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Hillary's New Book; Bowe Bergdahl Controversy; Interview With White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken

Aired June 5, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Health controversy, allegations former POW Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was drugged by his captors. Was he sick enough to warrant the extraordinary measures to secure his release?

White House under fire. Efforts to placate angry lawmakers fall short. Does the Obama administration still believe it was the right thing to do to rescue Bergdahl? I will ask the president's deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken. He's standing by live at the White House.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news. There are new details of what's inside Hillary Clinton's highly anticipated new book set to be released next week.

And she's very subtly distancing herself from President Obama on a number of critical issues. CBS News has obtained a copy of the book, has just published some of the excerpts.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, who's been going through some of these excerpts for us.

So, I guess one of the early points we're learning now, thanks to CBS News, is that she wants to distance herself from some of the major national security foreign policy decisions of the president?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and one has to do, very timely, obviously, with Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

For instance, she says, "I acknowledge" -- because this is an issue that stretched back in time years, whether to negotiate with the Taliban over this. She says: "I acknowledged, as I had many times before, that opening the door to negotiations with the Taliban would be hard to swallow for many Americans after so many years of war" -- so, subtly distancing herself there, Wolf, as you mentioned.

This week, of course, we heard that she, you know, sort of gave a measured defense of what the president had done. She said that it was noble, this idea of never leaving a soldier behind, but we have also come to learn that actually at the time she was not in favor of that. She wanted something much stronger. And it's unclear if she would have endorsed this concept that brought Bowe Bergdahl home.

BLITZER: And she's also making it clear, according to these excerpts, that she disagreed with a key feature of the president's policy toward Syria, the civil war there.

KEILAR: That's right. And this one is much more clear because she makes it clear that she was at odds with President Obama on whether to arm the rebels. She wanted to arm the rebels early on in the conflict.

President Obama, she says, did not. He didn't want to take that big step. And she says: "No one likes to lose a debate, including me, but this was the president's call, and I respected his deliberations and decision" -- so very much a clear break there in her own words.

BLITZER: Yes, she said she always got an opportunity to make her case, even though the president sometimes obviously disagreed with what her conclusions were.

Very interesting. On the war in Iraq back in 2003, it started in March 2003, when she was a United States senator. At the end of 2002, she voted in favor of that resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war against Saddam Hussein.

And now in this book, she is?

KEILAR: She is flat-out, according to these excerpts put out by CBS News, apologizing for it. That vote, as you know, Wolf, really cost her. A lot of folks will say that that could have cost her the 2008 election. In this excerpt obtained -- in the book obtained by CBS News, she says: "I thought I acted in good faith and made the decision I could with the information I had, and I wasn't alone in getting it wrong, but I still got it wrong, plain and simple."

Previously, we'd heard her say, Wolf, that she regretted the decision, but that knowing what she knew at the time, that is what informed her decision, and also that she said President Bush sort of stretched the power that he was given.

This is much more straightforward. "I still got it wrong," she says, "plain and simple."

BLITZER: All right, stand by. Don't go too far away, Brianna.

CNN, by the way, will be hosting a town hall with Hillary Clinton called "Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices." That will take place on June 17, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, will replay later that night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. You won't want to miss it. We will have more quotes, by way, from Hillary Clinton's new book coming up this hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for that.

But we want to get to some other breaking news we're following right now. Was Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl drugged by his captors, and did he try to escape from them multiple times during that five-year ordeal? We're learning new information right now as the controversy grows along with anger, especially among some lawmakers who say Bergdahl's life was not in danger, as the administration is claiming?

Let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's following this story very closely.

What are you learning, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the administration spent all week trying to convince lawmakers that they did the right thing in releasing five Guantanamo prisoners in exchange for Sergeant Bergdahl and doing it without telling Congress.

But their attempts at damage control are backfiring.


BASH (voice-over): Members of Congress looking for evidence the rescue of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl really had to happen immediately instead are getting shifting explanations. At first, the White House said it didn't have time to tell Congress because of the -- quote -- "acute urgency" of Bergdahl's health condition.

SUSAN RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Indeed, his health was growing more fragile. He'd lost a good bit of weight, and we were very concerned that time was not something we could play with.

BASH: But after the Taliban released this video showing Bergdahl walking to a U.S. helicopter, some said the health argument didn't make sense. So the administration went behind closed doors to show senators a so-called proof of life video shot by Bergdahl's Taliban captors last December.

