start with congress over the debt.

Embattled former CIA Director David Petraeus testifies privately on Capitol Hill, insisting that his resignation had nothing to do with the botched response to the attack in Libya. All this as we are still getting a daily dose of unpleasant details about General Petraeus' affair with biographer Paula Broadwell and the role that Florida socialite Jill Kelley played in the still unfolding drama.

And the clash over Benghazi heats up as GOP senators charge that the president's UN secretary misled the country about the attack on Meet the Press and other programs.

(Videotape)

UN AMBASSADOR Susan Rice: Our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo.

(End videotape)

David Gregory: Now sparking a war of words with the president, senators are threatening to block her potential nomination as secretary of state.

(Videotape)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The reason I don't trust her is because I think she knew better, and if she didn't know better, she shouldn't be the voice of America.

(End videotape)

(Videotape)

President Obama: If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.

(End videotape)

David Gregory: We'll talk to Sen. Lindsey graham exclusively this morning.
Plus the key figures trying to get to the bottom of Benghazi and the Petraeus affair: Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, and chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan.

Then after the election will Washington get anything done? Talks start on how to avoid the fiscal cliff as Mitt Romney draws fire from Republicans by accusing the president of doling out quote "gifts" to minority groups in exchange for their vote.

What's the fallout and the future of the GOP? With us Tea-party backed congressman from Idaho, Raul Labrador; New York Times columnist Tom Friedman; former White House chief of staff to President Clinton, John Podesta; Republican strategist Mike Murphy; and NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

Good Sunday morning, with the president's national security team under fire over the Petraeus resignation and the Benghazi attacks. The president arrived on the world stage this morning for a summit in East Asia. He's got new worries on his mind about the prospect of a war in the Middle East as Israel and Palestinian militants get closer to the brink this weekend. Israel expanding its air assault against Hamas and Palestinian militants continuing to fire rockets into civilian areas of southern Israel. And that's where we'll start this morning with NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

David Gregory:
Tom, as these two sides get closer to the brink, based on your experience and your reporting, where is this going?

TOM FRIEDMAN:
Well, let's just go around the horn, David, very quickly. I think Hamas is trying to use this moment in order to both break out of the blockade and try to end targeted killing of its leaders from Israel. And they're trying to take advantage of the new Arab Spring balance of power, the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, you know, to leverage that possibility.

Israel. Israel has been watching for the last six to nine months Hamas bring in longer and longer range missiles from Iran. I think they saw this as an opportunity, a necessity, to take those out, missiles that can now hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Egypt. This is a real problem for Egypt. You got a new Muslim Brotherhood government there. They need money from the United States. They don't want to be caught as the rope in a struggle between Israel and the Palestinians.

For Iran, this is a godsend. Takes world attention off of their nuclear program. And puts pressure on all the more moderate forces in the Arab world, puts them in the head. And lastly, Syria. Couldn't be a better day for it. Bashar ala said takes all the attention off Syria. Israelis and Palestinians fighting. No one's looking at the murderous campaign of Assad against his own people.

David Gregory:
And Andrea Mitchell, then the diplomacy for President Obama about to start a second term with all of the problems in the Middle East, he's in Bangkok this morning. He talked about his support for Israel.

(Videotape)

President Obama: There's no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So, we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel's right to defend itself.

(End videotape)

David Gregory:
So let's talk about how the President's working this right now, Andrea.

Andrea Mitchell:
Well, working this by trying to persuade President Morsi of Egypt to please, you know, pull back, and to pressure Hamas for a ceasefire. That is where the action is. The Arab Spring is what changed all of this. All of the elements that Tom just addressed were, you know, completely transformed by the fact that you have Morsi and no Mubarak. So you don't have a reliable dictator or totalitarian (CHUCKLE) leader in Egypt whom the United States can do military to military and diplomatic relations with.

You have an Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. And that is where the concern is for Israel, the concern that these longer range rockets have been going through, being smuggled in through the tunnels from the Sinai. And the real critical issue here now is where is the endgame? How do they get out of this?

The problem has partly been America's problem, the benign neglect of the last couple of years, letting the Israeli Palestinian issue molder, not boosting Abbas when he needed-- Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the more moderate Palestinian group, has enabled Hamas to broker these relationships. And now they've got Morsi and others in play with them.

David Gregory:
And in the immediate term, as I talked to Israeli officials, they still will not rule out a ground invasion, which presumably could happen at any time. Andrea, Tom, we'll hear from you again later in the problem, as we get into our roundtable. Thank you both very much.

I want to turn now to the House and Senate Intelligence Chairs. From Michigan, Republican Congressman, Mike Rogers, and Democratic Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein. Welcome to both of you. I want to stay in the Middle East and talk about what has been a central preoccupation for you in hearings this week. And that is the aftermath of this terror attack on our consulate in Benghazi in Libya, of course.

