OTR Interviews

Senators McCain and Ayotte: We want to know what President Obama knew and when he knew it in Benghazi tragedy

Sens. John McCain and Kelly Ayotte sound off on Pres. Obama's 'terror' claims and the White House's multiple stories in the Benghazi attack


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 18, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Just when you thought President Obama's response to the Libya attack couldn't get any worse, well, it just did, tonight President Obama making a comment he probably wishes he had not, on "The Daily Show" in reference to the killings in Libya, the president saying that when four Americans get killed, it's not optimal.

We spoke with Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte about the White House's botched handling of Libya.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Ayotte, Senator McCain, nice to see both of you.


SEN. KELLY AYOTTE, R-N.H.: Great to see you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator McCain, I want to start first with you on whether -- the perplexing issue with Libya -- the administration is now saying -- President Obama is now saying is that the reason why we didn't hear more information is because he wanted to wait until he had the correct information. But for the first two weeks, all we got was misinformation having to do with the videotape and a protest that never happened. So that's perplexing.

Now today, President Obama in an interview on a comedy channel, "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, said when four Americans get killed, it's not optimal.

It's a very poor choice of words. And I'm curious what your response to that is, or thought about it.

MCCAIN: Well, even from someone like the president, who has never known what these kinds of tragedies are about and the service and sacrifice that people make, it's still just -- you know, I can't even get angry. It's just so inappropriate. And I'm sure that the families of those brave Americans are not amused.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Ayotte, you know, and I don't mean to get stuck on this because, you know, people can say -- can be really sloppy in their speech. But this statement, when four Americans get killed, it's not optimal, and the whole handling of this has been so perplexing -- do you have any idea why the administration has been so, for lack of a better word, weird about getting the right information out to us, and instead giving us misinformation?

AYOTTE: No, Greta. I have to say, the president's statement today was quite astounding. And you know, the murder of four Americans, of course, is tragic and totally unacceptable. And that's what we would expect to hear from our commander-in-chief.

But what I'm concerned about is that this is part of a bigger pattern. You remember the leaking that they did when things went well, including how quickly they got the information out about SEAL team 6 with the bin Laden raid. And here we are, a situation for two weeks, the administration fails to come out, and in multiple changing stories failed to come out and call his what it was from the beginning, a terrorist attack, of course, by an al Qaeda affiliate. It's disturbing, and I think there are serious questions the president has to answer about this.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator McCain -- go ahead, sir.

MCCAIN: I would like to say again, the president on that comedy show, he said, you know, there are screw-ups and then we fix them. He didn't talk about responsibility, because the responsibility is his. And we want to know what the president knew, with when he knew it, what did he do about it? Because the facts are irrefutable that it was absolutely clear within hours to parts of the intelligence coming up, and any observer, that this was not a spontaneous demonstration, not when mortars and rocket-propelled grenades are used in a rather sophisticated attack.

The Sunday I was on another network, they had Susan Rice out there, five days afterwards, saying this malarkey, this baloney, about it was triggered by the demonstration triggered by a hateful video. Immediately after that program, it was "Face the Nation," they had the president of the legislative assemble assembly in Libya, who said, we know this is Al Qaeda, a terrorist attack. The president days later goes on "Letterman" and "The View" and keeps working on the same issue.

Whether he actually meant there in the Rose Garden terrorist attack or not, it's pretty obvious to me that he was not referring to that attack when he said we condemn terrorist attackers. But even if he did what is the excuse for days later going on every show in America as the president and saying this is a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a video? We want to know what he knew, when he knew it. If it was intelligence people who told him otherwise, what in the world were they doing, and who are they, and who is being held responsible?

AYOTTE: And let's not forget, Greta, about the attack on the consulate in June that apparently blew a hole in the security perimeter that 40 people could go through. Was that brought to the president's attention? I'd be knocked it wasn't in his daily intelligence briefing with the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi. What did he know about it? This is so important, because the American people deserve to hear it straight about what happened.

MCCAIN: There was an attack in June, in April. The British ambassador was attacked. The British closed their consulate. The Red C Cross left Benghazi. And as Lieutenant Colonel Wood said, we were going to be the last flag standing in Benghazi, and he said the attack was, quote, "inevitable." Now that is a massive intelligence failure. Now, the president may not have known whether 16 people or 18 people were extended or not, but wasn't he told about this deteriorating situation in Benghazi?

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think? What do you make of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying that the buck stops here? She was in South America the last couple day, and she said she's one who accepts full responsibility and the buck stops with her.

AYOTTE: We appreciate that Secretary Clinton said that, but the bottom line is obviously she's trying to cover for the president and the vice president here. And ultimately it is the president's responsibility for the security of the American people. And the questions that we've raised about the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi, he has to answer those. Why wasn't it? You know, why were the overall -- you know, why wasn't there more attention paid to what was happening in Libya?

And I think, unfortunately, Greta, it's a symptom of a greater problem of what we see happening in the Middle East. Also Iraq is deteriorating with Al Qaeda coming back very vehemently. What's happening in Syria, the failure of leadership there, empowering Iran. Russia is continuing to provide arms in Syria. This leading from behind does not work in terms of making sure that America is safe.

MCCAIN: The reality is that Al Qaeda is coming back everywhere. In northern Africa, in Mali, they've virtually taken over. They've doubled in Iraq, that the president brags about. They've got training camps in western Iraq, that the stalemates over Iran, 30,000 people being massacred in Syria, and the president does nothing about it, while more jihadists flock into the country. This is unraveling, and it's a failure of leadership. And I think the American people ought to know about it.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I can't figure out if he in this story if he's been uninformed, misinformed, detached, incompetent in how he handled it, or whether with it's a political motive to try to hide it from the American people, or is there any other choice?

MCCAIN: Let me say, as far as Benghazi is concerned, it's either two things -- willfully deceiving the American people in hopes that it would drag out past the election, or a degree of incompetence that can only -- responsibility for which can only come to president's desk.

AYOTTE: And let's not forget, this didn't just fit their narrative, because the president has been saying Al Qaeda is on the run, bin Laden is dead. And I think what happened is when they realized it's a terrorist attack by Al Qaeda on the consulate in Libya, that wasn't fitting what the administration was trying to portray in this campaign. And I think that's a very serious problem. That has to be answered as well, why were these changing stories, why did they come out, and what did the president know about all of this?

VAN SUSTEREN: Senators, thank you both.

AYOTTE: Thank you.

MCCAIN: Thank you.