Some who saw the video said Bergdahl did not appear ill. Tom Coburn, a physician, told CNN in an exclusive interview he saw something else.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: He'd been drugged, either with an antipsychotic or a hypnotic drug.

BASH (on camera): What makes you say that?

COBURN: Because you can tell. It's easy. His speech was slurred. He was having trouble reading. He had what's called nystagmus. He'd been obviously drugged.

BASH: And you're not just speaking as a senator. You're speaking...


COBURN: I'm speaking as a doctor, yes.

BASH: You don't think it's possible that he just could have been beaten up?


COBURN: Not at all. Not at all. Not at all. That's a total response to medication.

BASH (voice-over): Coburn, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tells CNN Bergdahl's health was not the main reason for the hasty deal.

COBURN: They have made the claim his life was at risk, and I can't comment outside of a secure setting on why that can't be the case.

BASH (voice-over): Tonight, administration officials tell CNN the video was not pivotal, but merely reinforced their fear Bergdahl wasn't well.


BASH: And on that key question of why the administration didn't inform Congress, as many lawmakers, most, in fact, believe is the law, officials are now telling them that the reason is because they had -- quote -- "credible information" that if the fact that these discussions were going on leaked out, that Bergdahl would have been killed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on the Hill, thanks very much.

Let's get some more now.

The White House deputy national security adviser, Anthony Blinken, is joining us from the White House.

Tony, thanks very much.

I just want to clarify a few sensitive issues. Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said you called her to apologize that she had not been informed in advance, as the law stipulated. Is that right?

TONY BLINKEN, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I called Senator Feinstein to say that I regretted that on the weekend that Sergeant Bergdahl was released, we were not able to get to her personally, before the Guantanamo detainees were sent back to Qatar to inform her personally.

Yes, we'd reached out to the staff of the Intelligence Committee, but we felt we should have been able to get to her personally and several other members, including the ranking member of that committee, Senator Chambliss. And that's why I called her.

BLITZER: And what was the real reason over the days leading up to the transfer -- there were several days, intimate, detailed negotiations going on through Qatar. What was the reason you couldn't brief them at the time that, hey, guys, this is going on, get ready?

BLINKEN: Wolf, let's step back for a minute and understand exactly what happened here.

First, the basic deal, that is, the exchange of Sergeant Bergdahl for the five Guantanamo detainees, had been in the works for several years. And throughout the course of those several years, there were ups and downs.

Congress is well aware, and the relevant committees were well aware of the basic exchange that we were working on, and there were moments when it looked like it was possible and then it fell apart.

This January, and again this February, when the deal and possibilities revived, we reached out to ten committees of Congress and briefed many of them on the status of the deal. So, Congress was well aware of the deal that we ended up doing. When it finally came together, though, it happened incredibly quickly.

We didn't reach an agreement in principle until about three, three-and-a-half days before Bergdahl was actually released to us. We didn't know the general location of where we would pick him up until an hour -- until the day before, excuse me, and we didn't know the precise location until an hour before.

At every step along that process, if the fact that we were doing this exchange had come out and become public, there was a real risk that the deal would have been scuttled, that Bergdahl would have been killed, and, indeed, that our special operators who are involved in bringing him back also could have been in greater danger. That's why we felt not only with Congress, but indeed within the administration, that this had to be very tightly held.

BLITZER: So you were obviously afraid of leaks that could have endangered...

BLINKEN: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... not only Bergdahl, but others who were going in there, the special operations forces.

All right. Let me go through a few other points and then you can quickly give us some response.


BLITZER: FOX News is reporting -- CNN has not confirmed any of this -- FOX News reporting that Bergdahl -- quote -- "fraternized openly with his captors, declared himself a warrior for Islam."

Have you heard anything along that line at all?

BLINKEN: We have seen no evidence of that.

But let me just make a point here. First of all, the idea that we are trying Sergeant Bergdahl in the court of public opinion in absentia without giving him an opportunity to give his story and to tell us what happened, frankly, I find repugnant.

We don't know what happened. We're determined to get to the bottom of it. The military will investigate appropriately. Let's get the facts before we rush to judgment. BLITZER: Are you going to release that so-called proof of video

of Bergdahl that was shown behind closed doors to the lawmakers yesterday? Is the American public going to get a chance to see that?

