Hillary Clinton: I ‘don’t know what to expect’ at the Benghazi hearings
Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, joined anchor, Jake Tapper.
For more information, see https://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/. Also, text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.
MANDATORY CREDIT: CNN’s “State of the Union”
Clinton’s remarks on her upcoming testimony in front of the House Select Committee on Benghazi: “I really don’t know what to expect. I think it’s pretty clear that whatever they might have thought they were doing, they ended up becoming a partisan arm of the Republican National Committee with an overwhelming focus on trying to as, they admitted, down my poll numbers. I’ve already testified about Benghazi. I testified to the best of my ability before the Senate and the House. I don’t know that I have very much to add. This is, after all, the eighth investigation. Other committees of the Congress, standing committees with other experienced members of staff have all looked into this and basically just rejected the conspiracy theories that are still floating out there in some circles. So, I really don’t know. I will do my best to answer their questions. But I don’t really know what their objective is right now.”
Clinton on her husband’s review of the debate: “He thought I did a really good job. And I think that’s the highest praise that I can ever get, because there’s nobody who — whose opinion on these kinds of things I respect more. It was great to have him with me. We had just celebrated our 40th anniversary on Sunday last. So, the fact that he could come and keep me company and keep my spirits up and, you know, drill me on some of the things he thought were important meant a great deal to me.”
Clinton’s response to US troops in Afghanistan: “I think what you’re seeing with President Obama is a perfect example of a leader who has strong convictions about what he would like to see happen but also pays attention to what’s going on in the real world. And his decision is one that I agree with. I will not sit here today and say what I would do upon taking office because, again, we want to bring our troops home. We certainly don’t want them engaged in on the ground combat. We want them to help support and train the Afghan army. And we want them to, you know, continue to work with the government of Afghanistan to try to help strengthen security for them. So, I can’t predict where things will be in January of 2017. But I support the president’s decision.”
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN: So, congratulations on this new poll number in New Hampshire showing that you’re pulling ahead of Bernie Sanders in a state where you have lagged a little. He’s from neighboring Vermont — the reviews obviously very positive from many pundits.
I’m wondering what the pundit in chief, your husband…
TAPPER: … who was in Vegas, I’m wondering what he said to you after the debate.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He thought I did a really good job. And I think that’s the highest praise that I can ever get, because there’s nobody who — whose opinion on these kinds of things I respect more.
It was great to have him with me. We had just celebrated our 40th anniversary on Sunday last. So, the fact that he could come and keep me company and keep my spirits up and, you know, drill me on some of the things he thought were important meant a great deal to me.
TAPPER: As long as you bring it up, 40 years of marriage.
CLINTON: Forty years, Jake, 40 years.
TAPPER: How — how — what do you know about him now that you didn’t know 40 years ago?
CLINTON: I am so grateful that we have basically had the opportunity to grow in so many different ways.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you or your viewers that it’s been a path filled with rose blossoms. It’s been challenging. But, overall, looking back at those 40 years, I am so grateful that, after he asked me twice, I finally said yes and have spent these years with him.
TAPPER: Turning to the debate, you said at the debate that you’re a progressive, but you’re a progressive that likes to get things done.
Sanders has plans that I think might be fairly called more ambitious than yours, in terms of expanding Medicare for everybody, basically single-payer health care, free college tuition, an across-the-board expansion of Social Security benefits.
Do you think he’s being unrealistic when he makes these proposals, in terms of what can actually get passed through Congress?
CLINTON: Look, I have the highest regard for Senator Sanders. And I think he is raising issues that the electorate, not just Democrats, everybody needs to be thinking about. And he has put forward his plans with passionate intensity. And I have put forth mine. And just think of the difference between us and the Republicans, who have put forth nothing but the same old out-of-touch, out-of-date policies.
TAPPER: But why are his plans more ambitious? Is it…
CLINTON: Well, his — he has a very ambitious and expansive view about what he thinks should be done with respect to free college and other of the policies that we both are trying to tackle.
I believe that my approach, for example, on college, I call it the New College Compact, because I think everybody should have some skin in the game, including students, who I say should work for part of their education. Maybe it’s because I did and my husband did, but I think it’s something that you want young people to feel really committed to.
It’s a difference in approach. We will have an opportunity, as these debates go forward, to really dig down. And I’m hoping that whatever network hosts them, whoever the moderator happens to be, that they will really ask us to explain and contrast.
