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STATE OF THE UNION
Iraqis Launch New Counterattack Against ISIS; Defense Secretary Ash Carter on ISIS Gaining Ground; Interview with HUD Secretary Julian Castro; Interview With Michele Flournoy and Michael Leiter; Hundreds of Hillary's E-Mails Go Public; Surprising History Behind Arlington National Cemetery; Julian Castro On America's Housing Crisis; Will Emails Hurt Hillary Clinton?; Nation's Most Sacred Ground. Aired 12-1p ET
Aired May 24, 2015 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:00:19] JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Defense Secretary Ash Carter on ISIS gaining new ground in Iraq.
Housing Secretary Julian Castro embraces America's tough neighborhoods, but what about 2016?
Speaking of that, hundreds of Hillary Clinton's personal e-mails go public.
And the surprising history behind Arlington National Cemetery.
Good morning from Washington. I'm Jim Acosta.
Iraqi forces are preparing a counter offensive against ISIS after the terror group had one its biggest weeks in nearly a year. ISIS seized control of the ancient Syrian town of Palmyra as well as the city of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province.
And let's go to CNN's senior international correspondent Arwa Damon in Baghdad.
Is ISIS being pushed back? Is ISIS losing ground? Those are two assertions that the White House was making last week to (INAUDIBLE) cool down all of the second-guessing that's been taking place here in Washington. What can you tell us from the ground there?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well look, first of all, one has to continuously keep in mind that the battle lines here are constantly shifting and small chunks of territory do regularly go back and forth.
But following the fall of Ramadi about a week ago, ISIS did quite quickly push into various other smaller towns located to the east of Ramadi. Now, the Iraqi government has managed to recapture some of them but not only on its own. You had a unit that was comprised of the Iraqi army plus, and this was arguably the deciding factor in all of this, the popular mobilization units and that is this Iranian- backed Shia paramilitary force. And it was largely due to them that they were able to accomplish these very small victories in the grander scheme of things. They are using the Sunni tribes we're being told, using them to hold ground. But these Sunni tribes are very under armed when it comes to the potential threat that they might be facing by ISIS. But look, the government at this stage has no choice but to use these unconventional fighting forces. As has been made painfully clear at this point the Iraqi government does not have its own units directly under its own command that are capable of taking on an entity like ISIS.
ACOSTA: Although there are some 3,000 U.S. military advisers in Iraq, the resilience of ISIS is fueling more questions as well as criticism about the current U.S. strategy to defeat the terror group.
I'm joined now by Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She served two tours of duty in the Middle East. And Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger who served as an air force pilot in Iraq.
Thank you very much, congresswoman, congressman, for being here on STATE OF THE UNION this morning.
Let's get right to it. President Obama said earlier this week that the U.S.-led coalition is not losing this battle against ISIS.
Congresswoman, I'll go to you first. Is he right about that?
REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: You know clearly, ISIS has gained momentum, in particular over the last week as we've seen the ground that they've gained both in Iraq and Syria.
And I'd like to just break it down to what I see as, you know, the basic problem here, especially in Iraq, where we're seeing the Sunnis continue to be persecuted by this central government in Baghdad. Their distrust for the central government, this Iranian influence, Shia militia has really created a situation where just as a matter of survival they have no place else to turn to protect their families and their communities other than to ISIS.
You have the solution. You've got the Kurdish Peshmerga and you have Sunni tribesmen who are literally begging -- I met with a Sunni tribal leader last week in Washington, they are begging for arms, heavy weapons, ammunition to be able to fight against ISIS to protect their families and their tribal lands and their territories but still to this point both the U.S. and the central Iraqi government is failing to provide that, and therefore ISIS continues to be able to grow.
ACOSTA: What do you make of that, congressman, the president's assessment last week that we're not losing?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Well, of course you're not losing and you're not winning because we're not really engaged in this fight. I mean, at some point we're going to have to understand that the goal is the destruction of ISIS.
The president, you know, when we began this attack I guess on ISIS, he said you know, we're going to -- we're going to bomb them, we're going to -- we're going to hit them but we're not going to put troops on the ground. In essence what the president did was say look, we need to destroy ISIS unless that takes boots on the ground, in which case the existence of boots on the ground is worse than the existence of ISIS.
