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Interview with Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina; Disaster Politics: Obama Visits Arkansas; Cleveland Hero One Year Later

Aired May 7, 2014 - 16:30   ET




The politics lead now. Any time four Americans lose their lives, it's a tragedy that's difficult to get over. When Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty lost their lives on September 11th, 2012, in an attack on U.S. posts in Benghazi, Libya, Americans wanted to know what happened and why.

Now, nearly two years late, some are still asking that question. The House is expected to pass by Republican approval a resolution to create a special committee to investigate what happened in Benghazi. It will have seven Republicans, and five Democrats.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders say lack of an even divide shows this is part of a partisan game.

But House Speaker John Boehner says this is about a real mission.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is all about getting to the truth. There's not going to be a sideshow. There's not going to be a circus. This is a serious investigation.


TAPPER: And joining me now is Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who's heading up the select committee on Benghazi.

Congressman, thanks for coming on the show.

As many have pointed out, there have already been 13 hearings, 50 briefings, more than 25,000 pages of documents related to the investigation into what happened at Benghazi, several reports, including recommendations for changes and reprimands for State Department employees.

What are you going to do to bring anything new to this investigation?

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, Jake, I'm not sure that we have all of the documents, and I know that numbers are thrown out, that there have been 25,000 documents produced but, you know, as an old prosecutor, you can give 25 copies of Dr. Zhivago, that's a lot of paper, but it's not what I asked for. So, we need all of the documents, witnesses, I can name three right now that are major players in this investigation --

TAPPER: Name them.

GOWDY: -- that have not been talked to.


GOWDY: Well, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had one appearance before a House committee. Susan Rice, to my knowledge, has not been debriefed at all by the House. Cheryl Mills has not debriefed at all by the house.

So, that's three that I think have some information that would be beneficial to my fellow citizens.

TAPPER: Secretary Clinton also testified before the Senate, we should mention, but I hear you, you represent the House.

What about Secretary of State John Kerry, do you intend to subpoena him?

GOWDY: Well, I don't know that he would be a fact witness. He's certainly a records custodian. So, to the extent we're having trouble getting number one documents and number two unredacted documents, he would be considered records custodian for the State Department, but it's not necessary that he testify unless he has firsthand knowledge, and my suspicion is I think he was still in the Senate at time this happened.

TAPPER: That's right.

Just to make clear, if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Dr. Susan Rice, the current national security adviser, are not willing to come before your committee willingly, you will subpoena them?

GOWDY: Jake, I can't imagine that they would not be willing to come, but I can also tell you this --

TAPPER: I can.

GOWDY: Well, I -- I -- I'm going to err on the side of being confident that they would want the American people know the full story. And in the case of Dr. Rice, she's never been before a full committee of Congress to be questioned about this. So, they have information that I think is beneficial in advancing the investigation and we're going to get that information.

TAPPER: OK. So, you will subpoena them if they don't come willingly?

GOWDY: Well, it doesn't necessarily have to be a subpoena. You can always take a deposition. You can do a witness interview. There are a myriad of ways of getting information. In fact, you can argue that a congressional hearing is the least effective way of getting information because you're limited by the clock.

So, I want the facts and I want the witnesses and I don't want to be limited or hamstrung by a five-minute rule.

TAPPER: You told Greta Van Susteren of FOX News earlier this year that, quote, "There was no evidence to support that false narrative of a video, not a scintilla of evidence, all of the evidence pointed exactly to what Susan Rice claimed it wasn't, a preplanned coordinated attack," unquote.

Now, earlier this year, the then-acting director of the CIA, Mike Morell, he testified in front of the House Intelligence Committee. He said that the CIA station chief sent an e-mail to him with three possibilities of what motivated the attackers. Take a listen.


MICHAEL MORELL, FORMER DEPUTY CIA DIRECTOR: The first one was an attack on anniversary of 9/11. The second motivation was the call for revenge. The third motivation that he ascribed as a possible motivation was the YouTube video.


TAPPER: YouTube video.

Michael Morell also testified before the Senate that CIA analysts in the immediate aftermath, September 12th, their analysis was it had been a spontaneous attack. Now, obviously, we know now that it was a terrorist attack. But you said there was not a scintilla of evidence that the video was at hand or that it was not preplanned, and here we have the CIA director saying that the CIA thought the video might be part of it, that was a theory, and that also that it was spontaneous.

