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CROSSFIRE

Bergdahl Swap Too Risky?; Senators Briefed on Swap

Aired June 4, 2014 - 18:30   ET

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


NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Wolf, an astonishing new video from the Taliban shows just how dramatically the Obama administration has failed.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Or at least how dramatically Republicans want to politicize a prisoner exchange. The debate starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, Bowe Bergdahl's hand-over and walk to freedom. Was it worth the price?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is clearly a terrible idea.

ANNOUNCER: Would Hillary Clinton have held out for a better deal?

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We have a long way to go before we really know how this is going to play out.

On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador, and Frank Gaffney, a former Pentagon official. Is the Bergdahl trade a sacred duty or a dangerous deal? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUTTER: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left.

GINGRICH: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, guests with different views on the Bowe Bergdahl trade.

I want to defend the Obama administration from any suspicion that they negotiated with terrorists. This deal is a total surrender to the terrorists. There was no negotiation.

Just watch this video. Taliban terrorists shot it and uploaded it to the Internet for the whole world to see today. It shows American Special Forces coming to shake the terrorists' hands in the terrorists' territory, finishing a deal on the terrorists' terms.

Now watch this. It is a very different video of a very different greeting. Here are the five Taliban leaders receiving a hero's welcome in Qatar after the U.S. freed them in exchange for Bergdahl. No wonder the Taliban are celebrating. These videos clearly show they believe they won.

It isn't fair to say the Obama administration negotiated. They clearly surrendered.

CUTTER: Newt, you're certainly not new to the idea of propaganda, and that was propaganda what you just showed there.

GINGRICH: That wasn't a reference to the last campaign you ran, was it?

CUTTER: That was propaganda, and I would hate to think that you're buying into that. But I'm also astonished about how quickly Republicans have turned their back on Sergeant Bergdahl.

You know, the sacred mantra that we leave no soldier behind has been completely abandoned, and I think they should be held accountable about what exactly they would do here. They want to leave him there or what exactly would they negotiate to bring him home?

GINGRICH: There's also a mantra about not releasing terrorists. We have an interesting debate.

In the CROSSFIRE Bill Richardson, who was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under Bill Clinton, and Frank Gaffney, who was a deputy assistant secretary under -- against -- for defense under Ronald Reagan -- Frank.

FRANK GAFFNEY, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: Thank you.

CUTTER: Welcome. The first question goes to you. The war in Afghanistan is about to end towards the end of the year. Here's what John Bellinger, who served under President Bush as counsel to the NSC and to the State Department, said about the end of the war and what it means for these prisoners, and he just reiterated this comment to Wolf on "THE SITUATION ROOM."

He said, "It is likely that the U.S. would be required as a matter of international law to release them shortly after the end of 2014, when U.S. combat operations cease in Afghanistan."

So these guys were probably going to be let go anyway. Even General Dempsey said this was likely our best last chance to rescue Sergeant Bergdahl. Isn't this a logical conclusion to the war? That we're nearing the end of the war, we do prisoner exchanges? These guys were going to get let go. Why wouldn't we want to get something out of it, get our own guy back?

GAFFNEY: A lot of suppositions there. We may be towards the end of this war. Unfortunately, it isn't entirely up to us. The other side gets a vote.

The president says we're ending it, but the only way one side can end a war unilaterally is by surrendering. The president by his own plan says we're going to have American forces in some numbers in considerable harm's way in the crosshairs, specifically of the Taliban for at least two more years. I think this is premature at best to be replenishing the ranks of the senior leadership of the Taliban, including some of those that have been the most murderous, not just of Americans but also their own people.

GINGRICH: Bill, what's your take on that?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: Well, I think the president made a tough decision. I think -- it's a prisoner swap. Winding down a war. Following the preset of the "leave no soldier behind." It was the Qataris, the mediators. I believe it was justified. President's obviously taking a lot of heat.

But I think the ultimate safety of this young man, his health was jeopardized. I think you can see that in the video. The safety of an American soldier. And I think the president made a courageous decision. And it shouldn't be viewed as was it a good deal or bad deal? It's the right move.

GINGRICH: But two things: one, the Taliban asked for five people. They got all --

CUTTER: They asked for 15. That's what they received. Actually, they originally asked for 15.

GINGRICH: The whole last round was five. They got five top people. None of -- to the best of my knowledge, none of these five have given up any of their actions or any of their vows against the United States. You have the deputy commander of their military going back, the head of their intelligence going back. I mean, aren't these exactly the kind of terrorists that we should be keeping locked up virtually forever?