And again, as we are on the air this morning, the central question is who knew what when, and how is this described to the American people? Did the government say what it was when it first happened? And you had former C.I.A. director David Petraeus testifying in private at the end of the week on Friday. This is how the AP describes his testimony, and what are the contradictions that it appears to bring up:

"Ex-CIA director Petraeus told lawmakers during private hearings Friday that he believed all along that the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a terrorist strike, even though that wasn't how the Obama administration initially described it publicly. Representative Peter King of New York said Petraeus had brief the House Intelligence Committee on September 14th. And he does not recall Petraeus being so positive at the time that it was a terrorist attack. He thought all along that he made it clear there was terrorist involvement. King said, 'That was not my recollection.'" So Senator Feinstein, did Petraeus contradict himself? Or has he contradicted the White House's version of events?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
We have a transcript of that meeting on that day. And Petraeus very clearly said that it was a terrorist attack and outlined who he thought might be involved in it. So--

David Gregory:
This is right after the attack.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
That's the day after the attack. I think there's no question about it. What has concerned me about this is really the politicization of a public statement that was put out by the entire intelligence committee, which Susan Rice, on the 16th, who was asked to go before the people and use that statement, did. I have read every one of the five interviews she did that day.

David Gregory:
Right.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
She was within the context of that statement. And for this, she has been pilloried for two months. I don't understand it. It has to stop. If it continues, it's going to set up, once again, a partisan divide in the House and the Senate, which Congressman Rogers and I have tried to overcome, and have overcome with some success, with respect to the Intelligence Committee.

David Gregory:
So Congressman Rogers?

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
Yeah.

David Gregory:
To my understanding, talking to government officials, is that what Susan Rice said on Meet The Press five days after the attack, and other programs as well, was very similar to what then-director Petraeus said privately on September 14th, that there appeared to be a terrorist element to it, but that it appeared first to be spontaneous, but it became a terrorist attack, and that that was his belief. So were they not speaking, basically, in the same way?

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
Well first of all, why are we doing the investigation? I think that's important. So our job as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, is to make sure we did not have an intelligence failure. Was there an intelligence failure on that day? That's the first question we have to get right.

And I'll tell you, I am, with a high degree of confidence today will tell you there was not an intelligence failure. The intelligence community had it right, and they had it right early. What happened was it worked its way up through the system of these so-called talking points, which everyone refers to. And then it went up to what's called a Deputies Committee.

And what I found fascinating about this investigation, and again, my role here in my mind is to say, "Was there an intelligence failure here? If so, how do we prevent it from happening again?" It went to this so-called Deputies Committee that's populated by appointees from the administration. That's where the narrative changed. And so how that thing got back to Senator Rice I think is probably another question.

David Gregory:
Ambassador Rice.

(OVERTALK)

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
What we do-- Ambassador, excuse me. We do know that the intelligence committee, as they presented it, was accurate. And it did include terrorism and it included the notion--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
I'd like to respond to that.

David Gregory:
Okay. But can I just do this to frame this a little bit? We're showing Susan Rice there on Meet the Press. Let me just play the critical clip from that morning and then you have you make your point, Senator. This is Susan Rice five days after the attack.

(Videotape)

David Gregory: Can you say definitively that the attacks on - on our consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Stevens and others there security personnel, that was spontaneous, was it a planned attack? Was there a terrorist element to it?

AMBASSADOR Susan Rice: Let me tell you the-- the best information we have at present. First of all, there`s an FBI investigation which is ongoing. And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired. But putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted of course by the video.

(End videotape)

David Gregory:
Senator, you said that two days before that, Director Petraeus said it was terrorism. Why didn't Ambassador Rice call it terrorism two days later?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
Because she could speak publicly only on unclassified speaking points. I have some concern with those speaking points. But let me correct one thing.

David Gregory:
Right. But (UNINTEL) what are the concerns, and why speak at all? In other words, why was there reference to it being a terrorist attack taken out of the public talking points?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
That is something that we're going to find out. But it was. That's the point. Now, with the allegation that the White House changed those talking points, that is false. There was only one thing that was changed. And I've checked into this. I believe it to be absolute fact. And that was the word "consulate" was changed to "mission." That's the only change that anyone in the White House made. And I have checked this out.

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
And just as a counterpoint here, and again, we get along well, we may disagree on this issue, but we get along well on many, many issues. What was said in, as I conclude, the course of that investigation was that, at some point, those so-called talking points, in other words, the "Narrative" of how we would call this event won't up to what's called a deputies meeting. When asked, there was no one in the professional intelligence community could tell us who changed what. So there goes the disconnect.

(OVERTALK)

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
So the intelligence community has said this was a terrorist act that was--

David Gregory:
Why wouldn't we call it what it with? That's what I don't get.

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
That's a great question.

David Gregory:
Why not just call it what it was?