BLINKEN: I believe that the Pentagon is looking at that. There are privacy issues that go with that, but that's something that's being considered.

BLITZER: The whole notion of what -- the impact of this deal, what's going to happen, a Taliban negotiator told "TIME" magazine, Aryn Baker, one of their reporters -- and I will read it to you -- based on -- and this is the quote from the Taliban negotiator.

"It's better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people. It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird."

Are U.S. troops in Afghanistan and other Americans more gravely endangered now because of this swap?

BLINKEN: Wolf, first, as you know, the commander in chief makes a solemn commitment not to leave any American behind on the field of battle. That's a principle that has animated this country going back to our first president, George Washington.

And in every war that we have had, we have had an exchange of prisoners to make sure that we didn't leave anyone behind. And that sends a very strong message to every American who's serving now in uniform, that they won't be left behind, that their government will do everything possible to get them.

That's the principle we reaffirmed with Sergeant Bergdahl. Second, look, the Taliban has been attacking Americans in Afghanistan since we have been there, and they have tried to take people. This was our last remaining POW. This was our last best chance to get him as this war winds down. And that's exactly what we did.

Now, the final thing I will say is, obviously, the secretary of defense certified that the risks to Americans were sufficiently mitigated. The entire national security team concurred in that judgment, and that's what allowed us to go forward.

BLITZER: Was it strictly a deal, these five Taliban detainees for Bergdahl, or did the government of Qatar sweeten the pot, offer the Haqqani Network or the Taliban or both financial aid or other benefits as part of this deal?

BLINKEN: I'm not aware of any benefits that the government of Qatar may have offered to the Taliban or to anyone else.

What I am aware of are very clear assurances from the government that it would monitor the travel and activities of these detainees as they go to Qatar and as they stay there. Those assurances were given to us in writing. They were reaffirmed to us by the emir of Qatar to the president of the United States on the telephone.

BLITZER: One final question about one of those five detainees, Mullah Mohammed Fazl.

He was -- he's been wanted by the United Nations for war crimes, because the allegation is he slaughtered thousands of Afghan Shiite Muslims back in the 1990s. Was there any -- ever any consideration to handing him over to the International Criminal Court for a war crimes tribunal? Because now he's a free man.

BLINKEN: So, these detainees were, for the most part, senior officials in the Afghan -- in the Taliban government that we deposed after 9/11.

They were held at Guantanamo based on their status as having been senior officials. I'm not aware of any basis upon which they could have been prosecuted for war crimes. And, indeed, unfortunately, in Afghanistan, there are officials, including in the current government who are involved in the civil war, who have those kind of allegations hanging over them.

But the main point is that there was an opportunity here to bring a U.S. service member in captivity home, to bring him back, and it was on that basis that we proceeded.

BLITZER: And since the Haqqani Network has been designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization, was there ever any concern that the U.S. effectively was negotiating with terrorists?


Wolf, first of all, again, what's important here is not who held him, but who was being held, and that is a U.S. service member held by an enemy force. And our obligation, our commitment is to bring them home.

Second, we were engaged with Qatar, and Qatar was engaged with the Taliban. That was the process that we went through in order to work this deal and to get Sergeant Bergdahl back.

BLITZER: Tony Blinken is the president's deputy national security adviser.

Tony, thanks very much for joining us.

BLINKEN: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: When we come back, we will follow the breaking news.

Hillary Clinton's new memoir has been leaked. We're learning what's inside her hot-button book. We will have some of the best political quotes from the book, full analysis when we come back.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news.

Hillary Clinton's highly anticipated new book has been leaked. We're getting a close now look at some of the passages. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is with us, our

senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, and our foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, who's covered Hillary as secretary of state.

CBS News got a copy of the book. We're getting quotes. There's a fascinating little excerpt on Sarah Palin and that 2008 presidential cycle.

What did we learn?

KEILAR: Yes, this is what this excerpt from "Hard Choices" says.

It says -- Hillary Clinton in her own words -- "The Obama camp immediately issued a dismissive statement." This was after John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate. And she says: "They reached out to me, Obama's campaign, in the hopes that I would follow suit, but I wouldn't. I was not going to attack Palin just for being a woman, appealing for support from other women. I didn't think it made political sense and it didn't feel right, so I said no."

