Meet the Press   |  May 12, 2013

1: Issa updates House probe of Benghazi incident

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa visits Meet the Press to update David Gregory on the latest developments in his panel’s investigation into the Benghazi attacks.

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>> this sunday, the battle over bengsz. did the white house play with terrorism or is this a rev the up attack machine against the president and hillary clinton . this week, a career diplomat challenges the official line on benghazi in riveting detail.

>> i received a call from the prime minister of libya . i think it's the saddest phone call i've ever had in my life. he told me that ambassador stevens passed away .

>> and house republicans aren't about to stop asking questions. is the administration holding back?

>> the white house has done everything possible to block access to the information that would outline the truth.

>> this morning, my exclusive interview with the republican leading the charge, chairman of the house oversight committee , congressman derril issa of california. then the man who insists that charges of a cover-up are pure fiction. former ambassador thomas pickering who led the independent investigation into the attack, he joins me. plus, response from democratic senator and chair of the senate intelligence committee dianne feinstein . later our roundtable on the political impact of benghazi and the other news. the immigration fight, the economy as the stock market takes off, and the alarming number of sexual assaults in the military. what should be done?

>>> from nbc news in washington, and the world's longest-running television program , this is "meet the press" with david gregory .

>> and good sunday morning. the president and his administration under fire now on two fronts, news just this morning in the developing country over the irs targeting of conservative tea party groups. the associated press reporting this sunday that will senior irs officials knew of the targeting as early as 2011 , contradicting recent public denials by the commissioner. in the growing consciousal investigation over the administration 's response to the september 11th attacks in benghazi , libya has the white house now on the defensive. that's where we'll start right would you now with the republican leading the investigation into these matters, the chairman of the house oversight committee , derril issa .

>> obviously this is an important issue to the american people .

>> let's get into it then because i want to know where you're going. congressional leaders including yourself are calling on the white house to release more e-mails related to all of the communication and reaction to the benghazi attacks the very next day. what are these e-mails? what's in them, and do you think the white house is holding something back?

>> david , there are three zing areas that haven't been answered. first of all, a full understanding of why urgent requests repeatedly for more security before the attackses were denied. we've had statements that it wasn't about money, but at the same time, people are asking for more security . they got less. the british ambassador has two assassination attempts, and yet we keep a facility that was not able to withstand even a few minutes of attack. then those seven hours while the attack was going on, was the response correct, could it have been better? why weren't things at least tried or revved up to be tried? those are important questions. then afterwards, how could you change talking points 12 times from what seems to be relatively right to the what seems to be completely wrong?

>> why don't i start there because in the immediate aftermath, there's both intelligence and there's internal administration communication, basically saying that a terrorist group appears to be involved, right? ansar al sharia. there's communication about this in the state department but those are removed ultimately for the talking points in preparation for members of congress and for susan rice to appeared here and on other sunday morning talk shows . and steve hayes reported about this in the weekly standard and writes about some of the changes. the official who changed it at the state department , the weekly standard confirmed was victoria nuland . worried that members of congress would use the points to criticize the state department for not paying attention to agency warnings about security in bengsz. in an attempt to address, cia officials cut all references to ansar al sharia. but in a follow-up e-mail, new land wrote that the problem remain that her superiors, he she didn't say which ones were unhappy. the changes she wrote did not resolve all my issues. you suggest she's playing politics with the aftermath of all of this. but chairman, didn't the cia and the intelligence community have the final word on what the accurate talking points would be?

>> not at all. if you keep pushing back, you get a first report from the cia , that's their report. then you push back. you get a little different. you puck back, you get a little different. that's manipulating the cia to get the truth.

>> these are the facts?

>> the fact is, there was a fact witness, his name was ambassador stevens. he said greg, we're under attack to his number two. that was the definitive statement from the ambassador on the ground before he was murdered. you have a fact witness. and you follow that up with fact witness after fact witness. so to blame the cia is a convenient truth. the real truth is, the people who were there in tripoli and in benghazi knew this was a terrorist attack from the get-go. that's been said under oath. and that's the reason that we need to know more about how these got changed.

>> chairman, my reporting of the immediate aftermath of this talking to administration officials is that ci a director david petraeus made it clear when he briefed top officials that there was a spontaneous element to this, that it was not completely known that this was a terrorist attack right away. you don't give any credence to the notion that there was some fog of war , that there were conflicting circumstances what about what went on here?

