03:44 PM ET, October 28th, 2014

  Network Brings Magic Wall to Viewers’ Fingertips Empire State Building to Display CNN’s Election Results   With the U.S. Senate up for grabs, CNN’s Election Night in America will provide viewers with the most comprehensive coverage and up-to-the-minute election results from all the key states and races across the country and from the Election […] Full Post

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on 'State of the Union'
September 8th, 2013
10:28 AM ET

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on 'State of the Union'

Today on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough spoke about the tough sell on Syria strikes and whether the administration has international support. Highlights are below and a full transcript is after the jump.

McDonough on evidence of the use of chemical weapons:
"... All of that leads to, as I say, a quite strong common sense test, irrespective of the intelligence, that suggests that the regime carried this out. Now, do we have a picture or do we have irrefutable, beyond a reasonable doubt evidence? This is not a court of law.  And intelligence does not work that way.”

On military vs. moral support:
CROWLEY:  So let me just put this to rest.  No, we have no firm commitments for military personnel or military equipment from any other country?

MCDONOUGH:  I - look, we have - we have plenty of support.  I'm not going to get into who is going to do what in any particular operation.  We feel very good about the support we have and we'll continue to build more.

CROWLEY:  OK.  But at this point, more moral support than anything, is what you're talking about?

MCDONOUGH:  You're trying to get me to say that.  I'm not going to say that.

On Syria vs. other U.S. engagements in the Middle East and North Africa:
MCDONOUGH: But part of why we are being very clear about the targeted, limited nature of this, no boots on the ground, this is not Iraq or Afghanistan, this is not Libya, this is not an extended air campaign.  This is something that's targeted, limited and effective so as to underscore that he should not think that he can get away with this again.

Full Transcript

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST:  As I mentioned, we spoke a little bit earlier to White House chief of - to the White House chief of staff.

And the first question was about international support.

Joining me now, Denis McDonough, chief of staff at the White House.

Thanks for being here.

I want to ask you something right now.

If the U.S. should launch a strike, is there any country anyway that would provide military equipment or military personnel to help us?

DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  Well, it's important to see the statement that was, uh, released by the G-20 on Friday, where we had several countries joining us in calling for the Syrian regime to be held accountable for any...

CROWLEY:  But not supporting a U.S. strike?

MCDONOUGH:  - be held ac...

CROWLEY:  Let's make that clear.

MCDONOUGH:  - to be held accountable for an - an instance that nobody now is debating, which is interesting.  Nobody now debates the intelligence which makes clear - and we have high confidence about this - that on August - in August, the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people.  A former Iranian president has indicated that he believes that.  The entire world believes that.  We're talking to Congress about that now.  So Congress...

CROWLEY:  Because everyone believes that.

MCDONOUGH:  - has an opportunity this week to answer a simple question - should there be consequences for him for having used that material?

CROWLEY:  The president...

MCDONOUGH:  There is going to be a lot of interest in the answer to that question in Tehran, among Hezbollah and in Damascus.  And we should be very clear about it.

CROWLEY:  I want to ask you about Tehran and the message to Tehran in a minute.  But let me get to this - to this point.

Right now, the president has talked about it's the world red line.  The president has talked about all the neighboring countries that are threatened by what Assad has done and his use of chemical weapons.

Are any of them willing to provide military equipment or military personnel?

Do you have a firm commitment from anybody?

MCDONOUGH:  Well, we've got commitments from, as you saw in the statement, and as you've seen in a series of statements since, including yesterday out of Brussels, where the EU came out and said that the Syrian government should be held to account.

CROWLEY:  Moral support.

MCDONOUGH:  Well, look, I think it...

CROWLEY:  And that specific report, not - it's not specific support for the strike at this point.

MCDONOUGH:  Well, at - not at this point, but it is specific support for holding him to account and it is a recognition that it happened.  So new - we are no longer debating whether it happened or whether it didn't happen.  And that's important.

But we do have plenty of friends who are standing with us.  But let's remember why the president said it's an international red line.