I think the president needs to stand in front of the American people and frankly lead on this and say look, you know, this is a cancer that's growing in the Middle East. This isn't just a situation where if the house catches on fire it will burn down and we look at a burned down house. This is now a house on fire in a densely packed neighborhood where this is going to spread to other places.
[12:05:14] So I think we have to be very aggressive at stopping this cancer now in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya where it's existing. And I think we have to show a big major blow to ISIS because right now you have a lot of people that are, you know, sitting in their basements looking on the internet that want to join ISIS not because they want to be martyrs but because they want to be part of something big. And until we show that the chance of martyrdom increases greatly by joining ISIS I think we're going to continue to see this problem with foreign fighters.
ACOSTA: It seems that we have a strategy in place in terms of providing air support to the Iraqi security forces on the ground or the Peshmerga in the Kurdish areas to the north but it doesn't seem that that is an effective strategy at this point, that it is just not working. You can get into semantics as to whether we're winning or losing or failing, but that strategy just doesn't seem to work.
So, what do you propose do you think at this point?
GABBARD: Yes. Jim, I would like to point out a couple things. I think there is definitely more that we can do in providing these decisive blows with air strikes against these ISIS strongholds. But the Iraqi government actually does have a choice. They have a choice by arming directly the Sunni tribesmen as your correspondent just pointed out.
They are woefully underequipped. They have the will to fight and they are on the ground begging and saying please give us the heavy weapons, the arms, the ammunition that we need to be able to fight against ISIS. Instead the Iraqi government is relying completely on this Iranian backed Shia military.
The U.S. government is now saying, well, we're going to expedite more arms, more ammunition, anti-tank weapons to the Iraqi government. When we see that these Iraqi security forces have cut and run and left their weapons for ISIS at a few opportunities and these weapons are getting into the hands of the Shia militia.
And I want to point out something that happened in the arms -- while we were going through the Armed Services Committee hearing process for the National Defense Authorization Act, where I co-sponsored an amendment that would authorize the U.S. government directly arming the Kurds and the Shias. We had a leader of the -- this Shia militia, Muqtada al Sadr, as we were going through this hearing live he said, "if this bill is passed we will have no choice but to unfreeze the military wing that deals with the Americans so it can start targeting American interests, both in and outside of Iraq." So when you look at this, these are the people that the United States is aligning itself with who are essentially saying we are going to come out and attack you if you don't do what we want.
ACOSTA: And congressman, I want to ask you this, because you heard some fellow Republicans this week, Senator Lindsey Graham, John McCain, talk about a proposal to send in roughly 10,000 troops into Iraq, primarily to do training and provide intelligence, that sort of thing, not to go and fight house to house in combat situations. What do you make of that proposal? Does that sound reasonable to you? What do you think?
KINZINGER: Yes, it's reasonable.
I'm not sure of the exact number but let's think about where we've been here. And the question is, are we winning against ISIS? Eighteen months ago I called for bombing ISIS when they moved into Fallujah. At the time we thought it was al Qaeda because they had yet to go through their divorce. I was accused of wanting to start Iraq three. But we saw what happened then as it went on. ISIS grew and eventually people got engaged and wanted to destroy them.
We're seeing this movement continue to grow. And I think at this point we have to understand that every day that goes by where we don't push this cancer back, where we allow them to, you know, put car bombs in alleys, we allow them to put IEDs in towns that they occupy right now. Every day that goes by the cost of liberating Iraq or the cost of defeating this cancer is only going to increase.
So, I think we have to do the force that's proportionate and frankly the violence proportionate necessary to push back ISIS. The president likes to talk about the fact that we're not going to send 200,000 troops into Iraq. I agree, I've not even heard a single person ever say that we need another 200,000 troops back in Iraq. But what people are saying and what I am saying --
ACOSTA: Do you think that's a straw man argument? Do you think that's a bogus argument?
KINZINGER: I think it's absolutely a straw (ph) -- I think, absolutely.
You can see how the president argues. He likes to put two false choices up and say he's the one in the middle. I think the one in the middle right now is saying what do we need to do to be able to embolden the Iraqi military where it exists, to arm the Peshmerga, I agree with Tulsi, arm the Peshmerga, arm the Sunnis. The problem is the Peshmerga can't liberate all of Iraq. They have a 600-mile border with ISIS as it exists today. They're struggling to maintain their own territory. It's a very complicated battle.