RICHARDSON: You know, Mr. Speaker, my friend, I negotiated with the Taliban in the year 2000. They're really tough. And you can't always depend on them, but I think in this case, what has happened is it can't be proportional. I mean, if you recall, the Israelis just turned over -- they got one Shalit, an Israeli soldier, for 1,200 terrorists.

Now, you can't say it's 5-1. I think the fundamental precept here is leave no soldier behind. And we did that. But at the same time it's a prisoner swap.

Now, the Qataris, we don't have all the details. These individuals cannot travel for one year. And there are probably a lot more restrictions on them on what they're going to do. How can you expect them to renounce?

And by the way, Newt, this is the Taliban. This is not al Qaeda. They're dangerous and bad.

GINGRICH: No, but a couple of these guys, first of all the Haqqani faction of the Taliban is directly tied to al Qaeda. Some of these guys are directly tied to al Qaeda. But there's -- you know, both the State Department and the treasury within the last year said that the Qataris are actively fund-raising for terrorism. The idea that these guys don't have to travel: they're going to be on telephones. They're going to be on Skype. They're going to be on YouTube.

CUTTER: And you know who's going to be tracks them? The CIA. The thought that we're not going to be understanding what the threat --

GAFFNEY: Can I get a word in edgewise here? Let me just respond to this proposition that we don't leave soldiers behind. We weren't the ones who left this guy behind. This guy left us behind. And I think that's something we have to --

RICHARDSON: We don't know that.

GAFFNEY: There's no question --

CUTTER: There are plenty of questions.

GAFFNEY: There's no question that he bailed. And the problem is when we pay this kind of price, under the pretext that this is somehow ending the war, trust me on this, what you're dealing with are people who have no intention of finishing --

CUTTER: Don't we have a responsibility to bring our soldiers home? Do we have a responsibility to bring our soldiers home?

GAFFNEY: We have a responsibility to bring home soldiers who have not deserted or abandoned their post or otherwise.

CUTTER: And we're presuming his guilt here.

GAFFNEY: I'm presuming that before you decide you're going to turn over people who are going to kill Americans and, by the way, my concern is it's not just going to be there --

CUTTER: And who is likely going to die in captivity.

GAFFNEY: We don't know that for sure. We don't know that for sure.

CUTTER: You know who got behind the deal? The American military has gotten behind the deal.

GAFFNEY: You know who got behind that deal? Were the American military people saying, "Don't release these guys." Because they recognize that they are among the most dangerous of the global jihad --

CUTTER: Well, here's what Stanley McChrystal said today, the general in charge of our forces in Afghanistan when Bergdahl disappeared. Here's what he had to say today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, U.S ARMY: -- leave Americans behind, that's unequivocal. Anyone who serves has a possibility to the people they serve with. But also we as a nation have responsibility to those who serve. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CUTTER: So you can question whether or not these five were legitimate in exchange for Bergdahl, but the American military who actually knows how to defend our country, is out there every day, understands the risk, got behind this deal. Because if whatever takes --

GAFFNEY: I believe -- I believe what happened in this deal was the president of the United States said, and Susan Rice said, "We're going to get this guy back, and we're going to pay whatever the price is," and the price is going to be exorbitant, particularly because as Newt says, these guys are going to be waging war against us from Qatar.

And to the extent you think that we'll be monitoring all of that, you know, these are people who have access to encrypted technology and are sophisticated about how they fight. And we're not, I think, wise in allowing them to get back on the battlefield, which they're doing right now.

RICHARDSON: The two points are, one, on the deserter issue. A court, a military court of his peers, should decide that.

GAFFNEY: I agree.

RICHARDSON: The Army should decide that.

GAFFNEY: I agree. Not us.

RICHARDSON: The Qataris and to the speaker, the Qataris have worked with us on Syria. They've worked with us on Egypt. They've worked with us. They're a responsible interlocutor.

GAFFNEY: They are not. They are enabling the Muslim Brotherhood. They are one of two countries that recognize the Taliban. They've got Taliban.

RICHARDSON: That's why they were mediators to get our --

GAFFNEY: Exactly. That's not the same thing as trusting them. Look, Bill, before we get into who you can trust, I mean, there's a whole litany of people that you've trusted that I wouldn't, and they're top of that list.

CUTTER: OK. I have a feeling we're going to talk more about this in the next block.

Next up, I'll clear up the mystery of which Republicans are deleting tweets on Sergeant Bergdahl and why. We've got some real profiles in courage out there.

But first, today's "CROSSFIRE Quiz." How many U.S. prisoners were released at the end of the Vietnam War? Is it 226, 591, or 1,023? We'll have the answer when we get back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUTTER: Welcome back.