>> david petraeus said what the administration wanted him to say is the indication, ambassador pickering heard what the administration wanted to hear. the only under oath people i know about who have said what happened on the ground that day was, in fact, before our committee just on wednesday, and more importantly, you know, when "face the nation" had susan rice saying one thing and the president of libya saying just the opposite, that should have been a wake-up call, a real wake-up call that there was something wrong because we were effectively calling the president of libya either incompetent or a liar. either way , diplomatically, we went down the wrong road. you reconcile with the government that is hosting you before you go on national television and make that kind of claim.

>> what is the big picture here? you're saying that administration officials are these political advisors to the president, are these nonpolitical appointees bullied the cia into saying what the political advisors in the white house wanted him to say? is that your charge.

>> david , we're not making charges.

>> you justified said.

>> they had to back down from what they wanted to say and david petraeus said what the white house wanted to say.

>> those talking points are not the starting talking points , they're the ending talking points . we are not accusing who changed that. the fact is, we want the facts. we're entitled to the facts. the american people were effectively lied to for a period of about a month. that's important to get right.

>> just want to be clear what you believe the lie was.

>> this was a terrorist attack from the get-go. the attack succeeded very quickly. in no small part because the consulate or the diplomatic facility in benghazi was denied the kind of support it needed or, quite frankly , the decision 0 leave which might have been just as good. either way , they were, in fact, covering up an easy attack that succeeded that was about -- was from the get-go really about a terrorist attack . it was never about a video. so when we look at what we know, the question is, how do we prevent a facility from being underprotected? how do we respond better if we have seven hours or more of an attack, and how do we get the truth out. there's three ekz sections all of which the american people are entitled to, and so far, jay carney has said a lot of things that aren't believable even to you and the rest of the press. we've had testimony by people under oath that i think are pretty believable, and i know they're accountable for what they say.

>> who else do you want to hear from in the days and the weeks ahead?

>> well, on monday i'll be sending ambassador pickering a request for deposition. we're going to want to go through at length how the arb reached its conclusions, who it interviewed and why we believe there are --

>> the accountability review board.

>> right. i mean, ultimately if that got it right, then we can put this to a rest. we believe it was insufficient. we believe that it's likely that they did not interview all the people. we have one witness who said i wanted to be interviewed and i wasn't. one of the questions that came out of our hearing, gregory hicks, the act being ambassador has not been allowed to look at the classified arb report even though he is the foremost authority on what was happening in tripoli and what the communication was.

>> we'll talk to him to get some of his response. i want to have you respond to something else. former president bush gave an interview this week in which he talked about e-mail in the executive branch particularly his own. i want to play that for you and then ask you about it.

>> we learned that i didn't e-mail anybody when i was president. i -- i was fearful of congressional intrusion into my e-mails. so which is kind of sad really because a lot of history's lost when presidents are nervous about their personal papers being subpoenaed.

>> that was a couple of weeks ago. congressional intrusion was his fear. now, what we're talking about with regard to benghazi does not involve a president's e-mail but it involves e-mails in what's called the interagency process, and what your critics have asked is, are you reading into something that is not there? discussions about what happened, about what the various inputs of information are? are you overreading?

>> well, we're obviously having a debate in federal court because of fast and furious in which the executive branch lied to congress and then refuses to deliver the inagency debate about how you perpetrate and continue ta lie for months. we have a basic difference of opinion with the executive branch . not a republican, not a democratic, but a basic difference. if you lie, deceive or cover-up and that's discovered, then those papers behind the scenes become very appropriate to be seen by the branch. i'm one of those people that very strongly supports that the deliberative process in the ordinary course is not something we should be asking for. but when the wheels come off, when in fact, people make a decision to give us something that's false and it's shown to be false and then particularly if there's false statements to congress , of course we have an obligation to look at it and then does appropriately include those e-mails, and in this case, you've got 12 changes. ambassador pickering has every right and obligation to look at every one of them and we have every obligation to look over his shoulder and see what was independent, what was given. now, ambassador pickering has said he's been given all of the documents and access to all of the people. well, we haven't and we're the coequal branch. he was simply acting as an appointee of the secretary.

>> what diagnose secretary of state hillary clinton failed to disclose or fail to do that makes her a target for you?

>> hillary clinton 's not a target. president obama 's not a target. the target is how did we fail three different ways? fail to heed the warnings of an impending attack, fail to respond properly during the attack at least we skoernl have done better and i think everyone knows that, and then fail to get the truth to the american people in a timely fashion.

>> you don't hold the president and the secretary of state responsible for those failings?

