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IDF Rejects U.N. Call for Ceasefire, Launches More Attacks In Gaza; IDF Calls rumors Of Hamas Hostage Release "Psychological Terror"; Rep. Phillips Enters Race, Challenging Biden's Nomination; Police: Suspect in Maine Mass Shootings is Dead; State Department Official Resigns Over U.S. Arms Sent to Israel. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired October 28, 2023 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Israel across the border. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.
Israeli Defense Forces expanding their ground operation in Gaza overnight. An IDF spokesman says the forces are in the field and continue the fighting with infantry and armored vehicles backed by massive strikes from the air and the sea, including the bombing of Hamas tunnels. The bombardment also knocking out communications in Gaza creating a near information blackout and largely cutting off the territories more than 2 million people from the outside world. Until now, Israel's military had been conducting targeted raids with forces withdrawing after a few hours. It comes as an Israeli ground offensive aimed at seizing and holding significant amounts of territory has been widely expected but it still does not appear that such a significant operation is underway yet.
Joining me now from Israel is CNN Correspondent Jeremy Diamond.
So, Jeremy, still not the ground incursion that we had anticipated.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, at least not officially, Michael. The IDF is continuing to characterize this as expanded ground operations inside of Gaza. And it appears that -- are we getting a siren? Yes. I think we're getting a siren, Michael, we have to move.
Just going to get low. Just get down, get down, guys, get down. Sorry, we're just going to move down, Michael, as we're getting sirens. We are near the border right now with Gaza. But as I was saying, the IDF saying that overnight they struck over 150 targets inside of Gaza.
And I can tell you from being near the border over the last nearly three weeks of this military campaign, what we heard last night certainly was the most intense, the most sustained bombardment of the Gaza Strip since this war began. Really earth-shaking kinds of bombardments, and part of that is because they are striking not only buildings but they are trying to strike deep underground that Hamas' underground tunnel infrastructure. And we -- according to the IDF they struck over 150 underground targets last night. They also allegedly killed the commander of Hamas, his naval forces. Now today, we drove along the border with the Gaza Strip.
And what we were able to witness is essentially the aftermath of that ground operation last night, areas that were previously teeming with tanks and armored vehicles. North of the Gaza border today, Michael, we found them mostly empty. A lot of those tanks and armored personnel carriers appear to have moved towards the Gaza border and into Gaza. We also saw logistic support vehicles heading toward the Gaza border. And that's of course notable because unlike the raids that we have seen, the targeted raids that the IDF carried out over the previous two nights, what happened last night is different and that the tanks and the armored personnel carriers that went into Gaza remain there today.
The IDF this morning saying that fighting is still ongoing inside the Gaza Strip at this hour. Michael.
SMERCONISH: Jeremy, stays safe. And thank you for that report.
Here now with some perspective is Bruce Hoffman. He's the Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security and professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University. He recently wrote this piece for The Atlantic, "Understanding Hamas's Genocidal Ideology."
Dr. Hoffman, who's side is time on?
BRUCE HOFFMAN, SR. FELLOW FOR COUNTERTERRORISM & HOMELAND SECURITY, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I would say time is definitely on the side of the Israel Defense Forces. But at the same time, I would caution that time is a very perishable commodity. For instance, in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attacks, Israel had the unqualified support of the United States and other countries to defend itself, whoever it saw fit, but we've seen over the past three weeks that that has been qualified quite a bit to talk about surgical operations, humanitarian assistance and so on. So, the pressure I think is on the IDF to act now.
SMERCONISH: Is it necessary for Israel to maintain a sustained ground incursion?
HOFFMAN: Yes, I think if you look at history, airpower alone has never defeated terrorists anywhere. If you look at even the United States' own experience in the war on terror. United States air assets were deployed to try to obliterate al-Qaeda and kill Osama bin Laden in December 2001 in January 2002 with Tora Bora. But without the ground forces presence to actually finish the job, we saw what happened, al- Qaeda and bin Laden escaped. So, clearly, Israel does have to put forces on the ground in Gaza to achieve what its stated aims are, which is to destroy Hamas's military capability.
