Donald Rumseld & Debbie Wasserman Schultz on "Piers Morgan Tonight"

Donald Rumseld & Debbie Wasserman Schultz on "Piers Morgan Tonight"

By Piers Morgan Tonight - June 6, 2012

MORGAN: Good evening. Our big story tonight, tough talk from the man who ran the Pentagon twice. With presidential politics heating up, battles raging across Syria, and tensions mounting between Israel and Iran, who better to talk about all this than Donald Rumsfeld.

And on this D-Day anniversary, we'll also talk about the cause that's closest to his heart. His support for the America's Wounded Warriors.

A little later, a top Democrat, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, joins me for her first interview since the failed Wisconsin recall. She'll tell me what she thinks went wrong for her party and why she says the vote still send a message to Scott Walker.

We begin with our big story, big questions with Donald Rumsfeld. He was, of course, secretary of defense under presidents George -- Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, and is the author of "Known and Unknown: A Memoir," now out in paperback. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to the show.

RUMSFELD: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

MORGAN: Let me start sort of at the top with your reaction to Wisconsin. What does it mean? We're five months today away from the election. What does it really mean in the bigger context of our election?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think it's a little early to tell for sure. And I guess I've been out of politics for quite a while, but as I observed it, it seemed to me that the governor announced what he was going to do, was elected, went in and did it, and then there was a great deal of opposition marshaled against him for doing what he had said he would do and for what the people of Wisconsin voted for him to do.

And then this recall was set up. And I -- my impression is that what took place is the people of Wisconsin decided that they did, in fact, vote for him to do what he did, liked what he did, and wanted to support him.

What the implications will be for the presidential election is really unclear to me. It certainly was a defeat for the labor unions that were so active opposing him, and it was interesting to me that the president of the United States was, you know, half an hour away from Wisconsin but didn't believe it was in his personal interests to go in and give the Democratic candidate who was opposing Walker any support.

So the Obama administration much -- must have concluded that the president would be better off not being associated with that recall and hitting it fresh as president.

MORGAN: Yes, I mean, it does seem a strange decision by the White House. Because whichever way you look at it, I've got Governor Walker on the show tomorrow night, in fact, to discuss this in more depth. But in terms of what he said today, he said this was about leadership for the reasons that you stated earlier. He decided to take a principled position, whether you agree with him or not, and he stuck to his guns even when there was a recall, he continued to stick by them and he won the day.

You would have thought so close to an election that President Obama would have done everything he could to stop that happening because what it has done is given the Republicans a real tonic, isn't it? It's sort of revved everybody up and put them into battle mode.

RUMSFELD: I think that's probably true. I think that there was a great deal of effort that went into it within the state by the people of that state and there was some support from outside, and the only thing I can guess is that while it would have been very easy for the president to go in and offer his support, he probably made a decision that it was better in his long-term interests in terms of the upcoming election in November to not get involved in what he probably guessed would be a losing case. MORGAN: Now you've said that President Obama is one of the weakest if not the weakest president of your lifetime. Do you actually mean that?

RUMSFELD: I was asked by somebody if I thought that the current president was the weakest president, and I said I thought the competition probably was President Carter, that the two presidencies did not have the energy or the leadership.

I mean, think of -- think of President Obama on many pieces of legislation. Instead of fashioning a piece of legislation, taking it to the Congress, recommending it, urging it, working it through, he kind of left it to the Congress to figure out what those pieces of legislation that he considered his major priorities ought to be.

He didn't fashion them, he didn't take the leadership, and that I found kind of unusual for a president to do. I think the other big example was his decision to, quote, "lead from behind" in Libya where the argument was made that it was a humanitarian effort. And of course it lasted much longer than it would have lasted had they said at the outset that Gadhafi would be gone when it's over.

Now fortuitously Gadhafi is gone now that it's over, but I think all the people in that country were very reluctant to support the dissidents and the revolutionaries, the people who were opposing Gadhafi, because they didn't know whether or not Gadhafi would be there when it was over.

