'This Week' Transcript: White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough

PHOTO: ABC News Contributor and Democratic Strategist Donna Brazile, ABC News Contributor and The Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, ABC News Cokie Roberts, and Republican Strategist and CNBC Contributor Sara Fagen on This WeekABC News
ABC News Contributor and Democratic Strategist Donna Brazile, ABC News Contributor and The Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, ABC News' Cokie Roberts, and Republican Strategist and CNBC Contributor Sara Fagen on 'This Week'

Below is the rush transcript for "This Week" on January 25, 2015. It may contain errors and will be updated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, on ABC THIS WEEK, breaking news -- ISIS strikes again.

What the terror group is demanding now to spare the lives of hostages.

Off and running -- Republicans descending on Iowa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will he really compete in Iowa?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some key players making major moves. Why what's happening this weekend could shake up 2016. Complete coverage from the Hawkeye State.

And Deflate Gate getting bigger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm embarrassed to talk about the amount of time that I've put into this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The surprising new steps the Patriots are taking now.

Could this super sized scandal overshadow the Super Bowl?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From ABC News, THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS begins now.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: Good morning.

You can see, we have a lot of news to analyze on several different fronts this morning. and we begin with that latest atrocity from ISIS. One Japanese hostage dead, ISIS now demanding a prisoner swap to save the second. And at least one American hostage still being held.

ABC's Brian Ross is here with all the latest -- good morning, Brian.

BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, George.

While the hostage being threatened is Japan, the U.S. is very much involved in efforts to locate or free him, in part because of the close relationship with Japan, but, also because at least one of the other hostages is a 26-year-old American woman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROSS (voice-over): For now, all efforts are focused on the Japanese television journalist, Kenji Goto. In the latest ISIS video, he was forced to hold a photo of what appears to be his beheaded cellmate, and then read a plea for his own life, asking for a prisoner swap instead of the original $200 million ransom demand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are being fair. They no longer want money. So you don't need to worry about funding terrorists.

ROSS: In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the video "an outrageous and unforgivable act" and Goto's mother said her son sounded extremely nervous and she added, "This is not the time to be optimistic."

The Japanese hostage video was substantially different than previous such videos, without the usual high production techniques and ISIS insignias and no appearance of the masked executioner known as Jihadi John.

But today, U.S. officials are using the video to look for clues that might help locate the hostages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any information that they can glean about where the perpetrators are, the terrorists are, they're working to find that information now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The prisoner ISIS is demanding be freed, Sajida Rishawi, is a failed suicide bomber on death row in Jordan, who Islamist groups have tried and failed several times before to free. She was part of an attack on a Jordan hotel 10 years ago that killed at least 60 people attending a wedding.

Jordan King Abdullah has repeatedly refused to exchange her for other prisoners, although he has spent her execution on hold.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ROSS: Counterterror experts say it's highly unlikely that Jordan would make a deal with ISIS to free the al Qaeda suicide bomber for either the Japanese journalist or the Jordan pilot that ISIS has also captured -- George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Brian.

Thanks very much.

President Obama called the Japanese prime minister on his way to India, where he will be honored with a spot in the country's biggest parade, an event demanding unprecedented security.

ABC's Jim Avila is traveling with the president -- good morning, Jim.

JIM AVILA, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, George, from fortress New Delhi.

The White House says this is unprecedented. President Barack Obama in the open, surrounded by millions for nearly three hours. It's driving the Secret Service crazy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AVILA (voice-over): As the honored chief guest at India's Republic Day Parade, President Obama will be sitting in a reviewing stand, behind bullet-proof glass. But exposed in a setting that leaves him unusually vulnerable.

To counter any danger, India and the United States have created perhaps the largest security operation in presidential history, more than 50,000 police and soldiers, 1,000 snipers, a no-fly zone, 15,000 surveillance cameras, dozens of bomb sniffing dogs.

India has been the target of terrorist attacks from Pakistan, Kashmir, and even Maoists along its Chinese border, and is determined to prevent any embarrassing incidents during the Obama visit.

In a joint news conference this morning, President Obama was asked about Yemen, the latest turmoil there and the coup. He responded that it's a dangerous place and a dangerous time and that he will not be sending U.S. troops there to either help settle things down or hunt down terrorists. He said that would be an unsustainable program -- George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Jim, thanks.

Let's get more on this now from the White House chief of staff, Dennis McDonough.

Dennis, thank you for joining us this morning.

DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Thanks for having me, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And let's begin where Jim left off right there, Yemen.

The president also said that those operations against Al Qaeda in Yemen, such a dangerous group, not suspended.

But "The Washington Post" reported this week several senior administration officials saying it -- they have been suspended, we've lost intelligence and one said the chaos has aided al Qaeda, "There's no question in our mind that al Qaeda has gotten a breather."

Hasn't all this unrest helped Al Qaeda in Yemen?

MCDONOUGH: Well, you heard the president say this morning in his press conference that, in fact, al Qaeda, you know, hides in dark corners and tries to make sure that they're operating in places where they're not going to be pursued.

That means that a lot of the places that they spring up and where they try to operate are places like Yemen or Somalia or North Africa, where the security forces are underdeveloped, where the political situation is volatile.

And that's why we have put in place a strategy that is designed to make sure that we are not only strengthening our partner security forces for them to take the fight to al Qaeda, but we're...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But we don't have a partner now, do we?

MCDONOUGH: -- also on the forward lean, George. We're also on the forward lean to make sure that if we see something that is presenting a threat to us, we will not be afraid to act. In fact, you've seen this president do that time and again.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But will the country -- will the president be able to work with the Houthis, who are closely tied with Iran?

Will they have this same commitment against al Qaeda?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I think -- well, that remains to be seen. And what the president also said today is that we want to see this resolved through a political process that's transparent, that includes all the actors in the country, mindful of the fact that AQAP lives in these chaotic situations.

So I'm not going to jump to any conclusions. I am going to say to the parties on the ground that they have to resolve this transparently, peacefully, politically. And we will, while they're doing that, continue to make sure that we're focused on the threat to us and to our people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We also have that threat from ISIS.

Any hope of saving that second Japanese hostage?

And do we have any information on the American woman still being held?

MCDONOUGH: Well, the president had a good talk overnight, our time here, with Prime Minister Abe, underscoring our continued support for and partnership with the Japanese, they making this huge investment of, you know, halfway around the world, like we are, in Iraq and Syria against ISIS.

And as it relates to our hostages, we are obviously continuing to work those matters very, very aggressively. We are sparing no expense and sparing no effort, both in trying to make sure that we know where they are and make sure that we're prepared to do anything we must to try to get them home.

But Kayla's family knows how strongly the president feels about this and we will continue to work this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker Boehner sent a shot across the president's bow this week by inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to speak before the Congress. But it's not just Republicans who are questioning the president's Iran strategy. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says, "The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran."

That is some tough talk right there.

Are you confident that Congress is not going to pass the kind of sanctions bill that you say will cripple the Iran negotiations?

MCDONOUGH: We've asked Congress for forbearance, for some time to allow us to run these negotiations so that it is we who are, united with our allies, maintaining Iran isolated, rather than going with some kind of premature action up there on the Hill that would risk really splintering the international community, making it we, not the Iranians, who are isolated.

That's exactly what we're going to do and we'll obviously talk to Senator Menendez. And others along the way, as we have from day one this matter.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, I've got to ask you about the Super Bowl. We're going to show a picture of you playing strong safety at St. John's...

MCDONOUGH: Oh, good lord.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- right there, a little blast from the past.

MCDONOUGH: Is it black and white?

STEPHANOPOULOS: It is black and white. You look pretty fierce right there.

But, you know, the president, when the Ray Rice stuff came out, the president said he was shocked by what he saw.

What's his take on this whole Deflate Gate?

MCDONOUGH: You know, I haven't talked to him about this, as he's been traveling the last couple of days. And I think our view, and surely my view, is I've got a lot of, you know, balls in the air at the moment, you know, George. So I'm going to make sure that I'm focused on those.