[12:09:55] ACOSTA: Yes. And Congresswoman -- it is.
But I guess -- what do you make of what Congressman Kinzinger just said there? He's OK with 10,000 maybe less, maybe more troops going in there. But you know this. Deployment after deployment, it's breaking military families across this country on this Memorial Day weekend. That may not be the news they necessarily want to hear. More and more lawmakers calling for troops to go back into Iraq one more time.
How do you prevent mission creep from occurring, congresswoman?
GABBARD: Well, I think it's important for us to really focus on what our mission and goal and objective should be, which is defeating ISIS. Let's look back to Iraq several years ago where we had over 100,000 U.S. troops there training these Iraqi security forces. After the United States pulled out you saw how these Iraqi security forces lasted. They cut and run -- they cut and ran and dropped their weapons when they were faced with their first real battle with ISIS.
So, the issue here is not about how many U.S. troops can be sent to train these Iraqi security forces because you can't train into someone the will to fight. They don't have the will to fight. This Iraqi security force organization, you do have people who have the will and the courage to fight, as we've seen time and again with the Kurdish Peshmerga. Now these Sunni tribes are asking for the equipment that they need to be able to protect their families and their communities...
KINZINGER: Hey, Jim.
GABBARD: ...and yet unfortunately we are still not taking care and doing the obvious. We have these boots on the ground there who are ready to fight.
ACOSTA: And we're going to have to wrap it up there --
KINZINGER: Jim, can I just --
ACOSTA: Well, congressman, we've got to go. But we appreciate your time.
Go ahead and jump in there if you've got something to say.
KINZINGER: Well, let me say real quickly, the American military -- the American military wants to defeat our enemies and I think they're ready to go. They're ready to be unleashed, which is necessary, and that's what they're called to do.
ACOSTA: All right. Very good. And we're going to have Secretary Ash Carter coming up in the next segment. And he's going to be talking about in some pretty stark terms that he believes that the Iraqi forces don't have the will to fight. We'll be talking about that coming up next.
Ash Carter talking to our Barbara Starr. He reacts to the huge loss by Iraqi forces in Ramadi. That's coming up next.
[12:16:01] ACOSTA: Just last month the U.S. and Iraq claimed to have the upper hand in the fight against ISIS.
CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr caught up with Defense Secretary Ash Carter and asked him why ISIS was able to capture the key Iraqi city of Ramadi and gain momentum on a march towards Baghdad.
ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered. But in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force and yet they failed to fight. They withdrew from the site. And that says to me and I think to most of us that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.
Now, we can give them training. We can give them equipment. We obviously can't give them the will to fight. But if we give them training, we give them equipment and give them support and give them some time, I hope they will develop the will to fight because only if they fight can ISIL remain defeated.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people in Washington that you deal with on the other side of the aisle are saying, look, putting ground troops, putting forward air controllers, air strikes are not working.
What do you foresee? What is your view on this?
CARTER: Air strikes are effective but neither they nor really anything we do can substitute for the Iraqi forces' will to fight.
They're the ones who have to beat ISIL and then keep them beaten. We can participate in the defeat of ISIL but we can't make Iraq run as a decent place for people to live. We can't sustain the victory. Only the Iraqis can do that. And in particular, in this case the Sunni tribes to the west.
If there comes a time when we need to change the kinds of support we're giving to the Iraqi forces, we'll make that recommendation. But what happened at Ramadi was a failure of the Iraqi forces to fight. And so our efforts now are devoted to providing their ground forces with the equipment, the training, and to try to encourage their will to fight so that our campaign enabling them can be successful, both in defeating ISIL and keeping ISIL defeated in a sustained way. But these things we need to -- all of our tactics that our procedures need to --
STARR: Making sure I understand you, you are not at forward air controllers on the ground yet.
CARTER: We have not made that recommendation.
ACOSTA: And forward air controllers for our viewers would mean U.S. troops on the ground to help pinpoint those air strikes.
