OTR Interviews

McCain: I admire Susan Rice, but handling of Benghazi raises many questions about her qualifications for secretary of state

Sen. John McCain explains why he was disappointed and disturbed with his meeting with the embattled ambassador over the Benghazi attacks


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," November 28, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: For weeks and weeks, "On the Record" has been trying to get to the bottom of what really happened in Benghazi, Republican senators also pressing for answers from U.N. ambassador Susan Rice. So how are those meetings going? Not well, GOP senator Bob Corker calling the whole issue of Benghazi "a tawdry affair."

And Senator John McCain had the first meeting with Ambassador Rice. We spoke with him a short time ago.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Thank you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Today the President met with his cabinet and he said, among other things, about Ambassador Rice, that she's extraordinary and he couldn't be prouder of the job, and rest of the cabinet applauded. Is that an opinion you share?

MCCAIN: No. I, of course, admire Ambassador Rice's record. I think she's served the country, and obviously, that's important. But a number of things that she's done in the past, but particularly this handling of the Benghazi tragedy that took the lives of four Americans is to me -- raises many, many questions about her qualifications to be the secretary of state.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you met with her yesterday. How long did you have with her?

MCCAIN: I think it was well over an hour that we spent, Senator Ayotte and Senator Graham and I. And many of the questions that we have were not answered. There was other questions -- for example, I asked her why, on the nationwide shows on Sunday, she said that the president has killed Usama bin Laden and decimated al Qaeda.

That's simply a false statement. Al Qaeda is on the rise. They've reconstituted themselves in many places. They're all over the Middle East, including pouring into Syria as we speak, as well as Libya, Iraq, et cetera.

And I said...

VAN SUSTEREN: What'd she say? What'd she say was the reason?

MCCAIN: She said, well, maybe I should have said core, that we have decimated core Al Qaeda. Well, first of all, that's a directly -- vastly different from what she actually said. And number two is that really is kind of meaningless to take out core Al Qaeda.

But again, I want to emphasize many of these questions are right at the doorstep of the president of the United States. Why did he on the 25th, two weeks later, talk to the United Nations about hateful videos? Why is he that he told "60 Minutes" that he did not know what was the cause of the attack on Benghazi when he claimed in the debate with Mitt Romney that he had called it a terrorist act at the White House, which he had not done so. He continued to go on various shows talking about hateful videos and not knowing --

VAN SUSTEREN: Entertainment shows I might add, for the most part entertainment shows.

All right, in terms of what she did tell you -- I saw a CBS reported that I posted on GretaWire.com under the headline on "Who's on First," which can no one decide who took out Al Qaeda, some have claimed responsibility, then denied. It's the most bizarre thing.

MCCAIN: The most interesting thing about that, after the raid that took out bin Laden, we knew every single detail, as you know, within 24 hours, absolute total details, many of which placed people's lives in jeopardy, such as the doctor now in prison for life, and others. But yet here we are 10 or 11 weeks later, and we still don't know the basics of what happened. By the way, I'm still looking for that picture of the president in the situation room with his cabinet watching the raid on the consulate in Benghazi. I don't think we'll see that anytime soon.

VAN SUSTEREN: What I didn't understand, though, and maybe you asked her and it just isn't in the reports. In the discussions about who took out Al Qaeda, who put it back in -- one thing I didn't get, where did she come up with the idea of video and there were protests? Was that in the talking points, or did that come from some other source, or did she say?

MCCAIN: She said that was in the talking points. Some of these things, you get a little bit of minutia, but it's interesting. The classified information that they had indicated it was an Al Qaeda affiliated attack. They did not want to put the classified information into the unclassified talking points, which painted a vastly different picture.

Now, are we supposed to give Americans the wrong information because we don't want to reveal classified information? That's just crazy.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why was she the one sent out to go to the five talk shows, not the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton?

MCCAIN: She reported to us that Secretary Clinton was tired. I understand why Secretary Clinton might be tired, but that's still -- the president himself said that ambassador rice had nothing to do with Benghazi. And again, just a short time ago as our meeting, the director of the CIA told us that the changes in these talking points had come from the FBI and then called us back a number of hours later and said, no, it was done by the CIA.

Do you mean that all these weeks later they still don't know who made the changes in the talking points? And why is that important? Because the impression that the American people got from Ambassador Rice's comments, that this was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video, that was not true.

And finally, by the way, after our meeting, ambassador rice admitted for the first time that that was not true. So it --

VAN SUSTEREN: Why didn't she admit that six weeks ago? That's what I don't understand. You have to pull every single detail out of it. She should have said that six weeks ago. Why not say it publicly? Why is it behind closed doors with senators?

MCCAIN: And we still don't who made the changes in the talking points. I asked the director of the CIA how many analysts are there in the CIA. I don't think this is classified. He said 2,500. Now, wouldn't you think that one of those analysts would have said, hey, let's call Germany, where the survivors of the consulate attack have been taken, and ask them, was this a spontaneous attack or not? That would have taken care of the whole issue because they would have said what they did tell the FBI, that there was no mob attack or spontaneous attack there. So all of this could have been resolved with one phone call. And I asked the director of the CIA, why didn't someone call? He said, because the FBI was conducting a criminal investigation. Now, is that reason not to ask the survivors of the attack on the consulate?

VAN SUSTEREN: The FBI wasn't even over there investigating the Tunisian man in Tunisian custody, so it's a little bit hard to think the FBI was aggressively investigating this. I've said many times, if there were four dead people in Washington, D.C., they'd have more aggressive investigation by the D.C. Metropolitan police department.

MCCAIN: And a CNN reporter weeks later visited the consulate and found classified information.

VAN SUSTEREN: And so did ForeignPolicy.com on October 26th, almost two months later.

MCCAIN: The whole thing deserves a select committee. We now have four committees in the house, four committees in the Senate, all of which are investigating certain aspects which are clearly overlapping of this whole investigation. That's one of the reasons why we get conflicting stories.

So it really does -- you know, Watergate was a break-in. When Senator Lieberman and I first proposed a commission after 9/11, there was great resistance to it because of turf battles within the Congress. But this certainly warrants a full and complete investigation by a select committee in my view.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask one quick question. Senator Feinstein commissioned a study to close Gitmo so the 170 or so Gitmo prisoners could be brought here to the United States, and apparently the report is they could be brought to the United States and put in different facilities. Do you have any objection to that?

MCCAIN: Yes, I have great objection to it. And it also would be in violation of legislation that the Congress passed. And I think it would be basically an assertion of the executive authority that clearly would be violating existing laws.

VAN SUSTEREN: We can expect that will be hotly contested?

MCCAIN: I think it would be very hotly contested. And by the way, an example of the deterioration in Iraq, a guy who was responsible for a very sophisticated operation that executed five American soldiers was in prison in Baghdad, he was just released. He went back to Lebanon where he's one of the Hezbollah leaders.

VAN SUSTEREN: That just happened last week.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

MCCAIN: Thank you.