SMERCONISH: Right. When folks around the globe look at the images that we're now showing on the screen of that which has transpired just in the overnight, Israel must worry, don't you think that the perception will be that this is collective punishment and not something specifically targeted at Hamas? So, how do they meet that burden of proof in the court of public opinion?
HOFFMAN: Exactly right. And that's why I said that time is a perishable commodity, because we've seen that reducing the entirety of Gaza to rubble. Killing 1000s of civilians is not how you win any kind of a war, but certainly a struggle against terrorism. Because of course, as we've also seen the past three weeks, the narrative and the perception is all important. So this is why Israel needs to move on the ground to the more surgical precision operations to begin to actually counter the Hamas fighters and weaken them directly as opposed to reducing the entirety of the Gaza Strip to a rubbishy (ph).
SMERCONISH: Dr. Hoffman I want to read something to aloud. I'd put it on the screen for the viewers. It caught my eye, John Sawers, perhaps someone known to you, former chief of MI6, former U.K. ambassador to the U.N., and he said this, "Israel has every right to respond. Now the immediate rage has passed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet are thinking through their options more carefully. We should expect search and destroy missions inside Gaza City to take down as much of Hamas's military as they can and to try to rescue hostages."
Here's now the part that I highlight to myself, "But Israel's security chiefs know the goal of destroying Hamas is probably beyond their reach. Hamas has a political base and extensive external support from Iran." Do you believe that that Israel's security chief would know that the goal of destroying Hamas is probably beyond their reach?
HOFFMAN: Well, I think yes. That's a very astute observation, I think or analysis by Sir John Sawers. But Israel, I think, highest priority is destroying Hamas's military capability, which I think is within their reach. You know, we've heard lots over the past three weeks about the enormous challenges and difficulties of urban warfare and predicting that, the IDF is going to be stymied. But you know, let's face it, Hamas has never fought an urban war, such as that, which present -- that Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised.
Israel has vast experience in urban operations in the West Bank going back to the Second Intifada in the early 2000s when they were very intense fighting, for instance, in Jenin and Nablus and recent urban operations in Jenin. Also, Hamas has no armor aviation assets for quick reaction, the IDF does. And then, look 360,000 IDF reservists have been mobilized, Hamas has about a 10th of that number of fighters. So clearly, defense is easier than offense. And Hamas is, I think, obviously confident that it can stymie the IDF.
But I think the IDF has a lot of advantages in achieving the preeminent first goal of destroying Hamas's military capability. And what I think is hoped is from that flows a weakening of Hamas is political influence in count and in clout if it's deprived of any kind of kinetic assets.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Hoffman, thank you for your expertise. HOFFMAN: You're welcome.
SMERCONISH: So what about the hostages? Joining me now is Christopher O'Leary, who was until recently the U.S. Director of Hostage Rescue and Recovery. He has extensive experience with the FBI in counterterrorism and hostage matters throughout the Middle East.
Mr. O'Leary, thank you for being here. It seemed like there was hope yesterday of a major hostage release, and then all of a sudden came this uptick in Israel's ground activity. Do you relate the two?
CHISTOPHER O'LEARY, SENIOR VP, THE SOUFAN GROUP: I do, but I also would caution that it was not going to ever be a major hostage release. It would have been a very deliberate, calculated and manipulative release of some additional hostages by Hamas, but they're not going to open the floodgates and release any leverage that they have on Israel in the international community.
SMERCONISH: There have been no public signs of life. What if anything, do you make of that?
O'LEARY: Well, I make of it that they are likely being held in the Gaza Metro, probably secreted in the most secure areas and the most difficult to get to by IDF if and when they start going in more deliberately.
So, you know, listen, Hamas is looking to safeguard these hostages for as long as they can, treat them like cattle, their cattle ranchers. This is a commodity and they're looking to get the best price to them at a certain point.