I'll let everybody else, you know, try to figure out how much air goes into this particular scandal.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Dennis McDonough, thanks very much for your time this morning.

MCDONOUGH: Thanks, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we turn now to the race to replace President Obama. Something of a kick-off yesterday, with a day long forum for conservative activists in Iowa packed with presidential contenders.

Jonathan Karl was there for all the action.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And they're off -- in Iowa this weekend, the unofficial start of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. And it is wide open.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is the most open Republican nomination since 1940. I think it will be fun. It will be interesting to watch.

KARL: Open and crowded -- at least 12 speakers here at the Iowa Freedom Summit say they are at least thinking about running.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: You are the only person you agree with 100 percent of the time.

KARL: A trash-talking, sometimes moderate Republican from the Northeast might have a tough time out here in the conservative heartland. But when we caught up with him, exclusively, outside this secret back stage exit, he suggested Iowa could be Christie country.

(on camera): And do you think you can really compete in Iowa?

CHRISTIE: Sure.

Why not?

KARL (voice-over): Another blue state governor, Wisconsin's Scott Walker, was one of the summit's biggest stars.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: If you're not afraid to go big and go bold, you can actually get results.

KARL: We met up with him moments after he got off stage. He made it clear to us he's getting ready to run.

That sounded like a presidential campaign speech, at least the beginning of one.

WALKER: Oh, we've been testing in Wisconsin, there's no doubt about that. And we're looking for good leadership. And we'll see what the future holds.

KARL: But judging from the raucous reception here Texas Senator Ted Cruz...

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: God bless the great state of Iowa.

KARL: Iowa's social conservatives might have found their candidate.

CRUZ: If you say you'll stand up to the Washington establishment, the career politicians of both parties that have gotten us in this mess, show me where you stood up and fought.

KARL: How much of a mistake would it be to nominate another establishment Republican?

CRUZ: Over and over again, when Republicans have nominated candidates in the mold of Gerald Ford or Bob Dole or John McCain or Mitt Romney, all of whom are good, honorable decent men, but every one of them lost.

KARL: Mitt Romney was not here, and neither were some other big GOP stars like Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio. It's probably a good thing Romney and Bush missed Donald Trump's speech.

DONALD TRUMP, REAL STATE MOGUL: You can't have Bush. The last thing we need is another Bush.

KARL: Yes, Trump is thinking of running again. And some of the day's biggest applause lines came when he hit Bush and Romney.

TRUMP: And I think Romney had his chance. He should have won. He choked.

KARL: Another target, Hillary Clinton.

CARLY FIORINA, FRM. CEO HEWLETT-PACKARD: Like Hillary Clinton, I, too, have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. But unlike her, I've actually accomplished something.

KARL: One of the newcomers here, Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

FIORINA: Women are 53 percent of voters. We're have the nation. So it's important that women are in our party.

KARL: Then there's 2012 Iowa winner Rick Santorum. He doesn't need a Hawkeye state introduction, just a way to separate himself among what could be the biggest Iowa field ever.

How many Republican candidates can you fit on a debate stage?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I guess that would depend on how big the stage is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Jon Karl joins us now from Iowa.

Jon, long day yesterday. I caught a lot of it on CSPAN, a lot of interesting moments. Inside the room, what was the standout?

KARL: Well, there were a number of standout moments, but George I would say the biggest was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. This was his Iowa breakthrough.

He became a hero four years ago, of course, by launching the Occupy Movement when he took on the unions.

But he's got a reputation for being a little dull. He's still not known very well here in Iowa. He was the big breakout star of this event.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Jon Karl, thanks very much.

And now we turn to one of the top GOP contenders not in Iowa yesterday. Instead, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal headlined a massive prayer rally called the response in Baton Rouge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, (R) LOUISIANA: We can't just elect a candidate and fix what ails our country. We can't just pass a law and fix what ails our country. We need a spiritual revival to fix what ails our country.

