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Bowe Bergdahl Controversy; Hillary Clinton's Future

Aired June 10, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a new warning that Americans are less safe because of the prisoner swap that freed Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. A top U.S. official says he has no doubt lives will be lost.

Plus, a second brazen airport attack -- Taliban terrorists are shooting down suggestions that they are getting weak.

And Hillary Clinton between the lines -- did she unintentionally let her presidential plans slip during her campaign to sell books?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, President Obama's getting more heat than ever over the secret deal that led to the release of an American soldier, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Members of Congress aren't buying the administration's reasons for keeping them in the dark before the prisoner swap with the Taliban, and now the House speaker is going much farther, invoking the name of Osama bin Laden and suggesting that Americans may die.

Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is watching what's going on up on the Hill.

And it's pretty dramatic.


Look, outrage on Capitol Hill goes far beyond the question of why Congress wasn't notified. There's bipartisan concern about the terms of the deal that may put Americans' lives in jeopardy.


BASH (voice-over): An ominous warning from the House speaker: The president risked Americans' safety, releasing five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There is not any doubt in my mind there are going to be costs, lives associated, lost lives associated with what came out of this.

BASH: But John Boehner couldn't try to stop the deal because Congress wasn't notified. It raises the big question.

(on camera): Does this administration trust Congress? JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Sure.


BASH: Laughter, because many know the real answer is no. Administration officials are telling lawmakers they weren't notified about the Bergdahl prisoner swap out of fear it would leak. Boehner is pushing back with a stark example, the Osama bin Laden raid.

BOEHNER: I was given a heads-up several days before this happened. And so this idea that they couldn't trust us to not leak things is just not true.

BASH: The White House argues Boehner and other top lawmakers knew the basics of the bin Laden plans, but not the specifics.

EARNEST: The speaker was not informed of precise operational details of the secret military mission.

BASH: Still, sources tell CNN the administration did actively bring top lawmakers into the fold of the bin Laden plans early and often, unlike the Bergdahl prisoner swap, where the administration floated the idea in late 2011, got bipartisan pushback, and never went back to Congress.

BOEHNER: I was never briefed about a five-to-one swap, nor were there ever any names.

BASH: Other congressional sources tell CNN the administration did give Congress the five Taliban names under consideration back in 2011. In fact, perhaps fueling administration worries about leaks, Senate intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein did confirm the prisoner swap discussion to "Foreign Policy" magazine in 2012, making clear she opposed it, saying: "These are major Taliban figures. They are not minor people, and they will not be in the same kind of custody, maximum security custody."


BASH: A Feinstein source tells us she was approached by a reporter who already had the information, and did not leak it.

In any event, the way she, a leading Democrat, opposed the concept early on brings up another key difference between Bergdahl and that prisoner swap and the bin Laden raid, and that is killing the most wanted man in the planet wasn't controversial, but, Wolf, rescuing Bergdahl in a political deal that involved releasing five Taliban prisoners certainly was.

BLITZER: We're getting some new poll numbers showing what the American public thinks of this swap.

BASH: Generally, they are not impressed.

The majority -- more people in America are opposed to it than support it, and, certainly, that is aided and fueled, likely, by the fact that Congress is not happy and there's a firestorm.

BLITZER: Dana, stand by. I want to expand the conversation.

We're Eli Lake, Kimberly Dozier. They have been doing some serious reporting for The Daily Beast.

Kimberly, you and Eli are reporting that the U.S. intelligence community, from the start, believed at least four of these five would eventually go back to the battlefield and try to kill Americans?


And that was actually Eli's get, that that was the best assessment of the intelligence community, that these people might present a threat down the road. At the same time, what President Obama faced was news that the Qataris were saying the Taliban was thinking about killing Bowe Bergdahl, time was running out, so he was weighing these two factors. Do we get him out and let these five guys go and face them down the road? Do we let Bergdahl die in captivity?

BLITZER: So, Eli, if the intelligence community was telling the president, the secretary of defense, the CIA director, director of national intelligence, they believed four of these five would go back to the battlefield, what was their response, what was the counterargument to let them go, in effect?

ELI LAKE, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I think you have to look at the dates.

When this is first being discussed inside the administration, it's 2011. There is still a surge in Afghanistan, and there are far more American troops in Afghanistan at that time. President Obama has just announced that the last American troops are going to be leaving by the end of 2016.

By the end of 2015, there will be 5,000 American troops. So, there will be in some sense fewer targets for these Taliban commanders once they rejoin the fight, as they are predicted to do so, but they still present a major challenge, not to mention the propaganda victory, in the war between the Afghan elected government and the Taliban.

