Martin Bashir | November 12, 2012
>>> the first week after the election, and the big story was supposed to be the looming fiscal cliff. but there's nothing like a high profile sex scandal to distract washington. with headlines dominated today by the abrupt resignation of cia director david petraeus over an extramarital affair . some lawmakers are now calling for an inquiry. we're now learning that high-level officials at the fbi and the justice department were notified in late summer that fbi agents had uncovered the affair that led to petraeus ' downfall. it all started in early june when a florida woman named jill kelley pictures here with her husband, petraeus , and his wife, alerted agents to e-mails she described as e-mails. they told kelley, a petraeus family friend, to stop socializing with generals. those anonymous e-mails led investigators to paula broadwell and evidence of the affair. now some lawmakers are asking why the fbi didn't inform them or the white house sooner.
>> we received no advance notice. it was like a lightning bolt . this is something that could have had an effect on national skur security. i think we should have been told.
>> it seems this was going on for several months, and yet now it appear that is they're saying that the fbi didn't realize until election day that general petraeus was involved. it just doesn't add up.
>> adding to the headache and the controversy, petraeus was set to testify at a closed door hearing on the benghazi attack on thursday. with acting director michael morell now going in his place. lawmakers continue to insist that they want to hear from petraeus .
>> but we have four dead americans in benghazi . we have a national security failure along in the making. i don't see how in the world you can find out what happened in benghazi before, during, and after the attack if general petraeus doesn't testify.
>> of course, all of this comes as president obama faces scrutiny on the handling of the benghazi attacks, struggles to restack his second term cabinet, and oh, yeah, faces daunting negotiations over that dreaded fiscal cliff. no honeymoon, indeed, for this president. let's get to our panel. in washington msnbc contributor jonathan capehart, democratic strategist julian epstein, and in atlanta msnbc contributor goldie taylor. our tremendous trio. jonathan , fair to say this is not exactly what president obama expected to be dealing with the week after his triumphant election?
>> no, not at all. in fact, after election day the president, speaker boehner, senate ma minority leader mitch mcconnell all talking about the facecle life, what they were going to do, not going to do, what they wanted to negotiate, not negotiate, but on friday, as news exploded out from the cia thanks to our own andrea mitchell that the president accepted the resignation of the cia director , general david petraeus , all of that -- you have to add that plus all the things you talked about, fiscal cliff, to what the president has to deal with. as you said, no honeymoon, indeed.
>> and added to what jonathan just said, julian , there are some concerns over this that this is just the tip of the iceberg . i want to play you something senator feinstein said to andrea mitchell this afternoon.
>> this thing came so fast and hard. since then it's been like peeling an onion. every day another peel comes off and you see a whole new dimension to this. so my concern has actually escalated over the last few days.
>> it's clear she's suggesting this is going well beyond the realm of a personal matter. how far could we really see this go because it's not being quarter ren teened to the personal. it's getting political in a very, very fast sense.
>> i don't see this having far-reaching political consequences, notwithstanding everything jonathan just said. i think there are some national security implications, but in terms of peeling the onion back here, the reporting requirements on the fbi occur when they discover either a crime has been committed or, secondly, that there has been a security breach . at least according to all the public reporting right now, neither of those two things occurred in the petraeus affair. the fbi is left in uncharted territory where the regulations and the law do not spell out when -- if, in fact, they are at any time supposed to contact either the white house , the security agencies, or the congress. and i would just push back a little bit on some of the members of congress who are complaining about the fbi not doing the note fi kaths earlier. if they believe notification should occur anytime the fbi skofers someone involved in security matters may be having an affair, then they should say that in the statute. and do you know, michael, not to compare this to say 50 years ago, the fbi used to get in a lot of trouble when it would investigate the personal lives of high-profile plig figures and others, you will remember dr. martin luther king , not to compare petraeus to martin luther king , but it is to say they got in a lot of trouble when they were looking at people's personal lives when there wasn't a crime or security question involved. it's congress' obligation here if they believe there should have been reporting earlier, it's congress' obligation to write a statute to say that.
