Hillary Clinton photo

Interview with John Dickerson of CBS News "Face the Nation"

September 20, 2015

DICKERSON: We're joined by Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Welcome, Secretary Clinton. We're glad to have you.

Let's start in the news, Syrian refugees.


DICKERSON: President Obama has said he will increase the number allowed into 10,000. Is that enough?

CLINTON: Now, look, we're facing the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

And I think United States has to do more. And I would like to see us move from what is a good start with 10,000 to 65,000, and begin immediately to put into place the mechanisms for vetting the people that we would take in, looking to really emphasize some of those who are most vulnerable, a lot of the persecuted religious minorities, including Christians, and some who have been brutalized, like the Yazidi women.

But I also want the United States to lead the world. And I have recommended that, at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly, there be an international meeting called by the secretary-general and literally get people to commit, putting money in, helping the front-line states, like Jordan and Turkey and Lebanon, who have absorbed a lot of refugees, working with the E.U. and the European countries, but getting everybody to make a contribution.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about the underlying condition creating this refugee crisis.

You advocated for arming the Syrian rebels.

CLINTON: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

DICKERSON: That was then ultimately put in place. We now hear that that is not going well at all. Out of 12,000 Syrians that have been trained, there are only handful that can actually fight.

Was this a bad idea, or was this a bad idea—or was this a good idea poorly executed?

CLINTON: Well, John, I did recommend that, at the beginning of this conflict, we do more to help train those who were in the forefront of leading the opposition against Assad, looking to try to bring the moderates together.

A lot of these rebels, originally, they were—they were businesspeople, they were professional people, they were students. They had no training in going up against the Syrian army, which Assad clearly was going to use to the ultimate effect. That was not the decision taken at that time.

A lot of what I worried about has happened. There are now big ungoverned territories within Syria that are dominated by terrorist groups, ISIS being the best known, but not the only one. You have Iran and Russia increasingly moving in to support Assad and his constant bombardment against his own people.

And then you have these millions of refugees. So, where we are today is not where we were. And where we are today is that we have a failed program. You heard the testimony, five people trained for half—$500, half-a-billion dollars.

But I think we still have to keep working with the Turks, with the Jordanians, with others of our partners. We also have to do more to support the Kurds, something that I have also advocated.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about Russia.

So, it looks like U.S. policy now is, we're not going to—train and equip has failed, so now we're going to turn to the Russians for help. These are the same Russians who are busy in Ukraine doing things we don't like them to do. The Israelis think that the Russians are involved with Hezbollah. Why are we turning to the Russians?

CLINTON: Well, I hope we're not turning to the Russians.

Let me just quickly say that I wouldn't give up on train and equip, but I sure would push the Pentagon to take hard look why what has been done has been such a failure and what more we could do to support, like, Kurdish fighters who are on the front lines.

And one of the difficulties we had in the train and equip is that we basically were trying to train people to only take on ISIS and terrorist networks. We were not training and equipping them to take on Assad or his military or his proxies, which include Hezbollah, by the way.

I hope we are not turning to the Russians in that way. I hope what we're doing—and this is what I support—and I heard Secretary Kerry say this is what we will be doing. And I think Secretary Carter has begun these conversations.

First of all, we have to figure out what they are doing. Russia has a long interest in Syria. They have had a base in—a naval base in Syria for a long time. They have a connection because a lot of Syrians were educated in the Cold War in Moscow and a lot of Russians actually moved to Syria.

So, they have not only deep links to Syria and Syrians, but they intend to support Assad for their own reasons. And we need to really unpeel what it is they're trying to accomplish and work with others to try to contain them.

And I want to just end by saying, if they are providing any equipment to Hezbollah, if they are supporting Hezbollah, which is the main fighting force on behalf of the Iranians to support Assad, but also a deadly threat to Israel, then we have got to take action, whether there are tougher sanctions or other kinds of actions to try to prevent that from happening.

DICKERSON: I want to ask you about something that came up in the Republican debate. Jeb Bush said, one thing was true about his brother. He kept America safe.

Do you agree with that?

CLINTON: I think it's a complicated question, because, of course, 9/11 happened.

I was a senator from New York. And I was basically consumed by my responsibility to help the people directly affected in my state and in the city.

So, it did happen. And then I do give President Bush credit for trying to bring the country together around the threats that we did face. I have said the war in Iraq was a mistake. I supported what happened in Afghanistan. So, if you sort it all out, you know, it's a mixed—it's a mixed picture.

DICKERSON: Let me take you back to the 2008 campaign, where Iraq was a conversation and U.S. security was a conversation.

You ran an ad, the 3:00 a.m. ad...


DICKERSON: ... which became quite famous. Let's play that for our—our viewers.

CLINTON: My gosh. I haven't seen that in a long time. [laughter]

DICKERSON: Well, it's a throwback Sunday here.