GOWDY: Well, what I took his -- that clip you played to mean was that they were musing because I can tell you September 12th, the State Department sent ant e-mail, Beth Jones, according to the Libyan ambassador, that this was Ansar al-Sharia. I can tell you that Mike Morell testified before a House committee, he was shocked Susan Rice mentioned the video because none of their intelligence had connected the video.

So, you have three options, that it was preplanned and premeditated. You have that it was a spontaneous uprising. Or you have that it was linked to the video.

Morell will tell you there's no evidence linking it to the video and he was shocked that Susan Rice said that, not the day after Benghazi but about five days after Benghazi. Where Morell would defend himself, he would say there's evidence it was a spontaneous uprising as opposed to preplanned and premeditated in which case I would say, great, call your first witness. Every single change that Mike Morell made was calculated to cast the administration into a more favorable light.

TAPPER: He said that he felt no political pressure. You're saying you don't believe him?

GOWDY: In a word, yes, I'm saying I don't believe him.

TAPPER: I guess the question is whether or not there was a scintilla of evidence that the video was involved given the initial CIA assessment was that it was spontaneous and it followed the protested in Cairo which obviously were related to the video. Not obviously in retrospect whether or not the video was involved. But let's move on --

GOWDY: Well, Jake, you've got a couple of options. You've got a couple of options at that point. You can look in the camera and tell the American people, we don't know. We don't know with enough certitude and we're not going to guess.

What you can't do is go on five Sunday morning talk shows and tell something that at that point everybody knew was false and then extrapolate beyond that to a video with even Mike Morrell says, I was surprised she linked it to the video.

TAPPER: The National Republican Congressional Committee, which raises money for House Republican candidates, they have a blog post up explaining what this committee says, it also asks for contributions. Now, I know you said you were not personally asking for money relating to the select committee on Benghazi, but your party's fund-raising arm is.

Do you think that's appropriate?

GOWDY: Jake, I cannot and will not raise money for Benghazi.

TAPPER: But the NRCC is, sir.

GOWDY: I also advised my colleagues to follow suit and I think I did so in a pretty unambiguous way.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir, I think one of the reasons there are a lot of Americans who wonder about how partisan this committee will be doesn't necessarily have to do with you, but the fact that Republicans in general, and I know you were a prosecutor in South Carolina at the time, so I'm not holding you personally responsible --

GOWDY: Thank you.

TAPPER: -- but Republicans in general did not have this appetite to find out what went wrong when incorrect intelligence was used to push the war in Iraq. Do you see why some people might say, why is this more important than that war which resulted in the deaths of more than 4,500 American soldiers and countless innocent Iraqis?

GOWDY: At end of this, you may say he's not very smart but no one is going to say that I'm not fair. You will be able to have confidence that this will be run much like a trial was run with respect to fairness and process. This is not going to be a kangaroo court. And if I thought it were, I wouldn't have participated. TAPPER: Well, I hope you're right and I wish you luck with your task, sir. Congressman Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, thank you for your time.

GOWDY: Yes, sir. Thank you.

TAPPER: And former acting CIA Director Mike Morell sent me a response to the comments made by Congressman Gowdy. Let me read part of it. You can read the rest on our blog. Quote, "I am disappointed with Congressman Gowdy's comments about me to CNN. I was hopeful that the House Investigative Committee would come to its task with an open mind and with the desire to find the truth, but it appears that at least Mr. Gowdy has already made up his mind on certain points." He also says that Mr. Gowdy has his facts wrong.

You just heard Congressman Gowdy say his investigative committee wants to hear from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Will she talk to them? Well, here is what she had to say moments ago about the new probe at a forum in New York City.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: There are a lot of reasons why, despite all of the hearings all of the information that's been provided, some choose not to be satisfied and choose to continue to move forward. That's their choice and I do not believe there is any reason for it to continue in this way, but they get to call the shots in the Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, and you get to call the shots --


TAPPER: When we come back. He's a vulnerable Democrat who made it clear President Obama does not speak for him. So, why is he walking side by side with the commander-in-chief today?

Plus, he was thrust into the national spotlight a year ago after helping rescue three women trapped in a house of horror. Ahead, Charles Ramsey, the hero of Cleveland, joins me to share new detail of the day and his life since.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In politics, some Republican grassroots still think it was the hug that sank his presidential campaign, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie embraced President Obama after Superstorm Sandy. Political watchers saw a rising GOP star giving an unspoken nod of approval to a Democratic president, that's how they saw it anyway.

