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Coverup by the Secret Service?; More Expulsions at OU Coming; Oklahoma Fraternity Expulsions Explored; Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont

Aired March 14, 2015 - 18:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish. Welcome to the program.

Breaking news. CNN is learning of some real doubts about the latest scandal swirling around the Secret Service. Questions about whether aspects of it are true. Let's start at the beginning.

This week "The Washington Post" reported on the troubling incident involving two senior agents who allegedly went out drinking, and then drove a government car into an investigation of a suspicious package right in front of the White House. All of this was particularly frightening since one of the men is the number two agent who directly guards President Obama.

But now two law enforcement sources tell CNN that story was overblown. Officials tell CNN that the agents simply drove up to the investigation scene, not into it and there is not clear evidence that they were drinking. Nor is it clear that there was any discussion of giving them a sobriety test. Still there are serious questions about the incident. Let's go to CNN's Erin McPike standing by at the White House with the very latest. Erin.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michael, first we should point out that there has been no public accounting from the Secret Service about what actually happened. It has all been background information. The only thing that we know from the secret service from their spokesman is that there is an investigation into this incident.

Now, the incident occurred on March 4th and what happened is that there was a retirement party at a bar in Chinatown that is seven blocks due east of the White House. And these two senior Secret Service agents were at this party for their colleague, they came back at the end of the night in a government car, so that the other agent could get his car which was located here.

At the time there was an area blocked off by the barricade at the White House because there was some suspicious activity. There had been a bomb threat and there were Secret Service agents who were investigating that. These two men in this car drove up to the edge of that activity, and their car tapped an orange barrel that was outside the area. There was no collision, there was no damage, there may not even have been asked for a sobriety test. That's what we still have to figure out.

But the problem here is that the incident wasn't reported to Joe Clancey who is the director of Secret Service until five days later, and that's what's raising a lot of questions about the culture at the Secret Service and has Clancey really restored credibility to this agency since he took over several months ago. Michael.

SMERCONISH: But Erin, if the incident was overblown and you're making it crystal clear we really just don't know at this stage, but if in fact it was overblown in the presentation in "The Washington Post," that might explain why it wasn't brought to the attention of the director for those five days.

MCPIKE: That is exactly right. What is clear is that there was potentially some sort of misconduct but because it made it into "The Washington Post" it is clear that Joe Clancey needed to be involved in some way. It also has made its way to the White House but they're looking for some answers so Joe Clancey will be giving those answers to Capitol Hill in a series of private and public briefings on Monday and Tuesday.

And we have already heard from Jason Chaffetz, he is the House Tepublican who leads the committee on government oversight and reform and he has been very concerned about what Joe Clancey knew and when he knew it, and those questions will come out in the coming days, Michael, but there are some details that we just can't know because obviously at this point there cannot be a sobriety test because it's 10 days later.

SMERCONISH: The image that was created at least in my mind by the initial reporting of this incident is that these individuals had had way too much, came barreling up to the White House, smashed into a barricade and interrupted what was then an active crime scene. That might not be the case. That's the take away, right?

MCPIKE: That is absolutely the takeaway. That they may not have been drinking at all, they may have had one drink or two, much earlier in the night and may not have been drunk at all and just came back and were around the area where this investigation was going. But nothing may have happened. There could have been a lot of misleading information given to "The Washington Post."

SMERCONISH: Erin, thank you so much for that report.

Joining me now is Ron Kessler. He is a "New York Times" best-selling author of several books about the Secret Service. He's also an award winning investigative reporter. Ron, what do you make of this latest development?

RON KESSLER, AWARD-WINNING INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: I think this is a typical cover-up by the Secret Service. I'm used to seeing that because they tried to cover up revelations in my book, the first family detail. "The Washington Post" reporting on the Secret Service problems has been very accurate, and why is it that these two very high ranking individuals were removed from their post and put in non- operational positions. Obviously something very serious happened there. And -

SMERCONISH: You use the word cover-up. You used the word cover-up. And programs that's what the evidence will show. I'm far more concerned that their reputations, these men are innocent until proven guilty, that their reputations have been besmirched with a rush to judgment.