BLITZER: There's going to be 10,000 U.S. troops, next year, 9,800, and half as many the year afterward. That's still a lot of troops.

LAKE: It's still a lot of troops, but I think that the mission, because of those low numbers, is going to change significantly. Right now, U.S. troops are involved in a lot of the kind of hands-dirty counterterrorism mission.

I think by the time, at the end of 2014, it's the end of combat operations. American troops are not going to be playing that same kind of role. It's not going to be as dangerous.

BLITZER: You want to weigh in, Kimberly?

DOZIER: I was just going to say, the counterargument to keeping them in captivity is, once they are out there, they are on the battlefield, they can be taken out by U.S. drone strikes, by U.S. forces working together with Afghan counterterrorism forces.

On the other side of that, however, this has been a huge propaganda victory for the Taliban. And when you look at what was going on inside the organization, the military wing was arguing with the political wing about whether or not to negotiate peace.

Now the military wing has been strengthened by the fact that they kept fighting and they have got five of their top guys back.

BLITZER: And so it's a political victory from their perspective.

Here's what a lot of members of the hill -- members on the Hill, you speak to them all the time, Dana -- are really upset about, not just Republicans, but Democrats like Dianne Feinstein, that there may have been 70, or 80, or 90 officials in the executive branch in the Obama administration, including military personnel, who may have known various aspects of what was going on.

Certainly, there were a bunch of officials in Qatar who knew what was going on. There were a bunch of Taliban leaders who knew what was going on. There were even a bunch of Haqqani Network terrorists who knew what was going on. All these people knew what was going on, but the White House refused to trust someone like Dianne Feinstein, or Carl Levin, the chairman of the House Armed -- the Senate Armed Services Committee.

That's what irritates so many people on the Hill.

BASH: No question about it, and when that news was given to members of the House in that closed-door briefing last night, that 80 to 90 members of the administration knew and nobody in Congress was told, it lit even more -- poured more fuel on this fire.

But I think that, you know, as I put in my piece and you all have been reporting, a big part of the reason why they weren't told, it's pretty obvious, is because there was bipartisan opposition to the idea. Dianne Feinstein, as you said, she certainly is a senior person, but she made very clear in a public way back then that she didn't like the idea, so why would the administration come to them and tell them and get pushback, when they had already made the decision?

BLITZER: So, that's why they didn't notify even someone like Carl Levin or Dianne Feinstein, because they didn't want to hear, don't do it? Is that what...


LAKE: Well, my colleague Josh Rogin is the reporter who approached Feinstein and got that on-the-record confirmation when he was at "Foreign Policy" magazine.

But I think that this administration is very frustrated with what they see as a lot of leaks, not just on this, and they realized that in some ways I think there was information that said, if this gets out, it could not only blow up the negotiations; it could endanger the life of Bowe Bergdahl.

BLITZER: Yes, but there are leaks not just from congressional sources, from executive branch sources. And all of us know there are tons of leaks all the time as well.


BASH: But the key is, because this was so controversial, the fear was that people who didn't like the deal would get it out there in order to stop it.

BLITZER: But there were people in the administration didn't like the deal, and there were no leaks, even though there were plenty of people inside the administration who weren't happy with it.


BASH: Great point.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very, very much.

We're just getting the story into the THE SITUATION ROOM, a powerful legal blow to the tenure system of public school teachers, a California judge ruling that the state's laws on hiring and firing educators are unconstitutional. Nine students filed the lawsuit alleging that California's tenure policy keeps bad teachers in the classroom and forces out good teachers.

Their lawyer is calling this a monumental day for the state's public education system. A Los Angeles County court has ordered a stay on the decision, pending an appeal by the state and the teachers union.

Still ahead, a brand-new statement just coming in from Donald Sterling. You're going to find out why he's now calling the NBA, in his words -- and I'm quoting now -- "despicable monsters."

And a second terror attack in a matter of days, chilling new proof of a Taliban threat in a place where nuclear weapons are at play.

And Hillary Clinton tries to explain her eyebrow-raising comment that she and her husband were -- quote -- "dead broke" when they left the White House.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton apparently is trying to choose her words more carefully today, as she officially rolled out her new book, "Hard Choices," but even as she clarified a comment about her family's finances, another remark all of a sudden raised some eyebrows.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, what are you finding out?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, she already had a misstep and she had to do a little repair work today.

Meantime, Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul is hitting her hard for it today, saying -- quote -- "She's going to have some surprises once she gets out of her limousine and meets the American people."


