OTR Interviews

Cantor on early role in Petraeus affair probe: I didn't want to politicize this, just wanted to ensure national security wasn't at risk

House Majority leader on chances of a deal in fiscal cliff negotiations, what he knew and when in the Petraeus sex scandal, getting the truth in the Benghazi terror attacks and the latest tumult in the Middle East


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," November 16, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: And tonight, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor going "On the Record" about his early role in the General Petraeus investigation because back on October 27th, out of the blue, he got an alarming phone call from an FBI employee about the general's extramarital affair.

Now, we spoke with Leader Cantor about the sex scandal, the Benghazi attack and the fiscal cliff.


VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to see you, sir.

REP. ERIC CANTOR, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Greta, great to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, this Benghazi mess, for lack of a better word -- would you be in favor of a select committee? Instead of having several committees trying to investigate what's going on, both in the House and the Senate, having some sort of, like, streamlined, and one select committee, investigate and get to the bottom of this?

CANTOR: Well, I know that -- I've met with our speaker and we're talking about it. I am for what is best in terms of making sure the American people got the bottom line on what has happened.

And what's so frustrating about the Benghazi situation is this administration's story has just changed almost daily. And when you think about it and take a step back, you know, our ambassador died, others died here. This is so beyond politics. This is about our national security. This is about life and death of Americans, civil servants. This is about the safety and security of our military.

There is so much here that we're going to work hard to make sure that the American people realize their right to know, that we get to the bottom of this, and hopefully, make sure it never, ever happens again.

VAN SUSTEREN: But doesn't it make sense, since there are so many committees that have different jurisdictions -- one has jurisdiction over the CIA, another one the Department of Justice, another one the State Department, you've got the same problem over at the Senate -- instead of having all these witnesses get called before all these hearings, let's just do it in one fell swoop almost and get everybody up there, everybody under oath?

CANTOR: There is certainly a case to be made for streamlining that process. Each committee has its own jurisdiction. Each committee has its own expertise, staff and members, counsel and the rest. And so we're taking a look at it to see -- again, not to politicize anything but just to get to the facts.

I mean, that's what's wrong here. The administration's not forthcoming, and they continue to say that they have. But yet anybody looking at that situation knows -- at this point, no American would even believe that this was not a terrorist attack. We know that al Qaeda's in the region. We know we're under continued threat by that organization, as well as many others.

And if you follow the money, it all goes back to the state sponsors like Iran that is intent on using its state -- its proxies to wreak havoc, to kill Americans and others.

VAN SUSTEREN: I actually think -- I've heard the criticism, certainly, the Republican Party, that it's politicized it. But frankly, I thought that it was sort of politicized by the fact that it's been dragged out so long and the information -- I mean, it's like pulling teeth.

I mean, even we've gotten criticism here at FOX News because all we're trying to do is get the facts. And, you know, it's like knocking your head up against the wall. And it has dragged out now. It is -- you know, it's two months plus, and still, as you know, four Americans dead.

Let me ask you one other question. General Petraeus -- your name surfaced that you -- that somehow that you got information and you passed it on to the FBI director. What happened?

CANTOR: Well, you know, I was contacted by an individual at the FBI who I have never met, I didn't know. He offered information to me that gave me pause and a cause for alarm. I had no way to corroborate the information. And certainly, the information, to me, gave rise to the possibility that there was a national security issues, that perhaps our CIA director was vulnerable.

But again, I couldn't corroborate or substantiate the information that was given to me. We were about 10 days or a few weeks out before the election, and I didn't want to politicize it. I wanted to make sure that national security wasn't at risk.

So I turned to the person and the entity that I thought best equipped to deal with that information, to get to the bottom of it, and this was the FBI director in his office, that we know has an obligation to make sure that our national security is the priority and that FBI's also obligated to apprise Congress if there is a need for or an ongoing investigation or if there's a national security risk at hand.

