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Special Report

What Did U.S. Know Prior to Egypt Protests?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 17, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I am impressed by the commitment that the government has to the democratic path that Bahrain is walking on. It takes time. We know that from our own experience.

MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The secretary was speaking, obviously several weeks ago and was talking about some efforts that were made by the Bahraini government towards political reform and to address some of the concerns that we're now seeing expressed on the pro-roundabout by the Bahraini people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, there you see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talking about Bahrain and their efforts obviously in the context of all these protests in Bahrain and the State Department today. This comes in the background of presidential study directive 11 that we've confirmed, basically was an interagency task force to assess the political reform possibilities, the protest possibilities throughout the Middle East and including Egypt. This as the administration was saying the U.S. intelligence committee failed to warn them about what was going to happen there.

We're back with the panel. Charles, Secretary Clinton did say at the beginning of the Egypt situation that Egypt was stable. Now this back and forth with Bahrain.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I look at it as if there is an attempt by the White House advisors to make themselves look good knowing that the State Department has not distinguished itself with its predictions, what we saw in Bahrain. What, as you said, the secretary of state had said early on about Egypt. It was kind of wobbly, it held on to Mubarak a bit long.

This leak about the president having ordered a secret study a few months ago, supposedly it's going to make him look wise and pressing it. Well, I don't see how it helps him. If the secret study recommended anything, he obviously, was caught blind-sided and unaware as in -- at a loss at the beginning. He didn't know which way to go. The administration zigged and zagged until at the end it got lucky. And if it did get a report, then why didn't it act on it before? There's another report that there was nothing official issued anyway, in which case, who needs that report? All of us have seen what's happening, unfolding in the streets.

BAIER: Nina, the spokesman for Secretary Clinton couldn't say whether she saw the study, and the White House praised how the NSC handled all of this, but it does provide a back and forth about what was known at the beginning.

NINA EASTON, COLUMNIST, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: What was known, and ya know, it is -- and I agree with Charles. Clearly administration officials briefed the media on this super-secret report to say, look, ya know, he was up to the job -- the president is up to the job, he knows what is going on.

But -- and yet we also know from news reports that the NSC had a meeting with Middle East experts, at which one of them said, "please, tell me you have a contingency plan if Mubarak goes down." -- Uh, no.

So I think, ya know again it's -- we're seeing this failure of intelligence agencies in particular. I mean I wouldn't just blame Secretary of State Clinton or even the president. I mean this continued failure of intelligence agencies, particularly when there was reality out on the ground. Particularly when this started in Tunisia, that there wasn't quick movement to have something about contingency plans and why don't we have clear intelligence on what the Muslim Brotherhood actually means down the road.

BAIER: Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, COLUMNIST, THE HILL: Well, I think what we're seeing here is a stuttering, stumbling, Mr. Toner. I thought -- anyways, I didn't know if he was going to get it on out. He's trying to defend the indefensible in terms of Hillary Clinton just not knowing what was going on.

And, ya know, it's the same thing at the White House, this is trying to make the president look good. And this is not unique to this president, Democrats, Republicans, everybody does this. It's part of the game.

But the reality is, that for the longest time, American foreign policy has been invested in trying to create stability in the Middle East. We supported these autocrats, we bought into the idea, it's them or the Muslim brotherhood and other wackos like that and did not support the development of democracy until George W. Bush came along. And I think he is to be celebrated in that regard.

But the key here is that the administration, would just admit, "you know what, we had some control in terms of the army in Egypt. And we will use that leverage. We don't have that in Bahrain, we don't have that anywhere else. And we can't be sure how the process is going to turn out." I know people don't like to hear that, we like to think we're --

BAIER: We're on top of it--

WILLIAMS: Yeah, but it's tough.

BAIER: Yeah, and especially with the U.S. Navy's fifth fleet there. It's a big story. We'll continue to follow it.

That is it for the panel, but stay tuned for one possible presidential hopeful's recent reception.

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