Hardball | November 28, 2012
>>> the frying of susan rice . let's play "hardball."
>>> good evening i'm chris matthews in washington . let me start with this war in washington . say what you will about the election we just had. this one's hotter, nastier, more personal. one side says it's about character, about whether a close confederate of the president told the truth, the whole truth as she knew it when she went on national television and said the death of a u.s. ambassador was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-muslim video, some trouble-making clown made out in california. ignoring john mccain and his ail argue evidence it was an organized act of terrorism. not so says the president. his u.n. ambassador and close friend simply told the truth as she was permitted to tell it, what the cia gave her to say and no more. for that he charges susan rice , in the words of the new york post, being fried. political fight fans on the tabloids relish this extreme combat what should be a good person's judgment? that's my question tonight. is susan rice now a surrogate for the president, someone to take the punishment when others above her pay grade should be answering the questions, or is she accountable for going on national television knowing she can't tell the whole truth because it's classified? let's begin with senator susan collins , republican of maine. i guess it's the toughest question in the world, senator, and that is, do you believe that susan rice , the u.n. ambassador, knowingly covered up a breach of national security ?
>> well, let me say this, chris, our purpose is to understand the security failure in benghazi . what the administration told the american public about it. and how we can learn lessons to keep our personnel safer in the future. so that's my interest and goal in this situation. i think indeed ambassador rice herself has admitted that the information she gave out on those sunday shows was not accurate in several crucial aspects. she says she relied on information that was given to her but it's obvious that she chose to emphasize some aspects and downplay others. and frankly, i think the u.n. ambassador a long with the secretary of state, should be above politics and that she should have just said, no i'm not going to go on those shows. it's the wrong issue and the wrong time of year. i've got to maintain my credibility.
>> do you know or believe that she was given classified materials which conflicted with what she said on "meet the press" and those other shows?
>> the classified materials are different from the unclassified, but they are not different when it comes to a discussion of many of the major elements. what bothers me a great deal is the president of libya himself was saying this was a terrorist attack , that they had arrested 50 people and that there had been al qaeda influence to individuals from other countries that had come in. and that it was premeditated and planned. and i just don't understand why the administration would have susan rice go on television and say that the views essentially of the president of libya just didn't matter. she completely discounted them. that doesn't make sense to me.
>> you suggested she was behaving politically. fair enough, if that's the case. what would be the political purpose in denying the role of terrorism in this act, the central role of terrorism, organized terrorism, in the death of ambassador stevens? what would be her purpose politically in that?
>> i believe that the administration wanted to portray libya as an unqualified success story. and ambassador rice was one of the chief advocates of our involvement in libya , so arguably had a personal stake in that as -- contrary of the administration to say libya was awash with weapons, that there was a growing al qaeda presence, that there were training camps for islamic extremists , particularly near benghazi . and that there had been 274 security incidents in just the past 13 months, five of which were -- i mean, one out of five were in benghazi , including an attempt on the life of the british ambassador that caused the british to withdraw their consulate from benghazi . so i think it was con temporatrary to the success story the administration wanted to portray when it comes to libya .
>> let me go back to the facts, as you know them now. was there a role played by that video, that anti-islamic video made in california, in this horror story ? did it play a role?
>> it may have inspired some of the people who later entered the compound. but i have not seen evidence that it was the cause of the violent attack on our personnel in benghazi that caused four americans their lives. and certainly ambassador rice's statement on abc news said it was the direct result was not accurate. today she told me she did not intend to say what she said on abc.
>> this was in "the new york times" about what we know now of the attacks of benghazi . this is the "new york times." straight reporting. on the ground accounts indicate that miss rice's description of the attack, though wrong in some respects, was accurate in others. witnesses to the assault said it was carried out by members of al shariah, the militant group , without any warning or protest in retaliation for american-made video mocking the prophet muhammad . is that the truth, as you know it?