SMERCONISH: Right. How can Israel ensure the safety, the ongoing safety of the hostages given what we've just reported in the last 10 minutes in terms of the uptick in ground activity accompanied by the aerial bombardment?
O'LEARY: Well, they can't completely. But I will say this, Shin Bet Mossad IDF intelligence capabilities were certainly embarrassed by the catastrophic failure that they had to prevent October 7. So they are now being very, you know, deliberate and they're targeting, making sure that the targets they strike are not based on single source intelligence, but multiple sources that corroborated that has an established chain of acquisition and that they have high -- the highest confidence that they're not going to create collateral damage with the hostages. Having said that, it's no guarantee. And so they could harm some hostages, but the other part of that is, Hamas could also claim that Israel is killing the hostages, and, you know, amplifying their psychological warfare and putting the blame on Israel for their death.
That will also create greater division between the hostage families in Israel and the Israeli government, but also the international community. It'll widen the fissure between the support that as Dr. Hoffman mentioned was absolute in the beginning and started to depart a little bit as time went on.
SMERCONISH: Christopher O'Leary, thank you so much for your expertise.
O'LEARY: Good to be here.
SMERCONISH: Up ahead, the suspect in the Maine mass shootings this week found dead last night from a self-inflicted gunshot. What do we know about such shooters? We'll get to that.
And Congressman Dean Phillips is here. He just announced he's challenging President Biden for the Democratic nomination, which by the way, leads me to today's survey question. In 1980, Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter in part by asking Americans to reflect on whether they were better off than they'd been four years earlier. Well, I'm curious about all of you. What would you say if ask the same of today's incumbent?
Go to smerconish.com right now and answer today's poll question. Are you better off than you were four years ago?
SMERCONISH: Congressman Dean Phillips announced on Friday that he's challenging President Biden for the Democratic nomination. He'll join me in just a moment. What he be doing so if Americans felt that they were better off now than they were four years ago? I asked that because in the final week of the 1980 campaign, presidential campaign, Governor Ronald Reagan in his one and only debate with Jimmy Carter, he asked a question that was thought to both crystallize and maybe sway the election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, 40TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Next Tuesday, all of you will go to the polls, you stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Carter was then beleaguered by the misery index, a crude economic measure invented by economist Arthur Okun in the 1970s. It's a combination of unemployment and inflation rates. The number was more than 20 percent during the 1980 campaign. When Ronald Reagan won reelection, it was now 11.4 percent. When George W. Bush won a second term, the misery index was nine. For Barack Obama's second election date was 9.5.
Today, as Joe Biden runs for reelection, it's only 7.5. And the economic numbers only seem to be improving despite high interest rates and ongoing inflation pressures. This week, new GDP numbers were released revealing that the U.S. economy grew even faster than expected in the third quarter. From July through September, the Gross Domestic Product, GDP, which measures all goods and services produced in the U.S. rose at an annualized pace of 4.9 percent, up from 2.1 percent in the second quarter. And yet compared with other presidents dating back to Eisenhower in this period of their terms, President Biden has the lowest popularity of any president except Jimmy Carter.
This week, Gallup repealed that -- revealed that the President's approval rating is now at 37 percent. That matches his personal low. Driving those numbers, Biden's job approval among Democrats has tumbled by 11 points in the last month. Brand new survey data from the American Communities Project and Ipsos of 5,000 Americans spread across 15 communities casts doubt on whether Biden's numbers bear any relationship to the economy and whether people feel that they're better off.
Consider this, when asked a very Reaganesque question, do you think your life is generally headed in the right direction or is it off on the wrong track? Eighty-seven percent said yes, it's on the right track. Similarly, when asked about their communities, 63 percent say they're going in the right direction. It's only when asked about the country at large that 79 percent of Americans say America as a whole is on the wrong track. Only 18 percent say America is going in the right direction.