KESSLER: Well, you know, the so-called pushback is all anonymous. If really there was a factual basis the Secret Service would issue on the record statement about it. And the fact that they removed these individuals, tells you that in fact they were involved in wrong doing. And Joe Clancey, the new director, appointed by President Obama, despite all the recommendations of his own panel, that he get an outside director to shake up the Secret Service, is very good at covering up.

I'll give you one example. There are many. At a hearing on the House - in the House, he was asked why is it that the Secret Service issued false information about the intrusion by Mr. Gonzalez at the White House? Why is it that the Secret Service said he had been apprehended at the door that was not true, he went all the way into the White House. Why did they say that he was not armed. That was not true, he was armed. And is anybody going to be held accountable? And the answer from Clancey was "oh, there was no problem there."

SMERCONISH: But Ron, respectfully, in this case he wasn't told for five days. The criticism is that he was out of the loop so how can you possibly say that he's been involved in some degree of cover-up?

KESSLER: Because of the so-called -

SMERCONISH: May I share with you what most troubles me about this that hasn't been reported on in the media. Because I think our attention has become diverted to what happened at the "crash scene" which apparently wasn't even a crash.

It's this - a woman shows up at the White House, comes to the perimeter and she - as initially reported drove a government car into the White House security barricades after drinking late at night at that party last week but the underlying incident was that a woman comes up to the White House and says "I think this is an f-ing bomb" and throws an object later revealed to be a book, has some kind of a skirmish with an officer outside the White House and gets away.

And wasn't apprehended for two full days. I hate the idea that someone can come up to the perimeter of the White House, pose a bomb threat and be able to escape without being apprehended. What's your thought on that?

KESSLER: I don't see that you know is necessarily a problem. Law enforcement doesn't have super natural powers to apprehend anybody.

SMERCONISH: At the White House? At the perimeter of the White House? What if she were a radical Islamist and she was a member of ISIS or some affiliate group and in fact, it were a bomb and thank god they were able to stop it before it detonated we would all be talking about that. That's what concerns me is that the White House is vulnerable.

KESSLER: That is certainly something that should be looked into. But you know, there are not very clear examples of Secret Service screw- ups that are very scary and agents tell me that it's a miracle that there has not already been assassination given all of the problems that are coming out.

In my book "The First Family Detail" I go into dozens of other examples. For example, agents will let people into events without magnetometer screening or metal detection screening. That's outrageous.

SMERCONISH: Well, let me ask you this question. I can put up on the screen - there have been a number of high profile incidents recently involving the Secret Service. Let's just remind our viewers of some of the things that the prostitution issue in Colombia, drunkenness in Amsterdam, the White House fence jumper, the guy who was armed and on an elevator with the president and now this more recent incident that we're discussing.

In your book you write that the Obamas have been very considerate of the United States Secret Service that they have treated the United States Secret Service with dignity and with respect which I think is a wonderful thing. Might that be to their detriment? In other words, might the president be too reluctant to put the hammer down to protect his own security because he is so respectful of the Secret Service and the role they play?

KESSLER: Yes, I think that's a very good point. He is mesmerized by those agents who are very impressive. And he thinks well, the whole Secret Service must be like that. But somehow the rest of the world knows this agency has become an embarrassment. And really at this point there's one person responsible for the problems at the Secret Service and that is Obama because over and over again going back to the intrusion at the state dinner at the White House by the (INAUDIBLE), the party crashers, Obama keeps saying "I have full confidence in the Secret Service" and over and over again he said that.

The fact is he needs to bring an outsider, for example a former high ranking FBI official, who could shake up the agency, would not be beholden to interests within the agency, whenever any organization is in trouble you bring in someone from the outside to shake it up.

SMERCONISH: Ron Kessler, thank you for your expertise and for being here.

KESSLER: Thank you.

Coming up, Ferguson, Missouri is unraveling amid questions of which official may be the next to go. I'm going to tell you about one possible solution to Ferguson's problem. It's truly a radical idea.