Joining me now to talk about all of this, Michele Flournoy, the Under Secretary of defense in President Obama's first term, and Michael Leiter, former Director of the Counterterrorism Center under both George W. Bush and President Obama. And Michele, I want to go to you first because you were in the running for defense secretary this last time around when Ash Carter was tapped for that position, and I'm just curious what you make of when you hear the defense secretary saying the Iraqi security forces may not have the will to fight.
MICHELE FLOURNOY, UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE 2009-2012: Well, I think when we talk about taking on ISIS and pushing them back in Sunni- dominated areas, whether it's Mosul or Anbar province, we've got to be -- the people with the political will to fight are the Sunnis and the Sunni tribes. And we have got to ensure that our efforts are directed at helping them. Arming and training them. Providing operational support on the battlefield. Enablers, air cover and so forth. And pressing the Iraqi government to devolve more governance and resources to the provinces.
Secretary Carter just said, you know, if there's a time when we need to do more we will do it. Well, now is that time in my view.
[12:20:00] ACOSTA: Yes. And Michael, do you think the administration has been too slow to confront this threat in a serious way?
MICHAEL LEITER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER 2007-2008: I think we probably underestimated how deep the hole is we dug ourselves in. And what I mean by that is, how weak the government structure in Iraq was, how weak the will to fight has been and how much it's going to take to get the Iraqis back up to par.
Similarly, I think we overestimated the problem -- I'm sorry, underestimated the problems we have in Syria, how weak our situation is there. And increasingly I think we have underestimated how alienated many of our Sunni allies feel in the region. So, I think in a number of fronts we need to be much more forceful and we need now to be much more aggressive. And Ramadi is simply the best current illustration of that
ACOSTA: And the president said last week that we're not losing. But I guess the question is, it's not whether we are winning or losing but is the strategy in a state of disrepair? How do we fix this?
FLOURNOY: I agree with the fundamental premise that we, the United States, cannot fix this in a sustainable way by ourselves.
Ultimately whatever victories we hope the Iraqis achieve will have to be sustained by the Iraqis but we have under resourced the strategy. We need to provide more stuff for training and advising down to the battalion level rather than just at the division level. We need to provide more fire power support, more intelligence surveillance --
ACOSTA: And why haven't they done that? You've dealt with this administration. You've dealt with this national security team. Why not?
FLOURNOY: I think there is a major hesitation to get too deeply involved in Iraq again. And I think there is, you know, a lot of Americans are worried about that.
FLOURNOY: But the truth is ISIS is a threat not only to Iraq and Syria, it is a threat to us, particularly given the flow of foreign fighters, thousands of Europeans, hundreds of Americans going into Syria, getting training, coming back at some point. This is a terrorist problem that affects us and we have to take a more forward- leaning posture.
ACOSTA: And Michael, you dealt with President Obama and it's not as if he wants the terrorists to win, he understands the threat. So as I was asking Michele, what is it? Why is there this disconnect?
LEITER: Well I think Michele is fundamentally right. I am not surprised we agree. We worked very closely together.
But the challenge we have is we pulled lots out of Iraq and the American people I think arguably don't want to go back and forth. But we have to understand this is not just about Iraq. This is about a region which to some extent is melting down.
The bombing that we saw in Saudi Arabia by ISIS against a Shia mosque. The attacks that we've seen by ISIS associated groups in Libya. This really is destabilizing the region.
This isn't about Iraq. This isn't about Syria. This is about a regional conflagration that we have to try to put out.
And similarly we obviously see threats within western nations by people who either have been trained by or inspired by ISIS. So, at a point where you don't see that global risk then you can move slowly and somewhat incrementally. The fact is we are well past that point and we have to be more forceful about it now.
ACOSTA: And Michele, how do we -- Iraq almost feels like the forever war. We have been dealing with this since the early 1990s under George H.W. Bush, and here we are about to go into another election talking about what to do about Iraq. How do we make it -- how do we make it stop?
FLOURNOY: That's a great question.
I think the fundamental issue in Iraq is one of governance, that you have a central government in Baghdad that is still operating along sectarian lines, that is not seeing itself as a national unity government that brings in the Kurds and the Sunnis. What we have to convince them of is they are at a tipping point. Either they become a true national unity government and share power in a meaningful way and stop persecuting the minorities. Or Iraq is going to dissolve into three parts and that is in no one's interest.