So, the perception is that individuals are doing well, their communities are doing fine, but the country, it's going to hell in a handbasket. Why the disconnect? Maybe because perception of the nation at large is being driven by a 24/7 news cycle dominated by footage of snatch and grabs, subway shovels and violent protests, worries about migrants, surging at the border, defense spending spiraling while people's pocketbooks are hurting.
When Congressman Dean Phillips threw his hat in the ring this week, he mentioned not only what he calls chaos at the border and in our cities but he also said that the torch needs to be passed to a new generation of leaders. Perhaps the biggest factor in Biden's low polling is something that the President can't do anything about between now and the election, and that's his age. Joining me now is Congressman Dean Phillips of Minnesota.
Congressman, what do you make of what I just had to say? It seems like the President's got the data but he can't sell it. Why?
REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Michael, good to be with you. And I think you just made the case for why I entered the Democratic primary. The country is feeling really fearful, uneasy, divided, and I think I call it anger attainment. We have an anger attainment in history that would have us all believe that we are more divided than we really are. And I believe it's time for an American president to focus on literal repair.
Look at the word, it's repairing the country. We need it now more than ever. To the economic numbers, the macroeconomic numbers are good. I admire Joe Biden. I voted for his policies as a member of the House Democratic leadership team. I helped market those policies. But I've been talking to people here in New Hampshire over the last 24 hours since I declared my candidacy, people cannot afford health care, families are struggling, 60 percent of Americans still lives paycheck to paycheck, 40 percent can't afford a $400 car repair. The President has done a fine job of being the very bridge that he promised he would be, the transitional president that our country needed at the time. I admire Joe Biden, but 80 percent of the country wants change. It's time for it. It's time to walk to the future.
And I tell you, as I listen to people, I hear it everywhere I am right now, Michael, that it's time for a new generation to take the reigns. We have a lot of challenges.
SMERCONISH: Give me the --
PHILLIPS: And I think the ones that we're going to be facing are going to be ones that only newer generations can tackle. And by the way, as long as we keep fighting each other, we're not going to fight for America. And that is exactly my message to do this differently, thoughtfully in a bipartisan fashion that this country deserves, and frankly, has earned.
SMERCONISH: OK. So, give us the elevator pitch on how you can actually win the nomination?
PHILLIPS: Well, the good news, Michael, is thank goodness we still live in the country in which voters make the decision if they want, this is a choice. Now I've got the Democratic National Committee competing against me in extraordinarily large machine. Of course, it's rigged against any challenger candidate under any circumstance. But what a beautiful example of American democracy where anybody, 35 years old, U.S. citizen born here, can enter this ring in New Hampshire just like I did yesterday, first in the nation primary since 103 years ago, talking with people making your case. We're going to win New Hampshire, that'll put us on the radar screen.
And I'm going to introduce myself to the country and only give people a choice, I'm not running against President Biden, I admire him. I'm running for the future. I'm running to provide people a choice, because if Democrats were the big D, defeat democracy with a small d by pushing people aside, telling them to stand down and get out, that is antithetical to meeting the moment. And it's our generations --
SMERCONISH: But Congressman --
PHILLIPS: -- to take those right.
SMERCONISH: Congressman, when you say -- when you say you admire him and you admire his record and that you've been supportive of it in the Congress, you're then going to have to complete the sentence which says, but I don't think he can beat Donald Trump. Are you ready to make that case in order to win the nomination?
PHILLIPS: Absolutely. That is my case. And I don't need to make it, look at the polls. Last week's ABC News poll has President Biden down nine points nationally. The Bloomberg poll has been losing and five of the six key battleground states.
You just referenced the lowest -- some of the lowest approval ratings in American presidential history. I don't know how more loudly American voters could speak. Over 50 percent of Democratic voters simply want an alternative. I'm raising my hand, I'm entering this ring, because I think Americans deserve that very alternative. I'm going to run a spirited, joyful, optimistic campaign based on strength and fortitude, and give people a choice.