Plus, more fallout from that racist video that took down the Sigma Alpha Epsilon at OU. Now the chapter is fighting back with the help of a high powered lawyer, the first black member of that fraternity tells me why he thinks that's a terrible decision.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

Ferguson, Missouri is unraveling. The city manager stepped down. The police chief stepped down. Now protesters are calling for the head of the last man standing, the mayor of the city, James Knowles. But the mayor tells CNN he's not going anywhere.


JAMES KNOWLES, MAYOR, FERGUSON, MISSOURI: I think it's important to recognize that there's a lot of people who may be angry at the situation, there's a lot of people frustrated in this community with the way things have gone down. But there's a lot of people who still, and expressed to me, expressed confidence in both my willingness and members of the council's willingness to listen, to be responsive, and to make changes as necessary.

People in the community recognize this. Not everybody. I didn't win every time with 100 percent of the vote but I can tell you there are ways to remove me if that's the will of the people.


SMERCONISH: This as a massive manhunt continues for person who shot two police officers after a fresh round of protests this week.

So how to fix Ferguson's deep systemic problems. One man says Ferguson is so bad that it simply cannot be fixed, get rid of it he says. Abolish the town. Jarvis Debarry is the man who has put forward that idea. He is a columnist for the "New Orleans Times" and he joins me.

Mr. Debarry, you quoted James Baldwin this week who 55 years ago wrote "a ghetto can be improved one way, out of existence." Is that how you see Ferguson?

JARVIS DEBARRY, COLUMNIST, "NEW ORLEANS TIMES": Yes, it pretty much is how I see Ferguson. You know, St. Louis county, which is not a large geographical area at all, has 89 municipalities which is jaw dropping to me that a place of such compact size would have that many municipalities. Reading the Justice Department report about all of the things that have happened in Ferugson, there is clearly a very despicable philosophy that is guiding that government, which is basically that we are going to go after anybody and everybody we can, turn - grab them by the ankles, turn them upside down, shake all of their pockets out just so our government can keep existing.

And I think that a government that is doing that to its people routinely and as a matter of philosophy has lost all of its legitimacy and ought to be abolished.

SMERCONISH: I understand the argument that says 89 municipalities, you got to feed the beast. You got to be able to fund that apparatus.


SMERCONISH: Here is what worries me about the solution.

Let me show my viewers and read to you, sir, what the "New York Times" reported last Sunday on its front page about the surrounding area. If the shooting of Michael Brown had taken place about 500 yards to the southeast he would have died not in Ferguson but in the neighboring city of Jennings. The court system there which is overseen by a white judge but has almost exclusively black defendants routinely sends people to jail for failure to pay minor traffic fines, a new lawsuit alleges.

Had the shooting occurred 3 1/2 miles to the north the world's attention might have turned to a city of (INAUDIBLE) where in 2013, the police stopped black motorists at a rate nearly three times the share of the population. Less than four miles to the northwest in Calverton Park, the court fines and fees accounted for over 40 percent of the city's operating revenue last year.

So, perhaps I guess what I'm saying is there be a cost savings, if you were to go through consolidation but the net-net would be the same result as it applies to minorities.

DEBARRY: You know, I can't dispute that "New York Times Report." What I can say is that yes, the problem is much, much bigger than Ferguson. The problem is St. Louis County as a whole. And I think that Ferguson is just happens to be the place that Michael Brown was shot and it just happens to be one of the worse offenders.

The Justice Department report which to me everybody ought to read is required reading for I think an American citizen these days, talks about how not only whether Ferguson officials bragging and boasting about the amount of money they were taking in but they were also boasting about the amount of money they were taking in relative to other municipalities in the county.

So they saw themselves as kind of, I guess, the dubious leader in the amount of money that they were getting out of citizens. No, I don't say that florisent is better. I don't say the other municipalities is St. Louis Country as better but I think there's a chance has to be sent but you can't have all of these little municipalities competing against one another and then competing against one another to see how much money they can extract from obviously poor people.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Debarry, thank you for your comments. We appreciate it.