>> it's their administration , but we have to find out how the did we not get it right before the attack, how did we not get it better during the attack and how did we not get the truth after. if they're involved in it, of course they should be held responsible. but one of the problems with this arb report is, it doesn't seem to find anybody at the high level of state department or anyone else to have failed. and i'm going to tell you something. certainly under secretary kennedy who has not been held accountable, these of his people have been held supposedly accountable, but he was getting the facts on a daily basis and one of the questions is, isn't this career professional of 34 years or more, isn't there some accountability? we certainly think that it needs to be asked.

>> you've got republicans talking about this being watergate. one republican raising the specter of impeachment. conservative groups raising money off of the benghazi story. are you hurting your own credibility and your own fact finding mission by politically overreaching?

>> i was, then i would be. but i'm not. you know, i investigated the mineral management service and made strong are recommendations to the bush administrationing that it needed real change because it was a dysfunctional agency. and i'm sad that i didn't stay on top of it more tenaciously because ultimately, the gulf of mexico got if i would with oil because that agency wasn't doing enough of its job of making sure the oil companies did their job. so i can never again look at something where four men died and i believe needlessly and then say, well, i'm going to just say they've taken care of it, it won't happen again. no, congress has an obligation to say, what did you do to make sure it doesn't happen again? and charlene lamb and other low ranking people being reassigned to other jobs, that's not going to prevent these three separate mistakes from happening again.

>> the issue of security that you talk about, how do we prevent this from happening again, the reality chairman, as you know, it's happened throughout our recent history. look at attacks on diplomatic compounds or facilities or u.s. interests over the years.

>> you know, gregory hicks, in fact, testified to what happened inch bahrain under his watch. how in fact they prepared for a possible attack and they survived the attack even though they will lost a few cars.

>> look at these attacks on u.s. interests spanning republican and democratic administrations including president bush 's administration . why is there not more of an effort to beef up security after these attacks happen? and even, you know, even before this happened in benghazi .

>> david .

>> and isn't this congress job to spend the money to beef up security ?

>> first of all, money is spent by the secretary of state and her people. we an appropriatate the money. have i spent over 12 years both on the intelligence committee and on the foreign affairs committee and now on the oversight committee. i visited countless embassies and consulates. i've seen both behind the scenes on the intelligence committee and the overt actions of what we do. and we do a great deal. and we do it well. but in areas of high risk , in areas like north africa and for that matter, sub- saharan africa , we're not really prepared for the kind of attacks we're getting. we haven't been since the two bombings of our embassies and then the cole. can we do better, must we do better? yes. but when you have clear signs and you have career professionals asking for more security and they're second-guessed for reasons of apparently wanting a normalization, an appearance of normal, that has to be asked. why wouldn't you let the career professionals have their way when they say here's a risk, they tried to kill the ambassador, the british ambassador twice. they blew up the wall at it very facility in benghazi two separate times, one they actually breached it, and yet security was cut, not increased. that's not about the broad picture. it's about this example of what went wrong.

>> do you need a select committee on something like this? your investigation sufficient here?

>> let's not blow things out of proportion. this is a failure, it needs to be investigated. our committee can investigate. now, ambassador pickering , his people and he refused to come before our committee.

>> that is not true.

>> we'll get to ambassador pickering .

>> we have it in writing and white house correspondence. it may not have been his decision but it was the white house decision. that has been reversed. we're inviting had imon monday along with admiral mullen to go through with his papers a private deposition so we can get the facts in a nonpartisan way. we'll have republicans and democratic.

>> ambassador, you're willing to appear?

>> , of course. i've said the day before the hearings, i was willing to appear to come to the very hearings that he excluded me from. the white house --

>> please don't tell me i excluded you.

>> the majority, we were told the majority said i was not welcome at that hearing. i could come at some other time.

>> well, as the ambassador just said, the day before the hearing, if the white house said we'd like to have him, there's a procedure. he could have been the democratic witness. and we would have allowed him. the democrats requested no witness. the fact is, we don't want to have a some sort of a stage show . we had fact witnesses. they testified. we have the ambassador and admiral mullen who conducted and oversaw the -- we're inciting them on monday. we'll go through not in front of the public but in a nonpartisan way questions and answers and then obviously, a hearing to follow at an appropriate time. i'm delighted to have a long-serving career diplomat willing to come before us. i don't think it was his decision to say no. but we were told no until just before the hearing

>> let me do this. chairman, stick around for a minute. i want to ask you about this irs story. ambassador pickering , you led this investigation along with admiral mullen . and the criticism about this investigation is, it didn't go far enough. you didn't specifically interview secretary of state clinton. you didn't probe into what she did or did not do in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. you focused on lower level officials and didn't sufficiently address the very point the chairman brings up, which is why wasn't there the sufficient address to the fact that there was a deteriorating security situation if benghazi ?