And they had families and businesses. So they were very reluctant. True of the military, true of the diplomats, true of business people. And I think that absence of leadership undoubtedly prolonged that activity.

MORGAN: Yes, but other people here watching this, Mr. Secretary, say, hang on a second. Donald Rumsfeld was part of the George Bush war machine rampaged into Iraq and cost a lot of American troops their lives with a on-the-boot attack on the ground against Saddam Hussein which most people think now was a mistake.

If you compare that to what you've just said as a criticism of President Obama in Libya, very, very different. You know, he decided not to sacrifice any American lives, not a -- not a single American troop's life was lost. Gadhafi was overthrown, which was the objective, in the same way that the overthrowing of Saddam was the objective.

And people will say, actually, we prefer President Obama's way. That is a better use of the American military. It was just as successful and it caused much less economic and military pain to America.

RUMSFELD: Of course, the circumstances are entirely different. You're talking apples to oranges. You've got to remember, when Saddam Hussein was finally captured and pulled out of that spider hole in Iraq and given to the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government and they tried him, convicted him, and sentenced him to death, it was Gadhafi in Libya who called in the West and said, I do not want to become another Saddam Hussein. I have a nuclear program. It's well advanced, and I am now inviting the West in to come into Libya and take over my nuclear program. I am giving it up.

And that was a direct result of President Bush's decision to go into Iraq. And the world is a better place because Gadhafi did not have nuclear weapons and gave up his nuclear program specifically for that reason.

Second, you now have in Iraq an imperfect situation, but you have a government that is respectful of the various elements within the country, that's democratic, that fashioned their own constitution, and apart from Israel, it's the only democracy in its early stages, immature to be sure, in the entire region.

MORGAN: See, in your book you tell rather movingly the story about how your wife, Joyce, of 56, 57 years had repeatedly after 9/11 woken up and said to you, Don, where's Osama bin Laden, and my issue, I think, with you when you say that President Obama is weak is how weak can a president be when he ordered the hit on Osama bin Laden and he took him out?

Only today we saw another senior al Qaeda member, Abu Yahya al- Libi yesterday get taken out.


MORGAN: This is a series of victories that President Obama has had using predominantly in this case drone attacks where, again, there is no loss of life to America troops. It's a very different way of going about taking out the bad guys. And there are lots of people who say this not a sign of weakness for President Obama, it is a more sophisticated and smarter way of deploying the American military than the one that you and George Bush deployed.

RUMSFELD: Well, you keep saying I said he's the weakest, and I've said once and I'll say one more time only that I was asked a question. In my adult life if you look at the presidents, how would you rank them on that subject, and I said I would rank this president as a general leader up with President Carter.

Now you can phrase it any way you want, but it -- the way you're phrasing it is twisting it in an inaccurate way. I did not volunteer this. I responded to a question and answered to the best of my ability.

I think that what you're talking about, however, when I answered the question, it related to his presidency. It related to his handling of the economy, his handling of the Congress, and his handling of other matters. I have praised the fact that he took the capabilities that were developed by his predecessors, Special Operations Forces, unmanned aerial vehicles, and used them properly with respect to attacking the compound in Pakistan that ended up killing Osama bin Laden.

Anyone who sees that has to give credit for that and acknowledge that that was a success and he's to be congratulated for it. I don't think it was a terribly tough decision. I don't think you spend 10 years investing money in special operations forces, investing money in intelligence, and then leave it to your successor and then think that a successor would not go after Osama bin Laden, the face of al Qaeda, the man who masterminded the attack on America on 9/11.

So I think he did the right thing and I credit him for that. And certainly I'm delighted to see how al-Libi has been killed. And that I was talking about the broader sense of a presidency. And I think you appreciate that.

MORGAN: Let's take a break, Mr. Secretary. Let's come back and talk about Israel and Syria.



LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: This is an intolerable situation. We cannot be satisfied with what's going on. And the international community has got to take further steps to make sure that Assad steps down.


MORGAN: That was the current defense secretary, Leon Panetta, talking about Syria next week. Back with me now is my special guest and former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Let's talk about Syria, Mr. Secretary, because it is a very, very difficult situation whichever way you look at this. This is different than anything we've seen so far I think in the Middle East in the sense that Syria is a very small country compared to something like Libya.

We're not entirely sure about the makeup of these rebels. What we are sure about is, unlike, say, Libya, we have a situation where the Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians and others are simply not prepared to tow the cooperative international line.

Where does that leave America? What does America, what does President Obama actually do when you have great powers like Russia and China saying we're not playing ball?

RUMSFELD: Well, it's a tough situation for the United States and for the administration. You're quite right. Iran is propping up Syria, determined to keep it as its ally and agent. They are actively together working to fund terrorist organizations, to fund insurgents in Iraq, to make difficulties in Afghanistan, and to support terrorist organizations around the world.

And I think that what Mr. Panetta said is clearly desirable, that Assad not be there. The question they have to face is what's going to replace them. And the Alawites are a very small minority that have been controlling that country for many years now. They are very strong-handed. They have killed thousands of people. His father killed thousands of people. He is now killing thousands of people.

What the option is, to answer your question, is to provide some covert support to the elements that are opposing Assad. See if you can sort out some people that would be better than Assad because there are some that might be as bad or worse. And to the extent you can, provide some assistance to them and -- and then make it a calibrated decision as to how you can find ways to get additional countries to be supportive in the hopes that it will work.

You've got to remember that a lot of Assad's father's people are still around. They're tough. They are dictators. They're brutal. They maintain themselves in power and they get up every morning and that's their goal.

MORGAN: I mean, this is a problem, isn't it, because he has to have got a lot of support amongst the key people that he needs to remain in power there? He's very aware politically that he still has the effective support of China, Russia, Iran, and so on. So he's feeling probably, I would imagine, fairly secure and yet what he's doing is committing a series of atrocities.

Only today at least 78 people killed in one tiny Syrian village. A small farming place of just 200 people in the Hama province. Thirty-five victims from one family alone. These atrocities are happening on an almost daily basis as the world stands still.

So what do we do? Because the options it seems to most impartial observers are we strangle him economically through sanctions which are really effective and work. And that may not be as easy as it sounds. Or, secondly, some kind of military action. If you were President Obama, what is the thing that you do to stop right now any more of these atrocities?

RUMSFELD: The idea that sanctions will work as long as Iran and Russia and other countries are supportive of the Assad regime is mindless. The sanctions will not work. And the only choice that the president has is to do what he's doing, find some way to persuade Iran, which is impossible in my view, and Russia, to stop propping up that regime.

The next thing is to do what I said, and that's to engage in some covert action. To work with some of the dissidents. Try to figure out somebody that would be better than Assad and then provide assistance to them. And the next step would be to move as they did in Libya, for some international aircraft can begin supporting the dissidents and disadvantaging the government.

Now what's the likelihood of that happening? You know, at the last minute President George W. Bush urged Saddam Hussein and his family to leave the country and have safe passage. What we've seen in Egypt with Mubarak and the Doc, ill, sentenced to life imprisonment. You can be sure that Assad is looking at what happened to Mubarak and knowing that he is being accused of atrocities at the present time, the chances of Assad leaving are about zero.

He has to see in his mind's eye himself, in the dot, being tried for atrocities and not having the opportunity to get out of that country and take his family and be gone and allow something better for the people of Syria.

MORGAN: Let's take another short break, Mr. Secretary. Let's come back and talk about Israel. I want to know what you feel given that you've said now you don't think the Israel administration can really trust President Obama.


MORGAN: Back now with my special guest, Donald Rumsfeld.