(OVERTALK)

David Gregory:
Why are we protecting--

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
I happen to think that's absolutely correct. I don't know who we were protecting. I do know that the answer given to us is, "We didn't want to name a group until we had some certainty." Well, where this went awry is anybody the brings weapons and mortars and RPGs and breaks into an asset of the United States is a terrorist, in my view. I mean that's pretty clear.

Also, the other point was, once the video was put together, it was clear there was no demonstration. This should have been known much earlier. It also raises the concern of talking points by committee. And I have some concern about that.

David Gregory:
But was there a cover-up? Do you believe that the president or anybody serving the president deliberately misled the American people about the true nature of this attack for political reasons?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
No. No.

(OVERTALK)

David Gregory:
Absolutely not, Senator?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
That's correct.

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
I don't--

David Gregory:
Do you believe anyone misled the American people deliberately for political reasons?

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
Well, this is what I know. I know the narrative was wrong and the intelligence was right. Now, getting between there and there, I think you have to be careful about making those accusations. I think you should have to prove it. As an old F.B.I. agent, you should prove (UNINTEL).

David Gregory:
So bottom line is you say--

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
But the narrative was wrong.

David Gregory:
--Petraeus does contradict Susan Rice? This is important. You're saying Petraeus says, "Look, I said it was terrorism all along. Susan Rice told the American people--

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
Well--

David Gregory:
--'No, we thought it was spontaneous.'"

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
And even more important--

David Gregory:
There's a disconnect.

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
Even more important than that, the narrative, as it went from at least the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies, was accurate as for what we know today. It was an act of terrorism, we knew that. So the difference was what happened when it went outside the intelligence committee for, as the Senator called it, you know, a committee to look at this thing and make the determination of what the narrative was?

The narrative was wrong. And why that's important, this isn't just about parsing words and who was right. There was some policy decisions made based on the narrative that was not consistent with the intelligence that we had. That's my concern. And we need to say, "Hey, we need to figure out how that happened. And let's make sure this doesn't happen again."

(OVERTALK)

David Gregory:
People die because we didn't protect them adequately.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
We gave the direct--

David Gregory:
Is that the bottom line here?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
We gave the direction yesterday that this whole process is going to be checked out.

David Gregory:
Right.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
We are going to find out who made changes in the original statement. Until we do, I really think it's unwarranted to make accusations.

David Gregory:
But can I ask this? Did our people die in that consulate because of the government's failure to adequately protect them, be that--

(OVERTALK)

David Gregory:
--the State Department, be that the C.I.A.?

(OVERTALK)

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
There are two issues here. One is the physical security of the consulate itself, based on all the--

(OVERTALK)

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
--intelligence that we knew, all of that information said clearly there was a high degree of threat. I believe that there was a catastrophic failure in recognizing that threat posture clearly on that day. That's a separate issue than the intelligence issue. Clearly, the intelligence was right. Clearly, others had made decisions based on that threat, including other nations, had pulled out of Benghazi.

We knew all of that was going on, through the investigation. But the State Department, for whatever reason, didn't make the adjustments. I argue, and I think the Senator would argue, would have been prudent to protect the lives of those. That's one issue.

The second issue is the narrative that was created following it did not match the intelligence. And did the policy decisions that happened afterward cause problems for the United States? And I argue it has, which is why we've agreed together we're going to get to the bottom of how that happened.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
If I might say, I think we are vulnerable. Intelligence should be used in assessing the safety of our 285 diplomatic missions all over the world. And there should have some precise effect. As of mid-August we know that Ambassador Stevens was very unhappy with the level of security. And we've seen that testimony.

We also know that some improvements were made to the annex. I believe that the security aspect of this is one of the biggest things. I went through hundreds of threat warnings, threat warning after threat warning after threat warning, over the last six months. And also, the prior events that had taken place.

There is no question that Benghazi was one of the most difficult places. It should have had much better security. And no one should believe that these militias, who are unarmed, who are stationed in front of a security, are going to do anything other than run when they see people approaching them with guns.

David Gregory:
I want to return to the personnel aspect of Director Petraeus who had to resign because of his affair with Paula Broadwell. Senator, you initially thought it was too bad that he had to resign, that you wish the president hadn't accepted it. I know he testified before you, apologized for his affair. But he did so privately.

I was last with Director Petraeus when he was commanding our forces in Afghanistan. That was back in 2010. And I remember spending a lot of time with him there. And at that time, he so relished the opportunity to be back in the theater of war, commanding our forces. It seemed to be improving his relationship with the Obama administration, where that had been strained. Can you give me some personal sense of how he appeared on these substantive matters, but also, the personal matters at hand?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
Yes, I can. For me personally, this is a heartbreak. I respect David Petraeus. I respect his 37 years of service to our country. I respect his command ability. I respect this great intellect that he has where he can speak literally on dozens of subjects, you know, training manuals, counterinsurgency, various military tactics. And he is one of our brightest and our best. There is no counter to that.