Going back almost 100 years, 1925, the Geneva Protocol against the use of these terrible weapons, uh, that's been in place for almost 100 years.

CROWLEY:  And it's a protocol that does not include, and here's the punishment if it happens, we should say that.

MCDONOUGH:  It's a protocol (INAUDIBLE)...

CROWLEY:  So the answer is pretty much no at this point...

MCDONOUGH:  It's a protocol that has...

CROWLEY:  - that we have a commitment.

MCDONOUGH:  - allowed us to ensure that our people, our troops, men and women in uniform, have nat - not been subjected to attacks with chemical weapons since World War I.  That's the important issue here.  We want to - we want to continue it - to have it that way.

CROWLEY:  So let me just put this to rest.  No, we have no firm commitments for military personnel or military equipment from any other country?

MCDONOUGH:  I - look, we have - we have plenty of support.  I'm not going to get into who is going to do what in any particular operation.  We feel very good about the support we have and we'll continue to build more.

CROWLEY:  OK.  But at this point, more moral support than anything, is what you're talking about?

MCDONOUGH:  You're trying to get me to say that.  I'm not going to say that.

CROWLEY:  All right.

Will you wait until after the U.N. inspectors come out with their report on the chemical weapons before a strike?

MCDONOUGH:  Obviously, we're interested in what the U.N. inspectors have to say, but let's remember a couple of things.

One, they're not going to be able to tell us, because their mandate will not allow them to tell us, who is responsible for the attack.

CROWLEY:  Right.

MCDONOUGH:  So that - it could be interesting corroborative information to what we already know and what I've just indicated to you, everybody whom I speak with has indicated to me they believe, which is he used chemical weapons in August...

CROWLEY:  Sure.

MCDONOUGH:  - against his own people.

CROWLEY:  But the question comes from the fact that the EU, in their statement, seemed to be indicating, we want to see this U.N. report, that there's a, you know, there's the imprimatur of the - of - of having, uh, the U.N. saying, yes, they were used.

MCDONOUGH:  It obviously is very important...

CROWLEY:  Right.

MCDONOUGH:  - to our friends in Europe and other friends, as well.

Uh, so we've indicated to, as Secretary Kerry said yesterday, we've indicated to our friends that we'll come out - we'll continue to work with them.  We'll see what, uh, what comes out of New York.  We're, right now, focused on Washington and trying to get Congressional support for this...

CROWLEY:  But would you wait for the EU report?

MCDONOUGH:  Well, we're - right now, the time line seemed (INAUDIBLE)...

CROWLEY:  The U.N. report?

MCDONOUGH:  The - right now, the time lines seem to work, uh, consistent with one another.  But we'll see how this works.  The president ultimately is going to make this decision in consultation with Congress on our time line as best suits our interests.

CROWLEY:  So when the president speaks on Tuesday night, do you have and will he reveal a direct link between, um, Hafez Al-Assad - Bashar al-Assad and these chemical weapons being used?

MCDONOUGH:  Well, I'm not going to pre - I'm not going to front run the president's, uh, address.

But here's what we do know...

CROWLEY:  Is there one?

And does the intelligence show a direct link?

MCDONOUGH:  Here's, uh, here's what we know.  Here's the common sense test.  I'm not going to talk to you about intelligence.  Here's the common sense test.  The material was used in the eastern suburbs of Damascus that had been controlled by the opposition for some time.  It was delivered by rockets, rockets which we know the Assad regime has and we have no indications that the opposition has.

And you've now seen - uh, CNN, in fact, ran these videos yesterday.  You've seen the, uh, video proof of the outcome of those attacks.

All of that leads to, as I say, a quite strong common sense test, irrespective of the intelligence, that suggests that the regime carried this out.

Now, do we have a picture or do we have irrefutable, beyond a reasonable doubt evidence?

CROWLEY:  Yes.

MCDONOUGH:  This is not a court of law.  And intelligence does not work that way.

CROWLEY:  Right.  So...

MCDONOUGH:  Um, so what we...

CROWLEY:  (INAUDIBLE).

MCDONOUGH:  - do know and what we know the common sense test says is he is responsible for this.  He should be held to account.