DEBARRY: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: And now to a very different point of view - to many who protect and serve in this country, our police officers, the deep tensions in Ferguson have a whole different meaning. Many in law enforcement believe events in Ferguson have sparked a war on them, fueled by anti-cop hatred and rhetoric. Joining me now Milwaukee county sheriff David Clarke. Sheriff, welcome and respond to what you just heard about this notion of consolidation, would that change anything?

DAVID CLARKE, MILWAUKEE COUNTY SHERRIF: I don't know. We have to look at what has led to the rise of the American ghetto in the United States to begin with and I think it's failed liberal government policies that have torn the black family apart, created a lot of dysfunction. Some of this is self-inflicted. When you have kids out of wedlock, you don't embrace education, you involve yourselves in drug and alcohol abuse, you're not going to do very well in life.

However, some of what was mentioned about what's going on in Ferguson and other cities across America is also happening at the federal level with the IRS. I don't hear too many calls for abolishing the IRS.

So what we need to do -

SMERCONISH: I don't understand that statement. I understand the comment about the breakdown of the family being a contributing factor to crime. I happen to share that. But I don't understand what that has to do with the IRS.

CLARKE: It has a lot to do with the IRS. Picking people's pockets, turning people upside-down and shaking their pockets out to create revenue, to spend on these failed liberal government policies. If we want to straighten this out, we really want to get to the heart of this matter, we're going to have to eliminate the dysfunction that happens in many of these American ghettos where people can't find meaningful work. Have to send their kids to failing K-12 public schools, there is chronic unemployment, high unemployment in these areas. And they are crime riddled.

Those are the things that we need to have a discussion about instead of laying this at the foot of the American police officer. I'm tired of these two-bit politicians and bureaucrats taking all of the pathologies and maladies of the American ghetto and laying it at the feet of our nation's finest, our community's finest.

We have to go in to save other good law-abiding people, the overwhelming majority of people in these areas are good law-abiding citizens. And we have to keep them separated from the criminal element which involves assertive policing. When things go wrong in our world and they can and they often do like what happened in Ferguson, then what we need is for responsible people to use their heads and not inflame the situation, not rush to judgment, and then apply the facts and the evidence to the rule of law and you know we have to accept the decision.

We don't have to like the decision that comes out of these grand juries but we have to accept it. Until we start to do that you're going to continue to see this assault on our nation's finest, the American police officer, it happened in L.A., it happened in San Francisco, it happened in New York. This is happening all across America and that's why I say they need to stop laying the stuff at the foot of the American police officer. If we don't go in who else is going to do it? Who else is going into these crime ridden areas, these American ghettos trying to save other black people>

SMERCONISH: Is there a benign, non-discriminatory explanation for the data that has made so many headlines. You know the data - that African-Americans comprise 67 percent of the Ferguson population but account for 85 percent of the car stops, that's just one of many data points. Is there a non-discrimination explanation behind that that you could offer?

CLARKE: Sure. You could cherry pick data all you want. That wasn't an objective report by Attorney General Eric Holder. He came to the conclusion first and went out and found information and found data to support his claim. He finds a couple of distasteful disgusting e- mails out of how many. We found the same thing at Sony Pictures yet I didn't hear anybody indicting the entire motion picture industry as being racist.

What Eric Holder did not mention in his report was that blacks, the disparate - the astonishingly disparate rate of criminal involvement by young black males and the astonishing rate of victimization of other black people as well. In Milwaukee for instance, in 2014, 72 percent of the homicide victims were black people. Eighty percent of the known or main suspects were black as well. Those are astonishingly disparate figures that we have to add to this report as well that Eric Holder chose to dismiss.

SMERCONISH: You anticipated my next question which was to say would we if we looked at the data points for your area come to a similar conclusion. Sheriff, I wish I had more time. Because I enjoy what you have to say. We'll do it again. Thank you.