And if I don't succeed, rest assured I will do everything I can. I will work just as hard for President Biden or whoever the nominee might be to ensure that Donald Trump does not return to the White House. And if that wasn't enough, Michael, Matt Gaetz of all people, Matt Gaetz yesterday tweeted that it would be harder for Donald Trump to be Dean Phillips than to beat Joe Biden. That is the very case that I'm going to be making --
SMERCONISH: Congressman, I have no doubt that there is a craving, that there is a hunger. I am very familiar with all the data. I track this of Americans who want a choice and don't like the status quo. The fundamental question is whether your route is the best way to get it done. Meaning, within a Democratic nomination fight where you're a unique guy willing to talk about border security and crime as opposed to running as an independent, maybe a no labels candidate.
Surely you evaluated that path and ruled it out. What's the short answer as to why?
PHILLIPS: I say shame on anybody who might run as an Independent candidate in this consequential race. The most important election in our country's history whether it's Cornel West, whether it's Robert Kennedy, whether it's any other initiative that would have an alternative candidate that would appeal votes from whomever will be taking on Donald Trump, shame on you, I would never do that. I'm doing this in the way that we have constructed our democracy. And we as Democrats do it through a thoughtful, spirited primary.
And I do not intend to undercut the President. I do not intend to demean him, diminish him. I will make my case for the future. It is complimentary of him but it's also more bold for the future. And I think that's exactly what Americans need.
I'm troubled by those who somehow are fearful of choice, fearful of freedom, and fearful of doing exactly what our Founders intended when they created our country almost 250 years ago. I think once people see how I'm doing this, it might surprise, it might delight and it might actually inspire our country to make the choice to move to the future. It's not that difficult if you're really paying attention to what people are listening to. And that's what I've been doing.
SMERCONISH: Congressman, thank you for being here. We appreciate it.
PHILLIPS: Anytime, Michael. SMERCONISH: Social media reaction, Catherine (ph), what do we have? From the world of YouTube, I think. I give Phillips a shout out for having the cojones to mix it up which we need.
Robert Stutes, of course, I'm in that same category. I mean, I think we need more competition. Competition is good. You know, I've said this before about President Biden, it's like holding back that starting quarterback and giving him no touches until the first season of the NFL. You got to put them in at least in the third or fourth game for a couple of touches, otherwise, you don't know what you have in your hands when you get to the debate stage.
One more, here's another. We love the social media reaction, by the way, on all the platforms. I am not making a prediction, only stating that I think that it would be interesting if Joe Biden loses the New Hampshire primary because he's not on the ballot giving Dean Phillips momentum leading into the South Carolina primary and the end result is the incumbent president loses the nomination says Candace. Right. You're very astute, Candace.
The point is that Dean Phillips is going to be on that ballot in New Hampshire, the President is not going to, this has to do with the whole tit for tat as to what state should go first. The President has cast his lot with South Carolina. So, Dean Phillips is going to win, it would seem, the New Hampshire primary. I guess I should reference Marianne Williamson as well.
I don't think Dean Phillips can get on the Nevada ballot. But competition is a good thing. OK? I think we're all well served by competition. So, yes, I always welcome the news that others are getting in the race.
I want to remind you, go to my website at smerconish.com. I love today's poll question. Catherine, my producer gets the credit for it. I wrote the commentary and it wasn't obvious to me, but it was obvious to her. Yes, are you better off now than you were four years ago? Cannot wait to see that result.
Up ahead, after finding a suicide note, authorities found the body of the suspect in this week's tragic mass shootings. I'll talk with a former FBI agent who founded its active shooter program.
And is there a quiet mutiny brewing within the State Department over America's policy to supply arms to Israel? I'll talk to one official who made his unhappiness public and resigned.
SMERCONISH: The suspect in the Maine double mass shooting is dead, according to law enforcement. The gunman was found last night with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in an area near the recycling center from which he had recently been fired. The suspect was accused of shooting into a bowling alley and restaurant in Lewiston Wednesday night killing 18 people between the ages of 14 and 76.
