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Interview with Senator Jon Tester

Interview with Senator Jon Tester

By John King, USA - November 10, 2011

JOHN KING: Let's dig deeper now with a United States senator who believes the Air Force is not moving quickly enough and forcefully enough to deal with these abuses.

Montana Democrat Jon Tester, a member of the Veteran Affairs Committee, raised this concern in a letter to the Air Force leadership -- quote -- "It is my understanding that the supervisors who allowed these events to occur were not fired. If that is accurate, why were they not fired?"

Senator Tester joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, it sounds like you have little doubt the Air Force is not taking this seriously enough and moving quickly and boldly enough.

SEN. JON TESTER (D), MONTANA: Well, John, as you well know, taking care of remains of the folks who have given their lives for this country is a sacred duty. And the Air Force, they have blown it. And the public trust is gone. I'm going to make the recommendation that the supervisors within that chain of command that oversaw this happening, they all need to be replaced. This is something that's totally unacceptable.

KING: And if you read the report, it's hard not to get outraged. And you assume the families are even more outraged, remains lost, remains incinerated and dumped in a landfill.

You're pushing for answers. And one of the questions is that sometimes at times like this big organizations circle the wagons, if you will, and try to protect their own.

I want you to listen here to the new defense secretary, Leon Panetta. He's only been on the job a couple of months. He says he was briefed on this and he sounds convinced, listen here, Senator, that they understand the urgency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PANETTA: When I came into this office in July, in one of the first meetings I had as secretary of defense, I was briefed by Secretary Donley and General Schwartz on their investigation into Dover.

They were forthcoming with me. It was clear that they took these allegations seriously and that they were committed to strengthening the department's handling of this most sacred and solemn task.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Do you buy that, though, that they take it that seriously if nobody has been fired?

TESTER: Well, the proof is going to be in the pudding. And you're exactly right, John. Folks haven't been fired yet.

They need to move, they need to move quickly, and they need to move very fairly on this. The truth is, the people who were responsible need -- I mean, look, there's no excuses here. So the people who are responsible, the supervisors that are responsible, cut them loose, move on, make sure that this never happens again.

If anybody should get this, it's the folks that serve in the military. There's no ifs, ands or buts about that. And I have worked with Secretary Panetta, I think he's a good fellow, but he really needs to drop the hammer on this, move forward, move quickly. Congress is watching. The American people's watching. And, most importantly, the people who have been done wrong by these acts are watching.

KING: You believe these guys should be fired. I don't think there's anybody out there listening who will disagree with you.

However, I want you to listen to General Norton Schwartz. He's the Air Force chief of staff, saying here in one of the cases the supervisor involved, this is the course he decided was appropriate. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHWARTZ: The uniformed officer received a letter of reprimand. We established an unfavorable information file. We removed him from the command list and his anticipated job as a group commander at Shaw Air Force Base was red-lined. This is not a trivial sanction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The general says not a trivial sanction. I get the impression you don't think it's enough.

TESTER: I think just a reprimand letter or a transfer within the organization, it truly is not enough, if we're going to make sure that this never happens again.

KING: And as we speak tonight, Senator, the big question is for a family out there who has a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife serving overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else, who risks the ultimate sacrifice, is, can it happen again? Could it happen again? Are you confident as we speak tonight the answer's no?

TESTER: It depends on how this is handled going into the future. But I think the answer can be no to that depending how this incident is handled as we move into the forward.

If it is handled quickly and seriously, I think that we can assure folks it will never happen again. But if we lollygag around about it, then we're going to have more problems and I don't think -- don't think -- I know that's not acceptable.

KING: Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, appreciate your time tonight, sir.

TESTER: Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you. 

John King, USA

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