But it’s a policy difference. I mean, you could see on that stage in Las Vegas how we are maybe approaching these problems with different solutions, but we’re both seeing the pressures that American families are under and the challenges that they’re facing that we want to try to address.
And the differences between us is nothing like the differences we all have with the Republicans. And I want the American people to be part of the debate, and to hear Senator Sanders’ perspective and what he’s proposing, to hear mine, to make up their mind, and then to remember that we’re not peddling the same old failed policies of trickle-down economics and let the corporations do what they want and cut taxes on the wealthy, which is the answer to everything that the Republicans put forth.
TAPPER: Speaking of the next debate, you have said in the past that Vice President Biden should have — should take his time, whatever he needs, to make his decision about whether or not to run.
But your campaign is now signaling that it might be time for him to make a decision. Your top adviser John Podesta said this week — quote — “I think the time has come for a decision.”
Has the time come?
CLINTON: Well, that’s up to Vice President Biden. Obviously, I have…
TAPPER: That’s your top adviser.
CLINTON: Well, and I think what John was saying is that, whether you are encouraging or not, there does come a point where a decision has to be made.
But, certainly, I’m not in any way suggesting or recommending that the vice president accept any timetable, other than the one that is clicking inside of him. He has to make this decision.
TAPPER: At the debate, you were asked to name the enemy of which you were most proud.
TAPPER: Among your answers were Republicans. That’s about half the country, Republicans.
CLINTON: Well, it was a little tongue-in-cheek.
But it’s clear, I think, to anybody who’s been around for a while that, you know, they do seem to enjoy coming after me. But then, once I’m in office, they have always worked with me. And I expect it will be exactly the same.
It’s funny to me. When I was secretary of state, I had very high support and approval from Republicans, not just the Republican voters, but Republican officeholders. As soon as I got into this presidential election, you know, all of that collapsed again.
And I’m just reminding people that, you know, you can be an adversary in politics, but then you do have to come together and figure out how to solve problems.
TAPPER: You’re talking a lot at the debate and on the stump about further restrictions on gun ownership, gun control.
TAPPER: I remember, in 2008, during the primaries, you were positioning — positioning yourself to the right of President Obama, or then-Senator Obama, on this issue. You talked about respecting how guns are part of the culture, sending out a mailer criticizing then-Senator Obama for pushing tougher gun laws.
But now you’re coming at Bernie Sanders on this issue from the left. Did something change, or is it just about who you’re running against?
CLINTON: No, not at all. In fact, I would characterize what happened in ’08 very differently.
I spent a lot of years in Arkansas. I have a lot of experience with and respect for people who own guns, collect guns, use them for hunting, use them for target shooting. I respect the Second Amendment. I was taught to shoot by my dad when I was a girl. I have gone hunting. I get that.
And I don’t in any way want to denigrate those responsible gun owners, who have rights under the Second Amendment and our laws. But I believe we have gone way too far in being intimidated by the NRA. And I have said repeatedly that the majority of Americans and the majority of gun owners support universal background checks.
And for the NRA to take these absolute positions on behalf of the most extreme of their members and carrying water for gun manufacturers and dealers is just wrong.
So, I don’t think I have moved at all. I do have more experience perhaps than some in living in places. I represented Upstate New York, which is a big, vast rural area with small towns and cities. So, I get why people who are part of gun ownership are very proud of that.
But what I don’t get is why we can’t have sensible gun safety measures to keep guns out of the hands of fugitives and stalkers and felons and people with serious mental illness and domestic abusers, the people who should not have them in the first place.
TAPPER: “The New Yorker” this week published a memo about you, about how to defeat you, by then-Senator Obama’s campaign, including your current pollster, who I don’t know if has talked to you about this.
CLINTON: I haven’t seen him.
TAPPER: But, in any case, among other things, the memo said that you are driven by politics, not conviction, and you’re constantly shifting, dodging and changing positions to satisfy the politics of the moment.
That’s kind of the same rap on you from your opponents now. Do you reject it outright? Or do you see why some people might feel that way?
CLINTON: Well, I can see why people try to come up with ways of attacking me. That seems to be part of the landscape. It happened when I ran for the Senate. It happened obviously again when I ran for president.
