NBC's Lauer Asks Rumsfeld if Benghazi Scandal is Just GOP Trying to 'Discredit' Hillary

In an interview with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer tried to dismiss the growing Benghazi scandal: "Do you think that the administration has answered enough questions on it? Do you think it's possible that some Republicans are trying to use this to discredit Hillary Clinton in case she decides to run for president in 2016?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Rumsfeld replied: "No. I think that's a side – that's the sideshow, is the Hillary Clinton piece of it. No, the first problem was if you're going to put people at risk, you have to try to protect them....And the Americans were left in and they weren't provided the kind of security that they needed, obviously, because they're dead."

Lauer began the exchange by wondering if Rumsfeld would take back earlier comments on the controversy: "You said in October, quote, 'The responsibility for the way the White House has tried to cover this up and manage it falls on the President.' Yesterday, the President said, 'There is no there, there,' that it's a sideshow, and that it defies logic to say there was a cover-up. Do you still think there was?"

Rumsfeld reiterated: "I do. I think that as it's unfolded, it's very clear that the people knew from the out-set that it was not the YouTube, that it was not a demonstration, and people on the ground and people in Washington have now testified to that."

Moving on to Rumsfeld's new book, Rumsfeld's Rules, Lauer saw the opportunity to go after the Bush administration: "Lots of rules and maxims in here....This one caught my eye, though, Mr. Secretary, 'It is easier to get into something than to get out of it'....Now do you think a lot of people are gonna read that an immediately say Iraq and Afghanistan?"

After Rumsfeld acknowledged that readers would "of course" draw that connection, Lauer declared: "The question a lot of people are going to ask is, 'Did the Bush administration, and did Donald Rumsfeld even, have that saying up on a wall somewhere, and did they look at that motto before they committed to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?'"

At the end of an interview with Rumsfeld in the 10 p.m. ET hour, co-host Hoda Kotb asked for his thoughts on another Obama administration scandal: "Let me ask you just quickly, there was something about how the Associated Press's phones were sort of listened into by the Department of Justice today. And they talked about hundreds of reporters and phone calls. What's your take – what's your take on that?"

Rumsfeld admitted he "didn't know enough about it," but made a general statement on the importance of privacy and a free press, as well as the need for more supervision of the government.

Fellow co-host Kathie Lee Gifford added: "The same could be said for the IRS situation." Rumsfeld responded: "Oh, my goodness, that. Imagine the power there of people. It sends chills down people."

Unlike Lauer, Kotb and Gifford didn't include White House talking points in their questions.


Here is a full transcript of Lauer's May 14 interview with Rumsfeld:

7:17AM ET

MATT LAUER: Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has had a distinguished career, both in public service and in the private sector. He opens up about both in his new book called Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life. Mr. Secretary, always good to see you, welcome back.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Thank you.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "Rumsfeld's Rules"; Former Defense Secretary on Bush, Benghazi & More]

I've got a lot to talk to you about on the book, but there's a couple of topics making news right now I want your take on. Benghazi and what the administration knew and said in the hours and days after the attack on our consulate there. You said in October, quote, "The responsibility for the way the White House has tried to cover this up and manage it falls on the President." Yesterday, the President said, "There is no there, there," that it's a sideshow, and that it defies logic to say there was a cover-up. Do you still think there was?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I do. I think that as it's unfolded, it's very clear that the people knew from the out-set that it was not the YouTube, that it was not a demonstration, and people on the ground and people in Washington have now testified to that.

LAUER: Do you think that the administration has answered enough questions on it? Do you think it's possible that some Republicans are trying to use this to discredit Hillary Clinton in case she decides to run for president in 2016?

RUMSFELD: No. I think that's a side – that's the sideshow, is the Hillary Clinton piece of it. No, the first problem was if you're going to put people at risk, you have to try to protect them. And the British took their people out because they knew they were at risk. And the Americans were left in and they weren't provided the kind of security that they needed, obviously, because they're dead.

LAUER: Let's turn to your book. Lots of rules and maxims in here. Some make perfect common sense, "Set your goals, learn from those who have been there, trust your instincts." This one caught my eye, though, Mr. Secretary, "It is easier to get into something than to get out of it."

RUMSFELD: It's true.

LAUER: Now do you think a lot of people are gonna read that an immediately say Iraq and Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: Well, sure. Of course. It is – and there's another word there, phrase that comes in, and that's "mission creep." In other words, the reason we went into Afghanistan was because of the attacks on September 11th and the fact that the Taliban was the host to Al Qaeda. And that problem was taken care of relatively quickly, in a matter of weeks, with a relatively few number of troops. The numbers were 25, maybe 30,000 Americans is all. President Obama's now had a hundred thousand in that country. And obviously it's a different mission.

LAUER: Right. But do you – the question a lot of people are going to ask is, "Did the Bush administration, and did Donald Rumsfeld even, have that saying up on a wall somewhere, and did they look at that motto before they committed to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?"

RUMSFELD: The answer is yes. I actually wrote a memo, which is on my website, Rumsfeld.com, that's been called "The Parade of Horribles." I sat down and wrote all the things that could go wrong, that I could think of, prior to the President's decision to go into Iraq, one of which was, there may not be stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

LAUER: You write about your time as defense secretary, quote, your words here, "There was no shortage of decisions I made that rattled a few cages and made some folks unhappy. Might I have approached some of those decisions differently knowing what I know now? Of course." And you talk about wishing you hadn't misspoken in a couple situations and maybe being more forceful with President Bush at the time about accepting your resignation after Abu Ghraib. But that's a little bit like falling on your sword. Is there a specific military or policy decision that you wish you could have changed?

RUMSFELD: Sure. I mean, for example, a personnel decision is really the – if it's a mistake, it's the mistake of the person doing the hiring, as opposed to the person coming aboard. And I made a mistake by taking a former general and making him secretary of the army. If you know you need to change the culture, if you know you need to move that institution as the president said, from the – into the 21st century and into the information age, putting a person who came up through that system in charge as the civilian leadership was a mistake and I had to correct the mistake. Personnel mistakes don't get better with time.

LAUER: But a lot of critics take a longer look at them as time passes on.

RUMSFELD: Of course another rule in there is that the road not traveled is always smoother.

LAUER: Good point. Or some people say take the high road, it's less crowded.

RUMSFELD: Yeah.

LAUER: Donald Rumsfeld, it's good to see you, sir.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.

LAUER: Thanks for coming back. The book again is called Rumsfeld's Rules.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC