Interview with Representative Jason Chaffetz

Interview with Representative Jason Chaffetz

By The Situation Room - October 12, 2012

BLITZER: All right, this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, another investigation of what happened on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Now senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins have announced that their homeland security and governmental affairs committee will conduct what they call a bipartisan inquiry into the circumstances before, during, and after the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, the attack that killed the United States ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

Let's talk about what's going on right now with Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz. He's a member of the House Oversight Committee, which held its own hearing this week on the Benghazi security situation.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in. You don't have a problem with the Senate now beginning its own inquiry, do you?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: No, I think it's very warranted. I applaud it. I think it needs to be investigated, because there's more unanswered questions than -- than when we started.

BLITZER: The ranking Democrat, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, now says that you and your Republicans on your committee released sensitive classified information.

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, he released a very strongly worded statement: "Sensitive and potentially classified information was passed around and discussed openly in the hearing room without the proper security review. It is of great concern when classified information is exposed. It puts Americans around the world at risk."

A very serious charge leveled against the chairman, Darrell Issa, of your committee, and you, one of the chairman of a sub-committee, what do you want to say to the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee?

CHAFFETZ: Hey, I'm happy to go through it document by document if he has something specific, but we were ultra-sensitive to this. We didn't want to reveal any sources or methods in these types of things.

The documents that we did enter into the congressional record, right at the very top in bold green letters, said "unclassified." So I think they were -- they're fair game. It's part of getting to the answers and part of what we should do. Absolutely not.

BLITZER: But you're open to an investigation of whether or not, inadvertently -- I'm sure it wasn't deliberate -- inadvertently, you released sensitive classified information to the world as a result of what you guys did. You're open to that investigation?

CHAFFETZ: Well, look, when there was a map put up, I'm the one that called the point of order. I thought the State Department was releasing stuff that I was told previously should not be revealed. I called that out. I asked for a point of order, and the chairman ruled in my favor. So I think we were very, very careful. We went through each and every one of those documents. It is very sensitive.

But if -- if the congressman has a specific concern, point to a specific. Just don't make a sweeping generalization. Make a specific request, make a case, and I'm happy to show him the documents.

BLITZER: And if you did screw up, the members of your committee, what should happen?

CHAFFETZ: I don't know. A, I don't think we did, but get to specifics and I'm happy to do that.

There's a bigger, broader problem here. That is the White House continues to fail to be candid with the American people about what happened: what did they know and when did they know it? And they're still bungling these answers, including Vice President Biden last night.

BLITZER: You saw Vice President Biden last night say it's hypocritical for you and other members of your committee, including for the Republican vice-presidential nominee, to be making these accusations since you voted to cut funding for U.S. diplomatic security. Listen to Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, today.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I find it rich that charges are made about concern over diplomatic security by those who routinely slash funding for diplomatic security in order to pay for tax cuts.


BLITZER: Did you vote to cut diplomatic security by $300 million?

CHAFFETZ: That is such a ridiculous assertion. Over the last five years, the State Department budget has grown by nearly 100 percent. Nearly 100 percent growth, and so if you look at this, no.

We asked directly of Charlene Lamb (ph) -- directly, was the denial for more security personnel in Libya a consequence of a lack of funding? And she said no, sir. So they're trying to get you off track, even just the fact that you're asking this question. It wasn't a funding issue.

President Obama has 6,000 private contractors involved in security in Iraq, and if you look at Libya, you've got a handful of them. It's about prioritizing.

BLITZER: The argument -- you heard it -- is that under across- the-board cuts that you supported there would have been a $300 billion cut in diplomatic security. It was restore, in part, by the Senate, but you voted in favor of that, as did Paul Ryan.

CHAFFETZ: And when the State Department official was asked, was that a factor in the case of Libya, she said no. So it's not an issue in this case. It is about prioritizing things.

And when you have Libya, 9/11, you have had two bombings at our consulate there in Benghazi, when you had an assassination attempt on the British ambassador, when you have over 230 security interests, and then you're grappling over whether to have two or three individuals there involved in security, you're missing the big point.

The point is that there was intelligence coming back to the White House, to the State Department on a regular basis over a long period of time. You had security experts on the ground, begging and asking for more security, and it was denied. Not only was it denied; it was reduced. And that's just flabbergasting. It has nothing to do with some vote in some committee a couple of years ago, and the State Department testified to that fact.

BLITZER: Jason Chaffetz is the Republican congressman for Utah and member of that committee. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

CHAFFETZ: Thanks, Wolf. 

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