But I have been the same person. I have the same values. I have the same principles. There isn’t anybody, anybody that I know in politics who hasn’t changed a position from time to time, except some Republicans who are impervious to evidence and changed circumstances.
So, I really don’t pay much mind to that. I’m sure we had some memo somewhere pointing out things that we tried to go after. But that’s politics. I get it. But I think anyone who looks at what I have fought for and stood for my entire adult life, on behalf of kids and families and women and the middle class and economic opportunity, knows that I have been very steady.
And, yes, do I look at evidence and try to figure out what’s the best way forward to achieve the goals that I hold? Yes, I do, do that.
TAPPER: Speaking of politics, let’s talk about the front-runner on the other side of the aisle, Donald Trump.
His daughter Ivanka just gave an interview to CNN. She said her dad — quote — “is not a politician, but he’s really changing the dialogue and he’s really disrupting the process in a very positive way.”
Do you agree?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, I have a really high regard for her. She is a wonderful young woman.
TAPPER: And a friend of Chelsea’s, I think.
CLINTON: Yes, she is.
And I think what she said is borne out by what’s been happening. He has brought his oversized personality and his reality television experience to the highest level of American politics, and seems to be getting a very positive response among a large part of the Republican electorate.
So, that’s up to the Republicans. They have to decide if that will be their nominee or not. I have called him out on some of the things that he has said which I thought were uncalled for, some of the insults and the attacks that he’s made on immigrants, on women.
And it’s just unacceptable, what he let be said about the president. So, I’m going to continue to criticize him for going beyond the bounds of what I think is appropriate for anybody running for president.
TAPPER: President Obama announced this week that he’s going to go back on his pledge to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a pledge that you supported at the time. If elected, you would inherit 5,500 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan. Can you pledge that you would get all of them out of Afghanistan by the end of your first or second term?
CLINTON: You know, Jake, I think what you’re seeing with President Obama is a perfect example of a leader who has strong convictions about what he would like to see happen but also pays attention to what’s going on in the real world. And his decision is one that I agree with.
I will not sit here today and say what I would do upon taking office because, again, we want to bring our troops home. We certainly don’t want them engaged in on the ground combat. We want them to help support and train the Afghan army. And we want them to, you know, continue to work with the government of Afghanistan to try to help strengthen security for them.
So, I can’t predict where things will be in January of 2017. But I support the president’s decision.
TAPPER: You’re scheduled to testify before the Benghazi Committee in the House of Representatives in a few days. What are you expecting and how are you preparing?
CLINTON: I really don’t know what to expect. I think it’s pretty clear that whatever they might have thought they were doing, they ended up becoming a partisan arm of the Republican National Committee with an overwhelming focus on trying to as they admitted drive down my poll numbers.
I’ve already testified about Benghazi. I testified to the best of my ability before the Senate and the House. I don’t know that I have very much to add. This is after all the eighth investigation.
Other committees of the Congress, standing committees with other experienced members of staff have all looked into this and basically just rejected the conspiracy theories that are still floating out there in some circles.
So, I really don’t know. I will do my best to answer their questions. But I don’t really know what their objective is right now.
TAPPER: I covered the Benghazi situation, the Benghazi tragedy when I was a White House correspondent. And there’s something I just never really understood. And that is, why did the State Department deny all those security requests?
The former regional security officer in Libya, Eric Nordstrom recalled in testimony asking for 12 new security agents. And he was talking to a regional director who said he was asking for the sun, the moon and the stars. It got so bad, Nordstrom said, that he was fighting members of the State Department. It was like having the Taliban on the inside of the building.
CLINTON: Well, the accountability review board that I commissioned went into this in great detail. And they made some recommendations.
TAPPER: I know, but I guess the question is why, though? Why weren’t the security requests, why weren’t they made?
CLINTON: Well, that was left to the security professionals, Jake. And in the reports, the ones that have been done that were nonpolitical and independent in their efforts to try to sort this through, I think concluded that the security professionals in the State Department had to look worldwide and had to make some tough decisions. That’s why we don’t inject politics into it. That has to be what the professionals are deciding.
And there were a lot of different opinions and that’s understandable. There’s tough decisions that have to be made.