Here's a problem that we have. Our tours are long. They are multiple. Whether you're a private or a four-star, coming back into civilian society is difficult. Here's a man, and you see Time Magazine, you see the medals he has, you see the stars. One day he takes all of that off. He's in a plain blue suit like this. He looks no different from you, or you, or you. He looks a bit different from us. (CHUCKLE)

Having said that, there's no entourage. There's no driver. He gives an order at the C.I.A., there's discussion, there's flack, people don't like this. And then he goes home to wash dishes. It is a major adjustment. I think we need to look at this transitioning of people. I think we need to look at our tours. Now this is not an excuse.

David Gregory:
Right.

(OVERTALK)

David Gregory:
You're getting closer to--

(OVERTALK)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
I'm not excusing.

David Gregory:
Yeah.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
As you look at it--

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
If I could weigh in on this, as well.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
--it became more complicated.

David Gregory:
But chair--

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
I think he did the right thing in resigning.

David Gregory:
By resigning. You do think it was the right thing.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
And I think the president did the right thing in accepting the resignation.

David Gregory:
Is his government service over, in your judgment?

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
I don't know. Remember, this is still ongoing. How this started is very important, because you hear a lot of people thinking this was the F.B.I. investigating a sexual, undisclosed affair. Not the case. This started by a cyber threat that certainly had elements that would rise to the level of, well, blackmail.

Now, a senior government official, not Mr. Petraeus, also weighed in at some point before the investigation was open, and said, "I think we have a security threat issue here that needs to be investigated." Now, that's how this case got started. And why that's important is because if you are a brand new C.I.A. officer, and I have all the respect for David Petraeus, and I hope is family goes through a healing process and then he'll move on with his life.

But if you're a brand new case officer at the C.I.A. and have an undisclosed relationship and an undisclosed way of communicating outside of the bounds, you get fired. Why? Because it's a counterintelligence threat to someone who has very sensitive and classified information. That's how it got started. And it probably should have been brought forward earlier as a national security threat, both to Congress and other players in the government.

David Gregory:
You think the president should have been told before election day?

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
I'm not sure the president was not told before election day. The Attorney General said that the State Depar-- or excuse me, the Department of Justice did not notify the president. But we don't know if the Attorney General--

David Gregory:
That's new. That's new, that the president knew before election day.

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
I didn't say that.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
No, that--

David Gregory:
You don't think--

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
I said I don't know.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
There is no evidence of that.

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
I will tell you I will--

David Gregory:
You think-- there's no evidence that he--

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
There is no evidence.

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
The attorney general knew months before this.

David Gregory:
Yeah.

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
There was no formal notice to both Congress or the intelligence community.

David Gregory:
Right.

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
I find it-- we just have to ask the question. I hope he'll come up and talk to us about it. We could resolve--

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
I spoke to the attorney general.

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
We could resolve this very quickly with a conversation in the intelligence spaces. If he did have that conversation with the president.

David Gregory:
All right, final point here, Senator. Final point.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
Well, I spoke to the attorney general. He explained the process that the F.B.I. carried out. And there's a reason for that. And the reason for not disclosing it is so that there is no manipulation, that there's an ability to move ahead without any political weighing in on any side.

David Gregory:
All right, more to come on this. Thank you both very much.

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
Thank you, David.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN:
Thank you.

REP. MIKE ROGERS:
Very much, appreciate it.

David Gregory:
Appreciate it very much.

(COMMERCIAL)

David Gregory:
We are back, joined now by the man leading the charge against the Obama administration and union Ambassador Susan Rice on this issue of Benghazi, the senior Senator from South Carolina, Republican Lindsey Graham. Senator, let's get right into it. You just heard the chairs of the intelligence committees on Benghazi. (CHUCKLE) The bottom line point, did Director Petraeus call this terrorism from the get-go? They say yes. They don't understand why the administration didn't call it the same two days later. How do you react?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
Well, I think one of the reasons that Susan Rice told the story she did, if the truth came out a few weeks before the election that our consulate in Benghazi, Libya had been overrun by an al-Qaeda sponsored or affiliated militia, that destroys the narrative we'd been hearing for months that al-Qaeda's been dismantled, bin Laden's dead, we're safer. And Susan Rice just did not say it was a result of a mob spawned by a video, like Cairo.

She actually said on Face the Nation, "I want to remind the American people, this president promised to go after bin Laden, refocus on al-Qaeda. He got bin Laden. Al-Qaeda's been dismantled." And the truth of the matter is nothing could have been further from the truth. And the story she told reinforced a political narrative helpful to the president.

(OVERTALK)

David Gregory:
But let me just interrupt on that point. Let's just be very clear about what you're saying. Because you also heard Senator Feinstein say unequivocally the notion that there was a cover-up or an attempt to mislead for political reasons is absolutely wrong. She says that it's character--

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
Right.