[begin video clip]

NARRATOR: It's 3:00 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?

CLINTON: I'm Hillary Clinton. And I approve this message.

[end video clip]


DICKERSON: So, the question for you is, now you have been secretary of state.


DICKERSON: Benghazi.


DICKERSON: Was that your 3:00 a.m. phone call? And how well did you handle that crisis, by the standard you raised in that ad?

CLINTON: Well, of course it was a crisis. And we lost four brave Americans, including the person that I asked the president to send as ambassador, Chris Stevens.

But we live in a dangerous world. And even our diplomats are at threat. And that goes all the way back to, for goodness' sake, taking over our embassy in Tehran or the bombings of our embassy in Beirut, when President Reagan was in charge.

This is a dangerous world. And I think what we had to do during that period of time, in trying to protect our people after the attack on the consulate, getting them evacuated, not only working on what was going on in Libya, because, remember, we had embassies that were under attack or threatened to attack by terrorist groups across North Africa, indeed, across a much larger swathe of the world.

So, I think it was terribly tragic, what happened. I immediately asked for an independent review, just like former secretaries of state did. And I made that public. And the only other person who did that was Secretary Albright after our embassies were bombed in Africa.

So, my view on this is, we have to learn things. And we are always learning. We learned after Beirut. We learned after Tanzania and Kenya. We have learned after Benghazi, but we're not going to be able to represent the United States working out of hermetically sealed tanks. We are going to have to be out in the world.

DICKERSON: One more question on Benghazi. The charge is, in this campaign, that after it happened, there was a report inside the State Department and inside the government that this was a terrorist attack.

But in what we heard from the government at the time and from you was an emphasis on this video, that that had created the attack. And so the charge is that there was a political pressure to make the case more about the video than to talk about terrorism.

CLINTON: Well, I just don't think that's fair. And I'm going to testify about this at the end of October before the committee looking into this. I think it's the eighth investigation that the Congress has conducted.

There were two things going on simultaneously. I and others said that we were attacked. There was no doubt about that. That video, which was still spinning through the world, was being mentioned on social media. We had people climbing the walls at our embassy in Cairo even before the attack in Benghazi.

And we had a lot of other attacks. I had to call the president of one of our neighboring countries, Tunis, to try to get—in Tunis—to get them to help protect our embassy. So, I was worried about everything that was going on and how people were responding to that from North Africa to Pakistan, all the way to Indonesia.

DICKERSON: So, no political pressure to keep the story kind of a little more favorable to the administration?

CLINTON: Well, all I can tell you, I never felt any political pressure or did I feel any political reason to do anything other than what we tried to do, which was to immediately deal with the problems that were coming at us.

DICKERSON: So, questions about Benghazi have led to discovery of your personal server.

If we use this episode as a way to think about the way would you run your presidency, let's say there's a meeting at Clinton headquarters, and you're with your staff. And you're saying, looking at the e-mail situation from the day you decided, yes, to have the server, all the way to where we all now...


DICKERSON: ... what went well, what didn't go so well?

CLINTON: Well, look, I have said that I didn't make the best choice.

I should have used two separate e-mail accounts, one personal, one work-related. What I did was allowed. It was fully above board. People in the government certainly knew that I was using a personal e-mail.

But I have tried to be transparent. And that includes releasing 55,000 pages, which is unprecedented—nobody else that I'm aware of has ever done that—plus turning over the server, plus testifying at the end of October.

So, I think that people have questions. I want to try to answer them.

DICKERSON: Was it a failure in judgment on your part?

CLINTON: Well, look, it was permitted. It was allowed. I did it.

And I think that people can make their own judgments about that. But I have tried to be as transparent as I can.

DICKERSON: You talked a lot about transparency, that—when we think about trust—and there's been a lot of talk about that in your campaign and voters having questions. They have questions maybe related to this.

Trust and transparency are related. You have been transparent in the release of these e-mails, but what about before? Because there was a period where you held on to the whole kit and caboodle before any investigators were asking for it, long after you were out of the State Department.

CLINTON: Well, it wasn't that long. What I did was to send e-mails to people at their government accounts, which I had every reason to believe would be captured on the government systems.

And when we were asked to help the State Department make sure they had everything from other secretaries of state, not just me, I'm the one who said, OK, great, I will go through them again. And we provided all of them. And more than 90 percent were already in the system.

And, in fact, I gave so many that were not work-related, just to be as comprehensive as possible, they are already sending back about 1,200 of them.

So, look, I did what was, as I said, allowed. I said it wasn't the best choice. And it turned out to be a mistake, in retrospect. But, at the time, and given the fact that most of them were in the government systems, people are going to get a chance to see all kinds of behind-the-scenes conversations, most of which, I'm embarrassed to say, are kind of boring. [laughter]

DICKERSON: Just to button this up here, you have said you were sorry.