It is like god has given us the book of life. He doesn't let us see the pages for today and tomorrow, he doesn't promise us everything will go the way you want, but he does let you see the last page in the book of life. And on the last page, our god wins.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Governor Jindal joins us now. Thank you so much for joining us this morning, Governor Jindal.

Let me begin with that rally yesterday. I know you said it was a religious event and not a political event, but is it the job of a president to lead a spiritual revival? And I was struck by that final line, "our god wins." How do you think that lands in a country of 320 million people of many different kinds of spirituality, many different kinds of faith, many who believe in no god at all?

JINDAL: George, first of all, thank you for having me.

You know, it is a time honored tradition, going back to our nation's founding, for our presidents, for our leaders to turn to god for guidance, for Wisdom. George Washington did it. Abraham Lincoln did it. Harry Truman did it. So absolutely I think this idea of praying to god for wisdom and guidance is as old as our country

Secondly, look, I think we are a diverse country. Obviously, a majority of our people are Christians, but we don't discriminate against anybody, that's one of the great things about America we believe in religious liberty.

Yesterday was an amazing, amazing event. Thousands of people came together to worship and pray across racial lines, across political lines. I thought it was a great, great event. I hope you'll see more of these across the country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm sure we will. You missed that big event, though, in Iowa yesterday. As Jon Karl said, it was a pretty packed stage.

And I want to ask you about that. You know, you have these other social conservatives like you -- Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, they were all there yesterday. Other governors like Scott Walker and Chris Christie, how can you possibly stand out in a field like that, such a packed field?

JINDAL: Well, George, if I do decide to run, and something I'm seriously looking at, I'm praying and thinking about it, but if I do decide to run I think this country, I think our nation, needs leaders who have the courage to speak the truth to us. And unfortunately we don't have that right now.

I'll give you an example, earlier this week I gave a speech in London where I talked about the threats of radical Islamic terrorism. I know it made a lot of people upset, but we need leaders to tell us the truth. For example, people coming to our country need to integrate, need to assimilate. So I think people are looking for leaders that are willing to take on the big challenges.

One of the biggest challenges facing us, I think, is the current administration's attempt to redefine the American dream. My parents came to this country over 40 years ago in search of freedom and opportunity. The American dream is not about redistribution or government spending or debt, it's about freedom and opportunity. I think the voters want us to restore the American dream for our children and grandchildren.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You made some headlines a couple of years back calling the GOP the stupid party. Is it still the stupid party?

JINDAL: Well, look, I think we've gotten better, but I think the GOP to earn the right to be a governing party, we can't just be the party of no. We have to be a party of solutions. Not only repeal, but also replace Obamacare. We need to offer detailed plans for energy independence, manufacturing renaissance, school choice -- where the dollars follow the child, a stronger foreign policy where our friends trust us, our enemies respect and fear us, where we invest in our military.

We need to be a party of solutions. We need to be a party consistent with our conservative principals. We don't need to be a second liberal party, but we need to be more than just the party of no.

I think we're making progress, we've still got some more work to do, especially in Washington, D.C.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, let me ask you a question about gay marriage. Louisiana, one of only 14 states now where gay marriages cannot take place. As everyone knows, the Supreme Court is set to decide this by June. If the Supreme Court rules that gay marriages must be legal, what's your response to that? You've had some Republicans candidates like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker suggested when the courts speak, the matter is settled.

Mike Huckabee says no, state legislatures and governors ought to resist. Where do you stand?

JINDAL: Well, look, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. My faith teaches me that, my Christian faith teaches me that. I'm not for discrimination against anybody. I know that many politicians are evolving, so-called evolving on this issue based on the polls. I don't change my views based on the polls.

I am proud that in Louisiana, we define marriage as between a man and a woman. If the Supreme Court were to throw out our law, our constitutional amendment -- I hope they wouldn't do that -- if they were to do that, I certainly will support Ted Cruz and others that are talking about making an amendment in the congress and D.C., a constitutional amendment to allow states to continue to define marriage.

I think it should be between a man and a woman.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Jindal, thanks very much for your time this morning.

JINDAL: Thank you, George.

And coming up, the roundtable analyzes a big week in the race for the White House.

