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Interview with Dick and Liz Cheney

Interview with Dick and Liz Cheney

By State of the Union - October 2, 2011

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: In the words of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, this has been a bad year for terrorists.

Today, the struggle against al Qaeda with former Vice President Dick Cheney and Liz Cheney, former State Department official, and with former CIA director Michael Hayden and the former ranking member of the House intelligence committee, Jane Harman.

Then restlessness with the Republican presidential field. Insights from Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

I'm Candy Crowley. And this is State of the Union.

Five months after U.S. Navy SEALs raided a house in Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden, the CIA launched an armed drone into Yemen killing the intended target, famed terrorist recruiter and propagandist Anwar al Awlaki, an American.

Here to talk about the terrorist's bad years is former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz Cheney, chair of a national security advocacy group, Keep America Safe. Together they wrote "In My Time, A Personal and Political Memoir."

Thank you both for joining us. I want to start with the drone strike that took out the top propagandist, at least for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, perhaps took out the bombmaker for the same group Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri and also took out Samir Khan. What's your reaction to that?

DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it was a very good strike. I think it was justified. I think it is very effective use of our drone technology. Thing I'm waiting for is for the administration to go back and correct something they said two years ago when they criticized us for "overreacting" to the events of 9/11. They, in effect, said that we had walked away from our ideals, or taken policy contrary to our ideals when we had enhanced interrogation techniques.

Now they clearly had moved in the direction of taking robust action when they feel it is justified. I say in this case I think it was, but I think they need to go back and reconsider what the president said when he was in Cairo.

CROWLEY: I want your reaction as well, because of your group that you work with, but let me just clarify what you are talking about. This was an American -- actually two Americans were killed, two American terrorists that were associated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that were killed without due process, clearly, without a court. So what you're saying is if they can do that, they owe us an apology for going after our -- what seem people called torture, what you called enhanced interrogation techniques. Is that what you're saying?

D. CHENEY: Exactly. He said in his Cairo speech for example that he had quote, "banned torture." Well, we were never torturing anybody in the first place, said we walked away from our basic fundamental ideals. Now that simply wasn't the case. That is to say what he said then was inaccurate especially in light of what they're now doing with respect to policy.

But I do think this was a good strike. I think the president ought to have that kind of authority to order that kind of strike, even when it involves and American citizen when there is clear evidence that he's part of al Qaeda, planning, cooperating and supporting attacks against the United States.

CROWLEY: Because this was what we knew him as was a propagandist. So basically what he said and what he did primarily over the internet, and we know he was connected, or at least largely inspirational to some of the attacks -- Fort Hoot, which was a deadly attack, Times Square bomber, the so-called underwear bomber, so you have no problem with the U.S. going overseas and killing an American in a foreign country. That doesn't bother you.

D. CHENEY: I think you've got to go through the process internally, making certain it's reviewed by the appropriate people in the Justice Department, that they take a good, careful look at it. But I think they did all of that in this case. And I think the president has all the authority he needs to order this kind of strike.

It is different between a law enforcement action and a war. And we are at war. We believe we are in war. We believe the war started when they killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11. And I think what we've seen is the administration, the Obama administration, has clearly reached the point where they've agreed they need to be tough and aggressive in defending the nation and using some of the same techniques that the Bush administration did. And they need, as I say, go back and reconsider some of the criticisms they offered about our policies over the past years.

CROWLEY: Liz, do you have any in your group, which is dedicated to keeping up the fight against terror and keeping America safe, does this sort of thing, the drone attacks -- and they've taken out some very high-profile terrorists with drones and with undercover operations. Has this president made us safer in your estimate?

LIZ CHENEY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that, you know, each time the United States is successful at taking out somebody like al Awlaki, it is a very positive thing. I think it is a sign that the war continues, a sign that we've still got folks out there who are attempting to attack us. I think it is critically important. What concerns me is that the damage that this president has done, some of the damage that my father was speaking about just now, the extent to which when the president of the United States goes on to foreign soil, talks about the United States abandoning our values, says that we tortured people, when he's in Cairo, you know, the home of Mohamed Atta, the home of Amman al Zawahiri. When he does that, he does real damage to our standing in the world and that's the kind of standing that we need to exercise a leadership role which is more important now, frankly, than it's been in many, many years when you look at what's happening across the Arab world, for example.

