Hardball | November 16, 2012
>>> petraeus has been headline news all week and for all the wrong reasons. his extramarital affair with his biographer paula broadwell. today he was on capitol hill talking about a less prurient but more consequenceal matter, the attack on americans on benghazi. arriving through a secret entrance this morning, the former cia director made his way to the hill for closed meetings with the house and the senate intelligence committees to testify about that september 11th attack , an event he said and always believed was an act of terrorism . democratic congressman adam ship from california sits on the intelligence committee and was in the hearing room this morning. congressman, this is so sensitive. is it true or not true that the united nations ambassador susan rice was given the correct known information about what happened in benghazi when she went on those five television shows on sunday a few days after the attack. was she given the accurate up to date information on what happened, that it was a terrorist attack ?
>> he was given the best assess assessment the intelligence committee on at the time. i asked general petraeus , were the talking points we were given their best intelligence assessment at the time and they were given that late in the day on saturday, late in the afternoon, and he said, yes. these are -- this was the best assessment they could do without disclosing classified information . --
>> whoa, whoa, stop right there. he also said according to what i heard in the testimony today that he always believed there was a terrorist attack .
>> yes, he did.
>> how can that be both true? if he gach her the honest testimony to give to the television programs that sunday after the attack, which was a terrorist attack , then she never got told that. he knew it and didn't tell her.
>> well, no, you know, i think what the general was saying that when he first briefed the congress he felt and i think many of us did, you shoot mortars and rpgsed a an american diplomatic post, that's an act of diplomatic terror. the question was who committed the acts and how do we find them and bring them to justice. what the intelligence community got wrong and the general acknowledged that this was wrong is that they thought initially that this was a protest that was either hijacked or got out of control that certainly terrorists and extremists were involved in, but that it began with a protest. it did not begin with a protest. but the key thing in terms of the master is the ambassador was given, as we were, the best assessment at the time as flawed as that was --
>> i am a clear thinker, let's be clear here. did he believe from the very earliest dispatches he got and cables he got on this, did he believe it began as a protest or did he believe it was always a terrorist operation?
>> no, he believed that it began as a protest but he also believed that terrorists and extreme itss were involved, that's i think consistent with what he said at the time although, you know, at the time he also caveated as all of the intelligence community did that these were very initial reports, that they were going to get a lot more information and that we needed to be concerned --
>> let's try it again. let's try it again. from what i understand today is he said he didn't give her all the information because he wanted to give up some classified so he wouldn't give up our sources over there --
>> chris, first of all, he didn't say he gave her this information.
>> well, the cia director signed off on the talking points that she used to go on the tv shows , isn't that right?
>> he said he signed off on the talking points that we were given as members of congress . he doesn't know what talking points the ambassador was given, but i asked him that to the degree that what she said on those sunday talk shows tracked the talking points that we were given as members of congress and it tracked almost identically, was she giving the intelligence community 's best assessment at the time that did not divulge classified information , his answer was yes. you know, it was clear from his testimony that, number one, they were wrong about the protest, the ic, the intelligence community was wrong. number two, there was never an effort to politicize this --
>> that's a loaded word . let's stay away from loaded words .
>> well, chris, this is the allegations that's being made. and so to the degree that --
>> that's interpretative. that's interpretative. i want to get to --
>> here is the question. mccain and graham, they're out there pushing the case that she misled the american people , she should not be secretary of state or even considered for nomination because she misled on purpose. is there any evidence that she did?
>> absolutely not. absolutely not. and, in fact, if ambassador rice departed from what the intelligence community told her and told us was their best assessment , then she's open to legitimate criticism. but she didn't. she took what the intelligence community said, this is our best sense of what happened.
>> how can you fault her for doing that.
>> i think she's clean. my problem is with petraeus . from the day he saw the news reports and what she said on the sunday shows, including "meet the press" from our network, from the day how he saw how she categorized it as beginning as a protest and being hijacked by the bad gives with rpgs and heavily harmed from the minute he heard her say that and learned it was not the case, why didn't he correct the record.
>> at the time he heard her say that, that is what he thought took place. he did begin --
>> whaen was he disabud of that. when did he learn the full story?
>> i think we --
>> when did he learn it?
>> i think he learned the full story in the most gask way when we got the video evidence and that was not until well after she appeared on those sunday talk shows . now, the legitimate questions about why didn't we get that evidence sooner --
>> why didn't he give it to us?
>> why didn't the general give it to us?
>> he knew the country was misled perhaps by accident, i'll take that, by the secretary -- ambassador to the u.n. we were misled. we were all believing what she said. we all thought this --
>> hold on a second, hold on a second here. when you say misled, that is a politicized term. there was nothing deliberate about this. unless you bloo believe that general petraeus and the deputy director, now acting director morell and the dni director were in on some conspiracy, they were doing their job. and, yes, they got it wrong.
>> you're missing the point. i'm delling with the news here as we get it. i don't like rolling disclosure. at some point he got the full story. why didn't he come forward -- why did he have to be dragged into that hearing room today and put before both committees to get the truth? why are we only getting the clarification today? why didn't he as cia director go to the president, the public ought to know what happened. why didn't he do that?
>> the intelligence community put forward the assessments that gave us a clear assessment and debunked the idea there was a protest. you can accuse them of being too slow to do that and we have asked them exactly these questions why it took so lock to get to the trooet and get a more ak trat picture. they need to put this forward to us in a way that doesn't divulge classified information . but i don't think there's any evidence, i certainly haven't seen any evidence, that general petraeus or any of the other intelligence community were trying to mislead anyone. they are professional. they were trying to do their job and we can fault them for getting the initial assessment wrong, but i don't think we can ascribe any kind of malice or intent to deceive.
>> when your pants are on fire, someone should tell you your pants are on fire. you shunt have to ask are my pants on fire. that's my view. i'm going to try to get more information. congressman adam schiff from your california, thank you for your straight story. jonathan allen is covering it story from politico. do you see what i'm trying to get at. we want to know why it took so long to get the straight story. the picture developed like a polaroid film in the old day. it was really always a terrorist attack in the sense the terrorists organized the event. didn't take advantage of it, didn't hijack it, it was their event.
>> by definition these guys attack a u.s. embassy , they're terrorists. this is not rocket science and these are nice glass houses and glass senates the folks in the hill are living on where they suddenly think it's a crime to go out and use talking points that aren't honest. geez, that was a crime 535 members of congress would be in jail for it. i'm listening to this, i have listened to congressman schiff and other members talk to folks who were in the room with david petraeus . no matter how many conversations you have, nothing is clear about the time line of when our intelligence community knew this was a terrorist attack versus some video inspired protest inspired event and why that wasn't brought forward. obviously the american public have a right to know why an american ambassador and three other americans were killed there and whether there was anything we could do to stop it from happening then, to give them support, or to prevent something like that from happening in the future and we're not getting thosance, at least not in the public right now. obviously the members of the intelligence committee are getting some kinds of answers but when you talk to them, you get a completely different read on what happened. some folks say petraeus was talking about terrorism on day one. others say he's evolved from this video plot or this video story to terrorism today. and it's not necessarily partisan. these guys are all over the place. it's like they're in the same room and they have no --
>> that's a good candidate. he says it was -- we're trying to find what was the event caused by. thank you, jonathan allen . i think it's a great summation.
>>> up next, vice president biden's appearance on "parks and recreation." a lighter note coming. this is "hardball," the place for