OTR Interviews

Hillary Clinton on Benghazi, jailed Marine, NSA, 'phony' IRS scandal, sexism and Obama

Part 3 of interview with former secretary of state

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 17, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, 'ON THE RECORD' HOST: Welcome On The Record. I'm Greta Van Susteren. I'm joined tonight by Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and my colleague, Bret Baier.

BRET BAIER, 'SPECIAL REPORT' HOST: I'm here with Madam Secretary. I will take the next seven minutes followed by Greta. Two quick follow-ups on Benghazi now and then we move to something else. You talked about the war. September 12th, Beth Jones, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State sends an mail to your Chief of Staff and others staying she has been speaking with the Libyans, specifically the Libyan ambassador. And she writes, quote, when he said quote that he expected that his regime elements carried out the attacks, I told the group that conducted the attacks Ansar al-Sharia is affiliated with Islamic extremists. So, the question is why is the state department telling the Libyans, the Libyan ambassador, Ansar al-Sharia, and yet telling the American people at the same time it was this video?

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Bret, I think that you have to take both ideas at the same time. I don't know anybody who is saying it is only the video now, but I think at the time , there was a lot of information flowing around that we were trying to assess that at least it played a part. We knew it had in Cairo which is next door to Libya. But, also, we were trying to sort things out like who did what, when, and information kept changing. I mean, that is you know one of the challenges, why I write about hard choices because information is coming at you from all directions. It sometimes takes time to sort it out, find out what actually is accurate, and frankly, what's not.

BAIER: I heard your interview with Diane Sawyer. What exactly are you taking responsibility for?

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CLINTON: I took responsibility for being at the head of the state department at that time. Now, that doesn't mean that I made every decision because I obviously did not. But it does mean that I feel very deeply and very personally about the losses that we incurred. And there were others who were lost in the line of duty while I was as secretary. And it also means that as a leader, I have a responsibility to try to figure out what happened and then to put into place changes that will prevent anything like that from happening again. And, the United States government, just like any business, any family, any person, has to be a learning organism. We learn from the terrible attacks in Beirut in 1983 where 250 Americans were killed in the marine barracks in our embassy. We learned from the attacks on our embassies in Kenya and tans Tanzania in 1998, and we are learning from this latest terrible attack. We have to keep trying to figure out how we can be in dangerous places. I'm not one who says there is danger -- your responsibility is to get us out. No, my responsibility is to do the best job that I can leading a diverse group, relying on security professionals, so that we can be in the hard places to help make the hard choices.

BAIER: I guess for the people who look at the ARB which singled out four state department officials, the ARB that you commissioned, they didn't interview you, but one of those officials was set to retire, three were reassigned, and no one was fired. So, there are people who look at that and say where is the accountability?

CLINTON: Well, I understand that, and we gave very specific direction. I said you can go talk to anybody. You can see any document, anything you need to try to help me and help the American public and congress understand what happened. So, they had unfettered access to everyone. And they spoke to the people who they thought were involved in making the security decisions that, you know, they believed were unfortunately inadequate for what we faced.

At the same time, they made very clear that there was no authority within our current law -- remember, this group was set up under existing American law, that you could not hold somebody accountable for a mistake. You know, there is a difference between getting it wrong and committing wrong. And what I asked for and what I hope the congress will do at the state department is pushing this on Capitol Hill -- is to give authority to be able to make certain decisions. Retention or retiring, so that people who may be responsible directly can be held accountable.

BAIER: Did President Obama, during his first term, ever seriously disappoint you in any way?

CLINTON: We had disagreements.

(CROSSTALK)

BAIER: Did he seriously disappoint you?

CLINTON: No. No. He did not, Bret. You know, I have known several presidents quite well, including my husband, and I worked closely with President George W. Bush and the White House then after 9/11 and I served with President Obama. I disagree with all three of those presidents on certain things. I can tell that you right now, but I also believe each has tried to do what he thought was best for the country. And I would only be seriously disappointed in any president if I thought that in some way he was either ignoring or undermining the national interest. And, I never saw that in any of those three men. Even though as I say I disagreed with all of them on something.