KEILAR (voice-over): As fans lined up outside a New York book store, waiting hours to see Hillary Clinton and have her sign copies of her book, she was trying to tamp down a Republican uproar over her comments that she and her husband were dead broke and in debt when they left the White House.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea's education.

KEILAR: That aired Monday on ABC News. Tuesday morning, Clinton was on cleanup duty, telling "Good Morning America" she and Bill were $12 million in the hole in 2000.

CLINTON: It was just a reality. What we faced when he got out of the White House meant that we had to just keep working really hard. We always have. That's who we are. We're grateful we can do that, but I worry a lot about people I know personally and people in our country who don't have the same opportunities.

Thank you so much for being here.

KEILAR: While officially mum on her presidential ambitions, Clinton is kicking off a campaign-style book rollout and presenting herself as a wiser candidate than in 2008.

CLINTON: As a candidate who is already so well-known, I don't think I ever said, yes, you -- you may have known me for eight years, but I don't take anything for granted. I have to earn your support.

KEILAR: And perhaps getting a little ahead of herself, saying her hard choices as secretary of state are akin to those of a higher office as she answered this question about President Obama.

ROBIN ROBERTS, CO-HOST, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": If you are to run in 2016, given that you have supported him so strongly in his foreign policy, will you have to distance yourself from that?

CLINTON: No, because, I mean, the reason I called this book "Hard Choices" is because that's what any president faces.

KEILAR: And a sign she might already have her eye on a key battleground state.

ROBERTS: In game three of the NBA finals, Heat or Spurs? So, you go to go with Texas or Florida. That's tough.

CLINTON: Florida, when you pose it like that. (LAUGHTER)


KEILAR: When you pose it like that, because Texas, as you certainly know, Wolf, is not a battleground state.

BLITZER: And Florida certainly is...

KEILAR: Oh, yes

BLITZER: ... as far as the Democrats are concerned. Stand by for a moment.

I want to bring in Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst, and Elise Labott, our foreign affairs reporter.

On Elise, on the issue of foreign policy -- you covered it for four years when she was at the State Department -- will she effectively be able to distance herself from the president on major foreign policy decisions?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think so, Wolf, because if you read the book -- and, certainly, while she was in office, she's a little bit more hawkish than the president -- certainly, she pushed for the surge in Afghanistan earlier than the president, pushed for action in Libya.

You saw that she was a big advocate to arm the rebels, and, in Egypt, you know, really wanted to be clear about keeping President Mubarak because he was an ally. I think she comes off as being pragmatic, not the kind of visionary that the president was, but someone who can make those tough calls and understands all the various confluences around, and I think she does come off as someone who would be very tough, but very measured on foreign policy.

BLITZER: You see her changing her tone a little bit on Benghazi, what happened there?

KEILAR: That's right. We saw before that she was talking about, you know, I'm not in charge of -- I can't look at blueprints and figure out where blast walls should be.

Well, today, she talked basically about kind of looking back, maybe sort of second-guessing, but she didn't really get into details, so we see that I think she realized the first answer wasn't so great, and she needed to fix that a little bit this morning.

But I think it's hard looking at that, especially when four Americans died, but not just that. Chris Stevens was a friend and a colleague. I mean, this was someone she knew, that she was grieving for very personally when he died. And I think that, on a personal level, it's hard to believe that she didn't kind of go back and say, what if?

She gets into some of that in the book, but she hasn't really been comfortable saying it out loud. BLITZER: And, Gloria, we are getting indications in these TV

interviews that she is doing -- and they're only just starting right now -- that if she does run for president, her campaign would be different than it was in 2008.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, yes, I see it immensely in the interviews she's done.

She talks now -- you know, in 2007 and 2008, the big thing for Hillary Clinton was my experience. I have experience to get the 3:00 a.m. phone call, and she felt like she had to prove her competency at that level.

Now, she's been secretary of state. She clearly has the credentials. Nobody looking at Hillary Clinton's resume would say, oh, by the way, this woman is not qualified. What she's doing now is running as a woman. She's talking about the sexism that she suffered as a presidential candidate. She doesn't get too specific about who it was from, whether it was from Barack Obama, who said, you're likable enough, or John Edwards, who looked at her jacket and said, gee, I'm not so sure about that jacket.

But she's now talking about Putin: It wouldn't be the first time that a foreign -- a leader said something sexist about a woman.

I think it's very clear that she's embracing that about herself and not saying, OK, don't judge me as a woman, just judge me as a leader. She's saying, I'm a woman and I can do this.