DICKERSON: What exactly are you sorry for and to whom?

CLINTON: Well, you know, I'm sorry that I made a choice that has raised all of these questions, because I don't like reading that people have questions about what I did and how I did it.

I'm proud of the work we did at the State Department. And I'm really proud of all the career professionals I worked with. I'm proud of the people who came in with me. And we got sanctions on Iran, put together that international coalition. We got a new arms treaty with Russia. We did a lot of really important work.

And I want that to be the focus of what people know about my tenure at the State Department.

DICKERSON: Some people who know you and have worked with you say what this e-mail situation suggests is that there's nobody around you who can say, Secretary Clinton, this is a bad idea, don't do this.

Do you have such a person?



CLINTON: I have too many, actually. Look, this—this was...

DICKERSON: No, before the fact, not after. After, everybody is giving you advice.

CLINTON: I know.

No, but, John this was done by prior government officials, including...

DICKERSON: But not at this level, not solely a server just for you.

CLINTON: You know, look, let's—it was done by others.

And let me just say that, yes, when I did it, it was allowed, it was above board. And now I'm being as transparent as possible, more than anybody else ever has been.

DICKERSON: All right.

Secretary Clinton, we are going to pause right there.


DICKERSON: We will be back in one more minute with more from Secretary Clinton.

Stay with us.

[commercial break]

DICKERSON: We're back now with Secretary Clinton.

Secretary Clinton, Donald Trump had a supporter at one of his rallies suggest the president was Muslim and not an American. Donald Trump stayed mute and continues to say nothing about that.

Are politicians on the hook for every crazy thing one of their supporters stands up and says?

CLINTON: Well, of course not, because we all have supporters who may say things that we don't agree with.

But when you are at an event and someone stands up and says something like that in front of you, then I do think you have a responsibility to respond.

John McCain did back in the '08 campaign when somebody in one of his events said something similarly untrue and insulting about the president. And McCain stopped that person. That's what Donald Trump should have done.

And I said the other day he is fueling a level of paranoia and prejudice against all kinds of people. And when you light those fires, you better recognize that they can get out of control. And he should start dampening them down and putting them out.

He wants to talk about what he would do as president. That's obviously fair game. But to play into some of the worst impulses that people have these days that are really being lit up by the Internet and other conspiracy-minded theories is just irresponsible. It's appalling.


DICKERSON: Which Republican would you like to run against the most?

CLINTON: Oh, John, I have no—I have no vote in that. I'm going to run against whoever they put up against me.

DICKERSON: Are you doing anything to prepare for Joe Biden potentially entering the race? Is your campaign doing anything?

CLINTON: No, we're not, because this is such a personal decision.

And the vice president has to sort this out. He's been so open in talking about how difficult this time is for him and his family. And he's obviously considering what he wants to do, including whether he wants to run. And I just have the greatest respect and affection for him. And I think everybody just ought to give him the space to decide what is best for him and his family.

DICKERSON: Bernie Sanders has made quite a point of not attacking you. He said he's not going to run any negative ads.

Would you pledge to do the same thing with respect to him, not attack him, and also tell your supporters, hey, lay off?

CLINTON: Look, I want this to be about ideas and about policies.

I know Bernie. I respect his enthusiastic and intense advocacy of his ideas. That's what I want this campaign to be about. And I hope people who support me respect that, because this is a serious election. I obviously am running because I think it's better for the country if a Democrat who has the kind of approaches and values that my husband had and Barack Obama has follows this presidency.

DICKERSON: So, can I mark that down as a yes?


DICKERSON: You will pledge not to?

CLINTON: Well, I have no—no interest in doing that.

DICKERSON: And you're going to talk about Obamacare this week, support it.

CLINTON: Yes, I am.

DICKERSON: What is the big new proposal you're going to offer?

CLINTON: Well, first, let me say that it's time that we say that the debate over the Affordable Care Act is over. The Supreme Court has twice upheld it, yet the Congress has voted more than 50 times to repeal it.

Let's get beyond that. Enough is enough. And we need to strengthen it, not scrap it. It is the core of how we're going to provide health care to Americans going forward, the 16 million.

But there are other benefits to it that people who are not on the exchanges are being able to take advantage of. You know, 158 million American women are no longer charged more for health care because of our gender. Young people can stay on their parents' policies until they're 26.

If you have a preexisting condition, insurance companies can't shut you out. We have a lot of positives. But there are issues that need to be addressed. I'm going to address them this week, starting with how we're going to try to control the cost of skyrocketing prescription drugs. It's something that I hear about wherever I go. It's part of the plan I will be rolling out in the next few days.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about those Planned Parenthood videos. Have you watched them?

CLINTON: I have seen excerpts from them. And I have certainly read about them.