>> let me say that i hope the chairman has read our report. our report has 29 recommendations. the bulk of them concern the insufficiency of the state department 's preparation of that post to deal with the security challenges. i don't think that there is any other explanation. and i can't believe that in fact, he still sits here and makes those charges. the second issue he raised was the seven hours. we looked into this extensively with the military. admiral mullen .

>> talking about the night of the attack?

>> the night of the attack in benghazi . and admiral mullen and i and all the other members of the board concluded, after the testimony in which we interviewed many people, that there was no way that any military activity could have been put in place to deal with that will particular question.

>> chairman of the joint chiefs and others have said nobody could have gotten there in time.

>> dempsey said so, admiral mullen said so.

>> there was no contingency planning of a chaotic situation in north africa .

>> there was planning and that contingency planning helped. it involved the annex coming to help the people who were under attack at the mission. and it was fairly clear that that particular set of activities helped a great deal. we may have had more people killed if that hadn't happened. we've been told that the only witnesses that are of any value are people in tripoli . we interviewed everybody still alive on the ground who was at the u.s. mission that night.

>> and that -- ambassador, that's an important point. we've been denied even the names of those individuals. the fact is, our committee wanted to speak to the individuals from benghazi . they were neither encouraged nor produced nor even their names made available to us. look, two of the most respected career people i know , the ambassador and admiral mullen who i've worked with much more closely than the ambassador, i respect them. we have an obligation to look for any of the inconsistencies, and yes, i understand that in seven hours, they look back and say we couldn't have saved those men. the question, one of the questions is, in hour one, who orders were given 0 begin the process? who was put on alert? who was asked? this could have gone on like tehran. this could have gone on for weeks or months. so there's a lot of those questions. all we're really asking is, why is it that the ambassador and the admiral reached a conclusion. we have their output.

>> let's have the ambassador respond to that.

>> you also have access to the classified testimony.

>> actually.

>> but let's, ambassador, we've got the classified report. but we don't have any of the interviews you did. we don't have even -- we don't even have the list of everyone you interviewed.

>> the list of interviewed?

>> i want to get to a larger picture though. excuse me, ambassador. i want to come back to this fundamental question.

>> please.

>> did you not pay sufficient attentioning to and time with the secretary of state.

>> i believe we did. we had a session with the secretary. it took place very near the end of the report. it took place when we had preliminary judgments about who made the decisions, where they were made, and by whom they were reviewed. we felt that that was more than sufficient for the preponderance of evidence that we had collected to make our decisions and you know that our decisions was two of those people should be separated from their jobs. two others failed in their performance.

>> the press secretary to the president jay carney said back in november, he talked about how changes were made, who made changes to these talking points prepared for congress and for ambassador rice. this is what he said back on november 28th .

>> the white house and state department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of these two institutions were changing the word consulate to the diplomatic facility because consulate was inaccurate. those talking points originated from the intelligence community . they reflected the ic's best an assessments of what they thought had happened.

>> we know that's not accurate. we know that in fact, the state department , victoria knew land was involved in removing from the talking points previous warnings about security and references to a terrorist group , an extremist group being involved in the attack based on what was being reported on the ground and by intelligence. is the administration guilty of playing politics with terrorism?

>> with full respect, the accountability review board was there to look at the question of security . we did not examine talking points after the fact. it was not in our --

>> i'm going to end on this point which is about the irs and this revelation. they have apologized for this. what more would you like to see? are you satisfied with the apology?

>> the targeting conservative groups in an election year for tax exempt status . you said it all.

>> they targeted conservatives. for tax exempt status , but the bottom line is they used key words to go after conservatives. this is something you have to institute changes to make sure it doesn't happen again. there las to be accountable the for the people who did it. and quite frankly , up until a few days ago, there's got to be accountability for people who were telling lies about it being done and lastly, to be honest, one of the most pest offensive parts is, my committee and jim jordan and i instigated this investigation, got the ig to do the investigation before the ig's report comes to the public or to congress as required by law. it's leaked by the irs to trial to spin the output. this mea culpa is not an honest one. the honest one is in fact, let's see the ig report. let's go through it. and then let's just like the ambassador said on the 29 changes which we agree with, let's seats what the instituted changes need to be to make this not happen again.

>> chairman issa , ambassador pickering , thank very much. we're going to get reaction from the chair of the senate intelligence committee , dras dianne feinstein of california. plus the alarming number of sexual assaultses in the military. another big story this week. what should be done about it? the president weighed in this week. we'll hear what he said plus get perspective from two combat veterans, adam tin zinger of illinois and also joining us david brooks of "the new york times"