>> it's partially the truth. when you look at what happened, and i've reviewed tapes, classified materials, i sat through hours of briefings, there were some people who no doubt came onto the compound, not only to loot it but because they were angry about the video. but that is not the primary cause of the assault on the compound. if you look at what happened, there was clearly no protest, and the administration concedes that now, there were no protests that preceded the assault on the compound. and the fact is that that was known prior to september 16th , when ambassador rice went on those shows. there was conflicting information, i will totally, readily concede that, but there was reporting and information that said there wasn't any protest, including interviews with people who had been there on the ground. so for ambassador rice or any other administration official to maintain with such certitude that there was no -- that there was a protest and that the assault was primarily linked to the video just does not hold up.
>> thank you so much for coming on "hardball," senator.
>> thank you.
>>> now david corn , washington bureau chief for " mother jones ." the senator just said her complaint or concern about the ambassador's position on the sunday shows in the days after the attack of our facility in benghazi is not that she was con trained by not being able to use classified material but that she took the material she was given, shaped it politically and used it to protect the president's narrative that winning in libya was a clean win. there was no complication of an emerging al qaeda -related organization there.
>> well, i'll --
>> is that straight? make sense to you?
>> i think you sum it up right. i will give her credit for admitting what a lot of people on the right haven't, that it was a confusing situation. "the new york times," ap have reported from the ground that while the people who launched the attack seemed to come in not as a protest but as they came in, they rounded up people and they told people, while they were mounting the attack they were mad about the film. it might have been premeditated. they were using the film, which was in the news --
>> you're great at this but let's get to the heart of the argument. what they don't like on the republican side any suggestion to put -- let's put al qaeda to death, period. they think that's a pr statement --
>> let's --
>> no, let's stick to that. they're angry because they think it's presidential politics . not truth-telling.
>> they're attributing more al qaedaness to this attack and this group. this was a militia well established in benghazi . they had been working with the government there to do security. it wasn't an al qaeda --
>> they were armed with with rpgs and attacked our facility. they were terrorists --
>> i think --
>> they were terrorists that day.
>> a lot of terrorists aren't al qaeda . when she said at the beginning that the key thing here is to the security failure in benghazi , she's correct. that's not susan rice 's responsibility. that's the state department --
>> i know.
>> susan rice is being asked to defend all kinds of stuff that's really the responsibility of the state department and the cia to explain right now. it was mainly a cia operation .
>>> this afternoon in a cabinet meeting president obama answered a question from a reporter the heat, i was calling it the fried rice , the headline in the new york post, the fried rice from republicans on the hill. take a look at the president's way of handling this today.
>> mr. president, do you think it's being fair to susan rice .
>> thanks, guys. susan rice is extraordinary. couldn't be prouder of the job she's done at u.s. u.n.
>> you saw hillary clinton leading the applause. really, you know, to be fair about it, the officer in charge was the state department and the cia . you're going to take the u.n. ambassador, haul her before all these people the last couple of days as if she's the expert on benghazi .
>> the big thing is not what she said on a talk show . it's what actually happened and what should be done after it. if you look at the talking point, unclassified talking points , she didn't sit there and weigh and decide what to say. she kind of did what many people in washington , including senators often do, stuck to the unclassified talking points and didn't go into the other stuff.
>> they believe she shifted -- to get her testimony we got here from susan collin, she believes the ambassador to the u.n. went on television on sunday, not a talk show , but "meet the press," which is about establishing hard news on sunday, it's a very -- you know the cycle --
>> he no, we --
>> the government puts officials on to make official statements.
>> her official statement said was shaded in a political direction and her argument is she shouldn't have been doing that.
>> she attributed that to susan rice when the information came from cia and --
>> she's treating her like a principle. thank you, david corn .
>>> coming up, what's wrong with this picture. this is what the new republican chairman of the house looked like. they have a certain pattern in common. gender, race, all white, all male. what's going on in a party that's supposed to be learning how to appeal to simpem minorities. did the republicans learn anything from the election?
>>> plus r we seeing the first signs of republicans giving ground on the fiscal cliff? oklahoma's tom cole , a member of congress says the grand old party should take president obama 's party. doo extend bush tax cuts for all but the top 2%. that's a sign some republicans may be open to higher rates for the rich.
>>> is it possible negotiators could learn something from the most important movie out there right now "lincoln." doris good win joins us.
>>> let me finish with how lincoln outlawed slavery for good and how de it using politics. this is "hardball," the