May 28th, 2014

Tony Blinken: Obama finds latest VA report ‘deeply troubling’

CNN’s Jake Tapper spoke with National Deputy Security Advisor Tony Blinken about President Obama’s reaction to the latest report from the Veterans Affairs inspector general. The full interview aired on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper, 4-5 p.m. E.T.

Blinken on White House response to latest report: “Just before coming to talk to you, it’s my understanding that Denis McDonough, the chief of staff, briefed the president on this interim report.  My understanding is the president found the findings of the interim report deeply troubling. He has already urged the V.A.  To move out now on making sure that veterans have the access and care that they need, not to wait for the findings of interim reports or final reports.”

A full transcript of the interview is available after the jump.


Transcript from Full Interview:



JAKE TAPPER, HOST:  Joining me now from the White House is President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, Tony Blinken.

Tony, good to see you.


TAPPER:  Before we talk about the president’s speech, I want to get your reaction to this interim report released by the Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General.  It shows that 1,700 veterans were denied appointments at the Phoenix V.A.  And records were apparently falsified.  Two Republicans who were not calling for Shinseki’s resignation and who are respected in the military community, Chairman Jeff Miller of the appropriate committee in the House and Senator John McCain, they’re now saying that it’s time for Shinseki to go.  And Miller is calling for a criminal investigation.

Now, the president said he was waiting for facts before any accountability.  Here are the facts.

Does this change the calculus for the president?

BLINKEN:  Jake, I haven’t had a chance to read the report.

Here’s what I know.

Just before coming to talk to you, it’s my understanding that Denis McDonough, the chief of staff, briefed the president on this interim report.  My understanding is the president found the findings of the interim report deeply troubling.

He has already urged the V.A.  To move out now on making sure that veterans have the access and care that they need, not to wait for the findings of interim reports or final reports.

But obviously, we’re looking at this closely and the preliminary view that we have based on reading the interim report is it’s deeply troubling, and, uh, steps need to be taken to correct the obvious deficiencies.

TAPPER:  But nothing in terms of anybody stepping down, most notably, Secretary Shinseki?

BLINKEN:  Look, we’re focused on making sure that these veterans who have delivered for this country and put their lives on the line get the care that they deserve and that they need.  And we want to make sure that the V.A.  Does that.

I would say that, of course, millions of veterans every day are getting extraordinary care from the V.A.  But we have manifest problems.  The interim report that we just received documents some of those.  They need to be corrected.

TAPPER:  Let’s talk about one of the big announcements from the president’s speech earlier today, this $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund to work with other countries to fight these terrorist groups.

Isn’t one of the biggest problems that the real hot spots, places like Libya, Syria, Nigeria, Yemen, none of them have particularly dependable governments.

BLINKEN:  Jake, let me put this in context first.

What you heard the president deliver today was a broad vision for American leadership in the world.  And what we are doing is turning the page on a decade of war.  Where we’ve had large scale deployments that have gone on indefinitely, we’re now in a position where ending those wars allows us to redeploy some of those forces, redeploy some of those refor — resources to act more flexible and to deal with the problems that have emerged in the last decade, notably, the fact that terrorism has become decentralized and has moved into other places.

So we now have an opportunity, having ended these wars, to refocus our resources and also to build up the capacity of partner countries to take on some of this burden and to help us deal with this problem.

TAPPER:  But you didn’t address the question I asked, which is this fund for these governments where there terrorist threats.  These governments are not the most dependable governments in the world.

BLINKEN:  Look, in many cases, we’re already seeing that we’re working effectively with a number of these governments.  In Yemen, we’ve worked closely with the government of Yemen to help them develop the capacity to deal with AQAP.

In Somalia, we’re supporting a multinational force to support the government and also help it deal with challenges from extremists and terrorists.

We’re working, indeed, with partners in the region to build up their capacity to deal with some of the spillover from Syria.  And that’s another part of what the president talked about today.

So in all of these instances, we think that we can leverage the support and build the capacity of other countries to help us in this struggle.

TAPPER:  Let’s turn to the crisis in Syria.

President Obama said this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terror and brutal dictators.


TAPPER:  Tony, has the president authorized or is he about to authorize military training of veteran Syrian rebels…


TAPPER:  — vetted Syrian rebels?

BLINKEN:  Jake, here’s what — here’s what the president said today and here’s what I can tell you.

First, we have been engaged in an effort to support the moderate opposition, both the political civilian opposition and the armed opposition over the last couple of years.  And we intend to continue that support and to build on it.

Second, we’re working closely with the neighboring states, as I mentioned a moment ago, to include Jordan, to include Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, Iraq and others who are feeling the effects of Syria.

And what the president talked about today was taking greater steps to build their capacity to deal with some of these problems — the borders, terrorism, refugee flows and working with Congress to develop that’s important.

And with Congress, we will look for ways to increase our effectiveness in supporting the Syrian opposition.  There have been some interesting ideas that have come up in Congress recently, including from the Armed Services Committee, Senator Levin.  We’re looking carefully at those.

But that’s what the president was talking about today.

TAPPER:  On the winding down of troops in Afghanistan, the time tab — table seems based on considerations other than conditions on the ground.  The former director of the CIA, Michael Hayden, said that going to zero in Iraq did not lead to a happy outcome.  And now President Obama is committed to doing just the same thing in Afghanistan.

Tony, just today there was a suicide bomber that killed at least 12 people in Northwestern Baghdad.

Doesn’t Hayden have a point?

Aren’t we likely to leave behind a real mess?

BLINKEN:  No.  Jake, what we’ve been doing is this.

In Afghanistan, we have spent the last many years building up the Afghan security forces and helping Afghans take responsibility for their own security.  We think it’s very important to be very clear with them about what’s going to be expected of them and when it’s going to be expected.  And that’s why the president was very deliberate in making clear the timetable for drawing down our forces.  Because as we do that, they have to take full responsibility.

Second, the president made very clear that combat operations by American and international forces will end at the end of this year.  It makes no sense to keep thousands or tens of thousands of American forces in Afghanistan if they’re not going to be engaged in combat operations.  They’ll just be sitting there as targets.

So what we’ve designed is a very deliberate drawdown that allows us to continue and finish the job of building up the capacity of the Afghanistan forces while pulling our forces out and being able to redirect those resources and that focus to other parts of the world where the threat has become more acute.

TAPPER:  Tony Blinken, thank you so much for your time.

BLINKEN:  Thanks very much.