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Transcript: Michael Morell and James Winnefeld on "Face the Nation," October 27, 2019

What al-Baghdadi's death means for the fight against ISIS
Experts on what the death of al-Baghdadi means for the fight against ISIS 07:11


  • Retired Admiral James Winnefeld says he's worried about President Trump's "piling on" by describing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a "dog," and says it sends a signal to followers "that could cause them to lash out possibly more harshly in the wake."
  • Michael Morell says he was "bothered" by Mr. Trump's vivid detail about the killing of al-Baghdadi during his White House announcement.
  • Morell on the value of intelligence in raids like this: "We didn't think [bin Laden] was involved in the day-to-day operations. When we brought all those materials back ... we learned he was heavily involved. So, you really don't know until you get your hands on that material."

The following is a transcript of an interview with Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Winnefeld and CBS News Senior National Security Contributor Mike Morell that aired Sunday, October 27, 2019, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: For more now on the impact of al-Baghdadi's death on the war on terror, we are joined now by retired Navy Admiral Sandy Winnefeld. He is a former vice chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff and a CBS News military and homeland security analyst. Also with us is former acting director of the CIA and CBS News senior national security contributor Michael Morell. Gentlemen, thank you both for being here. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: It was extraordinary to hear the president for about 45 minutes share in detail blow by blow almost what this raid looked like. Mike, I want to know from you what stood out and is it dangerous to have so much revealed?

MIKE MORELL: So let- I'll let Sandy answer the operational military question, but to me- right this is a great day. We should be really thankful that Baghdadi is gone. And clearly the intelligence community- community and the U.S. military did an amazing job and the president made exactly the right decision.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the president thanked Gina Haspel--

MIKE MORELL: Absolutely. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- the CIA director.

MIKE MORELL: And I think we'll learn more in the days ahead about what the intelligence was and how we got it and thank even more people. Bothered me a little bit some of what the president did in- in- in providing detail about taking back to the United States pieces of Baghdadi's body. It bothered me a little bit hearing the president talk about that- some of that Syrian oil being ours, right. Because that's what inspires- that's what inspires some extremists. You know the- the oil comments, Margaret, really validate- at least it sounds that people like it- validates 40 to 50 years of conspiracy theories about what American foreign policy is all about, right? And it's not. So a great, great day but I think the president could have handled the- the press conference a little bit better.


ADMIRAL WINNEFELD: And, Margaret, we do these operations all the time. The difference this one is of course the prominence of the target. And you're always worried about operational security. We rarely have a problem before the raid from people working in the White House or elsewhere because they know what the stakes are. They don't want anybody to get hurt. But after the- after the raid there's usually a race to the microphone because people want others to know that they had a hand in it and that sort of thing--

MARGARET BRENNAN: The Obama administration was harshly criticized for oversharing after the death of bin Laden. 

ADMIRAL WINNEFELD: And so you want to be very careful with that. And- and there are operational details that we protect- sensitive techniques and that sort of thing. Notwithstanding what Michael just said, I think from the operational side I didn't really see anything that the president said that was of concern to me. There was a lot of other things he could have said that might have been problematic.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I want to play a sound bite from some of what he shared when he addressed the nation from the Diplomatic Room earlier today.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We were in the compound for approximately two hours and after the mission was accomplished, we took highly sensitive material and information from the raid. Much having to do with ISIS, origins, future plans, things that we very much want.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Mike, what are you looking for in that trove?

MIKE MORELL: You're first looking for current plots. Right? Is there anything that they're plotting today against any Western target or any target in Iraq and Syria that we need to move to defend against? That's the first thing you're looking for. The second thing you're looking for is- is how is ISIS thinking about where it is today and what are its strategic plans and intentions? It's the second thing you're looking for. And I think the third thing you're looking for, particularly with regard to Baghdadi, is how involved was he in the day to day operations? 

MARGARET BRENNAN: How- how involved was he?

MIKE MORELL: So, we don't really know. 


MIKE MORELL: But I would say this, when we- when we went in to get bin Laden we didn't think he was involved in the day to day operations. When we brought all those materials back out of Abbottabad and went through them, we learned he was heavily involved in day to day operations. So, you really don't know until you get your hands on that material and- and be able to look at it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It was notable the vice president indicated that there was some direct knowledge of events from Baghdadi that stood out to me.

ADMIRAL WINNEFELD: And Margaret, this is- may answer a question some of your viewers have and that is well if you know where he is, why don't you just bomb him and kill him? Instead we put people at risk to go on the ground. First of all, because we like to capture them if we can, but also this is a real treasure trove and it'll tell you not only about what Michael said but their networks, how they get their finances, how they communicate with each other. It's all very important at both a strategic, operational, and tactical level to get that sensitive site exploitation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Now, the- the president said these were U.S. Special Forces. David Martin reported it was led by Delta Force in particular, but the president thanked a number of different countries. He repeatedly thanked Russia. He thanked Turkey for allowing use of its airspace. He also said that there was some Kurdish help as well. Did his detail and who he thanked stand out to you? Was that sort of standard? 

ADMIRAL WINNEFELD: Actually one of the complexities of these operations is that they do involve other countries. For example, if you're going to rescue a hostage and that hostage has somebody with them who's from another country, you want to consult with that country. There are overflight rights. There are basing rights and a number of other considerations. So I think it was actually appropriate in the wake of the operation for him to- to thank some of those people. Some of those are characters we don't necessarily like very much, so that was a little concerning but it was well done I thought.

MIKE MORELL: The Kurdish thank you stood out to me because it suggested to me that that's perhaps where the intelligence came from.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You had on this program before said you were concerned about losing some of that intelligence that might be getting shared. The president also said in his remarks that he planned or wanted to release some video of those last few moments of Baghdadi's life that he repeatedly characterized. Called him a dog, whimpering, crying. He wanted ISIS' followers to see him like that--

ADMIRAL WINNEFELD: Margaret, this is piling on--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Would you advise this?

ADMIRAL WINNEFELD: This is piling on- this is- one of the- the one part of the president's remarks that did bother me was this continual piling on of humiliation. A little bit of that is appropriate. But you're sending a signal to some of his followers around the world that could cause them to lash out possibly more harshly in the wake of this.

MIKE MORELL: You don't want a locker room kind of feel to this, right? And that was the one thing we worked really hard on after the bin Laden raid is don't make those kind of statements because it does inspire other people.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said specifically body parts stood out to you in terms of how the president described how they were handled. Can you describe or explain what you mean by that in terms of some of--

MIKE MORELL: So I think it's alright--

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- how this--

MIKE MORELL: -- I think it's alright to say--

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- will resonate? 

MIKE MORELL: I think it's all right to say that we used, you know, DNA matching to figure out that it was him. But to actually talk about body parts and actually bringing them back with us, right? So that we have them here with us, I think is going too far. 

ADMIRAL WINNEFELD: And one of the things, Margaret, that is- this fight is all about is religious freedom. It's about respect for other religions. And if you look back to the bin Laden raid as much as we--


ADMIRAL WINNEFELD: -- detested that man, and as much harm as he did to our nation, we treated his body with respect that is due under Islam--


ADMIRAL WINNEFELD: -- and this--


ADMIRAL WINNEFELD: -- was a little bit tough. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for your analysis. We will be right back.

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