Transcript: Excerpts from David Axelrod’s Fox News interview on Libya
Transcribed & edited by Jenny Jiang
Excerpts from the Fox News interview on Oct. 14, 2012 with David Axelrod, Obama campaign’s senior strategist, on the deadly consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya:
Chris Wallace, Fox News: …Just the day before, several State Department officials testified under oath that there were repeated request for more security that were rejected. What was the Vice President talking about?
David Axelrod, Obama campaign’s senior strategist: I think the Vice President was talking about what the White House knew. There are embassies all over the world and installations all over the world and these requests go to the security professionals at the State Department. And there’s no doubt that some of these matters went into the security department at the State – security agency at the State Department, but it didn’t come to the White House and that’s what the Vice President was responding to.
Wallace: So we’re now getting into a definition of what the word “we” means. When the Vice President says “we,” he’s not talking about the Obama administration because the question wasn’t about what you knew; it’s that there were requests for more security. Biden is not talking about the Obama administration; he’s not talking about the State Department. He’s just talking about himself and the President?
Axelrod: I think Chris, again, what he was talking about was what he, the President knew because these matters were being handled at the State Department. But listen, here’s the fundamental thing: Nobody – there’s nobody on this planet who’s more concerned and more interested in getting to the bottom of this than the President of the United States. He feels personal responsibility for every representative he sends around the world. He knew Chris Stevens. He admired Chris Stevens.
So, look, we want to get to the bottom of it. The first order of business is to bring to justice those who committed this heinous act, and secondly find out what went wrong and what adjustments need to be made to further secure our diplomats around the world.
Wallace: Let me ask you directly. Does the President take personal responsibility for the fact that repeated requests for more security were made and were rejected and that that may have contributed to the death of those four Americans? Does he take personal responsibility for that?
Axelrod: Chris, at the toppling level, the President of the United States is responsible for everything that happens on his watch. These were judgements that were made by the security folks at the State Department and of course we’re going to review that whole process and see how those decisions were made, why those decisions were made, and how we adjust in the future to make sure that we’re giving our diplomats the maximum protection we can. The reality is that many of these folks serve in dangerous places in the world and you can’t 100% guarantee anything but we want to get to as close to 100% as we can and that’s why these investigations are moving forward.
Wallace: I want to ask you this question of personal responsibility by the President because in the debate, the Vice President also blamed the intelligence community for the false reports that came out immediately after about the idea that this was a spontaneous demonstration that ran amok. In fact, the top State Department officials said this week – he was asked about that and this is what he said, “That is a question that you would have to ask others. That as not our conclusion.”
Question: With all this finger pointing going on at the State Department, going on towards the intelligence community, whatever happened to the principle the buck stops with the President?
Axelrod: Well, as I said, the President is responsible for everything that happens on his watch. I mean, it isn’t the – it isn’t us or anyone else who’s suggesting that that’s what the intelligence was at the time. The intelligence community itself and Director [James] Clapper has said that. And in fact, Chris, you had people from the State Department testifying under oath that on the day, for example, when Ambassador [Susan] Rice appeared on your program and other programs – anyone would have said the same thing she said because that was the intelligence we were receiving.
And it’s not a matter of blaming. That’s just the facts. Sometimes intelligence has to catch up with the reality on the ground. This was one of those cases.
Wallace: Well, that doesn’t quite square with the facts, sir. Because Charlene Lamb, who was a top State Department official, said in that sworn hearing that she was in real-time communication – real-time communication – with the people on the ground in Benghazi. So there was a difference of opinion between what the intelligence community was saying and what the State Department was saying. The State Department official, as we said, said that was never our conclusion that there was a spontaneous protest, which raises this question: How soon after the attack did the President meet with the National Security Council, with people from State, with people from the Department – the Director of National Intelligence – all the various people to try to sort out what happened in Benghazi?
Axelrod: Look, we are sorting out what happened. Understand that the President, the day after the attack called it an act of terror and charged everyone with the responsibility to get to the bottom of what happened – why, and as the first order of business to make sure we bring to justice the terrorists who were responsible for this act. So the President has reacted as you’d want the President to react to this.