BLITZER: In the hardcover book jacket, and we got copies -- now everybody has them -- it says this in her book jacket: "By the end of her tenure, Secretary of State Clinton had visited 112 countries, traveled nearly one million miles and gained a truly global perspective on many of the major trends reshaping the landscape of the 21st century."

All right, that's what it says on the book jacket.

Here's the vice president, Joe Biden, speaking today.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have traveled close to over 900,000 miles now. Every single place I go, every world leader with whom I meet, if it's not the first, it's the second or third issue they raise about America's abundance of energy and the prospect that we will be energy-independent and North America will become the epicenter of energy in the 21st century.



BORGER: ... to New York a lot. I got lots of miles...


KEILAR: Miles matter, Wolf.



KEILAR: No, I mean, I would say, though, you look at the polls, and I think a lot of people who aren't maybe watching them as closely as we are, but she's in the 60s, and he's not even in the teens.

So, he's very far behind. You talk to a lot of Democrats and they say, poor Joe. That's what they are saying, because he's in a unique situation, being a sitting vice president, and she's so far ahead.

BORGER: He's not going to run if she runs. And this is what is happening now.

The field is frozen until Hillary Clinton tells people what she's going to do. I think we obviously know what she's going to do.

BLITZER: We, obviously, know what she's going to do, and so we will see what happens.

All right, guys, thanks very much.


BLITZER: And please be sure to watch Hillary Clinton live on CNN. No questions will be off-limits during her -- the exclusive town hall event moderated by our own Christiane Amanpour. That's one week from today, 5:00 p.m. Eastern. It will be followed by a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM and an encore presentation at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

And this just coming in to CNN: an angry new statement from Donald Sterling explaining why he's fighting the NBA and refusing to sell the L.A. Clippers.

Among other things, Sterling says he feels that the league's leadership is -- quote -- "incompetent and inexperienced." He says it's clear that the NBA is using the controversy over his racist remarks to settle longstanding personal grievances against him, and he's vowing to fight what he calls these despicable monsters to protect the privacy and freedom of speech of all Americans.

Just ahead, Taliban terror, an airport under attack and a bigger potential threat to the world involving nuclear weapons.


BLITZER: Taliban fighters in Pakistan appear to be making good on a new threat of full-out war, targeting security forces around the country's largest and busiest airport, not once, but now twice.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has got the latest on the violence and the bigger danger potentially that's out there -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Pakistan's leader, Nawaz Sharif, is set to meet with his military leaders in the next several days to discuss their response.

Cabinet ministers say they are considering a major military operation against Taliban strongholds in the northern part of the country, effectively ending hopes for peace talks with the militants, one minister saying the answer to the Taliban lies with the Pakistani army.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): It was the second brazen attack on Pakistan's largest city in just two days, Pakistani Taliban assaulting a security academy at Karachi Airport, once again shutting down Pakistan's busiest air hub and sparking a massive counterterror response.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should we stay in the building or should we go out?

AFSAR MALIK, KARACHI AIRPORT MANAGER: Please go home. Go home, immediately.

SCIUTTO: A CNN team on the ground in Karachi was whisked away just before the attackers moved in.

And, tonight, the Taliban militants are still on the run. The violent wave of attacks is a bold sign of the Taliban's resurgence. Only weeks ago, a split in the leadership and a massive government air campaign against their stronghold in the country's north led some to believe the Taliban was weakening.

These deadly attacks were their answer. Though separate from the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban threatens stability across the Afghan-Pakistan border. Its tribal home shelters a united nations of militants from Chechnya, Asia, and even the West, a direct threat both to stability in Afghanistan and to U.S. forces there.

And inside Pakistan, a nation with a large nuclear arsenal, the Taliban has sworn to topple the government, and as they grow in strength, there are real fears they might succeed.

CHRISTINE FAIR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: I don't so much think of them as a threat to the government. I think it's much more pervasive than that. It's a threat to Pakistan's very existence.


SCIUTTO: I spoke to Admiral John Kirby today about this. He's the Pentagon spokesman.

He said he believes that -- the U.S. believes, rather, that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are secure and they are confident in the ability of the Pakistani military to respond. In Admiral Kirby's words -- quote -- "I don't think anyone is second-guessing the Pakistani military's response to terrorism."

However, the threat from the Taliban to the Pakistani government has been a serious concern of U.S. officials for some time, and, Wolf, this is exactly a reminder of why.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And, as you correctly point out, let's not forget Pakistan is a nuclear power.

Jim Sciutto reporting.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Now let's step into the CROSSFIRE. Newt Gingrich and Stephanie Cutter are standing by.