OTR Interviews

Theater of the absurd? Why is the White House continuing to split hairs over whether the Taliban is a 'terror group'

In Obama's White House, if it quacks like a terrorist, it's not necessarily a terrorist, as White House spokesman tries to explain why the Taliban is not a terror group. Karl Rove sounds off.


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 29, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Yes, it happened again, for the second day in a row, the White House digging its heels and refusing to call the Taliban terrorists.

Yesterday, deputy press secretary, Eric Schultz, got the administration into the mess. And today, just when it looked like his boss might dig him out -- well, you have to hear this one to believe it.

Here is White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.


JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Does the administration consider the Taliban a terrorist organization or not?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Taliban has resorted to terror tactics. But those terror tactics have principally been focused on Afghanistan. The reason we are concerned about that there are significant number of American personnel including American military personnel in Afghanistan that are in harm's way. The Taliban is a very dangerous organization.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is it because we don't negotiate with terrorists and yet we negotiated with the release of Sergeant Bergdahl?

EARNEST: We have been clear about the fact that conversations with the Taliban were executed through the Qatari government.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It was a quid pro quo?

EARNEST: Well, I don't know if that Latin phrase is appropriate in this situation.


VAN SUSTEREN: And Karl Rove joins us.

Nice to see you, Karl.

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Good to see you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, maybe you can help me figure this one out. Josh Earnest says the Taliban are not terrorists. Today, three Americans gunned down by someone dressed in an Afghan police uniform in Kabul in the airport in the last 48 hours. The Taliban is suspected in multiple attacks that killed more than 30, including a suicide bombing attack on a funeral in Afghanistan today. Why is the White House not calling them terrorists?

ROVE: I had no idea. Let's go back even further than this. Let's go back to September of 2001. The attacks on 9/11 were launched by al Qaeda which was located inside of Afghanistan. It had been welcomed to Afghanistan by the Taliban, which was then in power. After 9/11, President Bush demanded that the Taliban give up Usama bin Laden and the al Qaeda and you may remember that for a period of about five or six weeks, they continued to refuse to turn him over and made a series of incredible statements that there was no evidence. They had been present nod evidence that he was responsible for the attacks of 9/11. They finally ended up saying well we will try him in Afghanistan but only if the United States presents evidence that he is actually responsible for it they refused to give him up.

Now, maybe Mr. Earnest and Mr. Schultz don't remember that, but they ought to remember what we're operating n Afghanistan, what authority we are operating under. And it is an Authorization for the Use of Force passed by the United States Congress in the fall of 2001.

Let me read you from two parts of it. There are a series of "whereas" clauses. One of which reads, "Whereas, the president has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of terrorism, international terrorism against the United States." And then they go into the sections, Section 1 and Section 2. "Section 2, Authorization for Use of United States Armed Forces." In general, that "the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001, or who harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations organizations, or persons."

That is the authority under which we are operating in Afghanistan. And maybe Mr. Earnest and Mr. Schultz should stop consult their talking points but instead look at the legal authority which says we are there to confront international terrorism represented at that point in the regime of the Taliban which is attempting to return to power again today in the country of Afghanistan.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't know. It's actually to me very alarming. Almost like they are off the page. They are fighting something that nobody else is or they are not fighting what everybody else thinks they should be fighting.

Let me turn to the breaking news. Catherine Herridge just reported that one of the five Gitmo traded for Sergeant Bergdahl has been intercepted having some sort of communication with the Taliban, suggesting that he is back in the game.

ROVE: Look, this was to be anticipated. In the Bush administration eras, we had a much larger number of detainees in Gitmo. The thought was take the least dangerous of them and send them back to countries that would accept them, Saudi Arabia, et cetera. And this was done. With the least dangerous. And even then, 30 percent or 40 percent, depending on the tranche, showed back up in the battlefield. We are now down to the dregs at Gitmo. We are down to the last several hundred, incredibly dangerous, incredibly problematic individuals. What's happening there, we have got a policy that says send them out.

Now, I do have one minor disagreement with Catherine. We don't know exactly how they got this communication. The sense was that it was -- we were listening in to his phone. That might be true. But it might also be true -- in fact, I think it's more-likely to be true -- that we had the bad phone number that was being called and we knew the person in Pakistan or the tribal region and listened in on his conversation. I'm not certain we necessarily know what the cell phones are of all of those bad guys, those five bad guys now hanging out in Qatar. It may have been that we caught this guy having that communication because he made the mistake of calling a cell phone number that we know about.

So, first of all, it might be more than one. And I think you and Catherine were absolutely right, the chances of this guy returning to the battle in May when he is -- when his, quote, "so-called detention in Qatar" is up is now likely to be very high.


ROVE: Look, when they return, they are going to be heroes. They are going to be people who are --


VAN SUSTEREN: I'm actually troubled by using the word --

ROVE: They are going to be heroes to the Taliban.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, I'm troubled by the words of detention. Maybe it's my days of being a criminal defense lawyer. I know he what detention is. Running around a country with a few people looking at you is not detention. Maybe that's my background. Doesn't seem like detention to me.

Anyway, Karl, thank you.

ROVE: Thank you.