BAIER: In an interview with CBS, you were asked about politics and a viable woman if it's not you, and you replied quote politics is so unpredictable. Whoever runs has to recognize that the American system is probably the most difficult, even brutal in the world.

CLINTON: Yeah. Yeah.

BAIER: Have you been to more than 100 countries.

CLINTON: I have.

BAIER: Most brutal?

CLINTON: Not in a beat-you-up sort of sense, but in an absolute marathon running the gauntlet day after day, most of our fellow democracies around the world, many of which are parliamentary, they choose a leader from among the elected officials who represent a constituency but not the whole country. That's not where they are elected from. Many have time limits whether it's 60 days, 90, or 120 days, so their campaigns don't go on for years. Many of them don't cost anywhere near as much. We require our candidates to raise all that money. Certainly, a lot of them have rules that prevent other money from flowing in, influence -- I mean, you list all the differences. Now, I'm quick to add that.

BAIER: I guess people perked up with brutal, I suppose.

CLINTON: Yeah. Well, you know, I think that that comes from experience, because when I ended my 2008 campaign, I was exhausted. I was drained. It was quite an experience. But I'm quick to add that, you know, part of it is we have a different idea about free expression, about the role of money in politics as the supreme court has recently said. And we are a big complex country. And so, getting through that gauntlet to be one of the nominees to run for president requires a lot of stamina.

BAIER: Last thing, quickly. The Real Clear Politics average of major reliable poll, not just one, the average polls has the right track, wrong track breaking this way, 29 percent right track for the country, 64 percent wrong track. That's the average of polls. So, do you agree with the 64 percent?

CLINTON: What I agree with is that many Americans are still feeling that they have not recovered from the Great Recession. They are still worried about their future, the future of their children. We could go down all the reasons why from -- you know, student debt to, you know, stagnant or decreasing incomes to income inequality, all of these factors that Americans are living with and they look and they say what happened to the American Dream? I was raised with that. I'm a product of it. I am proud to be a product of it. I had a great upbringing. I had a family that supported me. Great public education. All these opportunities as did my husband. And now, people are saying well, we think it's over. So, of course they are going to say, regardless I would argue who is president, I would say that most people are saying wait a minute, it's not working for me anymore. What do we do to get back on track toward people living up to their own God- given potential in this country that we love?

BAIER: Thank you, Madam Secretary. Greta?

CLINTON: Thank you, Bret.

VAN SUSTEREN: Madam Secretary, you are a lawyer. President Obama is a lawyer. I'm a lawyer. And NSA spying on Americans violates the Fourth Amendment. Couldn't be plainer. You want to spy on Americans, you get a warrant. What do you think about that?

CLINTON: Well, I think that we are finally taking stock of the laws that we passed after 9/11. I voted for some, and I voted against some. And people are saying wait a minute, we did all of this in an emergency in a hurry because we were you know understandably worried and scared, and now, we need to take a step back and figure out how we make sure that the balance between liberty and security is absolutely right for America.

VAN SUSTEREN: Different question. Different question. When you go out and you seize American's stuff, you have to have a warrant.

CLINTON: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: The NSA seizing America's stuff, no warrant. And there are two options, either amend the Constitution or you get a warrant, that wasn't done. So, what should the American people think?

CLINTON: Well, I think that the laws that were passed, again, post 9/11, gave very broad authority. And that authority was passed by the Congress. It was overseen by the FISA courts, and it was endorsed by executives in two administrations, both Bush and Obama. I think what has happened is people have said, OK, the emergency is over, and we want to get back to regular order. We want to make sure that we're not being spied on, that our privacy is not being violated. So, we want you to keep us safe. We want you to protect us. But we don't want Americans to be in any way fearful of their own government actions.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't think any American wants to be unsafe. And I think every American wants to give the authority of the government to seize things constitutionally.

