Interviews with Senators Lieberman & McCain

Interviews with Senators Lieberman & McCain

By John King, USA - May 23, 2012


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: A lot of people, including myself, find it hard to believe that all of the sudden, one night in Cartagena, 13 Secret Service agents went to four different nightclubs or strip clubs and drank to excess and brought women back to their rooms.



KING: The director of the Secret Service spoke public today for the first time about the prostitution scandal that overshadowed President Obama's recent trip to Colombia.

Eight Secret Service personnel, including two supervisors, lost their jobs for being involved in a night of heavy drinking that included bringing prostitutes back to their hotel.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The behavior is morally repugnant. And I certainly do not want to downplay that fact.


KING: Director Mark Sullivan was apologetic, but he was resolute in making his case the agency doesn't have a deeper cultural or discipline problem.


MARK SULLIVAN, DIRECTOR, U.S. SECRET SERVICE: I am deeply disappointed and I apologize for the misconduct of these employees and the distraction that it has caused.

This is not a cultural issue. This is not a systemic issue with us.


KING: Senator Joseph Lieberman is the chairman of that committee. He called the hearing. And he joins us from Capitol Hill.

Senator, you cited five past cases. There was also testimony about some Secret Service agents being caught with underaged women during the Olympics back in Salt Lake City. When Director Sullivan says it is not cultural, it's not systemic, do you agree?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I would say this.

We don't know enough now based on the evidence the committee has received to conclude that there was a pattern of misconduct like what happened in Cartagena, Colombia, but there were clearly individual cases of misconduct that the committee has learned about through our investigation, and we're going to investigate them further.

There were three cases in which Secret Service agents were involved with foreign nationals as here. There was one case where an agent patronized a prostitute. There was one case of non-consensual sexual intercourse. And then there was through a hot line tip from the public -- and this is very important -- a report of a case at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, where apparently three agents were apprehended involved in a party with underaged women and a lot of alcohol.

Discipline was imposed on all of them. But -- so, again, this is over a period of years, thousands of employees of the Secret Service. So can you conclude that there was a pattern of misconduct that should have warned the agency that something worse was coming, like what happened at Cartagena? Not yet, not in fairness. I can't conclude that.

KING: You say not in fairness, you can't conclude that. How about Director Sullivan? Does he have your confidence? Is he doing what it takes to -- whether this is systemic, cultural, or just an occasional thing that keeps happening, is he doing what is necessary to stop it from happening again?

LIEBERMAN: Well, he has certainly conducted a quick and tough investigation. The big news today at our hearing I think going forward is that the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, oversees Secret Service, said that he would conduct his own independent investigation of what happened at Cartagena. So that's important.

Let me go to Director Sullivan. Basically, he kept saying to us that he believes that what happened in Cartagena was rare, was the exception, it shocked him.

A lot of people, including myself, find it hard to believe that all of the sudden, one night in Cartagena, 13 Secret Service agents went to four different nightclubs or strip clubs and drank to excess and brought women back to their rooms.

So, we had a bit of a tug of war with the director there. But I urged him at the end of it to assume that what he believed was not true, that in fact this was a pattern of behavior. And what I mean, John, is that he ought to assume that as he goes forward and takes tough steps to make sure that it never happens again.


KING: Does he have your confidence going forward?

LIEBERMAN: He does at this point. He does. I think he has done a rapid investigation. I think he was a great agent.

He has been a good leader of the Secret Service. And he is trying real hard to restore public confidence in the Secret Service agency. And I think he still deserves our confidence.

KING: The Secret Service says no, but have you seen anything, Senator, that the safety of the president or the security of Secret Service protocols, operational secrets and things like that have been compromised here?


I agree with Director Sullivan. I have seen nothing to suggest, certainly nothing to prove that the security of the president was compromised in any way by the irresponsible behavior of those Secret Service agents in Cartagena.

But, ultimately, that is not the point. When you go out to nightclubs and strip joints, and you are a Secret Service agent, and you drink to excess, and you bring home women who you know probably are prostitutes, you are running the risk that you are being compromised by some enemy of the United States or some individuals who want to do damage to the president.

And this kind of behavior is irresponsible, to the point of being outrageous.