>> it's no question that the j. edgar hoover -led fbi did a lot of nefarious things in the name of national security . goldie , of course, petraeus was to testify on benghazi later this week. paula broadwell spoke about the region in denver just before all of this broke. let's take a listen.
>> i don't know if a lot of you have heard this, but the cia annex had actually -- it headachen a couple libyan militia members prison and they think the attack was an attempt to get the prisoners back.
>> it does raise questions of what she knew, doesn't it?
>> it may raise questions about what she knew. one of a couple things is happened with mrs. broadwell in that clip. either she is telling something that she heard and was not supposed to hear from general petraeus or someone in his command or she's frankly making it up and i'm not clear which it is at this moment. at the end of the day , you know, we do look into people's personal lives when it comes to national security because that's one of the questions, you know, as we advance clearances in this question. general petraeus in this particular affair used his personal e-mail, you know, to cavort with a woman who was not in his command but was close to his command and was his by biograph biographer. that in itself does not present itself to be a security breach but some of the things she's been saying publicly about him, about national security issues certainly present the question. whether or not it should have been reported to congress, that remains to be seen.
>> jonathan , doesn't this highlight the rug that's been yanked out from under the president? so much of his military strategy now linked to the cia , whether you're talking about benghazi , iran, the drone program. this isn't just a cog that can be easily replaced in petraeus .
>> no, it's not. but, remember, general david petraeus was not the only person in the high command at the cia . mr. morell, who is the interim head, he's been there the entire time, so there isn't going to be -- i don't think there should be worries about continuity of effort, but what happened at the cia comes at a time when the president was already having to deal with coming up with a successor to secretary of state hillary clinton , possibly finding a replacement for defense secretary leon panetta , finding a replacement for secretary of the treasury tim geithner, all of whom, geithner and clinton, have already said they want to leave. it was reported on friday i believe on andrea's show that lee on panetta might want to go. when you have all of those people who are in senior positions within the administration all needing or wanting to go at the same time, having the cia director resign is not the optimal thing to have happen.
>> as the late robin harris said, if you have to go, you got to go but going at this time simultaneously is problematic. in light of the fact that panetta and petraeus were seen as outsiders, they weren't organically grown from within, they didn't involve themselves over the years in the organizations they led, that was already a problem. this obviously at the very least is a major distraction at a time when the president needs to be focused on a crucial moment of negotiation with congress on the fiscal cliff with everything from tax revenue to military spending at the state. it seems to be a tough way to go.
>> but if we know anything about this president, he's extremely cool under fire. this is a guy that can walk and chew gum at the same time. look, i just don't think that the legs on this story are as long as some people think they are for two reasons. one is i think according -- notwithstanding everything goldie just said, according to all the information that we know, there is no crime involved, there's no security breach involved. that's one. secondly, i think while there are some significant questions that we'll be hearing about about what happened in benghazi , particularly when we realize there was a cia operation going on in the outpost there, i think there's a bipartisan commitment right now to getting to the bottom of exactly what happened at benghazi and whether, in fact, the cia was remiss in not dealing with the security situation more forthrightly, but there's a bipartisan commitment there. i don't see any long-term real political fallout on these things. i see national security implications, but at the same time i think this is something that the president can manage. they will manage it, and they will get on to deal with what are the real other important issues here, namely the fiscal cliff.
>> i must say, julian , that your notion of this story not having long legs is chock-full of write irony. this observance of veterans day , i can't let you go without showing our viewers this photo, your boot camp graduation pic.
>> eye aye aye , ma'am.
>> my mother found that photograph last night and sent it it to me. i thought those photographs were long gone along with the 20 to 25 years between then and now. my message is that i am absolutely proud to have served this country, to have, you know, stepped forward as a volunteer enlistment. you know, but more than that, i'm proud of what the marine corps did for me. i was a wayward urchin child and the marine corps gave me discipline and a career as a broadcaster. i'm thankful to this country for having given me the opportunity to do that.