You're looking at new video of the moment Sergeant Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. He was the last remaining American prisoner of war, which brings us to the answer to our CROSSFIRE quiz -- 591 U.S. prisoners came home at the end of the Vietnam.

(AUDIO GAP) breaking news on Capitol Hill. U.S. senators just got out (AUDIO GAP) senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Stephanie.

This meeting started around 5:30 Eastern Time, it's been going on and on. And we have been getting bits and pieces as people came out of the meeting including from (AUDIO GAP) Mark Kirk of Illinois, who said administration officials played for them a classified proof of life video apparently taken around the time of the death of South African -- former South African President Nelson Mandela.

In that video, Mark Kirk said Bowe Bergdahl (AUDIO GAP) he appeared to have difficulty speaking, and administration officials used that as (AUDIO GAP) they needed to get Bergdahl out of the custody of the Taliban as soon as possible and get him back into U.S. (AUDIO GAP) still questions and criticism about the administration's decision to do that in trading five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl.

Stephanie, back to you.

CUTTER: Great. Thanks, Joe.

Sergeant Bergdahl's release has a number of Republicans scrambling to hide their previous support for his return.

When President Obama announced the prisoner swap on Saturday, Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei tweeted, "Best news I've heard in a time."

Nebraska Representative Lee Terry put out a statement, "Sergeant Bergdahl is a national hero."

And (AUDIO GAP), now Republicans' nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa tweeted, "Thoughts and prayers go out to Sergeant Bergdahl and his family."

All those comments have vanished from Twitter or from their Web sites. They're real profiles in courage. One can only assume that contrary to America's sacred commitment (AUDIO GAP), they now believe Bergdahl should still be a prisoner of war. My guess is they'll stick their finger in the wind before they have the courage to tweet again.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Bill (AUDIO GAP).

Frank, I want to follow up on this. What exactly changed Republicans' minds? The story of Bergdahl (AUDIO GAP) the circumstances of him leaving the base, and what we know about his capture -- though there are many questions that need to be answered. What exactly changed for these Republicans?

FRANK GAFFNEY, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECY.: I can't speak for the people who ill-advisedly tweeted on the first word of this release. I think most of us didn't know anything about Bowe Bergdahl until his comrades in arms started coming forward and saying what they saw on the night he bugged out.

I don't know, and I'm not going to speak for anybody but myself, I will simply tell you I think what people are now keying off of are things like the statement that Susan Rice made when she once again went before the cameras of the Sunday talk shows and once again as she did in Benghazi lied to the American people.

I think she ought to go because I think she's lost the confidence of the American people. You can't really have that --

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: But regardless of the talking points or what the administration got right or wrong about the rollout of this, and there are some legitimate questions there, at the end of the day, this is about whether or not we're bringing a prisoner of war home. Why would they delete their tweets about their happiness that we're bringing a POW home?

GAFFNEY: It's not clear that he is a POW.

CUTTER: It's politics.

GAFFNEY: It's not clear whether he's a deserter which is different than being a POW. Bill says he wants to reserve justice on that --

CUTTER: So, you don't think he's a POW?

GAFFNEY: I don't believe that the United States military has considered him a POW because he wasn't.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Let me put this in a different context because I have to say I'm a little sickened by the administration playing that film saying, see, we had no choice. Admiral McCain was commander in the Pacific for years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

GINGRICH: For years, he knew that his son was in a Vietnamese prison. For years, he knew his son was being actively tortured.

At one point, the North Vietnamese offered to release his son and John McCain said I will not go until the rest get to go.

This idea that the United States of America is going to release terrorists who could kill thousands of people because one person has footage that he's not doing well, you can't make national security policy around this kind of phony compassion.

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: But the symbol to our military men and women, if you're in harm's way, we'll get you out. That is fundamental. And what I think has happened here is, unfortunately, this issue has been politicized.

I mean, instead of like, the American people -- look at the family in Idaho. Look at the joy when he came out.

GINGRICH: Sure.

RICHARDSON: And now, you know, we're talking about on the deserter issue, this is something the Army needs to investigate. He was promoted twice while he was in prison from a private to a sergeant.

GINGRICH: Bill, let me reinforce what Frank said. Susan Rice goes on television and says he was rescued. No, he wasn't rescued. He was traded for.

Now --

RICHARDSON: It was a prisoner swap.

CUTTER: Why are we focusing on talking points on somebody --

GAFFNEY: Because she keeps doing it. And that's not political.

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: Heart of the matter here.

GAFFNEY: It's a question of accuracy. It's a question of whether we can have trust in our government. And, you know, this issue of leaving people behind. These people left four guys behind in Benghazi. And I think a lot of this sacred honor stuff is about trying to mask that failure.