Mr. Secretary, left with a pondering question about Israel which is this, really. You've intimated this week that you believe one of the big problems at the moment in relation to the American-Israeli relationship is that the Israeli administration don't really trust the Obama administration not to leak sensitive information.

And the reason that is so crucial right now is this whole issue of whether Israel will take any kind of military action against Iran, and if they did, whether they would notify President Obama's administration in advance. Clarify what you said there and why you fear what you fear.

RUMSFELD: Well, I have to clarify the way you stated it at the end of the last segment. You misstated what I said. What I have said is that we have seen repeated leaks out of this administration, leaks with respect to (INAUDIBLE), leaks with respect to the way the special operations forces engaged with respect to the attack on Osama bin Laden, leaks with respect to a doctor who may or may not have provided some assistance with respect to that of Pakistani.

And I was asked the question, do I think that the Israelis would contact the United States government if they planned to engage in an attack on Iran, and my response was, I think they would be very careful about doing that for fear that it would leak out of the administration.

I did not say that the president would leak it. I did not say that it would be intentional to damage them. What I said was exactly what I just said, and I think that anyone, any rational person putting themselves in the position of the Israeli prime minister, and asking the Israeli Air Force to go engage as they did in Baghdad against the Iraqi nuclear facility, as they did in Syria against the Syrian nuclear facility, to go engage in one way or another with respect to the Iranian nuclear facility, the last thing you'd want to do would be to telegraph that to another country where you did not have total confidence that it would be held privately.

MORGAN: Right. I mean I don't mean to --


RUMSFELD: Now it seems to me that --

MORGAN: Just to defend my own position there, I mean, that is pretty much what I said.

RUMSFELD: It's indefensible.

MORGAN: Why -- I mean, I set this up by saying that you basically did not believe that the Israeli administration could trust the Obama administration. In a very much more eloquent and elongated way you've restated what I said. It's actually what I said.

RUMSFELD: Not so. If you go back and read the transcript of what you said at the end of the last segment I think you'll find it's quite different.


MORGAN: Well, let's agree to disagree.

Let's move on to the wider broad brushstrokes of this book. It is a fascinating book. And I have to applaud you. You've given all the profits of this book to a whole series of military organizations which I think is extremely laudable. It's hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars and I think that's something that many people in your position who've written books could definitely take a leaf out of your book. So I do applaud you.

In terms of your whole career in context, you're now entering your eighth decade. What have been the great highs and the great lows? If I was to pin you down and say, what was your greatest moment in office and your worst moment, what would you say?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think probably the worst moment is being engaged in a war. Once a president makes the decision to put American lives at risk and you're a part of that process and you see the lives that are lost and you see the human beings whose lives are changed through serious injuries, you can't help but feel the ugliness of war.

I think probably the highest moment I would probably say would be participating with Gerald R. Ford when he came into a presidency following the only president in history who had to resign with an economy that was as bad as it is today, with the ugly ending of the war in Vietnam, and because of this man, Gerald R. Ford's basic human decency, he was able to help steady the ship of state and recognize that the reservoir of trust in our country had been drained and helped refill it basically because of his decency as a human being.

MORGAN: Many, many of your friends, Mr. Secretary, have said that your personal greatest achievement has been hanging on to the -- your wife of yours who I had the great pleasure of meeting in Los Angeles, Joyce.


MORGAN: You've been married 56 years. Quite clear to me who wears the trousers in this marriage. But tell me about your wife. You dedicate the book to her. She's a remarkable lady.

RUMSFELD: She is. She's -- we went to high school together, and we ended up marrying my senior -- at the end of my senior year in college, her senior year. And went into the Navy and we've been together ever since. She's born in Montana. She's a marvelous human being, and when people ask her how in the world did you stay married to that fellow, Rumsfeld, for 56, she says he travels a lot.


RUMSFELD: I thought she was kidding.