So, I can only point you to the very thorough review that several committees have done starting with the accountability review board that have gone into this in great detail and made recommendations about how we can better make those assessments. Not at the political level, because I don’t think a secretary of state who may be there for four years or two years should be reaching down in and making those decisions. But we have to do a better job with the professionals charged with making the decisions so that the information can all be evaluated and the resources that are needed can be asked for and deployed to the best extent.
TAPPER: I know Bernie Sanders said that, quote, “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.”
But there are a lot of people who are not.
CLINTON: Well —
TAPPER: Including FBI officials looking into whether national security was compromised because of this server.
And this is something else that is very confusing to me. With all your experience, why wouldn’t you anticipate that over the course of four years, handling very sensitive diplomatic negotiations, overseeing military interventions and surveillance, why wouldn’t you anticipate that something classified, whether about North Korea or Iran or drones or an informant for the CIA, that it wouldn’t be e-mailed to you? And why wouldn’t you consider that having it on your personal account with some server in Colorado might be a potential risk?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, nothing — and I will underscore, nothing that I was sent or that I sent was marked classified. We have a system in our government, in our State Department, it was there before I came in.
CLINTON: It has continued after I left where there are decisions made about what is classified information in real time. And nothing was marked classified.
TAPPER: The inspector general of the intelligence community said some of this stuff contained classified information when it was generated whether or not it was marked classified.
CLINTON: Well, that is just a very strong difference of opinion. The State Department does not agree with that. And it is almost an impossible standard because we had two separate systems.
We had the unclassified system, so anybody on the unclassified system with the State Department would only be able to tell if something were classified if it were marked classified. We dealt with classified information on a totally different system. Nobody had access to that from an unclassified device.
So, I think a lot of this is being a public display of the very common arguments that go on between different agencies in our government. This happens every time there is a Freedom of Information Act request.
If something’s going to be made public that was not classified at the time, maybe something has happened years later that there’s a case and so now, it’s sensitive information.
[16:25:04] That’s what’s going on here. Different agencies are weighing in saying, yes, it wasn’t classified, but we think that there is something in it that now we’re going to say is sensitive. At the time there was nothing marked classified. And that is the fact that hasn’t changed.
TAPPER: Right. And you said it was allowed too.
CLINTON: Yes, it was.
TAPPER: Who allowed it?
CLINTON: It was allowed under the rules of State Department. Again —
TAPPER: So nobody signed off on it?
CLINTON: No, no, it was allowed. You know, one of my predecessors did the same thing. Others in our government have done the same thing at very high levels, because the rules did change after I left State Department. But at the time and in prior years, the rules allowed it.
TAPPER: But it never occurred to you when any of these e-mails coming in from Sid Blumenthal with very sensitive information —
CLINTON: Sid Blumenthal was not a government employee or official. It would be like you sending me something, Jake. If I thought it had some interest to it, I might forward it onto somebody.
But I would not expect you to be in a position to classify anything because you were not in that classification process. Neither was he. So, he sent me stuff that he heard from people. You know, he’s an old journalist and thought it was of interest. Some of it I sent on, some I didn’t. I kind of made the judgment at the time.
It was not in the category of anything that could be classified because it came from an outside nongovernment person passing on what somebody told somebody told him.
And, look, I’m somebody who thinks the government and people who work in it should be open to getting information from different sources. I mean, you wrote a book about Afghanistan. If during the course of my being secretary of state, you had sent me an e-mail saying, look, I think the government needs to know this, and I thought, hey, that’s a good point I’ll send it on and six years later they say, oh, my gosh, he was reporting sensitive information. Well, you didn’t know that. And I certainly didn’t know that.
So, I think that this is a complicated issue for even sophisticated folks to understand. And I just keep going back to we have two different systems. I dealt with classified information very carefully and seriously.
I usually met with people to discuss it. It was delivered to me in hard copy so marked. And then when I traveled, I had one of those tents because we were afraid of prying eyes from certain governments that I would read classified material in. So, I’m very familiar with the importance of treating classified information as it should be with great care.
TAPPER: Can I get your e-mail address?
CLINTON: Sure. You want to send me something that might be interesting?
TAPPER: I’m just wondering for the future. I haven’t had that kind of relationship with you, but if that was like a hidden offer.
CLINTON: Yes, sure. You can give me, you know, what you hear politically. I might make use of it.
TAPPER: Sure. Madam Secretary, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
CLINTON: Great. Nice to talk to you.
TAPPER: Congratulations on the debate.
CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you very much.