ACOSTA: All right. Michele Flournoy, Michael Leiter, thank you very much. Two key members of the president's national security team with some very (INAUDIBLE) talk on what needs to be done in Iraq and Syria. Thank you very much. LEITER: Thank you.
ACOSTA: Coming up next, Housing Secretary Julian Castro is on a mission to revive American's toughest neighborhoods, but is he also in line to be Hillary Clinton's running mate?
Julian Castro is here next.
ACOSTA: Here now, Julian Castro, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser kicked off the agency's 50th anniversary by highlighting efforts to create and maintain affordable housing, especially in revitalized urban areas where costs are soaring at an astronomical rate.
Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.
JULIAN CASTRO, SECRETARY OF HOUSING & URBAN DEVELOPMENT: It is great to be with you.
ACOSTA: Thank you. And we noticed with the situation in Cleveland over the weekend, the situation in Baltimore, Ferguson, this issue of urban development is becoming more and more a critical component for you when it comes to dealing with these cities that are facing some major issues.
And I'm just curious, how -- is this becoming more of a topic of conversation for you to sort of deal with urban development in cities that are facing tough times to sort of prevent the next Baltimore from happening, the next Ferguson from happening?
CASTRO: You know, HUD this year is marking its 50th year anniversary, so I would say that the focus on these issues, which has never left in terms of the department, however you're right that what we see out there, whether it's Baltimore, what's happened in Ferguson, what's going on in Cleveland right now, does give us I think as a nation an extra impetus to focus on these issues.
And I believe that one of the lasting legacies of the Obama administration is that, for the first time in these efforts, we figured out that it's not just about improving housing. It's not just what HUD is doing. It's also improving education in a neighborhood, improving transit options, of course improving job opportunities.
And through place-based work the Obama administration is working with local leaders in cities across the United States and rural areas as well to lift up the quality of life and provide more economic opportunity out there. And I think you're going to see the impact of this in the years to come even in some of the toughest areas in the United States.
ACOSTA: How do you respond to the notion, and I am sure you've heard it in recent weeks in response to what happened in Baltimore. That the great society was a failure? I know this is a time when you and the rest of the administration would like to see more resources going into our urban areas.
CASTRO: There are people who say that, and I would say that they're dead wrong. In fact, what we see today in the United States is because of these efforts, for instance, we've seen a strong reduction in childhood poverty.
The challenge is even when we find based on evidence initiatives that work, for instance, our housing choice voucher program was just the subject of a massive longitudinal study that showed that educational and employment outcomes improve when young people have the benefit of a housing choice voucher.
So that they can move with their family to a place of lower poverty and higher opportunity, even when we find things that work, for instance, in this budget the president is requesting about 100,000 more vouchers than we have now because we lost nearly 70,000 to sequestration.
And we're not getting the resources from this Congress to make those investments. So it's about resources and it's about how we coordinate better with local leaders to make a good impact on the ground.
ACOSTA: And I want to switch gears a little bit because it's Memorial Day weekend, to ask you about this issue of veteran homelessness, which is an issue that you have to deal with at the Housing and Urban Development Department.
And according to your department veteran homelessness has decreased 33 percent since 2010, but there are still 50,000 homeless vets in America. We see them on the streets of Washington.
People will see them on the streets of Washington as they head to Arlington National Cemetery, for example, this weekend. What more can we do for them?
CASTRO: There's a lot that we are doing and we are going to keep working hard. This is actually one of the best news stories out there. In 2010, President Obama became $e first president to say we are not just going to talk about reducing veteran homelessness. We're actually going to end it.
And since 2010, we've seen a 33 percent reduction in veteran homelessness. Mostly for two reasons -- because the president led and worked well with the Congress to get more what are called HUD vouchers so that veterans, who are homeless can actually get a voucher, go into the private market, and get a place to live.
Secondly, because communities across the United States have signed up to be part of the challenge to end veteran homelessness and have adopted policies like housing first, getting veterans directly into housing instead of making them live in shelters or transitional living facilities. Because of that, we expect that we will effectively end veteran homelessness. ACOSTA: And that would be quite an accomplishment that you could tout in a run in 2016, if you were to be put on Hillary Clinton's ticket. I know you've heard this question time and again. I can't let you go without talking about this.
