On the Sunday, May 18, 2014 edition of CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), discussed her thoughts on the new Select Committee set up by the U.S. House of Representatives to investigate the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya in 2012, steps being taken to reform the NSA’s surveillance programs, and her committee’s relationship with the CIA.
In response to Crowley’s question about her response to the formation of a Select Committee to investigate Benghazi, Feinstein said she felt that the questions regarding what happened have been answered, specifically, Feinstein said: “…our report was bipartisan. And [questions] were certainly answered to the satisfaction of the Intelligence Committee”.
The full transcript of this interview is available after the jump:
CANDY CROWLEY, ANCHOR, CNN’s STATE OF THE UNION: Joining me now, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California. Thank you for being here. Appreciate it.
DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), CHAIR, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good morning.
CROWLEY: I want to talk first about that phenomenon known as a lame-duck presidency.
We’re seeing on a number of issues Democrats beginning to back away a little from the president’s position on a judge or on a specific issue. Have we entered that time, as we look ahead to the midterms — and we already know that the 2016 presidential race is going — that you are looking at a president with less power?
FEINSTEIN: I don’t think it’s backing away from him at all.
I think one of the things that’s happening is that it’s so difficult to move anything through the Senate because of the use of cloture by Republicans, so that virtually — virtually everything fails.
I mean, we did have some good things, the agriculture bill. The immigration bill passed the Senate. Those were two major bills. But everything else…
CROWLEY: But you needed…
CROWLEY: … and you needed the Republicans on those.
FEINSTEIN: Well, yes, that’s true.
I don’t see the backing away. I actually believe my colleagues desperately want him to succeed. They want him to leave a legacy. Health care will be that legacy. If we get immigration through, it will be that legacy.
I think he is concerned with getting out there, to some degree maybe too much, because he has to concentrate on getting bills through, or that’s my view. But I think his legacy has yet to be written, and I think that’s where he will concentrate.
CROWLEY: One of the things that some Democrats have objected to is a deal that the president made with Republicans that allowed them one of their judicial nominees that they wanted to see come through, as long as a group of them passed. The judicial nomination is for Michael Boggs.
Some Democrats have said, well, this — on social issues in particular, they have real problems with him.
Would you block that nomination? Would you vote against Michael Boggs?
FEINSTEIN: Well, not at this stage. I want to meet with him. I want to talk with him. I wanted to go through the committee hearing first. I did do that. I think the questions are very apparent. I know he has some very strong support, even in the African-American community in the state of Georgia. I have spoken to John Lewis about him in the House. And I have great respect for John Lewis, who felt that this was a good ticket. I have got to do my own due diligence. And when I’m ready, I will vote.
CROWLEY: I want to move you on to — lots of conversation this week about Hillary Clinton and her health brought up by Karl Rove, a Republican — top Republican strategist, certainly to former President Bush.
He talked about her, her accident when she had a blood clot and she was hospitalized. And even President Clinton has said it took six months to get over this.
When you look at that argument, when you look at the Benghazi argument, when you look at a number of things that are coming up along the way, what does it tell you about the nature of the battle coming up in 2016, should Hillary Clinton become the Democratic nominee?
FEINSTEIN: Well, first of all, the Karl Rove effort was pathetic. And I think it’s caused…
CROWLEY: But legitimate?
CROWLEY: The idea of a — health of a candidate?
FEINSTEIN: Not legitimate.
CROWLEY: Well, the gist of it, that she has to be, that…
FEINSTEIN: That she has sustained brain damage, that’s legitimate?
CROWLEY: Right. The quote “brain damage,” he denies, but, nonetheless, yes — no, what I’m asking you, is it legitimate to say that Hillary Clinton will have to be forthcoming about her health?
FEINSTEIN: In my view, she’s in the prime of her political life.
She has got the energy. She’s articulate. She’s got the background. She’s got the smarts. She has all of the elements of a good leader, plus the fact — and this is not to be underestimated — she is enormously attractive to people.
And she carries the torch for women, who are the majority of votes in this country, very strongly and holds it very high. And I think people respond to her.
CROWLEY: Do you worry that she is too early on this? We heard Governor Patrick say, I worry about this whole inevitability thing. We have got to — I hope her people are watching that because it tends to turn voters off.
FEINSTEIN: Well, yes, this is hard for me, because I did talk with her and thought it would be better that she not get out there early, because her favorability was so high, that all that could happen in this is go down, because somebody would do the stupid things that Karl Rove has just done.
So — but I think this. I think her book is coming out. I think the book will likely carry a good bit of her thinking on various big issues, certainly foreign policy, certainly the secretary of state. And we would have someone in the White House who would have a real background in foreign policy.
And I think that’s critical at this point in the world, with Russia expanding, with Africa becoming real problems from a terror point of view, and on and on and on.
CROWLEY: I want to talk to you about a couple of those things, using your expertise as chair of the Intelligence Committee.