Plus, the latest on Deflategate. Bill Belichick speaks out again late yesterday, doubling down on doing nothing wrong. So will the NFL slow walk the investigation or take action before the Superbowl. We're back in just two minutes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That Tom Brady press conference seemed to get even more attention than the State of the Union this week. And as we count down to the Super Bowl next Sunday, Deflategate still grabbing headlines, especially after Patriots coach Bill Belichick's surprise press conference yesterday that quickly became a seminar on science.

ABC's Ryan Smith has the latest in our closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN SMITH, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It might be Deflategate's most bizarre moment yet.

BILL BELICHICK, PATRIOTS COACH: I'm embarrassed to talk about the amount of time that I've put into this.

SMITH (voice-over): On Saturday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick speaking out again, defiantly insisting the team did nothing wrong.

BELICHICK: We feel like we followed the rules of the game to the letter in our preparations.

SMITH (voice-over): But then revealing the team even did its own testing on footballs. He said they show whether in the way their footballs are broken in were likely the reasons why they lost pressure in New England's win last Sunday.

BELICHICK: We found that once the balls, the footballs were on the field over an extended period of time -- in other words, they were adjusted to the climatic conditions -- that they were down approximately 1.5 pounds per square inch.

SMITH (voice-over): But still no explanation why it was only footballs for the Patriots, not the Colts, that officials determined were underinflated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Tom Brady a cheater?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe so. I mean, I feel like I've always played within the rules.

SMITH (voice-over): Thursday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said he had no idea why the footballs were deflated. But some former NFL quarterbacks weren't buying it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the balls to have been deflated, that doesn't happen unless the quarterback wants that to happen, I can assure you of that.

SMITH (voice-over): Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman suggesting the Patriots, who were disciplined in 2007 for spying on opposing teams, should be treated as repeat offenders.

This weekend, the NFL's still investigating after gathering video and other electronic information and physical evidence. But for now, the Patriots just trying to move past this Super Bowl-sized scandal to focus on the Super Bowl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had a huge game, a huge challenge for our football team. And that's where that focus is going to go.

SMITH (voice-over): For THIS WEEK, Ryan Smith, ABC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks, Ryan, for that.

And we're joined now by ESPN's Jesse Palmer and Bob Ryan.

Thank you both for joining us.

Jesse, let me begin with you. What a difference a couple days makes.

Thursday, Bill Belichick doesn't know anything but the footballs yesterday, as an expert on the science.

So was this science or pseudoscience?

JESSE PALMER, ESPN: Well, it's a combination of both maybe. I don't know if he really helped his case. Certainly his 19-minute press conference was very educational. He talked about the chemistry between a football and its relationship to atmospheric pressure.

To me there's still a giant hole in his story, though, and that's 2 hours and 15 minutes before the football game; the referees set both teams' football what we assume was the same PSI level, all of a sudden come kickoff, 11 of their 12 footballs are much more deflated. It's something Bill Belichick still can't answer. And that's the big question everybody wants.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I wonder if there was a method there to it, if he throws out all this -- all these possibilities, it slows down the investigation.

PALMER: Yes, maybe it does. The timing's been very, very interesting on this. And I understand fans want swift justice. They want a course of action to be taking place.

To me, this is something that's just so difficult to prove. If you don't have video evidence or a picture of someone with a needle in a football, if an equipment manager doesn't come forward and say "I did it," I don't know how you come to a conclusive resolution.

The NFL may be looking back, because the Patriots have been accused in the past of using deflated footballs.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- take it to Bob Ryan, because you wrote in "The Boston Globe" this morning that this wouldn't even be an issue if it weren't the Patriots.

BOB RYAN, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": There's no doubt in my mind that were this involving any other team in the league, it would have been settled by last Monday afternoon at lunchtime.

It's not a consequential issue. The fact is that the football had nothing to do with the conduct of the game; we know that Tom Brady threw the real football, inflated one, better in the second half than he threw the other one.

It's wrong. That's the issue, is integrity and honesty and all that, and that is why the issue here is one thing and one thing only: the Patriots, Bill Belichick, multiple recidivist, transgressors, they're under a scrutiny that no other team would be. That's the story here.