MORGAN: That's exactly what she said to me. When you weren't listening, I said to her, how on Earth have you put up with Donald all of these years? And she just said, he travels a lot.

RUMSFELD: Exactly. And I thought she was kidding.

MORGAN: No, I think it is -- it was very obvious to me though that she's been a great rock in your life. You've had, as every family has, difficulties along the way. How important is it to any political leader, do you think, to have that kind of person at their right-hand side?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think any -- any person in tough jobs is so fortunate to have someone who can walk up to them and call them by their first name and tell them what they really think, and add some balance and perspective and dimension to a life that gets quite hectic sometimes when you're serving an important position.

MORGAN: Do you think you've been misrepresented over the years? Do you think you've built up a reputation that is perhaps not entirely accurate?

RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness. I don't know. You know, dogs don't bark at parked cars. And if you're not -- if you're not parked, if you're doing something, somebody's not going to like it. And that's acceptable. Then if you do a series of things, you end up collecting some people who didn't like it.

And I accept that. You know, the people in the press have their jobs and we have ours. People can agree or disagree. I've been privileged to serve this wonderful country, and feel grateful for the opportunities I had. And I hold no bitterness or unhappiness about anything that's happened.

MORGAN: Finally, Mr. Secretary, would you just tell me about the cause that's closest to your heart. It is about the wounded warriors. You've obviously given lots of money from this book to help some of the various charities that help them. Tell me about that.

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, after church on Sundays, Joyce and I, when we were in Washington, would go to Walter Reed Hospital or Bethesda Naval Hospital and go visit the people who had volunteered to serve this wonderful country of ours, and held up their hand and said, send me. And we'd go into the hospital and Joyce was terrific.

I always was wondering, what in the world can you say that will help them understand how much the American people appreciate their sacrifice and their service to our country, and their patriotism and their courage? And we'd go in and meet with them. And what you would hear from them was their anxious desire to get back to their troops, from their families their pride and support for the young men and women who served, their willingness to accept the loss of an arm or the loss of a leg and to pick up and go on with life.

And we would walk out of the hospital almost every Sunday when we were there thinking, we didn't inspire them. We didn't help them through a tough time. They helped us through a tough time. The courage and the perseverance and the patriotism is absolutely inspiring. And I just feel privileged to have been able to have serve with them.

MORGAN: It certainly is. Donald Rumsfeld, your paperback is out now, "Known And Unknown." It's been a pleasure, as always. Thank you for joining me.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.

MORGAN: Coming up, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz in her first interview since the failed Wisconsin recall.


MORGAN: Governor Scott Walker talks to me tomorrow night about his big win in Wisconsin. It was a stinging defeat for the Democrats. So what does it mean for the party and the president?

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz chairs the Democratic National Committee. She hasn't spoken since the failed recall. She joins me now.

Welcome, congresswoman.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, DNC CHAIR: Thank you, Piers. It's great to be with you tonight.

MORGAN: I don't know if you listened to Donald Rumsfeld there, but he concluded that the only possible reason President Obama didn't go down to Wisconsin to try and win this thing is because he knew he'd lose. Your thoughts?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I wouldn't -- it's not really surprising that the secretary would say something like that. The president deployed his entire machinery, grassroots machinery on the ground in Wisconsin, 40 offices, more than a million and a half dollars, our key neighborhood team leaders and volunteers. And we put an unprecedented effort of grassroots into this recall.

We came up short, but at the same -- of the ultimate goal, which was to make sure that Governor Walker couldn't adopt his extremist policies and continue to hurt middle class and working families. But we did apparently succeed in flipping the state Senate. The state Senate is likely now to be controlled by the Democrats.

So we're going to be able to stop Governor Walker from being able to really continue to pursue those extremist policies. So ultimately we were at least in part successful. We're -- what we demonstrated, Piers, was that Democrats are not going to just lay down and allow the middle class and working families and workers to get run over when an extremist governor has run amuck.