David Gregory:
--assassination, the way you're criticizing her. You believe the president of the United States sent his ambassador to the U.N. out to mislead the American people so that he could get some sort of political gain before the election. That's the cover-up you're accusing them of?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
No, I'm saying that the ambassador, that had nothing to do with Bengha-- why would you choose someone who had nothing to do with Benghazi to tell us about Benghazi? That's kind of odd. The president said, "Why pick on her? She didn't know anything about Benghazi."

She was the most politically compliant person they could find. I don't know what she knew, but I know the story she told was misleading. I don't know why it was misleading. But let me put this in context. Would this White House mislead the American people about national security events? I think they might, simply because, when the bin Laden raid occurred, they leaked every detail about the raid.

We have a Pakistani doctor in custody because they told about the role he played. The underwear bomber case, where we stopped the plot in Yemen, came out in The New York Times. They told us about how this administration stopped the role of cyber techs on Iranian nuclear program. In three weeks, we heard a lot of details about classified information to make this president look good.

So if they would leak classified to make him look good, would they withhold information to prevent him from looking bad? I think you could say, "Look at that." And secondly, our Democratic colleagues, on the Valerie Plame case and Scooter Libby, all insisted the Bush administration could not investigate themselves. When we alleged that the leaks at the highest level of government that compromise classified information to help the president look strong politically, they would not agree to special counsel.

You got two U.S. attorneys under Eric Holder investigating the highest levels of this government for crimes leaking classified information to make themselves look good. Now you have a situation where the American people are misled, and details that could hurt them politically are not coming forth until after the election.

David Gregory:
Why, Senator-- hold on one second. Why did the--

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
I want to get to the bottom of it.

David Gregory:
Why did the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on September 28th issue a statement in which, effectively bolstering the very remarks that Susan Rice made on this program and others, that there was a spontaneous element to this and there was contradictory information? Was she not working off the same talking points that the intelligence community was working off of, and that were changed or were not said publicly, as Senator Feinstein said, for some reason, to cover up, or to not tip their hand that they were investigating these terror groups?"

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
Isn't it kind of odd, if the reason is to take al-Qaeda out of the equation, to make sure that al-Qaeda doesn't know that we're onto them, that the story they told helps the president enormously three weeks before the election? Because I don't buy that for one bit. That makes no sense to me.

Al-Qaeda moved, we knew about them. We had people in Germany that survived the attack that could be interviewed, where it drones (?) overhead. I think it's very odd that the storyline they chose omitted al-Qaeda, which would help the president enormously. And I don't buy it. And I don't buy the intel community did a great job.

I like Mike Rogers and Dianne Feinstein. But to say the intelligence community did a good job, what about the months before this attack? What about the rise of al-Qaeda in Benghazi? What about the British ambassador closing the consulate in Benghazi because it was too dangerous for the British? What about The Red Cross leaving? What about all the warnings coming out of Benghazi?

Did the C.I.A. tell the president that Benghazi is falling into the hands of al-Qaeda? And I blame the president more than absolutely else. Susan Rice is a bit player here. Was he informed of the (UNINTEL) attack on our consulate where they blew a hole where 40 people could go through? Was he aware of the August 15th cable where Stevens with saying, "We can't withstand a coordinated attack, there are ten militia groups all over Benghazi?" I blame the president for--

David Gregory:
Senator?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
--making this a death trap. I blame the president for not having assets available to help these people for eight hours. We need a select committee, not only to look at intelligence failures, but how could the Department of the Defense not help these poor people for over eight hours? And why did the Department of State, for months, ignore pleas for help?

David Gregory:
Senator, can Susan Rice--

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
We need to get this under one roof.

David Gregory:
Can Susan Rice be confirmed as Secretary of State if nominated by the president?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
I don't know. You know, I'm deferential to the President's picks. I voted for Kagan and Sotomayor. Senator Obama voted against John Bolton, Alito and Roberts. He had a very high bar for confirmation. I have a very low bar. I'm going to listen to what Susan Rice has to say, put her entire record in context. But I'm not going to give her a plus for passing--

David Gregory:
But you're--

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
--around a narrative that was misleading to the American people.

David Gregory:
You wouldn't filibuster her nomination.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
And whether she knew it was misleading or not. I'm going to wait and see what the State Department's review has. But I'm very disappointed in Susan Rice, somebody who knew nothing about Benghazi, telling a story that was disconnected from reality, that did make the president look good at a time where, quite frankly, the narrative should have been challenged, not reinforced that al-Qaeda was dismantled. That's what they wanted us to believe, that al-Qaeda was dismantled. And Benghazi was Exhibit A that that storyline was not working and was untrue.