Investigators believe that he legally purchased the gun that he used for both mass shootings just days before he was hospitalized and ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Police are expected to hold a press conference in the next hour. We're going to bring that to you live.
But first, joining me now is Katherine Schweit, a retired FBI special agent who created the agency's active shooter program. And she's the author of "Stop the Killing: How to End the Mass Shooting Crisis." So, Katherine, once again, it seems that law enforcement was last in the loop of a known danger. That's a pattern we have seen before.
KATHERINE SCHWEIT, RETIRED FBI SPECIAL AGENT/CREATED FBI'S ACTIVE SHOOTER PROGRAM: And it's a pattern we'll see again because let me just give you one -- two pieces of data that I think are fascinating about that very question or that very statement.
First of all, when the FBI looked at shooters, from actual shooters who did this over a 14-year period, 54 percent of the time people who heard specific leakage and had specific information never reported it to anybody. And more than that, 83 percent of the time they only went back to the person who said it to them. So, they went back to the shooter and said, hey, you said you were going to do something violent. And the person would say, oh no, I was just kidding.
People aren't sharing information. That's what's happening.
SMERCONISH: Right. So, what -- OK. So, what is leakage, as you used that term? And what are behaviors of concern?
SCHWEIT: Generic terms for us. But leakage is when somebody says something that indicates an intent to commit a violent act or also an intent to commit suicide. Maybe 40 percent -- up to 40 percent of these types of shooters want to commit suicide either by cop or on their own. It's just what we saw this week. So that's the leakage.
Behaviors of concern are the things that -- observable things you see and hear every day from people more than express, I'm just frustrated. But a behavior that -- they have, obviously, financial problems they can't manage, marital problems they can't handle, interpersonal relationship issues, mental health struggles that are just getting to be too much.
They're observable behaviors that when we tie them all together, every shooter has four to five of these concerning behaviors. And when they have a stress like a job failure, like we saw here, then we have this outcome.
SMERCONISH: I follow you on Twitter. And you have said people have got to be an up-stander. Maybe it's obvious, what's an up-stander?
SCHWEIT: Oh, people have to be an up-stander. You know, up-stander is saying something when you see something. And the difference -- I think sometimes people say two things. He'll never do that. He's never done that before.
Yes, that's a fact. These shooters do not have long criminal records. But in addition to that, we want somebody to tell. And people interpret tell as snitching.
But telling is getting somebody help. Snitching is getting somebody in trouble. We want you to get them help.
SMERCONISH: That's a good message. We'll see what gets said at this press conference. Katherine, thank you so much for being here as always.
SCHWEIT: Thank you, sir.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, my next guest, unhappy with the administration's supplying of weaponry to Israel, resigned from his position at the State Department. While Josh Paul condemns Hamas, he says America is not acting in its best interest. I'll ask him why and if others feel the way he does.
I also want to remind you make sure you're answering today's poll question at Smerconish.com. Are you better off -- this is the Reagan question. Are you better off now than you were four years ago?
SMERCONISH: It's not often that a LinkedIn post about quitting your job makes national news. But that's what happened with my next guest Josh Paul after he resigned from the State Department over what he called the Biden administration's -- quote -- "continued lethal assistance to Israel" in the conflict with Hamas. Calling it, "An impulsive reaction built on confirmation bias, political convenience, intellectual bankruptcy, and bureaucratic inertia."
Paul's move was a rare public sign of discontent within the department but reports say he's not alone. Per the "Los Angeles Times," "Other rumblings of discontent have been reported especially among younger officers inside Foggy Bottom who are more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause." And a "Huffington Post" piece titled "Mutiny Brewing Inside State Department Over Israel-Palestine Policy" claims, "Multiple officials say they have heard colleagues talk about quitting as Paul did."
Josh Paul joins me now. He worked in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs for more than 11 years. He was its director. He wrote this piece in the "Washington Post" about his decision titled "This is not the State Department I know. That's why I left my job."