MORGAN: You keep calling him this great extremist who everyone apparently is terrified of and everything else, but the reality is he won. He won pretty convincingly. So the only people laying down, it would seem to everyone else, are the Democrats on this. How are you claiming some kind of weird victory out of all this?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: There's nothing weird about flipping the state senate. Last year, there were recalls of state senators that were put on the ballot and there were recalls last night. As a result of those victories, the state Senate has gone from being Republican to very likely being Democrat now. And really I'm certainly not going to call it a victory. Like I said, we lost the actual recall of the governor, but --

MORGAN: Let me just jump in there. That is my point. If you keep calling him an extremist, but you accept that he won, what does that say about the people in Wisconsin? Are they all a bunch of mad extremists?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No. What it says is that voters look at a recall very differently than they look at a straight up election. If you look at the exit polling, about 70 percent of the voters that cast ballots yesterday were uncomfortable in some way with the actual recall of a governor.

So while they didn't like his policies, they didn't think that they were comfortable with a recall. At the end of the day, I think if you asked any Republican governor in the country if they would trade places with Scott Walker for the last year, and if they would, if they had it to do it over again, take the same steps that Scott Walker did and had to go through a full recall and --

MORGAN: You could argue Scott Walker's probably thrilled that he had to go through it now, because it's made him a national superstar. It's revved up his party. He's the hero of the hour. So I would imagine he's thinking, bring on the recalls. Let's move on to --

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, I can't imagine that he would be saying that. Most governors in the country wouldn't trade places with him having to raise 31 million dollars, and really having to spend the last year defending policies --

MORGAN: I suspect Scott Walker's chuffed to bits tonight. let's move on. Move on to President Clinton, who in an interview with Harvey Weinstein who was standing in for me, while I was on royal duty in London, revealed a very interesting thing. He has defended Mitt Romney. He called his career as a businessman a sterling career.

What did you make of that when you were watching it? Were you choking on your soup? WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yeah. I wasn't choking on my soup. Certainly everyone is entitled to their opinion, including President Clinton, but --

MORGAN: Was his opinion correct?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No. I don't agree with President Clinton on that point. In fact, Mitt Romney is basing his entire candidacy on his experience in the private sector. And the only application that we have in government to -- of Mitt Romney's sterling private sector experience is when he was governor of Massachusetts, in which he brought Massachusetts from being 36th to 47th out of 50 in job creation.

MORGAN: What are you going to do about the road --

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Come on, Piers. Let me answer -- let me answer your question.

MORGAN: No, no. I know where you were going there. But I'm actually fascinated by the fact that you have President Clinton appearing to be diametrically opposed on this key battleground point.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, see, if you listen to the rest of it.

MORGAN: Not a very helpful scenario.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No. Piers, if you listen to the rest of President Clinton's interview, he made it very clear that he thinks that Mitt Romney's practices and the way he carried out his private sector experience does not make him suitable to be president of the United States. President Clinton is 100 percent behind President Obama, and believes that President Obama should continue as president of the United States. That's the bottom line.

The rest of it is sort of window dressing. But there's no getting away from the fact that the only example we have of Mitt Romney's supposedly sterling private record experience is in Massachusetts, in which on top of being 47th out of 50th in job creation, he also lost manufacturing jobs at twice the national rate. Really, when it came right down to it, had very little, if nothing, to show for that private sector experience as governor of Massachusetts, and actually made things worse.

So I think if you look at President Obama's record by comparison, taking us after inheriting the largest set of problems at once of any president since FDR, now three years later, thanks to his policies, even Governor Bob McDonnell last Sunday on "Meet the Press" acknowledged that it was President Obama's policies that helped Virginia be able to not have to cut their budget.

MORGAN: I'm going to have to cut you off in mid-flow there. Hopefully President Clinton is watching tonight and will now be better informed about the less than sterling nature of Mitt Romney's business career.


MORGAN: Debbie, as always, thank you very much.


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