David Gregory:
Let me turn to the issue of David Petraeus and his resignation because of his affair. He's been central to this Benghazi testimony. But the cover of Time Magazine gets to something else. The headline: The Petraeus Affair, "How is fall," it says, "exposes a system failure at the highest levels of national security." You just heard Chairman Rogers say that he actually thinks the president knew before election day about this affair with Paula Broadwell. Do you believe that?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
I could see how he would not know, to be honest with you. I'm just not here to tick on the president. I look forward to working with him on immigration and solving the fiscal cliff problems. But I am going to get to the bottom of Benghazi and hold him accountable for a national security breakdown.

But when it comes to the affair itself, it seems the oddest story in the world that an F.B.I. agent, on his own, decided to get the F.B.I. to look in e-mails that were threatening. If that's going to be the standard of federal investigations, they'd better increase the F.B.I. by 100%. That whole thing is bizarre to me. I'm not interested in it unless there's a national security component. And actually, I could see how the president would not know that.

David Gregory:
Before you go, Senator, I know it's head spinning. There's so much to talk about, including politics (LAUGHTER) and the future of your party, but all of these things are very much on the menu right now. Mitt Romney got a lot of attention this week by talking about gifts he thinks the president gave to minorities to get their vote to fundraisers. This is a portion of what he said. I want to get your reaction to it.

(Videotape)

MITT ROMNEY: What the president's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote, and that strategy worked."

(End videotape)

David Gregory:
What's your reaction to that?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
We're in a big hole. We're not getting out of it by comments like that. When you're in a hole, stop digging. He keeps digging. The Hispanic community, 71% voted for President Obama. And they're all disappointed in President Obama. There's high unemployment among the Hispanic community. President Obama did not embrace comprehensive immigration reform, like he promised.

But they voted for him because he's a lesser of two evils. Self deportation being pushed by Mitt Romney hurt our chances. We're in a death spiral with Hispanic voters because of rhetoric around immigration. And Candidate Romney, in the primary, he dug the hole deeper.

You know, people can be on public assistance and scheme the system. That's real. And these programs are teetering on bankruptcy. But most people who are on public assistance don't have a character flaw, they just have a tough life. I want to create more jobs. And the focus should be on how to create more jobs, not demonize those who find themselves in hard times. Our party can adjust. Conservatism is an asset. But rhetoric like this keeps digging a hole for the Republican Party. And if we don't stop digging, we're never going to get out of it.

David Gregory:
Senator, there's more to get to, but I have to leave it there this morning. I thank you very much.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:
Egypt, watch what you do and how you do it. You're teetering with the Congress on having your aid cut off if you keep inciting violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

David Gregory:
We've covered it all. Senator, thank you for that.

(OVERTALK)

David Gregory:
I appreciate it very much. Yeah, and other than that, have a nice day. (LAUGHTER)

(OVERTALK)

David Gregory:
I want to thank you, Senator. I want to turn to our round table. Andrea Mitchell, Tom Friedman back with us. We also are joined by Republican Congressman from Idaho, Raul Labrador, former White House Chief of Staff for President Clinton, John Podesta, and our friend, GOP strategist, Mike Murphy. Welcome to everybody. So yes, I want to get to as much as we can, including some of this Republican fallout a little bit later. Andrea, bottom line, this furious debate in new facts--

Andrea Mitchell:
Wow.

David Gregory:
--that we've gotten here on Benghazi and Susan Rice this morning for me?

Andrea Mitchell:
Mike Rogers, the Republican Chair, threw a hand grenade into the middle of this table when he suggested that the president of the United States might have had prior knowledge before the election of what was going on with David Petraeus, that-- Eric Holder was aware of it, the Attorney General, and that it's not credible that Eric Holder would not have told the president. This is going to raise a lot of questions. Holder's going to be called to attention on The Hill.

The other thing is, clearly, the disconnect between what the Senators believe, which was that there was not an intelligence failure but there was certainly a failure, then, to follow up. Why did the State Department not increase security, not ask for more security, after the intelligence community made it very clear? And was there politicization? Dianne Feinstein says no.

All of this is now going to be examined ad infinitum. And now you've also got an IG investigation into whether Petraeus misused personal assets or resources, official assets, to further his relationship. And if you look at the way he lived, with all of the entourage that he still maintained as the IA director, I don't know how they close that down. That is fraught with difficulty.

David Gregory:
Isn't it interesting? I mean just on the Petraeus issue. Something so intensely personal about it in terms of people's reactions, Mike Murphy, that should he have been investigated, should he have resigned?

MIKE MURPHY:
Right.

David Gregory:
I mean listen to Senator Dianne Feinstein talk about, "Hey, you know, instead of really coming down hard on him, we've got to think about how hard it is to come off of command in a war zone back to a civilian job, and that readjustment is tough and could have led him to stray." She's not making an excuse, but people really have an intense personal reaction to this.