The first is, as you know this, the House has now set up a select committee on Benghazi. It remains to be seen whether Democrats will join in that new probe. There are Republicans on the Senate saying, we either ought to join that probe or have our own select committee.
You did a study. Are you satisfied now? Do you — would you go along with a Senate panel looking into this or joining up with the House?
FEINSTEIN: I think it’s ridiculous.
I think it’s a hunting mission for a lynch mob, actually. I think that’s what’s going on. There have been four major reports. We spent a year-and-a-half on a report. We held hearings. Thousands of pages were reviewed. The staff spent hours and weeks on it first. That’s the first thing. Homeland Security in the Senate did an investigation, the accountability review that came up, the Pickering- Mullen review.
And I — I just don’t — if you compare it to Ronald Reagan, who was a big Republican hero, and what happened in Beirut with three attacks, with 240…
CROWLEY: The barracks.
FEINSTEIN: … servicemen, with seven CIA officers, with one chief of station being tortured to death, and Reagan admitted we weren’t ready for it.
Well, since then, a lot of things have been done. There were faults. The intelligence was there. Action should have been taken.
CROWLEY: But is it a matter that is imperative?
Do you — do you feel — look, there were memos, as you now know, that didn’t make their way to your committee or any of these other committees. They were revealed under Freedom of Information Act to an outside group. And it was a memo from a spokesman for the National Security Council saying — or, rather, someone on the National Security Council saying, well, we want to put our best face forward in general, talking about the talking points.
Do you feel that you know what happened in Benghazi, why the ambassador and others were there on 9/11, despite CIA reports that it was kind of just a hotbed of terrorist activity in Benghazi at that point, and are you confident that you know what happened with those talking points and it was not a deliberate attempt to mislead the Republican — or just mislead the American people? You think all those questions have been answered?
FEINSTEIN: I believe they have. And they have certainly been — our report was bipartisan. And they were certainly answered to the satisfaction of the Intelligence Committee.
CROWLEY: OK. Let me ask you about the kidnapped girls in Nigeria. Is there anything new from an intelligence point of view that you can tell us about, about what happened there?
FEINSTEIN: Well, we’re using all our technical means. We’re working with other nations.
As you know, France has become very active. All of that is good. I don’t think there’s any precise information at this time. I think there are real problems with the Nigerian government and the Nigerian military, because there was notice that this was going to happen. The military did nothing.
Boko Haram has burned down 200 girls’ schools. The government has done nothing. So, if you do nothing in the face of terror, it does one thing. It brings on more terror.
CROWLEY: It brings up more.
And, finally, I want to ask you — Glenn Greenwald has a new book out. You know Glenn Greenwald. He was one of the folks who had Edward Snowden as a source and leaked a lot of information about the NSA.
Now, in this new book, he talks about the NSA leaving almost no stone unturned, to just collect massive amounts of information. And one of the things he talked about was a plan that intercepts computer equipment, and — and retrofitting it with spyware at ports that are headed out of the U.S. to other countries.
FEINSTEIN: Well, I haven’t read his book. I just saw it for the first time in the green room, as a matter of fact.
FEINSTEIN: So I’m not going to comment. I am going to say that…
CROWLEY: Does that sound familiar at all, though, like taking computers off of…
FEINSTEIN: No. No, it does not.
FEINSTEIN: I can look into it. It does not sound familiar.
But I can tell you this. We just went through the opening of the 9/11 Museum. I know they will come after us, if they can. I see the intelligence. Terror is not down in the world. It’s up, both deaths, injuries, in many, many different places.
Al Qaeda has metastasized. And the question comes, how do we prevent an attack in this country? Now, the program that’s been so criticized, the 215 program…
CROWLEY: Collecting the phone data.
FEINSTEIN: … begins with a targeted terrorist who is abroad calling into this country. I — it’s not a surveillance program.
FEINSTEIN: What it is, is a data collection program. And some of that is going to be changed.
The House Intelligence — the House Judiciary Committee has passed a bill. The House Intelligence Committee has passed a bill. We are looking at those bills. It may be that we can find a way to make some improvements that will solve everyone’s problem with it to a great extent.
CROWLEY: I am over time at this point but I have to ask you, if you can in one word or a sentence. You have oversight over the CIA. You and the CIA have had significant differences, particularly over the handling of the report on torture at the CIA. What is your relationship now with the CIA?
FEINSTEIN: Well, my relationship is good. I mean I —
FEINSTEIN: No. What’s interesting — what I have to do is oversight. I’m not there to be the most popular person in any building. It’s to see that my committee is diligent, that we do the work of oversight, that when we’re wrong, we do something about it. When there’s something going on that shouldn’t be we do something about it.
CROWLEY: Thank you very much, Senator Dianne Feinstein. It’s always great to talk to you. I appreciate it.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you.