CROWLEY:  I want to play you something that the president said Friday, when he spoke about why he asked for a Congressional authorization of hits.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think we will be more effective and stronger if, in fact, Congress authorizes this action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY:  Is the opposite also true, that if Congress does not authorize this action, it will be less effective and weaker?

MCDONOUGH:  Look, I, the - the question is not on the action in the first instance.  The question is very simple for Congress this week.  Given - I've now talked to dozens of members of Congress.  Not a single one rebuts or refutes the intelligence and the evidence.

So the question for them is, should he be held to account for carrying out this activity?

Tans to that question will be followed in Tehran, will be followed in Damascus, will be followed by Hezbollah.

Now, the question is, will we be stronger?

Look over the course of our history.  That's the - that's the strength of the War Powers Resolution.  That's a - that's the strength of "The Constitution."

(INAUDIBLE)...

CROWLEY:  But without Congressional approval...

MCDONOUGH:  (INAUDIBLE).

CROWLEY:  - would the president - the president's hand be weaker?

Would a strike be less effective?

Is - is the opposite of that statement true?

MCDONOUGH:  I - the - the statement stands on its own.  There is no question about it.  Uh, together, we're stronger, histor - history shows us that.  And not only in Damascus, not only in Syria, but in Iran and other places, as well.

CROWLEY:  But I want to play just a little bit for you of an ad from MoveOn.org.  They, of course were very supportive of the president in both of his elections to the White House.  And they're putting out an ad urging Congress to vote "no" on a strike in Syria.

And here's part of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:   What should America expect if we rush into Syria alone, with no real plan for the consequences?

We already know, it gets worse.  Congress - most Americans oppose missile strikes in Syria.  Don't lead us down this road again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY:  It - it argues that we didn't think we were going to be in Iraq for as long as we were there.  We didn't think we were going to be in Afghanistan for as long as - we are still there.

Why is this different?

MCDONOUGH:  Look, the - uh, let's go back and look at any number of things.  I just told you that there's not a single member of Congress debating the intelligence with us right now.  Well, the fact is that - that was not the case in Iraq.  I was there and I saw that one up close and personally.

Uh, we are very disciplined about exactly what we're talking about here.  We're not talking about regime change.  We're not talking about occupation.  We're not talking...

CROWLEY:  What are you talking about?

MCDONOUGH:  - we're not talking about boots on the ground.  The president has been very clear that there will be no boots on the ground.

This is about targeted, limited, consequential action to deter and degrade so that he doesn't carry out these terrible attacks again, the attacks that you showed here on your - on your station throughout the day yesterday.

CROWLEY:  So the mission is to deter and - to deter chemical attacks and to degrade his ability to do so?

Let me just quickly ask you about this Iran component.  I am confused by this idea that somehow the U.S., uh, you know, backing up words with a missile strike into Syria sends a message to Iran.

We went to Iraq with more than 100,000 troops.  We took out a leader and it didn't affect their behavior at all.

Why would a missile strike in Syria do so?

MCDONOUGH:  Because of exactly it is - well, there's a couple different reasons.

Number one, let's remember that the Iranians have a particular history with chemical weapons.  The receiver, by the way, of attacks with chemical weapons, not the sender.  So they're very focused on what's happening in Syria.

And we have plenty of reason to believe that they're very uncomfortable with what their, uh, what their ally chose to do here.

But as importantly, when we lay down and the international community lays down a red line, as we have now seven times in Security Council resolutions against the Iranians, saying that they cannot develop nuclear weapons and they continue to do it, we have to make sure that they do not misinterpret where the West is and make it - misinterpret how we react to Syria to suggest that they have greater operating space or more wiggle room as it relates to its nuclear...

CROWLEY:  But (INAUDIBLE)...

MCDONOUGH:  - nuclear program.

CROWLEY:  - they didn't seem all that deterred when we went into Iraq.

But no - nonetheless, um, let's talk about the risks, because you're right, I don't care if people are saying I'm not sure this evidence is strong enough.  Here's what I hear.