CLARKE: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is fighting back and lawyering up. The high profile attorney for the disbanded SAE chapter at the University of Oklahoma says he's not ruling out suing the school. We'll take a closer look at their case.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back. Two students have been expelled from the University of Oklahoma as a result of singing that racist song and the school's president says more expulsions could be coming. Stephen Jones, the lawyer hired by the fraternity is hoping that the issues can be resolved out of court. Here's what he said at a press conference yesterday.


STEPHEN JONES, ATTORNEY FOR BOARD OF DIRECTORS: We are not here because we are interested in a legal solution. We hope, and I hope my statement will make it clear, that we seek to have some other resolution of this matter.


SMERCONISH: Let's bring in Eugene Volokh - he is a professor at UCLA Law School. He's also the author of a great blog, "The Volokh Conspiracy." Professor, is the reasonable that he says that he is seeking a non-legal solution because he doesn't have a legal leg to stand on?

EUGENE VOLOKH, "THE VOLIK CONSPIRACY": I take it when he says non- legal solution, he means they don't want to have to go to court. And there is good reason for them not to want to go to court. Because going to court is going to be more bad publicity for them.

But if he is going to be asking if he is a lawyer after all, he is going to be asking the university to do something -- it's going to be because he has a legal argument. And his legal argument is very strong. The first amendment protects all sorts of viewpoints including racist view points. There is no exception for racist speech or hate speech or a speech by university students.

SMERCONISH: So you think that the claim on behalf of the fraternity against the university, if it were to go to litigation, is a strong claim? Let me talk about those two individuals who have either withdrawn or been expelled depending on whom you ask. Does the president of the University of Oklahoma, Dave Boren, does he have legal standing to expel them for their racist speech?

VOLOKH: No. In fact, the First Amendment protection for the students I think is even stronger than for the fraternity. As to the fraternity, one could argue that the fraternity was being punished not just because of the speech but because the fraternity may have acted in a racist way, and in excluding, for example, black applicants and the like.

It's an interesting question and the university seemed to stress just the speech but you can say the fraternity would be liable there. But the students, the students are punished solely because of their expression of these awful ideas, but indeed they are expression of racist views and that's something that the First Amendment does not allow.

SMERCONISH: What if the students are actually acting on their racist views, what if in fact there haven't been bids offered during the pledge process for African-Americans interested in joining that fraternity? Would that strengthen the hand of the university president in expelling them, if that's what he chooses to do?

VOLOKH: Well, the university president actually stressed that it was the racist speech of the students that was the reason for the expulsion. That's not like there was fact-finding that well, there were particular students who let's say excluded by the fraternity and such. But if indeed there was discrimination by the fraternity, not speech but conduct, then indeed the kind of punishment that is normally meted out for violation of those kinds of rules could indeed be applied, so long as it's not a pretext for expelling the students based on their views.

I highly doubt that the university regularly expels students for violations of, for example fraternity admission rules. As I understand it, for example, there has been at least one incident it hasn't expelled a student though the student was guilty of a violent attack on I believe his girlfriend is my recollection. So, if the university president says, oh, we think you may have been involved in a discriminatory action as a member of the fraternity, that's going to get you expelled, that's not something that a court is going to take very seriously. I think the court is going to see through and say, well, this is actually a pretext for expelling the students based on the viewpoints they're expressing.

SMERCONISH: Professor, final question, I lived in a fraternity for three years and at the university that I attended as an undergraduate, there was a house for ever personality. There was a house for every ethnic or racial stripe. And it makes me wonder don't all fraternities to a certain extent discriminate. There was a stoner house, there was a jock house, there was a wasp house, there was a Jewish house -- hopefully, you get my point.

VOLOKH: Well, many universities have rules that say fraternities may not discriminate based on race, religion and similar characteristics. They could discriminate based on other things, obviously, any selective fraternity necessarily selects those who it likes. But they can discriminate based on those criteria. I should say, even if the fraternity doesn't discriminate, naturally, often birds of a feather flock together. So, it may be that even without discrimination, there will be houses that are identified more with a particular religious group or ethnic group, precisely because even without discrimination, that kind of thing, that kind of social sorting often does take place.

SMERCONISH: Professor Eugene Volokh, the Volokh conspiracy -- thank you.