And so that's why I did what I did. And we hope that all the facts are going to be able to come out on this, and our committees will be taking a look into this, as well, to make sure that the these kinds of things, if confirmed, are not something that are repeated.

VAN SUSTEREN: Talk about the fiscal cliff -- there's obviously a divide between the Republicans and the Democrats. But the House of Representatives has so many members. Having sort of taken the temperature within your party, within the House of Representatives, is it -- you know, is it going to be hard to get everybody on the same page? Because you got -- you got a lot of members.

CANTOR: You know, it's always hard, but democracy's not easy. But I think that the sense, the common sense throughout the members of the Republican conference in the House is we want to focus on what's important and what this election was about, and that is to get our economy growing again.

And that's why you've seen our speaker go out and take a position to say, Mr. President, you won the national election. We won and held our majority, and a strong majority at that. We don't believe that raising tax rates is something that will help respond to the number one issue of jobs and the economy.

And that's why the speaker said revenues are on the table, but let's go about that revenue by tax reform, by filling the loopholes, closing the ability for people perhaps to benefit from some of those loopholes so we can live up to the commitment the speaker has made to the president, which is revenues.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do we get tax reform? I mean, most people believe that -- I think probably 99.99 percent of the American people and politicians think we should have tax reform. There's been so much discussion about it forever. You're up against the clock now. We're not going to get the tax code reform between now and January 1.

How do we get a commitment out of -- that really works, that really puts a hammer to all of your heads to get tax reform done within a reasonable time?

CANTOR: Well, first of all, tax reform, the goal is to make it simpler and fairer for the American taxpayers, right, and so they don't are to spend hundreds of billions of dollars, if not more, on compliance and on preparation and to make it so that Washington gets out of the business of picking winners and losers through the tax code.

VAN SUSTEREN: Meaning the special...

CANTOR: The preferences, the loopholes and other sort of goodies that are handed out in Washington, that have resulted in the system of what many of us call crony capitalism. People who are able to come in here and get an advantage will do so, and we want to stop that. We don't want...

VAN SUSTEREN: So how do we get -- how do we get you guys -- I mean, everybody agrees it's bad. Everybody agrees it's bad that there's special treatment for some. But we -- but everyone agreeing it's bad doesn't get the product done.

CANTOR: What I hope that will come out of an agreement prior to the end of the year is a process put into place that will force us to engage in discussion about tax reform and get it done. I believe that we have an environment right now that will lend itself to us really doing that. And it'll be an extraordinary thing.

You're right, it will not be easy because, you know, the federal government is still facing an extraordinary deficit. I mean, we've got a trillion-dollar-a-year deficit. We got to keep that in mind so that when the speaker talks about putting revenues on the table, that in return, we actually can tell the people of this country that we're going to stop doing what we're doing and actually begin to pay down the debt.

So the tax code, I believe, is the tool for us to grow. If we can implement pro-growth tax reform, we're going to see entrepreneurs, investors put their money to work and grow this economy, create more jobs. That's -- that will be a significant piece of trying to go and manage down this debt and deficit.

So think all of the sort of stars can align if we can actually come together, set aside the differences and decide we're going to deliver a result for the people.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any sort of cultural adjustment we can do within the federal government? And I point to Senator Tom Coburn just released something that -- I forgot how many millions of dollars the Defense Department just spent, taking money apparently away from defense weapons or something in order to study birds that have been extinct for a number of years, and the conclusion was after the study is that they had black feathers.

And as much as I love animals, love birds and everything, I don't -- I think that's waste. I mean -- I mean, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Is there any effort as we go into this fiscal cliff and (INAUDIBLE) reform the tax code to really, you know, take a look at how our culture and how we spend money on Capitol Hill?

CANTOR: Well, you know, there are a lot of sort of ideas out there about how we reform the system, how we get rid of some of the silos of power in Washington. At the end of the day, it is about making sure you get that mentality you're talking about, which is start thinking that it's your money and treat other people's money just as you would your own.