What's the mission?

You just defined that.

What are the risks?

What did the president weigh when he decided a strike was something he needed to do?

MCDONOUGH:  Well, the risks are many fold.

One, the - the risk that somehow we get dragged into the middle of an ongoing civil war.  From more than two years now, the president has been very restrained.  His restraint is an - is evidence of our strength in this.  And we have to obviously be very careful and very targeted and very limited in our engagement so we do not get dragged into the middle of this.

And then there's also obviously risk of reaction, uh, and retaliation against us or our friends.  And we're, uh, obviously providing for it and planning for every contingency in that regard.  And we'll be ready for that.

But part of why we are being very clear about the targeted, limited nature of this, no boots on the ground, this is not Iraq or Afghanistan, this is not Libya, this is not an extended air campaign.  This is something that's targeted, limited and effective so as to underscore that he should not think that he can get away with this again.

CROWLEY:  Um, you have said a couple of times, as has the president, no boots on the ground.

Will there be pilots in the air over Syria?

MCDONOUGH:  I'm not going to get into operational details like that.

CROWLEY:  So neither a yes or no.

Um, everything we saw before the president came out and said I'm going to ask for Congressional authorization, as you know, the secretary of State was out there, very muscular, it was - it was all systems go, the strike was going to happen.

The president has a meeting with you and the next thing, to a lot of people's surprise, is, oh, I'm going to ask for Congressional authorization.

What happened in that meeting?

MCDONOUGH:  You know, the days after this attack happened, on August 21st, we immediately began to reach members of Congress across the country.  And we said to them, we let - began to consult with them, here's what we believe happened, what - here's what we think we should do about it.

What do you all think we should do about it?

To a person, they said Congress needs to be consulted, needs to be heard and should vote.

So this is not a surprise to us.  This is not a surprise to the members of Congress who've specifically asked for this.  And they have an opportunity this week to answer that question...

CROWLEY:  (INAUDIBLE)...

MCDONOUGH:  - are there consequences...

CROWLEY:  - there's a difference between consultation...

MCDONOUGH:  (INAUDIBLE).

CROWLEY:  - and authorization?

MCDONOUGH:  No, well, there really isn't.  Obviously, we have consulted very closely.  But members were quite clear that - almost 200 members sent a letter asking for the opportunity to vote.

So this is not a surprise, Candy.  This should not be - come as a surprise.  It also should not come as a surprise from a president who wants to get us off this permanent war footing.

What better way to get us off the permanent war footing than to make Congress a full partner in this effort?

Keeping Congress involved will maximize discipline, make sure that this is limited and make sure that we carry it out in a targeted and consequential way.

CROWLEY:  Secretary Kerry has said that history will judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turn a blind eye to a dictator's wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings.

In the end, all of you, from, uh, up to and including the president, have said, the president can do this without Congressional approval.

Given what the secretary of State has said are the consequences here, um, it is difficult to believe that you all aren't signaling that yes, you will go ahead regardless of what Congress does.

MCDONOUGH:  Look, I'd say two things.

In terms of turning a blind eye, I hope that before any member of Congress makes his decision on how to vote, they take a look at that video that you all made available to the world yesterday.  Take a look at that and try to turn away from that.  That's one.

Two, our consultation with Congress and the president's request for authorization is not an empty exercise.  You've seen what we're doing...

CROWLEY:  (INAUDIBLE)...

MCDONOUGH:  - you see the effort that we're going through...

CROWLEY:  - I'm just saying, you know

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY:  - that you were outlining and the Secretary outlined, how can you do anything other but go ahead and strike, even if Congress tells you not to?

MCDONOUGH:  And what I would say is this, is that - and this is, again, what the president said, is if members of Congress want to answer that question, to say that there should be consequences for this action, than they're going to have to vote yes for the authorization.

CROWLEY:  White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, thank you for joining us.

MCDONOUGH:  Thanks for having me, Candy. It's really nice to be here.

###

WH chief of staff: ‘This is not Iraq or Afghanistan’
tmpl
soundoff (No Responses)

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.