VOLOKH: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Joining me now is Jonathan Davis. He was the first African-American member of SAE at the University of Oklahoma.

Jonathan, what do you make of the news your old house has now lawyered up?

JONATHAN DAVIS, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA SAE ALUMNI: I think, initially, when I read the headline it was that -- you know, there was a planned lawsuit and I certainly disagreed with that. And then as I watched that, you know, the statement that was given, I actually do believe that they are not looking for, you know, to go to a lawsuit.

From what I understand, you know, and what I would say is that there are a lot of guys who weren't involved in this incident specifically and I'm incredibly upset about the whole thing.

As an African-American initiate of that fraternity and to sing that song, they have no -- I could go off on a tangent and I won't. But I don't think that I believe fully in my heart that not every member of that fraternity is racist or engaged in that type of behavior. And I think that for those people who weren't involved, they have -- again, they're getting threats of physical violence, and -- they deserve to be treated fairly, the ones that were not involved with this incident.

And I don't think that you can say that every SAE on that campus, you know, you can't paint them in that exact same light.

SMERCONISH: You last lived in the house in 2002. How many people of color were then members, residents of the SAE house?

DAVIS: Do you mean specifically African-Americans or you mean minorities overall?

SMERCONISH: All diversity. Explain it in whatever terms would be accurate.

DAVIS: I would say that -- gosh, you know, we had -- I would say maybe dozens of guys that were you know, of different ethnic background, not strictly Caucasian.

SMERCONISH: The song, have you heard the song before, before it all came to light in this video?

DAVIS: I actually was a song chairman at SAE during my active period there, and I had never heard that song. And talking with my good friends and fraternity brothers, none of them had heard the song. And so, we were all floored and so hurt and disgusted when we heard it.

And to know that it was our fraternity, our chapter at our university was -- we were all just completely bewildered. We had never heard that.

SMERCONISH: You know, there have been reports of other SAE chapters, and I'm wondering if more shoes will drop to the extent they do, I'll be asking whether there is something particular about this fraternity.

DAVIS: Well, I think -- I don't know the whole story. I don't know where this -- the impression I get from this song is that someone did in fact hear it from another chapter of the fraternity.

I have no doubt that the national organization had no idea this song was being sung -- again, I was a member, song chairman, I had no idea. I had never heard of this song. Had I known of this song, I never would have affiliated myself with the house, I would have turned in my membership.

So, we really had no idea that this was out here. You know, clearly, this country has a very interesting and I think unfortunate history with racial relations and racial tolerance. And it's possible that this song may have been sung, you know, far bygone era in the United States and specifically with the fraternity it could have been kept alive somehow by word of mouth. It certainly was not sanctioned by our chapter, our house, or the national organization whatsoever.

SMERCONISH: Jonathan Davis, thank you. Appreciate your being here.

DAVIS: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Benjamin Netanyahu is ramping up efforts in his latest re-election bid. But polls show that he is falling behind a key opponent. Did his trip to the U.S. backfire on him politically? We'll go live to Jerusalem with the very latest. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

It's possible that in a matter of days, Israel may have a new prime minister. Tuesday, Israelis vote, and polls show they may not re- elect Benjamin Netanyahu. The controversial trip he made to our Congress hoping to help his re-election may have back fired.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is standing by live in Jerusalem with the very latest.

Oren, what did the final polls taken before the election show?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, according to this last round of polling which came out just yesterday, Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu's party, is falling behind in the upcoming Knesset. The polls show that he'll take 22 seats. On the other end, his main rival Isaac Herzog and the Zionist union party 26 seats.

That's not a huge margin. He is not falling behind by some great margin. But it's important to note as only a few weeks ago, this was neck and neck. They were each at right around 24 seats, maybe 25-23, one way or the other.

Now, in these last few days, these critical days before Israelis head to the polls, Benjamin Netanyahu is falling behind. So, four seats not huge gap, but a very significant one this close to the elections.

SMERCONISH: And, Oren, even if Netanyahu's party, the Likud party, doesn't garner the most votes he could keep his position, right?