Now, Republicans hope another presidential trip in the wake of a natural disaster can sink a top Democrat's re-election hopes. Vulnerable Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor has done almost everything he can to distance himself from President Obama, running this ad touting his pushback against the president's effort to tighten gun laws.


SEN. MARK PRYOR (D), ARKANSAS: I oppose President Obama's gun control legislation. Nothing in the Obama plan would have prevented tragedies like Newtown.

And I approve this message because no one from New York or Washington tells me what to do.


TAPPER: But now President Obama just made his first ever presidential visit to the state at Pryor's behest. Joining me now is CNN chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana, this is technically an official visit, which means there will no campaigning, but these pictures, take a look, of them standing side by side, Pryor right beside the president, are they going to help or hurt the Arkansas incumbent? This is a state where the president lost by 20 points in 2008, 24 points in 2012.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Huge red state. You know, I'm looking at those pictures. I was watching it happen live and I was thinking, Tom Cotton, the Republican challenger, he pays good money for those pictures and Mark Pryor just gave them to him for free. Just trying so hard to link the two together in his very first ad. He put them up together saying that Mark Pryor is all about Obama and votes with Obama 95 percent of the time and here you have Mark Pryor inviting the president to the state.

As you said, this is a very different kind of issue because the president went down there to deal with tornado relief and disaster relief and what Mark Pryor and his campaign basically believe and are hoping is that this is coming to help the citizens who really need it and that if Tom Cotton does politicize it, there will be egg on his face.

TAPPER: There will be a risk because it's politicizing a tragedy. But people say that and yet when Chris Christie and President Obama got together after Superstorm Sandy, you can say it's politicizing a tragedy against Christie, but people still talk about this to this day.

BASH: They still do. I mean, that was a situation that the Romney people talk about it because they think it really was bad for them.

TAPPER: You're going to hear Republicans if Christie runs for president, you will Republicans talk about it in the presidential race.

BASH: Exactly. This may be a little bit different from Mark Pryor in that he was the one trying to distance himself and he's sort of glomming on to the president in this one specific instance. The reason why we're talking about this, as you know, and the reason why it matters is becuase the big picture, this is one of those key, key races that will determine whether Democrats keep the control of the Senate.

And Democrats insist that if you look at this race, although as you said, Republicans have done remarkably well in presidential races, on the state -- the statewide basis for the Senate, candidates matter and Mark Pryor has a very famous name. His father was senator there and he is somebody who goes home all the time and kind of keeps it low key and connects with people back in Arkansas.

And they're hoping that will make a difference in overcome the fact that the president is incredibly unpopular and did very poorly there. They are likening it in the Democratic side. They are hoping to John Tester, the senator from Montana who did well even though in 2012 even though the president lost his state, Montana, big time.

TAPPER: Republican Congressman Tom Cotton still a very strong candidate, also a veteran. I want to quickly, if you would, election results in North Carolina, the speaker of the House, Thom Tillis won. He will go on to face Democratic Senator Kay Hagan. There's a different Tar Heel state primary too close to call quickly.

BASH: The "American Idol" winner, former winner, Clay Aiken. You of course a play mate back in the day.

TAPPER: No, I like Daughtry.

BASH: That makes sense. He's still neck and neck, but this primary race is not yet called. He has a slight lead over his Democratic opponent. We're not going to know until tomorrow whether or not he's going to get the Democratic nomination. But then of course there's the general election and this is a very, very Republican district.

TAPPER: Renee Elmers.

BASH: Renee Elmers is the sitting Republican Congress person and even Democrats said he's going to have to prove he really can do well for them to even put one dime in there.

TAPPER: We'll see what happens. Dana Bash, thank you so much. Wolf Blitzer's here. You popped in. You've been following the L.A. Clippers/Donald Sterling mess. NBA is coming up with its legal strategy on how to remove him. What do you know?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": I think we figured it out, because Article 13 of the NBA constitution --

TAPPER: I have my copy here.

BLITZER: Article 13, Clause D, says it's termination of ownership or membership, you can be terminated of ownership if you fail or refuse to fulfill contractual obligations to the NBA. Back in 1981, when Sterling bought the Clippers, he signed all sorts of agreements, including morals clauses in there, and since then, several times, new agreements containing morals clauses, and including within the past decade, they argue the racist comments he made violated original agreements and as a result of Article 13 D, he can be terminated as owner. TAPPER: That old 13-D, Wolf Blitzer looking forward to "THE SITUATION ROOM" in a 10 minutes.