So, Josh, thank you for being here. Convince me that you are the tip of the iceberg and not just a one off.
JOSH PAUL, RESIGNED FROM STATE DEPARTMENT/FORMER DIR., STATE DEPARTMENT BUREAU OF POLITICAL-MILITARY AFFAIRS: Well, I've actually heard since I left from so many scores of people not only from within the State Department but from across the U.S. government, including DOD, including other agencies, including the White House, all saying that they are finding what is being done incredibly difficult to support, incredibly difficult to comprehend and yet are met with silence. All being told that they should stop questioning the policy and just move ahead.
So, I think a lot of people who have deep experience and are concerned not just on a moral basis but on a policy basis about what is being pursued right now are finding this very problematic.
SMERCONISH: You referenced confirmation bias. You reference bureaucratic inertia in the explanation as to why you had to get out. And I was thinking as I read your piece, OK, but aren't you a facilitator?
In other words, your job was to fulfill the mission as defined by others. You weren't there to set policy. Or am I wrong?
PAUL: So, the mission has never been to provide U.S. funded arms into a context in which we know they are going to be used to cause massive civilian casualties. And we know in this context that they are.
So, I mean, you are correct that there are many levels to the policy process. And actually, normally there's a healthy policy debate within the department, which I've been a part of on many former arm transfers. That was not the case here.
SMERCONISH: Did you try to work within the system?
PAUL: I did. I raised concerns -- I have raised concerns for many years about some of our arms transfers including those to Israel. I raised concerns very shortly after Hamas' horrific atrocity of October 7th, saying, look, we know where this movie before. We know where it leads and we must find a way to do better before we start pouring arms and fuel onto the fire.
Those concerns were not taken seriously and the direction continued to provide the arms that are now being dropped on Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
SMERCONISH: Do you expect that others are going to follow you out the door?
PAUL: I think everyone has their own personal circumstances. In your opener, you noted junior officials. I've actually heard from a number of senior officials as well saying that they agree with my perspective and are finding this difficult.
But I'm not going to speak for others. I will leave them to make their own decisions based on the good they believe they can do.
SMERCONISH: I read the comments that were appended to your "Washington Post" piece. And one that I highlighted I'll put on the screen. I don't know if you can see it. But I'll read it aloud.
It was somebody who said this, "The West just got played by Hamas. They are achieving the results they wanted. Hop-up a bunch of militants on drugs. Go in and slaughter innocents in a televised massacre. Batten down the hatches and wait for the Israeli onslaught.
Sit back and let the world witness how disproportionate the response is. In the process, create more future Hamas fighters. Rinse and repeat. To no good end. Just to keep the hate alive, if we can't have our land, you can't live there in peace.
That is basically what we are dealing with. From now until eternity. And the author of this column fell for it."
Did you just fall for something?
PAUL: No. Look, we have for many years provided over $200 billion in U.S.-funded -- U.S. tax-payer funded arms to Israel. What has that led to? Thousands of dead Palestinians, thousands of dead Israelis, a moribund peace process, and American foreign policy disaster that is unfolding the Middle East and across the world.
So, I think it is a fundamental time to reestablish and reexamine what we have been doing because it has not worked.
SMERCONISH: I'm going to give you the chance. You've done it already in writing. But I don't want people to misunderstand what you're saying, to condemn what transpired on 10/7, so there's no misunderstanding.
PAUL: I have been working for the U.S. government for many, many years, including in Iraq, including in the West Bank, including in the Pentagon and the State Department, and no one has ever asked me before to condemn Hamas or to condemn an atrocity which is so patently an atrocity, any attack against civilians is an atrocity.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, Josh Paul.
PAUL: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: I want to remind you all to answer today's poll question at Smerconish.com. By the way, when you're there, register for the free daily newsletter. You'll love it.
Are you better off now than you were four years ago? It's the Reagan question.
Still to come, the shooter in Maine has been found dead, ending the latest mass shooting story. Sad to say, but I'm sure it's not the last. And I have something I want to say about that.