America's got to be strong, we've got to have credibility, we have to show leadership. This president seems unwilling, frankly, to do all of those things.

CROWLEY: This smarts. You still are smarting from that -- from that criticism. In fact I've seen a lot of people that have described President Obama's approach to terrorism is pretty much along the lines of the Bush administration absent the enhanced interrogation techniques. Would you go along with that?

I mean could you now -- I want to read you something that you said. Now this was after the underwear bomber was read his Miranda Rights and you felt that they were treating him as a criminal as opposed to a war criminal, as opposed to being a prisoner of war.

And you said, we are at war. And when President Obama pretends that we aren't it makes us less safe. Why doesn't he want to admit we're at war? It doesn't fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office.

Setting that aside, does it matter what he calls it if in fact he has been so -- he has killed -- the U.S., obviously with our intelligence services and our military, have killed dozens of top al Qaeda leaders quite successful. So can you -- can you now say that he has helped in this war on terror, that he is in fact putting the United States on the more winning side of the war on terror? Because he certainly has killed more than were killed in the Bush administration.

D. CHENEY: Right. But we developed the technique and the technology for it.

The problem you have is that sort of the tone that's set at the top. And on the one hand he wanted -- I assume for political reasons -- not to call it a war. Not to call it a war on terror.

CROWLEY: Yes, but does that matter? Because he's conducting a war, isn't he?

D. CHENEY: Well, he is conducting a war, but it matters a lot I think in terms of the rationalization you use, the kinds of weapons systems you choose to use. If it is a law enforcement action, there are going to be inhibitions in terms of how you operate. It can affect the people up and down the line. For example, they talked for a while about prosecuting the people in the CIA who carried out our policies on our watch. Now they backed off that, that's a good thing. That's the right direction to move in. But I think in terms of the kind of signals that are sent by the commander in chief with respect to the kind of efforts that are going to be used and what we expect our people to be able to do, he needs to be clear what he's doing and he clearly is fighting a war. It is important that he do that. I agree with the attacks. That's the right thing to do. But don't get wrapped up in your underwear then trying to go back and validate, if you will, some of the foolish things they said during course of their campaign.

CROWLEY: I guess what I'm asking is, isn't the proof in the pudding? Hasn't this administration waged a successful war against terror?

D. CHENEY: Yes. But, they need to call it what it is. When he goes to Cairo, and in effect says we walked away from our ideals, we forgot our core principles and core values on our watch, that's a big mistake. That sends a signal out there to the world where U.S. stature does matter, where our position in the world and our ability to influence events and make progress for example on Mideast peace turns very much on how people look at us.

If you've got the president of the United States out there saying we overreacted to 9/11 on our watch, that's not good.

CROWLEY: You'd like an apology, it sounds like.

D. CHENEY: Well, I would. I think that would be not for me, but I think for the Bush administration, and that he misspoke when he gave that speech in Cairo two years ago.

CROWLEY: You feel he wronged the Bush--

L. CHENEY: I think he did tremendous damage. I think he slandered the nation and I think he owes an apology to the American people. Those are the policies that kept us safe. They are the policies, frankly, that contributed the enhanced interrogation technique, we know now Leon Panetta has said some of the intelligence we gained through that program helped us identify the location of bin Laden. So I think the president owes everybody an apology, frankly.

CROWLEY: Liz Cheney, Dick Cheney. Stick with me. We will come back with more with Dick and Liz Cheney. We're going ask for instance their odds-on favorite on the Republican candidate that will go head- to-head with President Obama in 2012.

CROWLEY: We are back with former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter and co-author, Liz Cheney.