But just getting back to your point on the State Department – just a second, Chris. You talked about the State Department spokesman. You had representatives of the State Department testifying under oath this week before Congress, and they said what I’ve said to you, which is that anyone based on the intelligence that they had at the time would have said what the administration said, what Ambassador Rice said the day after the attack.
Wallace: The reason I ask this is because you say, “Well, the President made a statement.” Yes, the President made a statement and then he went off to a fundraiser or to a campaign stop in Nevada. Question: Before he went to the fundraiser in Nevada, did he meet with his National Security Council to try to sort out the shifting stories because State said they never said it was a spontaneous demonstration; intel did – you’re quite right. Did he meet with the National Security Council before he went to campaigning in Nevada?
Axelrod: Chris, I assure you that the President was in contact with all those who had information and responsibility in the national security chain about this incident. Again, let me stress there isn’t anyone on this planet who feels a greater sense of responsibility for our diplomats, for our service people, who takes this more personally than the President of the United States, and he is determined to get to the bottom of what happened, to bring these killers to justice, to bring these terrorists to justice, and to make sure that whatever adjustments that we have to make, we make.
Wallace: Do you really believe, David, that the concern over Libya is just politics that’s been ginned up by the Romney campaign?
Axelrod: Look, I think there are two separate issues. Obviously there’s a serious issue here. We’ve just been discussing it for several minutes and it’s an essential matter that we get to the bottom of what happened, that we bring the terrorists to justice. This President is totally committed to that.
There’s a separate issue of how Governor Romney has handled this. I refer you back to the famous 47% tape in the spring where Governor Romney told – in private – told his supporters that he was waiting for a crisis, waiting for an incident to jump in on national security and he did. He jumped in right away the day of these attacks, with half information, in a way that was denounced by both Republicans and Democrats, and there’s no doubt that he’s working hard to exploit this issue. And I would point to the fact that this morning, in Bloomberg News, Chris Stevens’s dad said that he regretted that people were trying to exploit this issue. And I think we ought to follow the lead of the Ambassador’s family and allow this investigation to run and get to the bottom of it and make the adjustments that are necessary.[Crosstalk]
Wallace: Wait a minute. This is the first U.S. Ambassador that’s been killed since 1979. Susan Rice came on this show and five others and gave the American people a story that turned out not to be true and you’re saying that we shouldn’t discuss this? That we should wait for the investigation to be completed?
Axelrod: No, no. No.
Wallace: That’s what you just said.
Axelrod: That’s obviously – Chris calm down. That’s obviously not what I’m saying. I just said that we should –[Crosstalk]
Axelrod: …I’m happy to discuss it with you and I do think it’s worthy of discussion. I think that’s different than the manner in which Governor Romney has conducted himself. And it’s not just me who attacked him for the way he handled this; he was roundly criticized by people from right to left, the Republican establishment and the Democratic establishment.
Wallace: You’re talking about what he said the day after [sic] the attack…
Axelrod: …For the way he creatively jumped in on this issue so that’s a separate issue.[Crosstalk]
Axelrod: Well, I’m just telling you that from the beginning of this issue, before any facts were known, he was cravenly trying to exploit it.
And look, that’s politics. I understand that, Chris. I understand the whole deal. We’re in the last three weeks of a campaign and of course Governor Romney’s going to be out there talking about this issue.
But the President’s concern – the President’s concern is to get to the bottom of it, to bring the terrorists to justice, and to make whatever adjustments are necessary based on the investigation to ensure that in the future that if there were lapses that those lapses are addressed.
- FoxNews.com: Dems defend admin’s Libya response, accuse Romney of exploiting issue
- Bloomberg.com: Libyan Ambassador’s Death Not a Political Issue, Says Dad
- WhatTheFolly.com: U.S. Embassy in Tripoli requested but denied additional security prior to Benghazi attack
- WhatTheFolly.com: Timeline of the deteriorating security condition in Benghazi prior to consulate attack