I don't know what happened. We don't know any more about what happened than we did 48 hours ago or at the beginning of the week. And that --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if they cheated it is a big deal, even if it didn't make a difference, right?

RYAN: It is and it's because it's them and only them -- him, excuse me -- one man is the face of the franchise, Bill Belichick. They've been caught with his hand -- not his hand, but his elbow up in the cookie jar before. There are other things that have happened throughout the course of the last seven years that have aroused suspicion among people around the league. The Patriots are regarded as a pariah, an outlier. That's what the story is here. It's only about catching them and punishing them. And, by the way, they are with -- they should be warranted under this scrutiny.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So bottom line, Jesse, does the NFL reach a decision before Sunday?

PALMER: I don't think they will. I think it's very hard to do. I will say this: the more people, I believe, are going to watch this Super Bowl. Fans that don't necessarily have a rooting interest that are casual fans now want to see the Patriots lose, like we just heard. They've become the villain. They've got a Hall of Fame coach and a quarterback playing in their 6th Super Bowl together. They've had success. People want to see them lose in this game. And because of that, even amongst all this and this scandal, I think more people are going to watch this game.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think you're -- no question about that. It's got to affect the preparations as well.

Jesse Palmer, Bob Ryan, thank you both very much.

ESPN's going to have 30 hours of "SportsCenter" live from Arizona this week.

And up next here, the roundtable takes on (INAUDIBLE) politics. President Obama's State of the Union: too cocky or just about time?

Plus all the new jockeying in the race for the White House.

And "American Sniper" breaking records at the box office, drawing fire from critics. All those debates in just two minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

OBAMA (voice-over): I have no more campaigns to run. My only agenda --

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: -- I know, because I won both of them.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) the State of the Union on Tuesday, let's talk about it all now in the roundtable, joined by Cokie Roberts; also the editor of "The Weekly Standard," Bill Kristol; Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist Sara Fagen.

Welcome to all of you.

And, Cokie, that was clearly the president at his most real and most visceral on Tuesday. And he did seem liberated through the entire --

COKIE ROBERTS, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It was a different Barack Obama that we saw coming to that Congress and he essentially gave a Democratic campaign speech. It could have been at a party convention. But he seemed to be on his game and ready to go with his message of what he wants to do and Congress just, you know, there you are; deal with it.

SARA FAGEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: But what really shocked me about the speech was, George, that he -- it was a huge bait-and-switch. He spent all this time talking about individual tax reform only to 24 hours later send out his Treasury Secretary to talk about corporate tax reform. And he should have carried the mantle on corporate tax reform in a more aggressive way in that speech.

It may have helped propel to actually happen.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A bait-and-switch in a couple of different ways, Donna Brazile. It was also two different speeches. You had that -- a lot of red meat for a lot of progressives and Democrats in the first half of the speech.

And then he went back, went back to 2004 to talk about bringing red and blue America together in the second half.

DONNA BRAZILE, VICE CHAIRWOMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, look, I thought it was a very decisive speech. He was not defiant. What he was trying to do was say, look, we've weathered the worst of the financial storm and now we're at a point when we can invest in the middle class.

His speech was aimed toward the country, not the Congress. Remember, he released all of the details of the speech prior to the State of the Union Address, so that the Republicans could salivate and try to figure out if they had any different ideas.

He gave an address to the nation because he -- he understands he has two years left and he refuses to be a lame duck.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, but nothing the president called for...

ROBERTS: Well, he...

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- in that -- in that part, is going to get done in the next two years, Bill Kristol.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This is really the campaign document for the next president, who he needs the Democrats to win to secure...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- his legacy.

What kind of a challenge is that to the Republicans, this focus on middle class economics?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, Republicans have to focus on middle class economics. I think Republicans should welcome that debate, because I think Republican policies would be, on the whole, a lot better for the middle class.