And what I am troubled by are the misleading, inaccurate allegations about them that we heard from Republicans at their debate. This is really an attack on Planned Parenthood, which provides a lot of health services, from cancer screenings , to contraceptive services, to so many other of the needs women have.

And to shut down the government, which some Republicans are advocating, over funding for Planned Parenthood, which takes care of millions of women's health needs, is just the height of irresponsibility.

DICKERSON: That's the policy debate this has turned into. But what was your reaction just when you watched them?

CLINTON: Well, look, as Planned Parenthood has said, these were misleadingly edited. They were intentionally taken out of context.

The fact is that, if we want to have a debate in this country about whether we should continue using—or doing fetal research, then it's not only Planned Parenthood that should be involved in that debate. All of the experts, all of the scientists, all of the research institutions, everybody who is looking for cures to Parkinson's, for example, should be asked, should we continue this?

But so far as I am aware, what they did, despite the way it was portrayed, is within the laws that were set up for this.

DICKERSON: This week, the Senate is going to vote to impose a federal ban on late-term abortions. Do you support a federal limit on abortion at any stage of pregnancy?

CLINTON: This is one of those really painful questions that people raise. And, obviously, it's really emotional.

I think that the kind of late-term abortions that take place are because of medical necessity. And, therefore, I would hate to see the government interfering with that decision. I think that, again, this gets back to whether you respect a woman's right to choose or not. And I think that is what this whole argument once again is about.

DICKERSON: In the politics this year, it looks like everybody wants an outsider. [laughter]

Now, that puts you in a fix....[crosstalk]...Does it put you in a fix? Tell us why it doesn't put you in a fix.

CLINTON: I cannot imagine anyone being more of an outsider than the first woman president. I mean, really, let's think about that.

DICKERSON: Now, I agree, but your name—we have not...

CLINTON: I mean, if you line up—if you—all these mothers and fathers bring me the place mats with all the presidents, and they bring their daughters, and they say, my daughter has a question for you. And the daughter says, how come there are no girls on this place mat?

DICKERSON: I agree that that is a difference.

CLINTON: I think that's a pretty big unconventional choice.

DICKERSON: Yes. But you know what I'm asking.

CLINTON: Well, I know you're asking, do we want people who have never been elected to anything, who have no political experience, who have never made any hard choices in the public arena? Well, voters are going to have to decide that.

DICKERSON: But they worry that people who are inside are too inside, that that's why the economic situation is tilted against the middle class. It's why they always feel like everybody can wiggle around the rules.

And that's something you have to deal with, right?

CLINTON: Of course it is.

And that's why I have an economic policy that is centered on raising incomes, because I think what we inherited from the Bush administration, what President Obama had to deal with had the potential of becoming a great depression, not just a great recession.

We have now recovered 13 million jobs, after losing 800,000 a month when he came into office. So, why would we go back to the same policies? Call them insider. Call them tilted toward the rich. Call them giving corporations a free pass to do whatever they want.

I'm against that. I have always been against that. I want to go back to economic policies where we create millions of new jobs and where people's incomes rise not just at the top, but in the middle and at the bottom, like they did under my husband.

So, you know, I'm not running for Bill's third term. I'm not running for President Obama's third term. But it would be really foolish of me not to say, you know, that worked better than what the Republicans offer.

DICKERSON: What role should Wall Street play in the economy?

CLINTON: Look, we need financial markets.

But they need to be put on notice that any of their behaviors that impact Main Street, that disrupt the kind of orderly processing of financial transactions because high-frequency trading is now going to be making decisions in nanoseconds, or fooling around, as they did in the '80s, in packaging mortgage securities in a way that really bombed us into the great resection, I don't think any financial institution, not just banks, because I think it's important to recognize there are a lot of financial institutions.

AIG was a problem. Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. They were not banks in the traditional sense. We need to rein in the risks posed by these financial institutions.

DICKERSON: Let me—a final question.

Your friend the late Diane Blair wrote in her diary—quote—"On her deathbed, Clinton wants to be able to say she was true to herself and is not going to do phony makeovers to please others."

So, knowing you don't want to engage in phony makeovers, give us three words that is the real Hillary Clinton. [laughter] Just three.

CLINTON: Just three? I can't possibly do that.

I mean, look, I am a real person, with all the pluses and minuses that go along with being that. And I have been in the public eye for so long that I think—you know, it's like the feature that you see in some magazines sometimes. Real people actually go shopping, you know?

DICKERSON: All right. Well, I'm going to have to really interrupt you.

Thank you, Secretary Clinton.

CLINTON: Thanks, John.

DICKERSON: Democratic presidential—Hillary Clinton, we hope to talk to you again soon. Thanks very much.

And we will be back in a moment.

CLINTON: Thank you.

Hillary Clinton, Interview with John Dickerson of CBS News "Face the Nation" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/312787

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