SMERCONISH: The shooter in Maine was found dead last night with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in an area near the recycling center from which he had recently been fired. The most recent such crisis now over. My reaction to this week's tragedy is a fatalistic one. It happened again.
In fact, here's how accustomed, how desensitized I've become to mass shootings. I actually have an outline that I use for my radio programs the day after. It's a reflection of how routine mass shootings have become, and how fatigued I am with the idea that anything is ever going to change.
Here. Here is my outline. I begin by quoting the Second Amendment. And then I say, well, it happened again. Today, we're monitoring the events in blank, and extending our prayers to those residents. It appears this event will expand the list of mass killers in America for calendar year 2020-blank.
This is the nation's blank mass killing this year. At least blank have died in those mass killings this year. And so today, blank joins Columbine, and Sandy Hook, the Vegas Strip, Pulse Nightclub, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Virginia Tech and many others.
I've given up thinking that anything will change. Sandy Hook did that for me. If not then, when? Instead, I'm resigned to the fact that this is the price we pay for living in America. The cost of having the right to a firearm enshrined in our constitution, at least as it's been interpreted by the Supreme Court.
We are a nation with too many weapons, in too many hands, 120 guns for every 100 people. And we lack the resolve to make significant change. We more tightly regulate drivers and automobiles than citizens with guns. It is what sets us apart from the world.
We're not the only ones with a mental health crisis. Nor an outlier with violent TV, film and music. The world is flat, pop culture crosses national boundary lines. What we have that they don't have is language that has been interpreted as insuring each a right to keep and bear arms, and that was reaffirmed in 2008 in the D.C. versus Heller case a 5-4 decision in which Justice Scalia wrote for the majority.
Scalia looked at the language of the Second Amendment and differentiated between the preparatory and operative clause. Me, I read them together. "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
If the right of people to keep and bear arms is uninfringed, then why even mention a militia? Surely the sentence fragment was to be read as a whole. But Scalia and the majority said that the framers didn't intend to make it dependent on a militia. Scalia left states some latitude to tinker at the margins but not upset the fundamental right of access. And Maine is an unfortunate example of the void that resulted.
Maine does not require permits to carry concealed weapons. Maine does not mandate background checks for private gun sales. Maine does not have red-flag laws. Maine does not require a waiting period for gun purchases.
Maybe at some point in the future Heller gets another look. I mean, after all, I never thought that Roe versus Wade was going to be overturned, but it was with Dobbs. That's not going to happen with the current court, a 6-3 conservative majority.
Maybe when Gen Z and millennials elect presidents who nominate progressives to the bench, Heller will get another look. The only other hope is a constitutional amendment but that's a herculean task and there seems no prospect of change coming where it requires a two- third vote in both Houses of Congress or if two-thirds of the state request it by a convention called for that purpose.
And in the meantime, this is who we are. Today, it is blank, and in the future, it will be another town and state. So, we will grieve. There will be a presidential visit. And then we will go back to our day-to-day. Until it happens again.
Still to come, more of your best and worst social media comments, and we'll give you the final result of the poll question today at Smerconish.com.
Are you better off than you were four years ago?
SMERCONISH: There it is the, the result of today's poll question. Wow. Interesting. Are you better off than you were four years ago? Thirty- six thousand and change say by 70 percent yes, which kind of tracks with that American Community Survey that I shared earlier in the program.
And yet, when you then say, how about the country? It's like, well, I'm doing great, my community is fine, but the country is going to hell in a hand basket.
One social media reaction, I'm limited on time. What does it say?
Hell no. And most of people that voted yes are lying partisan hacks.
Carole, a brand-new survey of 5,000 people just came out that has science behind it and said, no, that's the sentiment of the country at large.
Right now, police are in Lewiston, Maine, and expected to share the latest developments on the Maine mass shooting. The gunman found dead last night with a self -- with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. We're going to bring you the presser live. Our coverage continues now with Victor Blackwell and Amara Walker.