What do you make of this when you see the former San Antonio mayor and former secretary at your department, Henry Cisneros, say this -- he says "what I'm hearing in Washington including from people in Hillary Clinton's campaign is that the first person on their list for vice president is Julian Castro, they don't have a second option." So I guess that's it. You've got the job. So congratulations.
CASTRO: I doubt that. You know, if I had a dime for every amount of speculation that happens in D.C., I think all of us would be wealthy.
ACOSTA: Your budget would be a lot bigger.
CASTRO: That's right. Who wouldn't be flattered by that? But I have found in life like I bet a lot of the folks watching out there, that the best thing to do in life is to do a great job with what's in front of you.
And I'm trying to do a great job at HUD and make sure that we benefit Americans out there, this weekend on Memorial Day weekend when we think about our veterans the fact that all of us together on both sides of the aisle are committed to making a difference and getting those veterans a place to live.
And that it's happening and we are going to have that glorious day in the not too distant future when we can say that we have effectively ended veteran homelessness. That's what I'm focused on these days.
ACOSTA: Let me ask you one more question about the 2016 campaign, these e-mails that have been released by the State Department with respect to Hillary Clinton and her time there, the private e-mails that she was using to conduct business at the department. Do you believe that she has answered that question appropriately and fully?
[12:35:08] CASTRO: Absolutely.
ACOSTA: You're satisfied?
CASTRO: I do. Let's take a look at this issue of Benghazi. This thing has been studied to death by Republicans and Democrats, several committees including in Congress that have all said, yes, of course, what happened was tragic but Secretary Clinton was not in any way at fault and what you have here with these e-mails is basically a witch hunt.
And you know, Congressman Gowdy, who is leading this, is very intentionally trying to manipulate this witch hunt to play politics. That's unfortunate. And it's one of the reasons that Congress has a 19 percent approval rating.
I think that we need to focus on more substantive things. As one who hasn't spent my lifetime in D.C., I know that out there in America, they care about are you reducing veteran homelessness, are you providing the impetus for young people to be able to achieve their dreams?
Are we making sure that America in this 21st Century remains the undisputed land of opportunity, not whether somebody had e-mails or didn't have them --
ACOSTA: Do you use a private e-mail account?
CASTRO: I have my government e-mail account. Of course, I have my private e-mail, but I have my government e-mail, but that's beside the point. I think --
ACOSTA: You do government business on the government e-mail account --
CASTRO: That's right.
ACOSTA: -- private business on the private account.
CASTRO: That's right. And she's already explained that. People want us to focus on policy makers on things that matter to their lives. They want us to make a difference in creating more opportunity out there.
And that's just a witch hunt that is a sideshow. I think the work that we're doing to end veteran homelessness is a good example of something that matters.
ACOSTA: All right. Secretary Castro, thank you very much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.
CASTRO: Thank you.
ACOSTA: All right, coming up next, more on those Hillary Clinton e- mails. Our round table is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm aware that the FBI has asked that a portion of one e-mail be held back. That happens in the process of Freedom of Information Act responses. But that doesn't change the fact that all of the information in the e-mails was handled appropriately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Hillary Clinton doing some e-mail damage control there on the campaign trail. Those newly released e-mails from Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state offers new insight into her handling of the Benghazi attacks. Joining me at the table, Democratic strategist, Penny Lee, CNN correspondent, Chris Frates, who has been tasked with reading all of those e-mails, fortunately not all of them at the same time, and Republican strategist, Kristen Soltis Anderson.
Thank you very much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it. Chris, let me go to you first. So you can fill us in on the latest. Have you read through all of these e-mails that were recently released? If so, I apologize because it's a holiday weekend.
CHRIS FRATES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a holiday weekend and that's probably part of the reason why they came out, right? It was a Friday before a long weekend. So we went through the 300 e-mails and there were no bombshells.
There was nothing that indicated that Hillary Clinton knew of any kind of stand-down order, that there was any kind of stand-down order, that any arms were coming through Benghazi so no smoking guns.