CUTTER: That is ridiculous!

GAFFNEY: It is not ridiculous. It's exactly what's happening.

CUTTER: General Dempsey is actually the person who led the negotiation of this deal.

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY: -- on a whole host of issues. Including --

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY: The war on to the culture of the military. These are real concerns that a lot of people in uniform and out.

GINGRICH: Bill?

RICHARDSON: The secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, a decorated veteran totally behind this and basically saying his safety was and his health was jeopardized. It showed the video. GAFFNEY: The United States had profound concerns about the judgment of Chuck Hagel. And I think his conduct in this episode is proof of it.

RICHARDSON: Frank, the secretary of defense, he is the distinguished veteran. He is following the situation day by day. You and I don't have all the information yet.

(CROSSTALK)

GINGRICH: Bill, you've been an appointee of the executive branch. I really couldn't figure out if I should call you governor, congressman, ambassador, or secretary.

RICHARDSON: How about your highness? Just kidding.

GINGRICH: Kissinger likes that.

Here is my point -- if the president of the United States says to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs or the secretary of defense, "I want this done" --

RICHARDSON: You bet.

GINGRICH: -- you have two obligations. They can say "yes, sir" or they can resign. Now, the fact is two years ago, Secretary Panetta was deeply opposed to secretary of defense. The director of national intelligence was deeply opposed. There are reports that Hillary Clinton as secretary of state was very doubtful about this.

GAFFNEY: And the Congress was opposed on both sides of the aisle.

GINGRICH: The Democrat and Republicans, this was done in secret because they couldn't possibly allow people to know about it or it would have blown up.

CUTTER: It has to be done in secret.

RICHARDSON: I've negotiated these releases. It has to be done in secret. You have one leak and it's over.

CUTTER: Which has happened.

RICHARDSON: And the Taliban, the Taliban, I negotiated a ceasefire with them. It lasted 20 days. They broke the promise.

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY: And if you think we can go back and trust them in the future --

RICHARDSON: Frank, the problem is that you've got to move fast when you have potential deal.

GAFFNEY: Please. GINGRICH: You're both fascinating. I'm going take a cheap shot and say it lasted 20 days. I'm sure they'll be good in Qatar for at least that long.

Stay here. We want you to weigh in on the "Fireback" question. Was bringing Bowe Bergdahl back to the U.S. worth the price? Tweet yes or no using the #Crossfire. We'll have the results right after the break.

We also have the outrage of the day. I'm outraged at officials in Daytona, Florida, who are fining a couple for doing exactly what the Bible says they should do.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GINGRICH: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Now, it's time for the outrages of the day.

I am outraged because last month, Daytona police fined Debbie and Chico Jimenez plus four of their friends $373 each. Their crime? Feeding the homeless.

To be fair: police caught them red-handed, or perhaps more accurately, yellow handed since they were passing out hot dogs with mustard and pickle chips. They do it once a week in a public park and some members of the public don't appreciate sharing it with homeless people.

Instead of threatening the Jimenezes with jail if they continued to feed the poor, perhaps Daytona officials should be encouraged to find creative ways to actually help them.

CUTTER: That is outrageous.

GINGRICH: Right. This is unbelievable.

CUTTER: Well, instead of lifting people up, as you just described, some members of your party, Newt, are dragging us all down. Politics is a rough business. Believe me, I know that.

But I'm outraged at how low the Tea Party has stooped to try to defeat Republican Senator Thad Cochran in Mississippi. At one point in the campaign, a conservative blogger was arrested for breaking into a nursing home to film Senator Cochran's wife, who suffers from severe dementia. The blogger, who is a supporter of Cochran's Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel even used it in an attack video. Cochran's campaign blamed McDaniel who not very convincingly denies know anything about it. We know how that goes.

After yesterday's primary, it looks like McDaniel has forced Cochran into a runoff and will likely win. Normally, I couldn't care less about Republican politics in Mississippi, but attempting to exploit in man's sick wife is the lowest form of low and a national embarrassment. Chris McDaniel should have to answer for it. And I'm sure you agree. GINGRICH: And expect he will.

Let's check on our "Fireback" results. Was bringing Bowe Bergdahl back to the U.S. worth the price? Right now 25 percent of say yes, 75 percent say no.

What do you guys think? Yes or no?

RICHARDSON: Well, yes, but I would have done a better job of notifying the Congress. I think that has to be worked out better.

GAFFNEY: Absolutely not. And what is really at risk here is I think the public safety. And people need to know that.

CUTTER: Thanks to Bill Richardson and Frank Gaffney. The debate continues online at CNN.com/Crossfire, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.