Before we move on to U.S. politics, when I was preparing for this, I talked to a lot of friends outside the business, saying, you know, what do you want to hear? Like what most still bothers you or what would you like to hear? And here's one of them. It was from an August 2002 VFW speech where you said: "simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction, there's no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."

And the question from my friend was, what made you so positive at this time?

D. CHENEY: Intelligence reports that we were getting. The first intelligence report we got after we got elected was on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And it went all the way back to '98 in the Clinton administration. And there had been steady reporting from '98 on. Congress had passed a law authorizing $100 million to try to overthrow the government in Iraq. And we had 27 months of reporting after we got elected until we actually went into Iraq, all of which said he has got weapons of mass destruction.

Now it turned out what he -- he didn't have stockpiles. He did have the technology. He had the people with the know-how. He had the raw materials. He had the plans to go back into production once...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: But he didn't -- he hadn't amassed them. And I guess, you know, people say, that's why we went in and we were told they were there and then they weren't there. And did you regret making statements like that?

D. CHENEY: It wasn't anything we made up. The president and I didn't sit in the Oval Office on a Saturday morning and say, let's say he has got WMD. We were given repeatedly reports that said that he in fact had produced weapons of mass destruction.

CROWLEY: Shouldn't you have fired somebody for those reports?

D. CHENEY: Well, and we knew he had done it before.

CROWLEY: Right. D. CHENEY: But it was also true the Germans had the same intelligence, the Brits had the same intelligence. This wasn't just a U.S. problem. And in fact he did have -- talk to Charles Duelfer or David Kay, the guys who ran the Iraq Survey Group after the war, they said that they were more concerned about what they found than when they were worried about stockpiles because he clearly had retained the capacity to get back into the business.

CROWLEY: The other question that was asked, sort of along similar lines but it is about that August report. It was a daily report to the president that said "al Qaeda determined to launch attack against the U.S.," and a month later it happened.

Did you ever have a moment after 9/11 where you thought, did we miss something? Shouldn't we have known this? Why didn't we know this? Did anybody go back and try to figure out why the dots weren't connected or why more attention wasn't paid to that report? Did you ever regret not looking more carefully at stuff ahead of time?

D. CHENEY: We never had actionable intelligence. You could go back and look at that. And it just wasn't there. There were problems though. There had been a wall erected between sort of the domestic intelligence side of the business and the foreign side.

You talk to Mike Hayden, General Hayden is going to be here shortly. He said, for example, that if we had had the terrorist surveillance program set up which we set up right after 9/11, he was the prime architect of, that we might have been able to pick up on the two hijackers who were living in San Diego at that point and that might have triggered suspicions and led us to be able to intercept the operation.

So -- but that program didn't exist prior to 9/11.

CROWLEY: Abrupt change of pace here. President Obama last night spoke for the Human Rights Campaign, which is a pro-gay and lesbian organization for gay and lesbian rights, and he had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are those who don't want to just stand in our way but want to turn the clock back, who want to return to the days when gay people couldn't serve their country openly, who reject the progress that we've made, who, as we speak, are looking to enshrine discrimination into state laws and constitutions, efforts that we've got to work hard to oppose because that's not what America should be about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Also criticized the Republican field for allowing a gay soldier to be booed during -- when he openly said he was gay and he had a question for the Republican candidates. And some in the audience booed him and no one on stage said anything. Is the president on the right side of history on these issues dealing with gay and lesbian rights? D. CHENEY: Well, I think the decision that has been made with respect to allowing gays to serve openly in the military is a good one. I mean, it is the right thing to do. I'm a little bit leery of the notion that somehow we ought to go hammer the Republican candidates because they didn't respond to booing in the audience.

When you're in political campaign and debates, you know, people boo a lot of things. And I'm not sure that it was all focused specifically on that particular issue.

CROWLEY: But do you feel, Liz, that the Republicans need to move ahead with this particular issue because they are seen as anti-gay rights, anti-lesbian rights, and bisexual community, transgender community? Do you think this president is on the right path when it comes to equal rights?

