MSNBC's Chris Jansing sat down with President Jimmy Carter earlier this week to discuss the Secret Service scandal, President Obama's chances of re-election, his thoughts on Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate, and the issue of Super PACs and corporations in campaign fundraising. Check out the interview and transcript from today's "Jansing & Co." below.
MSNBC’S CHRIS JANSING: What did you think when you heard about what happened in Cartegena?
PRESIDENT CARTER: I had two feelings…one is grief that it happened. Secondly, that it was a small minority of Secret Service agents who were caught up maybe in a local environment - it was extraordinary. I have had more than 200 Secret Services agents work with me before during and after I was president, and I would say that there's no other single group of public servants that I've ever known that would equal their standards of morality and proper activity and proper service and dedication to their very dangerous and difficult job.
JANSING: The question that many members of Congress as asking right now though is that they did this in such a public way – in and out of a lobby of a very well-known hotel, and the number of them that were involved might suggest that this was not an isolated incident.
PRESIDENT CARTER: I believe, I’ve known, I’ve heard about those allegations – my belief still is based on my own experience with Secret Service agents – is that it was an isolated incidence. It may be there was a celebration of some kind that involved excessive drinking of alcohol - that they were intoxicated, I don't know what the details were. But I know it was a terrible thing and these Secret Service agents do not personify at all the overwhelming majority of those in the service, all the ones that I have known personally.
But I would have to guess a Secret Service agent would have to be almost completely out of his mind or her mind... to tell a prostitute... or as they call themselves, a female escort, anything about the movements of the president. That's their life - that's their total dedication - is to protect the one who is assigned to them - whether it’s an incumbent American president or the president's family.
JANSING: Does the buck stop there with people who were directly involved?
PRESIDENT CARTER: I think both Congressman Issa and also King have said already publicly that Mark Sullivan, who is s commanding officer of the Secret Service in effect, has acted in a proper way with instant action – to try to correct the existing problem – a complete investigation without any holds barred and has taken action with the ones who have already been found to be guilty or have confessed their guilt to discharge them from service. So I think the higher ups were not involved in any way and were not culpable.
MSNBC’S CHRIS JANSING: Give me your assessment of what you think President Obama’s re-election chances are, and what do you think of Mitt Romney?
PRESIDENT CARTER: Well, I've just said that I think President Obama will be re-elected and I believe that. I think of all the Republican candidates who are prominent – I think Romney would be the one I would rather see have a slight possibility to be president.
JANSING: You’d be comfortable with a Romney presidency?
PRESIDENT CARTER: I'd rather have a Democrat but I would be comfortable—I think Romney has shown in the past, in his previous years as a moderate or progressive... that he was fairly competent as a governor and also running the Olympics as you know. He’s a good solid family man and so forth, he's gone to the extreme right wing positions on some very important issues in order to get the nomination. What he'll do in the general election, what he'll do as president I think is different.
JANSING: Do you think he has gone too far into the conservative positions, and do you think that makes him difficult to be trusted?
PRESIDENT CARTER: I think he’s gone too far in the conservative positions to suit the average American, that’s why I think that President Obama’s going to be re-elected. But I don’t know what Romney will do as he faces Obama. In historical terms, looking back on all the elections with which I’ve been familiar, both candidates tend to come to the middle as they get into the general election.
Romney already has a reputation of being changeable in his positions - and so I think that's a stigma that he's already been able to weather at least in the Republican primary - if he moves back more to the center position on some major issues, I’m not sure he can suffer any more as being changeable. So I don't know how to predict it - but I stick to my prediction that President Obama will win.
JANSING: Do you think – we say every year – the election has never been this negative, the tone has never been this divisive, but is it true?
PRESIDENT CARTER: It is true, absolutely true – we didn’t dream of running a negative commercial on television that would destroy the character of our opponent- it would have been suicidal for the ones who did that. And we didn't raise money from special interest groups. You know how much money I raised and Reagan raised and President Ford raised for the general election?
JANSING: What was the total?
PRESIDENT CARTER: Zero. We didn't raise a penny from private contributors or from corporations or special interest groups. I think the massive infusion of money into the political arena has been a major cause of spending a lot of it on the negative advertising. And the stupid Supreme Court ruling of more than two years ago - saying corporations are people has exacerbated or made much worse an already existing bad situation.