When we come back, an unlikely hero.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eating my McDonald's, I come outside, I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of her house.


TAPPER: Charles Ramsey, he'll come to me talking about rescuing three women trapped by a monster for over a decade. He'll share details you've never heard about clues missed. He has a new book out coming back.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Our "Buried Lead" now, three girls missing for more than ten years thought long dead by their families and by Cleveland police. They were all rescued one sunny afternoon, largely thanks to this man, Charles Ramsey, an unlikely hero, perhaps, with a flare for sound bites.


CHARLES RAMSEY, HELPED RESCUE KIDNAPPED WOMEN: I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms, something is wrong here. Dead giveaway. Dead giveaway. Dead giveaway.


TAPPER: Dead giveaway. One year later, Ariel Castro is nothing more than a nightmare memory while Amanda Berry, Gina Dejesus and Michelle Knight are healing. Last night on the anniversary of the escape, Berry delivered a message of hope.


AMANDA BERRY: If I can say one thing it would be this, never give up hope because miracles do happen.


TAPPER: Joining me now is the man who helped make that miracle happen. He is the author of a book that hit shelves yesterday, "Dead Giveaway." It's my honor to welcome Charles Ramsey to THE LEAD. Chuck, you said call you Chuck, so I will. Thanks so much for being here today.

You opened the book, I have to say a great read, for some reason, God put me in the wrong place at right time. Now we all know by now the story of how you rescued these girls when Detective Cook told you the girl you saved was Amanda Berry, who have missing for years what went through your mind? What was that moment like?

RAMSEY: I says, let me get this right, I remember eight years ago or nine or something, her obituary came on television. So I have a child, and when those -- when Gina -- I don't know about Michelle, talking about Amanda and Gina, when those girls went missing, my heart just dropped like everybody in Cleveland, OK. Now, when she says, when Detective Cook says, that's Amanda Berry, I said, how can that girl, woman rather, now, be next door, wherever she was and me not see her and I walked past this house every day and, else every night.

I am outside, 2:00 in the morning because I want to be, 4:00 in the morning because I'm bored, 8:00 in the morning, the same reason. Don't hear, don't see, anything. So that's -- and today, yesterday, tomorrow, it's still going to be, how did I miss anything?

TAPPER: Have you spoken to Amanda or the other girls since that day?

RAMSEY: No. I see Michelle from time to time, she's a downtown Cleveland doing her thing, meeting and greeting. I see Gina and Amanda on TV. I talked to them through prayers.

TAPPER: Of Ariel Castro, the man who kept the three girls chained in that house of horrors you give the impression at least on the outside he was the ideal neighbor although later you wrote in the book, there were dots there just never connected. What dots?

RAMSEY: Ariel's good cook, he's exceptionally well chef. I find out later, through chitchatting through people throughout the networks, that food that I was high-fiving him and saying, man you ought to have your own restaurant, that was one of those girls, see what I'm coming from? Check me out now, he says he don't trust him -- why not, they want to kill you -- if they thought poison was in it, and I'm a new kid, my music's blaring and I'm a thorn in your side, why not give it to me? For a year, I've been that man's guinea pig. If I dropped dead --

TAPPER: His taste tester.

RAMSEY: Ariel Castro would have been the only one saying, you know what, you almost had me.

TAPPER: Incredible. In the wake of all of this, people took exceptional interest in your story that put your face on t-shirts, made iPhone games of you, auto tuned that interview you did, the rumor McDonald's would give you free Big Macs for life. What have you seen in the aftermath of this in terms of compensation, remuneration, any reward money?

RAMSEY: Nada. McDonald's says, we'll give you Big Macs for life and notice they say, we'll be in contact. What they did, they gave me $1,000 cash from two different McDonald's locations and gave plea $1,000 in gift cards, two different locations, we have 2,000 cash, 2,000 gift cards I gave money and gift cards to every homeless person and kid I ran into. I was giving four and five of these things.

Wait, wait, wait, wait, I'm figuring, if I get this for life, at least I can feed everybody that's around me wherever I go. So if I have this for life and take a trip to California, don't worry about it I got us. If I'm in Bermuda they've got a McDonald's don't worry about it. Such isn't the case.

TAPPER: Not the case. But hopefully this book, Charles Ramsey "Dead Giveaway" will make you a little coin. Chuck, thank you so much for being here.

Next time, burgers on me. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a good day.

BLITZER: Jake, thanks very much.