L. CHENEY: You know, I think that it was the right decision to repeal "Don't Ask/Don't Tell." I don't know where President Obama is on this issue and I suspect that there were a lot of people who were watching his speech in that room last night wondering whether they could believe what he was saying, frankly. His position on these issues hasn't been that different from where many of the Republican candidates are. He hasn't come out and advocated gay marriage, for example. I think this was sort of one more example where he's trying to have it both ways.

When he speaks to that audience he tries to sound like he's, you know, some sort of a fighter and advocate for equality, but when he's trying to appeal to people who may not have that as their primary issue, he has got another position. I thought it was pretty vintage Obama, frankly.

CROWLEY: Where do you all stand on the 2012 group at this point? There is Rick Perry out there, Romney out there. Let's start with you.

L. CHENEY: You know, I haven't endorsed anyone yet. I do think -- you know, as I watched the last debate I felt good about the fact that our candidates clearly understand, for example, how important the private sector is going to be in getting us out of this economic mess we're in, something that this White House doesn't understand.

I think there's real hope on the horizon here. You know, there are a number of people we could nominate on our side, frankly, who would be much better -- probably all of them who would be much better than President Obama has been on the economy, for example. But I'm not backing anybody in particular at this point.

CROWLEY: Can you support anybody currently in the Republican field?

D. CHENEY: I will support the Republican nominee. I haven't endorsed anybody yet.

CROWLEY: Will you? D. CHENEY: I don't know.

CROWLEY: Have you been asked?

D. CHENEY: I've been -- well, I've had some conversations, private conversations.

CROWLEY: Well, you can tell us.

(LAUGHTER)

D. CHENEY: I've been busy writing and promoting my book, Candy, and watching with interest. I think the debates have been pretty good actually. And I think we've got a good crop of candidates there. We don't know that everybody who is going to get in is in yet. So I'm...

CROWLEY: Would you like to see Chris Christie run?

D. CHENEY: I'm not urging anybody to jump into that arena. I've been there myself and they're big boys, they can decide whether or not they want to run.

CROWLEY: Quick wrap-up question for both of you. We thought perhaps we'd see Liz Cheney running for office in this election cycle, either for U.S. senate from Virginia or a congressional seat. You still have thoughts that maybe one day you might run?

L. CHENEY: We'll see what happens. Right now I'm focused on hosting the sixth grade potluck dinner at my house and chaperoning field trips, but it is something that I have a lot of respect for people who do. And I may take a look at it down the road.

CROWLEY: But not this time around.

L. CHENEY: No, I'm not planning to run in 2012.

CROWLEY: And actually...

D. CHENEY: If she does run, I'll support her.

CROWLEY: You'll support her? That's good to know.

Two wrap-up questions for you. One is that President Bush wrote in his book that he worried that his refusal to pardon "Scooter" Libby, your former chief of staff which you pushed very hard for a pardon for him, he -- I mean he had been found guilty of four felony counts dealing with the Valerie Wilson case. President Bush worried that it would ruin your friendship. Did it?

D. CHENEY: Let's say it was a difficult moment. It put a real strain on the relationship. We worked together for eight years. He made me vice president of the United States. I'll always be very grateful for that. This is one issue where we had a fundamental difference. He got to make the decision and he did. I just basically disagreed with him.

CROWLEY: Did it ruin your friendship?

D. CHENEY: I can't say that. I wouldn't take it that far, by any means.

But Mr. Libby I think was innocent, didn't deserve to be indicted. I think -- it is a long story. I'd urge people to read that chapter in the book. But it really -- I think it was a miscarriage of justice.

CROWLEY: Heart transplant?

D. CHENEY: Don't know. I've got to decide. I'm on a heart pump now. I've got a piece of equipment inside me that supplements my heart. It works very well. I'm 14 months into the program and it's been functioning perfectly.

CROWLEY: It's good to see you, former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Liz Cheney, thank you as well.

L. CHENEY: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: And if you want to see the lighter side of the Cheneys, you can watch my "Getting to Know" interview with them and many other newsmakers on our web site, cnn.com/sotu. 

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