ACOSTA: The conspiracy --
FRATES: The conspiracy theories and Democrats were quick to say look, this is why -- we've already been through this. This is an exercise in futility. Now, Republicans, on the other hand, on that Benghazi committee that's looking into what happened there is saying, well, there's a lot of questions.
There were e-mails about security during Benghazi in 2011 and in 2012. We need to continue to look into that and there was also a little flavor for how she likes to run the State Department.
There were notes to her two senior aides who were going to -- they were going to testify on Capitol Hill, and she had suffered a concussion. She said I have a cracked head, but I want you guys to go up there and remain calm, carry on.
ACOSTA: I remember that, when she was wearing the glasses. Remember all of that during that time.
FRATES: Exactly. It was informative a little bit to kind of get a sense of how she ran her State Department, but there was nothing there that suggested --
ACOSTA: Nothing --
FRATES: But that was only 300 e-mails. We still have 30,000 more to come.
ACOSTA: So the coast is clear, Penny Lee?
PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it just confirms what we all have been saying all along, that many of the already investigations that we've already seen take place. We've already had five, six investigations and a full report.
And they have consistently said what was backed up in Hillary's e- mail, is that there wasn't a broad conspiracy and there wasn't that stand down order that was out there. So I think what it does is show there's more to come, but it does prove a consistency in where she was from the very beginning.
ACOSTA: And Kristen, more to come, I guess. What do you make of --
KRISTIN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: So we're right now trusting that Hillary Clinton is giving us the e-mails that do tell the full picture. Again, remember, these are e-mails that it's turning out some of them had some fairly sensitive information.
And they're living on an e-mail server in Hillary Clinton's possession and she's turning over what she wants to turn over. Poll after poll finds Americans don't find Hillary Clinton to be terribly trustworthy.
I don't think Congress finds Hillary Clinton to be terribly trustworthy. That's what we're going to be seeing playing out here as more e-mails --
ACOSTA: And Penny, I wonder, what do you make of the fact that Sidney Blumenthal has come back, you know, from the 1990s, I guess, that we're now talking about Sidney Blumenthal e-mails with Hillary Clinton. Doesn't this all sort of remind voters that Hillary Clinton, you know, was the first lady in the 1990s and was a senator, then secretary --
LEE: But there's no denying that --
ACOSTA: But we're dealing with Hillary Clinton and the way she handles her sensitive subjects like this in a sometimes ineffective way.
LEE: Look, there's no denying what her resume is. Yes, she was first lady. She was senator and all of those things. I have worked for many politicians, Ed Rendell, Harry Reid and others that have had many friends who have volunteered information they thought might be helpful to someone, and what she did was the proper --
ACOSTA: It feels like a "Seinfeld" rerun I guess is what we're saying. Sort of like why are we going back, Sidney Blumenthal, really?
[12:45:04] LEE: What she did was the proper thing to do, was to vet it through her staff. And she relied on the advice of her senior staff, not the advice of Sidney Blumenthal. She can't help sometimes what is incoming. What you can do is how you react to it, and what she did was the proper thing. Vet it through the possible right forums and to see --
ANDERSON: I doubt many voters know who Sydney Blumenthal is but what I do know is a lot of voters see headlines for instance that allies of ISIS are sort of filling the void that's been left in Libya. And I know that in these Hillary e-mails are e-mails saying Hillary Clinton is the face of Libya, we've positioned you as the face of American action there. We know in Hillary Clinton's record back at the beginning of the Iraq war she voted to authorize regime change in the Middle East that sort of led to a vacuum that has led to the situation we're seeing now. And in Libya she was the face of vacuum after regime change that leads people to feel fairly unsafe.
I think that's the stuff that voters are going to be caring about and making their judgments about whether or not she is somebody who is capable of being the commander-in-chief and making wise foreign policy decisions.
ACOSTA: Not to look in the future, Chris, but do you think we're going to find anything in these e-mails? As Kristen said, these are the ones that the Clintons are giving us to look at.
FRATES: That's right. And I think what we've learned from how she e- mails is that she's very logistical, she doesn't talk a lot about her policy. There is not a lot of inner dialogue. She's not discussing how she feels about certain issues and I think even though we have 30,000 e-mails still to come, I think that pattern will continue.
ACOSTA: Kristen, Penny, and Chris, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it. Next, the history behind America's most sacred burial ground.