LIEBERMANN: And that of course, is the complexities of Israeli politics and the how the Knesset works. It's not just about winning the election. According to the polls, the polls suggest that the Zionist union will win the election, will take the most seats. The real question though is who can put together a coalition government, who can put together a team of at least 61 seats, at least half the Knesset.

And this is where Netanyahu may have an advantage if the right wing parties don't fall too far behind in this election. He is an expert deal maker, a master politician, and ideologically, his Likud party, lines up with a few other parties on the right very naturally. So, there are some natural alliances there. And if those parties do well, it could be Netanyahu who is pinned to make the next coalition and to be once again Israel's prime minister, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Is the belief that the trip was a net negative in Israel, the trip I refer to is his speaking to Congress?

LIEBERMANN: Whether it was negative or not is a good question. It didn't seem to have any effect here, though. It certainly wasn't a positive at least in terms of the polls. We saw the polls before the speech, we saw them after, and there was no difference. Israelis who liked him before still liked him. Those who didn't still didn't like him. So, there didn't seem to be a net effect of the speech.

SMERCONISH: But I note that he used the footage from that speech in his final wrap-up campaign commercial. By the way, something I think our own rules would not permit a member of Congress to do.

LIEBERMANN: Sure. And whether it was or wasn't political he of course the whole time claimed it wasn't. He has since used the speech to hype up what's his strongest issue, security and the issue of a nuclear Iran. If Israelis voted on only that issue, then sure, Netanyahu is your next prime minister. And that's the issue he's playing up. But, of course, Israeli voters have a number of reasons not just security. It's the economy seen as his weaker issue. That's where Isaac Herzog, the Zionist Union, his main rival, that's where they're hitting him hard in these last few days.

SMERCONISH: It's going to be an exciting finish.

Oren Liebermann, thank you from Israel. We appreciate your report.

LIEBERMANN: Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, a strong progressive fire brand emerging as potential 2016 presidential candidate. Bernie Sanders joins me for a candid talk about what he thinks he can do for this country.


SMERCONISH: The field of potential 2016 presidential candidates is already taking shape. We know the big names on the right and presumed on the left. But with all of the focus on Hillary Clinton e-mail flap, some Democrats are talking another name.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is a self-described Democratic socialist whose four-decade political career has been all about championing causes for the working class. His recent forays into states like Iowa and New Hampshire have positioned him to be a progressive challenger.

Senator Bernie Sanders joins me now.

Have the odds of your running increased due to Secretary Clinton's e- mail troubles?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: No. I think that is an issue that the inside the beltway punditry is very interested in, but I can tell you that in Vermont, that I think around the rest of the country, that is not an issue of major interest.

People are worried about how we create millions of jobs, how we deal with income and wealth inequality, how we deal with climate change, how we deal with the disastrous citizens united Supreme Court decision, I think Hillary's e-mail issue is not a major issue.

SMERCONISH: But I would think that Bernie Sanders as a champion of openness would be bothered by the lack of transparency that seems apparent with her email account. SANDERS: Well, I can tell you in the last week, we've gotten maybe

five, seven calls to my Vermont offices.

Look, Hillary has her problems, I have my problems, Jeb Bush has his -- everyone has their problems. But I think it's imperative that we focus on why the middle class in this country for 40 years is disappearing, the top one tenth of 1 percent owns more wealth, almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Those are the issues that concern the American people.

How do you make college affordable? How do we transform our energy system to reverse climate change?

So, yes, Hillary's e-mails to my mind, not much of an issue.

SMERCONISH: Senator, maybe your time has come with regard to the issues you champion, you know, the issue of minimum wage seems right, the issue of problems for the middle class seems right, the problems of health care and infrastructure repair, do you worry that voters won't be able to get past the "S" word with regard to you, they won't listen to what Bernie Sanders has to say because they get hung up on what does it mean to be a self-described socialist?

SANDERS: No, I really don't. What I do think, what does worry me, is that at a time when we need more serious discussion about how we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create millions of jobs, legislation I've introduced, how we're drawing the rest of the industrialized world and guaranteeing health care to all people, end this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision which allows billionaires to buy elections. Those are the issues we need discussion.