KING: Mr. Chairman, thanks for your time tonight.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, John. Thank you. KING: Coming up: Egyptians line up for something that's never happened in their country's long, tumultuous history.

Also, former Joint Chiefs Chairman and Secretary of State Colin Powell weighs in on the same-sex marriage debate.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: Coming up: A union official says there is no reason to apologize, no reason to apologize, she says, for taking a baseball bat to a pinata decorated with the face of South Carolina's governor.

Plus, the message Senator John McCain wants the international community to give Iran.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: You are either in this game of developing on the path to nuclear weapons or you are not.



KING: In this half-hour of "JOHN KING, USA": a warning from Senator John McCain as Iran nears a deal to let inspectors see about what its nuclear program is about.

Also, the "Truth" about a problem Mitt Romney dodged today. Speaking to a Latino audience, he said nothing about immigration.

And a South Carolina union official takes a baseball bat to a pinata of the state's Republican governor and says there is no reason to apologize.

Begin this half-hour with today's important development in the U.S.-led effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Negotiators for the world nuclear power and the Iranians sat down today, those talks in Baghdad. They are trying to make a deal under which Iran would open its nuclear facilities to international inspectors.

In return, Iran hopes for a loosening of economic sections. Now, many credit those sanctions for getting Iran back to the table in the first place. But others see the talks as nothing more than a cynical Iranian effort to stall for time so it can finish work on a nuclear bomb.


KING: Among the many skeptics is Republican Senator John McCain, who along with two Senate colleagues, wrote a "Wall Street Journal" essay today wishing the negotiators well, but urging them not to ignore Iran's history in such talks.

"The opportunity will be lost," the senators wrote, "if we allow Iran's negotiators to fool us into easing pressure before the Tehran regime has truly abandoned its military nuclear ambitions."

Senator McCain is with us from Capitol Hill.

So, Senator, you are quite the skeptic. What is the test? In most negotiations, if they give some, the other side gives some. You are saying, the United States and its allies should wait until they get it all before they ease sanctions?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, first of all, John, we have seen this movie before. There have been numerous other times where they have said they'll let the inspectors in. They have denied that they are even embarking on this process, when the evidence obviously contradicts that.

So we need verifiable standards that would prevent them from reaching a point where they can, quote, "break out." In other words, have sufficient materials and capabilities that they can break out and, in a short period of time, develop a nuclear weapon. And so that means very stringent adherence to the U.N. Security Council resolutions, inspection and including the abandonment of all enriched materials and doing away with their facility at Fordow.

KING: You know how these things tend to work. They will say, "Send in the inspectors. We will agree to 'X' and 'Y'. But then, we need confidence-building measures. You should, A, ease the sanctions. You should give us more latitude to sell our oil. You should take up some other economic sanctions." What should the answer be then?

MCCAIN: The answer is, you are either in this game of developing on the path to nuclear weapons or you are not. The criteria should be that whether they have taken sufficient steps to really eliminate that process.

KING: And so what should the United States' position be if somebody else at that table -- let's say it's Russia or China or both of them -- say, you know, "They're giving us some, so let's give them a carrot."

MCCAIN: John, again, viewing the context of the past behavior where they have made similar pledges, where they have denied that they were doing these things. And it's obvious that they had violated resolutions, contradicted their own statements. And so we are at a point where they are either going to have sufficient evidence that they are not on the path, or they really are.

KING: You know people by a certain age, and you know a regime by a certain age. Do you believe that these guys are actually willing to give up their nuclear weapons program? Or do you think this is just the sanctions are beginning to hurt and they're just trying to find a way to wiggle?

MCCAIN: I'm willing to give them a chance here. I'm not saying we should not listen to them. But I would expect a very short time frame for them to comply with, really, what are not really complicated steps. Letting the inspectors in, intrusively, any place that they want to go; getting rid of their enriched material; and complying with other resolutions that were passed by the U.N. Security Council. It's not that complicated.

And we have to be able to verify. We cannot take their word.

And again, don't forget what they are doing in the rest -- in the other part of this world we live in. And that is supporting terrorist organizations everywhere, including on the ground now in Syria, helping Bashar Assad slaughter the Syrian people. So there's no doubt about what kind of actors they are.

KING: Senator McCain, appreciate your time tonight.

MCCAIN: Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you, sir. 

John King, USA

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