So, you see a difference there where she's watching obviously this other campaign, the Obama campaign, which it left her pretty battered at that point, and really not signing on or sort of doing what they wanted her to do.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And, you know, remember the context of this. At the time, Sarah Palin was talking about how much she admired Hillary Clinton, and was kind of trying to sort of peel off some of those women, those Clinton supporters who she thought, and it didn't turn out that way, might have actually moved over in her camp.

And so I think this is a way of Hillary Clinton sort of distancing herself a little bit. And also, you know, we're calling that, you know, wait a minute, Sarah Palin was actually talking about being a fan of Hillary.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: And I think as the book comes out, and we read more about it, it's going to be like that. She's not going to do anything too much to antagonize the administration, because clearly she was a member of it and wants to highlight her role there, but she also needs to show herself as an alternative.

After eight years of a Democratic administration, here's what I would do different. And women and national security I think are two areas where she might.

BLITZER: And there's another interesting passage, Brianna.

That first meeting they had after Hillary Clinton conceded, and Barack Obama effectively became the Democratic presidential nominee in June of 2008, they had that little face-to-face encounter, I think, at Senator Dianne Feinstein's residence here in Washington. She writes about that. KEILAR: Yes. Well, we're assuming that's what it is in this

excerpt CBS puts out, because they did meet in June 2008, really the first time after it became apparent that Obama would be the nominee.

In this book, she talks about meeting with Obama before the convention. She says: "We stared at each other like two teenagers on an awkward first date, taking a few sips of chardonnay. Both Barack and I and our staffs had long lists of grievances. It was time to clear the air. One silver lining of defeat was that I came out of the experience realizing I no longer cared so much about what the critics said about me."

BORGER: Well, of course, remember that Barack Obama had famously said to Hillary Clinton during a debate, "You're likable enough, Hillary," which is not exactly an icebreaker there.


BORGER: So they're finally getting together. Their staffs were at war with each other.

And who would have known that eventually she would have become his secretary of state and joined as part of the team of rivals?

BLITZER: Very quickly.

LABOTT: And I think that that was the whole thing throughout the administration, that the staffs never really quite got over it, although they worked quite well together, but you never heard the secretary or her aides really ever publicly dis the president.


BLITZER: All right. All right, guys, hold on, hold on. We got more to discuss. We will take a quick break -- more details from Hillary Clinton's new memoir, including what she says about daughter Chelsea's wedding.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Hillary Clinton's highly anticipated memoir has been leaked.

We're talking about that with Gloria Borger and Elise Labott.

Thanks to CBS News. They have released some of the excerpts.

A very moving excerpt on Chelsea Clinton's wedding, I will read it from the book -- quote -- "Bill was just -- was as emotional as I was, maybe even more so, and I was just glad he made it down the aisle in one piece. Afterward, Bill danced with Chelsea to 'The Way You Look Tonight.' It was one of the happiest and proudest moments of my life. So many thoughts went through my head. Our family had been through a lot together, good times and hard times, and now here we were celebrating the best of times" -- a very moving, normal passage, a mom and dad very proud their daughter had gotten married. BORGER: Yes. She's a mother. She's a mother.


BORGER: And I think of that and I think of male politicians who have to sort of drag out their wives very often to humanize them, as we saw during the last campaign with Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. The wives were the sort of -- talking about their human side.

I think Hillary Clinton, as a woman, when you leave her alone and she talks about her life and herself -- and I think that's what a lot of this book is going to be about -- she doesn't need any humanizing. We know what she's been through in her life. We know what the bad times were. Nobody has to tell us. We lived through it in the '90s.

And, you know, so I think it will be different, if she runs, looking at a woman candidate in that way.

BLITZER: You spent four years covering her at the State Department. She is a very normal, human person.

LABOTT: She comes off as very relatable. And I think that's why she was so popular around the world, is because she really tried to relate to people as a wife, as a mother, sometimes as a politician, when she would meet with Hamid Karzai or someone who was in a contested election, saying, I have been there.

And I think it was that human quality, that ability to connect that made her really a rock star around the world.


BORGER: And that's the challenge for her, to keep it during a campaign, to be who she is.

BLITZER: We will see how she goes through the book tour first. Then we will see about a campaign.



BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

This important note to our viewers: CNN will be hosting a town hall with Hillary Clinton called "Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices." That will take place on June 17 at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, will replay later that evening, 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. You will want to watch that.

Please be sure to join us once again tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always watch us live or DVR the show, so you won't miss a moment.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.