CLINTON: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: The problem is we have this funny little called the fourth amendment. And it's actually quite plain. And I know everyone on Capitol Hill is trying to scurry and say we have got these laws and I hear you, too. But the fact is the fourth amendment is plain and says you need a warrant.

CLINTON: Well, I think what you are going to find with the laws being amended and passed, one was just passed in the house. That the congress is trying to square Americans' constitutional right under the fourth amendment, and the necessity for information that can be connected to terrorist activity here at home or abroad. It's a really difficult balancing act. But you are 100 percent right, that we have to make some changes in order to secure that privacy, that constitutional right to privacy that Americans are due.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Sergeant Tahmooressi is a marine. He is sitting in prison in Mexico since March 31st. And Mexico has not fast tracked the judicial process. He is there after making accidental turn. What can the United States do or what should the United States be doing to help this marine get fast-tracked through the judicial system because it was an accidental turn into Mexico?

CLINTON: We should be doing and I assume we are, you know, I'm not there, so I can't speak directly to it, but we should be doing or I can tell you what I would be doing, burning up the telephone wires, sending, you know, envoys not just our ambassador, but others coming in, talking to the highest level Mexican officials, making it clear that this is really important to us. You know, we work with our counterparts, our friends in Mexico on a lot of issues. Obviously, it's something that is in our interest to do it as it is in theirs. When this kind of action happens and somebody who as you say made an accident turn who is serving our country ends up in a prison, that is just unacceptable.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would you expect that if you were still secretary of state made a phone call that they would get on this immediately.

CLINTON: Well, I'm not sure it would be only one phone call. We might have to make a couple of it, and call everybody that we could.

VAN SUSTEREN: But we have enough diplomatic muscle with Mexico that it doesn't need to drag on this long.

CLINTON: Well, again, I don't know the specifics, but I certainly expect everything is being done that can be done, but maybe we need to raise the decibels a little bit more.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, was very upset we were bugging her phone. Should would she be?

CLINTON: Yes, she should be. That was absolutely uncalled for. I said that before. There is work that we need to do with the Germans and inside Germany. I well remember that some of the 9/11 hijackers got some of the training and some of the plotting went on in Hamburg, Germany, and we weren't able to penetrate that, and neither were our allies in the German intelligence service. That has nothing to go with Angela Merkel's cell phone, and that should be off-limits.

VAN SUSTEREN: The sexism in politics. I agree there is sexism in politics. You write about it in your book. At one point, you write that the Obama administration -- Obama campaign rather, after John McCain selected Sarah Palin, that they called you (inaudible) and you issued something that was dismissive of her and you said no.

CLINTON: That's right, I did. And I write about it in the book because I want to make clear, number one, that, you know, I don't think attacking women for being women or for trying to get the votes of other women makes a lot of sense. I think it's right or smart. So, I made clear I wouldn't that. And shortly after that, the campaign also agreed with it because I do believe that sexism is still a problem. It's not just in politics. It's in journalism, in business, and all kinds of human endeavors in our country. And we have to call it out wherever we find it, even with our friends, we have to say you know what? That's a line you shouldn't cross.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that done though? One of the most striking things to me, I think there were terrible sexist things said about you. I have no doubt about it, but perhaps the one I put in the compartment all its own is that Governor Sarah Palin, there was a media article that and many people ran with it in which it said that she was not the mother of her special needs' child. And I thought the silence was deafening. I was hoping that a woman would speak up. I was hoping that a democratic woman would speak up, but the silence was absolutely deafening.

CLINTON: Well, I could not agree with you more, Greta. That those kinds of personal attacks, which I have had more than my share of because I have been in the political arena are, you know, despicable and they should be called out there. There's so much that moves so quickly in a presidential campaign as you know so well. I can't speak to who did or who didn't say anything. But I'm absolutely with you that any kind of personal attack should be repudiated.

VAN SUSTEREN: It seems to me that some that would at least help some of the politics or women, if people would cross parties and actually speak up because it would make it unsafe then for people to be critical within their own party and actually focus on the issues. Sort of get, you know, I think that would sort of, you know, make it safer for women.