And what does bother me, I think media too often gets into gossip and personality stuff and does not allow us to focus on those issues. I think if you focus on those issues, I think you're going to have a lot of people nodding their heads and saying, you know what, Bernie Sanders is right and maybe we can learn something from the social democratic countries in Scandinavia and elsewhere, which guarantee health care to all their people, provide free college education.

SMERCONISH: Can someone such as yourself who is an antagonist to corporate interests raise the amount of money that's necessary to wage a successful presidential campaign?

SANDERS: Well, Michael, that is an excellent question, and I think as Americans, all of us should be concerned about the implications of your questions, whether it's Bernie Sanders or anybody else.

What you're really saying, is that at a time when billionaires can spend unlimited sums of money, when many candidates have to be dependent on big campaign contributors who are very, very wealthy or be rich themselves -- can an ordinary person who doesn't have a whole lot of money, which is me, run a serious campaign? That is one of the issues we are exploring.

On the other hand, I can tell you that we have done pretty well on the Internet. My average contribution when I ran for the Senate was something like $45. You need a lot of those types of contributions to add up.

But do I think we can do it? I think we can raise a reasonable amount of money.

SMERCONISH: If you take a shot are you going as a "D" or as an "I"?

SANDERS: Still one of the issues that we have to determine. There are advantages and disadvantages of both.

I think there's as lot of unhappiness with the two-party system. More and more people are moving outside of it. On the other hand, if you run as an independent, as I have my whole political life here in Vermont, it is really hard and takes a lot of money and energy to get on the ballot in 50 states. Those are the pros and cons.

SMERCONISH: Forty-seven Republicans sent a letter to Iran. Is it possible, senator, they actually did a favor to the administration and to Secretary Kerry because they set up a good cop/bad cop routine. It gives Secretary Kerry the ability to say to the Iranians, look at what I'm dealing with back at home, you better make some concessions here?

SANDERS: You know, Michael, I was just thinking about that the other day. And, you know, I think that this letter signed by 47 Republicans is an outrage, it's insulting, not to just Barack Obama, to the presidency of the United States. But I think in many ways it does give John Kerry and our negotiators the opportunity to say to their Iranian counterparts look what I have to deal with back home, let's see if we can reach an agreement.

And the goal here, of course, which I strongly support, is to make sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon. But to do it in a way which prevents us from going to war which is something that I think many of my Republican friends may actually be looking forward to.

SMERCONISH: OK. You're making news now. I think I'm hearing Bernie Sanders say the Republicans helped the negotiation with the Iranians, that's a good thing.


SANDERS: I -- maybe they did. Maybe. I don't think that's what -- that was their intention but who knows.

Look, the point here is, we have been in two wars, terrible wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, cost us just so many good, young people, in life, injury, three to $6 trillion in cost, I don't think we need another war in Iran. Frankly, I don't think so.

And I would hope that these negotiations are successful and that we achieve the goal of stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but that we can do it without war. Why my Republican colleagues do not want that same result is more than I can understand.

SMERCONISH: Teach me, teach all of us something about dealing with rejection. I just read a profile of Bernie Sanders from "Politico" and I learned that you began your career in 1971, you ran four times in five years and never got more than 6 percent of the vote, and look at you now.

How did you put up with the initial rejection?


SANDERS: That's a great -- that's a funny question. I think the answer may be that I may not be the brightest guy in the world but I'm fairly persistent. In the sense that in those days, I was running on a third party, didn't have any money and we've taken on everybody.

And it was an opportunity to speak to the people and I got 2 percent, 1 percent, 4 percent, 6 percent before I finally won as mayor of Burlington in 1981 by all of 10 votes. But I think, you know, whatever my opponents may say, I am a fairly persistent guy.

SMERCONISH: Sanders, by a razor thin margin in 2016 -- thank you, Senator. We appreciate your time.

SANDERS: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Thank you so much for joining me. Follow me on Twitter, I'll see you next week.