MIKE MURPHY:
Yeah. I know, it's a big, complicated thing. We can have a great patriot like that, who served the country so well, but, as a point of honor, he either broke the rules at the C.I.A., or if it becomes true there was an affair when he was in command of the forces, he really broke the rules there. He denies it. I tend to believe him. I think he did the right thing. But whether or not now we have to investigate for a year the details of what-- you know, who paid for the coffee at Starbucks on this date?

David Gregory:
Right.

MIKE MURPHY:
Shut it down. He took the honor bullet. And repair the intelligence service while we have--


(OVERTALK)

David Gregory:
But John, we've lived through this with President Clinton and impeachment and Monica Lewinsky. And there is a view out there of, you know, A) why do we need to know all of this stuff about e-mails between the Kelley sisters and General Allen and some of these other details?

JOHN PODESTA:
Well, if Aaron Sorkin wrote it, you wouldn't believe the story.

David Gregory:
No.

JOHN PODESTA:
But, you know, I think Mike's right. I think that, you know, we know what we know. There are legitimate issues around Benghazi.

David Gregory:
Yeah.

JOHN PODESTA:
I think this really ought to get checked out. And with respect to what Andrea said about Mike Rogers tossing this hand grenade into the table, I would note he did it with zero evidence. You know, in 1993, back to the Clinton era, Andrea will remember this, I recommended strict protocols between the Justice Department and the White House, which were implemented. I'm sure they've changed to some extent.

But there is a reason why the Justice Department doesn't talk to the White House about ongoing active investigations. I think that President Obama ought to direct the attorney general to obviously review those and report to him about whether they could be improved. But there are very good reasons why the Justice Department doesn't talk to the White House about investigation.

David Gregory:
Congressman, I haven't heard from you so far this morning. Weigh in on what you've heard so far.

RAUL LABRADOR:
Well, I think it's interesting to see that the Justice Department may have not talked to the president, but they had a duty to talk to the intelligence committees. And they didn't. And if you remember, last week, I think Dianne Feinstein was very upset because nobody talked to her. And I think Dianne Feinstein's actually going to be the key to finding out what's happening, because she's not happy. She's trying to defend the administration right now. But she's not happy that, as the committee chairman, nobody talked to her about this investigation.

I want to get back to Ambassador Rice for a second, thougH. Lindsey Graham's absolutely right. She was misleading on your show. And she was misleading on every single show that she appeared. On your show, she said, "We have decimated al-Qaeda." If you remember that, right after that clip that you showed, she emphasized that we have decimated al-Qaeda. She emphasized not just once but two or three times on your show that this was a response to a hateful and offensive video. She wanted the narrative to be different than what the intelligence community was telling her after she went--

(OVERTALK)

David Gregory:
Again, I think that will not stand without being rebutted, particularly this issue of if she was working off talking points, where the terror element was taken out, why was that the case? And the intelligence chairs do not agree with the assessment that somehow she was misleading. And I think that's important for people watching this, this morning, that that debate will continue.

And of course adamantly denied by the president and others that she would willfully mislead, or what Senator Graham said, wanted to somehow, you know, cover up or make a political point. Tom, if you can, sort of catch all of these things together. (CHUCKLE) This sort of human reaction to Petraeus, the impact on the national security team, at a time when this is now, this Benghazi question is coming up in such a furious way.

TOM FRIEDMAN:
Well, I want to go back first to Petraeus. You know, I think Petraeus exhibited a singular act of leadership when he summoned the country for the surge that saved Iraq from really going into a death spiral. It would have been-- a great disaster for American foreign policy.

At the same time, though, that surge in Iraq coincided with a Sunni Muslim surge of their own, driven entirely for their own reasons, to break with al-Qaeda, side with the United States. It was the combination of our surge and the Sunni uprising that made that success. We completely over-read that, is my belief. And Petraeus turned that into a counterterrorism strategy that he said, "I did it in Iraq, now I can do it in Afghanistan." That same thing has been a complete failure in Afghanistan, precisely because there was no Afghan surge. We keep training Afghans, training Afghans to fight. Okay? Every time I hear that, you know, I'm thinking, "Who in the world has to train Afghans to fight?" (CHUCKLE) Any time you're training Afghans to fight, you're in the wrong place.

So what worked in Iraq was a failure in Afghanistan. And Petraeus has to take responsibility for that, I believe. Because he's partly responsible, he and the other military brass who rolled Obama, basically, kept putting pressure on him to repeat in Afghanistan what did not work in Iraq. At the same time, (UNINTEL) Libya. And again, these are two stories that are tied together like this.

We have completely over-militarized our foreign policy. Our foreign policy's all about numbers of troops and generals. We forget they are diplomats. They're diplomats that go into dangerous places. And sometimes, David, they get killed. It is a tragedy. To me, Libya is not a scandal, it's a tragedy. It's the story of a, I think, incredibly courageous ambassador who wanted to work with the people on the ground, and who produced something we have not seen since the Arab uprising, which is masses of Libyans on their own, coming out to defend and praise our ambassador, again, precisely the kind of authentic surge that makes something possible, precisely what's missing in Afghanistan.