And that's the kind of culture that we in the House majority, as Republicans, are trying to instill. That's, frankly, what we've been about for the last two years, without a lot of acceptance on the other side of the Capitol, in the Senate or the White House.

Hopefully, now is a time we can all come together after this election and say, We got to stop spending all this money. We got to stop wasting other people's money and make it so that we have an attitude that it is our own and that is -- we treat it as if it is our own and stop wasting. I mean, you're absolutely right.

VAN SUSTEREN: Matters are escalating in Israel. And today, there were rockets fired at Jerusalem, which is a first. I mean, it's the home of the three -- Muslims, Jews, Christians, and yet it -- that now is a target. What is our role?

CANTOR: Well, first of all, we as Americans have a special bond with the people of Israel. They believe in the same things we do. They come from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but they're committed to freedom of speech, human rights, human progress, rights of women and minorities.

We do have a strategic bond with them, as well, because they stand on the front line against the Islamic extremists and the terrorists in the same way that our country is vulnerable to those kind of attacks and we've seen it.

So our role as the global superpower and as an ally to what I believe is our best ally in the region, Israel, is that we should stand tall. We should defend Israel in the court of world opinion, whether it is in the U.N. or other international forums, and insist that the real story come out.

It is Hamas that has been on the offensive. Israel has practiced so much patience and reluctance to go into Gaza until these rockets, as you indicate, have come into Jerusalem, and the escalation has resulted in rockets coming into Tel Aviv and other population centers there.

So we have an obligation. The president has an obligation. Thus far this week, the White House has acted in a way that I believe the Israelis can see that America stands by us. Certainly, in the past, the last couple years, there's been questions in my mind about where the president and the White House stand as far as the U.S.-Israel relationship is concerned. I'm glad to see what they've said this week, and I hope it holds.

VAN SUSTEREN: It -- I mean, I -- talking about a -- I don't know if that gets us closer to a solution. I mean, I don't pretend to know the solution. But you know, I see now that Egypt -- as (INAUDIBLE) the President Morsi has -- was getting -- getting involved in this. I see this getting more complicated, an already complicated situation getting more complicated.

Is there anything that -- does that in any way increase our obligation, or is there something strategically we should do than just simply make -- issue condemnations?

CANTOR: Well, we've also had to insist with Egypt that -- that the new government -- the head of government there, Mr. Morsi, recognize the importance of the truce with Israel that Egypt has had.

And some of the things that he's done this week are very troubling towards that end. You know, he went into Gaza. And while he was there, Hamas launched more rockets as a direct affront to that negotiated peace between Egypt and Israel. That peace is essential to U.S. security policy in the region. And so we're going to have to insist that Mr. Morsi honor that.

VAN SUSTEREN: What leverage do we have with him?

CANTOR: Well, I mean, certainly, there's a package of aid that the Egyptians are asking for right now. Forgiveness of debt is one aspect of that. And you know, I think that the message needs to be sent that the largess of the American taxpayers doesn't come for free, that you know, Egypt has an obligation to stand by its commitments to Israel, to oppose terrorist activity, as we see coming out of Gaza and now into Israel, aimed at innocent lives.

And Greta, I think the larger picture in the Middle East is really reflecting Iran's activity. And we're all very focused on Iran's quest for nuclear weapons capability. But this incidence also shows you Iran's influence through its proxies.

Iran has played an active role in arming Hamas since 2008 in Operation Cass Weed. And once Israel went in there, that worked out a lot of things and there was not a lot of rocket attacks. Now we see them return because Iran and its ally, Syria, have played a rearmament role in terms of tens of thousands of rockets delivered into Gaza that we now see the result of.

So we have a real challenge in the Middle East, for sure. Israel is our best ally and stands on the front lines. We have got to stand tall. And we've got to -- in the House of Representatives and the Senate, we passed last night a resolution and this morning, a resolution standing by Israel and its right of self-defense. No question about it, times are tough, but we can and should stand tall.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Leader, nice to see you, sir.

CANTOR: Thank you, Greta.