ACOSTA: Memorial Day is a time for America to pay tribute to its war dead, and perhaps nothing symbolizes that sacrifice more than Arlington National Cemetery, an average of 5,000 funerals take place each year at this historic landmark.
ACOSTA (voice-over): From the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier to the grave of America's 35th president, these 624 acres just outside of the nation's capital are the final resting place for more than 400,000 souls.
(on camera): This just gives you a sense as to the people who are buried here. Harry Alexander Lowe, World War I, Andrew Hamilton, World War I, James Edmonds Patton, World War I, but here Vincent Deangelo, World War II, Korea, Vietnam.
(voice-over): Command Historian Steve Carney is the current keeper of the history at Arlington National Cemetery and many of its stories, dating back to the first burial here during the civil war.
(on camera): Is this essentially where the cemetery then began, starting with Private Chrisman?
STEVE CARNEY, ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY HISTORIAN: Yes.
ACOSTA: The war dead from the civil war, they started bringing them to this site and how quickly did this cemetery start to expand at that point?
CARNEY: Kind of where we are standing up to the crest of this ridge. All of these burials were conducted here between May 13th and june 14th of 1864. On June 15th of 1864, we officially become a national cemetery.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Graves then were made of a thin piece of wood with a name carved into it. Marble markers were installed in 1872.
CARNEY: We're often asked, you know what's the genesis of the cemetery? What the facts are is that this ground that George Washington Mark Custis, George Washington's step grandson, the child he raised as his own son.
When he inherited this property, he built the Arlington house on this high ground that we're standing on now that was the absolutely dominant terrain over the District of Columbia. So at the start of the civil war in 1861 there's a military necessity that the army seize this property in order to defend Washington --
ACOSTA (on camera): The union army seized the property.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The nation began memorializing its war dead at Arlington in 1868. Five years later an amphitheater was built to hold official Memorial Day ceremonies.
CARNEY: This is the original amphitheater that was constructed in 1873. So five years -- so it was ready in time for the fifth Decoration Day. And on this rostrum every president essentially from 1873 through 1919 would have given a Memorial Day address here.
ACOSTA: Although Memorial Day is recognized every year with a ceremonial laying of the wreath by the commander-in-chief, only two U.S. presidents have been laid to rest here.
(on camera): Why aren't more presidents buried at Arlington?
CARNEY: I think that sets the precedent -- George Washington really sort of set that precedent, of being buried at his home or in his home state. William Howard Taft is buried here in 1930, and it certainly bucks the trend that had been established really with George Washington of a president being buried, you know, at their -- in their home town.
ACOSTA: When President Kennedy was demand to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery skyrocketed. What happened?
CARNEY: Tripled or quadrupled every year. So if we think of it in terms of this is really the first time there was a televised full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, and much like Decoration Day propelled Arlington to becoming the premier national military cemetery in 1800s.
To me President Kennedy's funeral, televised funeral, is a big turning point for the cemetery in the 20th century. When people see what it truly means to be buried here at Arlington National Cemetery among full honors, that really increases the demand, the desire to be buried at this place, at this most sacred shrine.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Each year Americans from across the country visit these hallowed grounds to pay respects to relatives who are buried at Arlington. My maternal grandparents are here.
(on camera): That's my grandfather, Vincent Daniel Rice, my mom's dad. And that's my grandmother, Elsie. Wow. Will Arlington run out of space?
CARNEY: The answer is yes, at some point, there's only a certain area that you can expand into, but right now there are two expansion projects. The last burial in that section might well be out in the 2100s. We still do second or third internments --
[12:55:12] ACOSTA: You're planning out into the 2100s.
ACOSTA (voice-over): As the nation's cemetery continues on into that future, Carney and the millions of people who come to Arlington each year help keep its past alive.
CARNEY: We have over 400,000 people buried here, so there are 400,000 stories to research, to study, to learn.
ACOSTA: What does Memorial Day mean to you?
CARNEY: It's just a day where every headstone here has an American flag in front of it, and as you drive through or as you see that vista it just really drives home that remembrance of the sacrifice of so many.
ACOSTA: Thanks for watching STATE OF THE UNION on this Memorial Day weekend. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts right now.