David Gregory:
All right, let me get a break in here. I want to come back, continue this, talk about the future of the Republican Party, just as the President's trying to negotiation with Republicans to avoid the fiscal cliff. More with our roundtable right after this.

(COMMERCIAL)

David Gregory:
We're back. Mike Murphy, the fallout from Mitt Romney's discussion that basically Obama gave gifts to minority groups, that's how he got reelected, this is a time when the party's trying to figure out where it's going.

MIKE MURPHY:
Well, unfortunate, the comment. I think we ought to have a rule that if you lose a presidential election, you know, you get a pass for a week, because it's like a bender you're coming off of.

David Gregory:
(UNINTEL) don't talk to donors.

MIKE MURPHY:
Well yeah, no, because there's a huge donor revoke going on. I mean look, we have now lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. This is an existential crisis for the Republican Party. And we have to have a brutal discussion about it. We alienate young voters because of gay marriage. We have a policy problem. We alienate Latinos, the fastest growing voter group in the country, because of our fetish on so-called amnesty, when we should be for (UNINTEL) immigration.

And we've lost our connection to middle class economic. We also have an operative class, unfortunately, a lot of which is incompetent. We don't know how to win. So this isn't about new software in the basement of the RNC. It's not about a few Spanish language radio ads. Is a fundamental re-think that begins with policy.

Because the country is changing. And if we don't modernize conservatism, we can go extinct. The numbers are the numbers.

David Gregory:
And Congressman, I've talked to other Republicans who say the problem with Romney is that he doesn't get it. I mean it didn't take long for them to turn on the former nominee and say, "Unfortunately, this point of view was something that he had in the course of the campaign."

RAUL LABRADOR:
Well, let's start out by saying that Romney was a good man. Anybody who knows--

MIKE MURPHY:
Yes.

RAUL LABRADOR:
--Romney understands that he's a good man, that he would have been a good president. But he didn't know how to communicate the message of conservatism. And I agree with Mike a little bit. But we need to be careful that we don't completely shift the party. We don't need two liberal parties in Washington D.C., we need one conservative party and one liberal party.

I think the problem that Romney had throughout the campaign is that he couldn't talk about conservatism like conservatives talk. As I heard somebody say, he talked about conservatism as if it was a second language to him. There are things about the conservative movement that actually we believe in small government, but we also believe in the individual.

There are too many Republicans here in Washington D.C., and they're actually defending Big Business, they're defending the rich. I didn't become a Republican to defend the rich. And what we need to understand is that Big Business loves Big Government, because they get all the goodies from Big Government. They get less competitive. The more that government grows, the more that Big Business actually benefits, from the tax code, and from the regulations and from all those--

(OVERTALK)

David Gregory:
John, on the other side of this, you were at the White House this week meeting with the president, part of the progressive groups stressing an agenda. Where is your sense? Is this a president ready, as President Bush said, to spend his political capital and fight hard? Or does he see his mandate for compromises, and that means give up some?

JOHN PODESTA:
Look, I think the quality of this election, the big loss of Hispanics and Asian voters, young voters, is a significant story. But the big story in this election was that Obama won on the economy. People thought that Romney was competent. But when, in the exit polls they asked whether his economic policies favored the wealthy, 53 of 34 (?) people said yes.

And I think that Obama came into that meeting with a tremendous amount of confidence and energy that he had put the question before the American people. 60% of American people said, "Yes, as part of this fiscal cliff deal, taxes have to go up on the wealthy." And he goes in with great strength, more leverage. And I think he'll get a good deal in the end of it.

MIKE MURPHY:
I think they'll get a punting deal. But I want to quickly respond to one thing, because it's very fashionable now to beat up Romney. And he made an unfortunate comment after the election. But the biggest problem Mitt Romney had was the Republican primary. That's what's driving the Republican brand right now to a disaster. And we've got to get kind of a party view of America that's not right out of Rush Limbaugh's dream journal. We've got--

(OVERTALK)

David Gregory:
Well and Congressman, look, the Tea Party. What's the future of the Tea Party? You know, you heard the likes of Bill Crystal saying, "You know, we should give up some of this protection of tax cuts for wealthy Americans." Are you prepared to give up on that particular point to get a larger deal, which includes cutting government back significantly?

RAUL LABRADOR:
I'm not, if what it means is that we're going to raise taxes and we're not going to decrease any spending. If you remember that moment in the primary where they asked all ten candidates--

David Gregory:
All right, the ten to one, yeah.

RAUL LABRADOR:
--the ten to one. I would have answered the question different. I would have raised my hand, and I would have said, "Yes. I am willing to do it if the $10 in spending cuts happen today." B


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