CLINTON: I think that's a really good idea. I think we ought to try to enlist more women and men to do just that. I mean, it ought to be across the aisle. It ought to be across all segments of society. We don't do any service to ourselves, to each other, to young women coming up if we let those kind the comments stand, if we, you know, ignore the double standard, which still makes it very difficult for a lot of young women to feel that they have a role in the public sphere because of the way they are judged. So, I'm with you on that and maybe we could work together to try to get some kind of pact or agreement that people will speak up as we go forward in politics.

VAN SUSTEREN: I read your book and I was actually disturbed by this. Richard Holbrooke who served our nation with distinction in many ways, helped to handle the war in Bosnia, negotiate the Dayton accords, that when he was working for you, people over at the White House would sometimes roll their eyes at him. To me, I thought the arrogance of those people at the White House not respecting his contribution, that bothered me.

CLINTON: You know, I think it was related to age. Just like we were just talking about what's related to gender. I think a lot of younger people, and I wouldn't exclude any part of society, wouldn't be just at the White House or any one place, may not appreciate some of the struggles that our country has gone through, even in fairly recent times.

VAN SUSTEREN: The way I read it in your book is that these -- I take it wasn't the president because -- but I mean someone below the president, you don't name them, but the arrogance that they thought they knew better.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: And actually, I think that makes it hard to sort of govern if your staff thinks that they are such know it all's.

CLINTON: Well, I think part of it was Richard's experiences in Bosnia and his experiences going back it Vietnam, which he often talked about and drew comparisons with, were not understood to be as relevant as Richard and I thought they were because we both had lived through both of those experiences. First in Vietnam as young people, he was a diplomat, and then, with the war in Bosnia. I view it as you know kind of a missed opportunity, perhaps, for people who didn't have the personal experience to have learned more. But one thing about Richard Holbrooke is he was indefatigable, and he was used to people saying OK, Richard, it never stopped him. He just kept going. I also talked in the book how he followed me into a lady's room in Pakistan once because he was trying to get me to agree to something, and I was still thinking about it. And he thought I needed to agree right then. He was not bothered by any of this. I was the observer who thought what a shame that people aren't really listening to someone who is one of the great diplomats of our time.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. President Obama has called the IRS scandal a "phony scandal." Is it a phony scandal?

CLINTON: Well, I think any time IRS is involved, for many people, it's a real scandal. I think that there are some challenges that rightly need to be made to what is being said and I assume that the inquiry will continue. So, I don't have the details, but I think what President Obama means there is there really wasn't a lot of, you know, evidence that this was deliberate but that's why the investigation needs to continue.

VAN SUSTEREN: But it's really hard not to say it's deliberate whether you have now, we find out that there are two years worth of pertinent emails missing. It would be almost irrational not to be extremely suspicious. You know, I wouldn't say phony. I would say this is real to many Americans.

CLINTON: Well, I think maybe the right thing to say is let's investigate it, but do it as a nonpartisan, as fair-minded, and fair and balanced as we can.

VAN SUSTEREN: I have heard that.

CLINTON: Because we want to know what the facts are.

VAN SUSTEREN: If you call it phony, you are trying to throw the dog off the scent.

CLINTON: Well, I think not just the president, but anybody who says that is basically saying, you know, the circus around the investigations, you know that -- you are a long-time observer, are really trying to confuse what is happening. It's important to get back to very professional inquiries that can't be accused of politicizing because somebody may be worried about the answer they get or they don't get, and let's try to find out, you know, what the facts are.

VAN SUSTEREN: Secretary Clinton, thank you. I have read the book. Of course, I traveled on many of these trips. It's a fun read. Thank you very much. And that concludes our special joint interview.

CLINTON: Thank you.

BAIER: Madam Secretary, thank you very much.

CLINTON: Thank you so much, Bret. My pleasure.

BAIER: Interesting back and forth.

CLINTON: Thank you, Greta.