But I sort of admired the president. You know, a lot of conservatives have complained about how partisan and liberal the speech is. He's a partisan liberal. That's really what he believes. And he laid it out. In domestic policy, he wants to expand government. In foreign policy, he does not want to get involved anywhere. He distrusts American strength, American power.

I think we saw -- that was -- I think that were problems with Hillary Clinton, though. Because Hillary Clinton really -- I mean think of -- you know, contrast that with Bill Clinton's State of the Union speeches, the '96 speech, the year of big government is over.

Is Hillary Clinton a Bill Clinton Democrat or a Barack Obama Democrat?

ROBERTS: Well, but except...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: -- you know, a lot of this is also putting coalitions together. And -- and what Obama was doing there was -- was saying, here's what we've got for you, young people. Here's what we've got for you, women. Here's what we've got for you, middle class people. And here's what we've got for you, Hispanics.

FAGEN: It's a -- it was a classic smorgasbord of -- of political giveaways with no plan for how to pay for it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No.

FAGEN: And that...

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's not true.

FAGEN: That is true. I mean you look at the...

ROBERTS: But it doesn't matter politically. Politically...

FAGEN: Well, sure it doesn't matter...

ROBERTS: -- it doesn't matter.

FAGEN: -- but leadership is about...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: But the Republicans are...

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: And he's going to pay for it by taxes...

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: -- 529...

FAGEN: Yes.

KRISTOL: -- 529 college education.

BRAZILE: But Bill -- Bill...

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: -- promised it...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: -- mention cyber security.

(CROSSTALK)

FAGEN: Right.

BRAZILE: You failed -- you failed to mention cyber security. There were a lot of things in that speech that are problems...

KRISTOL: I did fail to mention that.

BRAZILE: -- that -- that the Republicans (INAUDIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Of course, on taxes, there will be some areas of agreements between Democrats and Republicans.

Look, the president laid out his vision. And what he understands is that the Republicans have a, you know, Joni Ernst, who gave, I thought, a very biographical speech, kept talking about the new Congress, new Congress, as if it was a brand new detergent that they had to wash through Obama's legacy.

The truth is, is that the president laid out his vision. Now, it's time for the Republicans who control Congress...

(CROSSTALK)

FAGEN: But his Treasury secretary...

(CROSSTALK)

FAGEN: -- said we can't get individual tax reform, so what -- why -- why then, spend a half of his speech talking about it if you're going to send your Treasury secretary out...

BRAZILE: Because...

FAGEN: -- 12 hours later to say well, it's not possible.

ROBERTS: Because it's something for people to run on.

FAGEN: I know, but it's...

(CROSSTALK)

FAGEN: -- election.

ROBERTS: He's lost almost 70...

FAGEN: He...

ROBERTS: -- Democrats since he's been president.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: And -- and more than 900 state legislatures.

FAGEN: Because of his policies.

ROBERTS: So he needs to give Democrats something to run on.

STEPHANOPOULOS: (INAUDIBLE) quickly.

KRISTOL: You know, I mean is -- few Democrats want to run on taxing middle class Americans with these 529 accounts...

FAGEN: Right.

KRISTOL: -- to pay for their kids' college education.

BRAZILE: Ronald Reagan taxed -- Ronald Reagan raised taxes to pay for his middle class tax cuts. So let's -- when we talk about taxes, we can talk about Republicans and what they've also (INAUDIBLE).

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we're going to hear from the Republicans coming up. We want to hear what everybody thinks about what happened in Iowa yesterday.

Also, I want you to all answer this Powerhouse Puzzler.

Here's the question, how many sitting vice presidents -- and the key word there is sitting -- have been elected president?

Back in two minutes with the answer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, how many sitting vice presidents have been elected president?

Let's see what everybody came up with.

KRISTOL: A wild guess.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that a two or a one?

KRISTOL: That's a two now.

(CROSSTALK)

FAGEN: That's a four.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sara, you got it. You nailed it.

FAGEN: I -- I'm missing one, though. I can't...

STEPHANOPOULOS: No, it's...

FAGEN: -- I may have been saved by my bad ink pen here, but...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, George H.W. Bush...

FAGEN: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Martin Van Buren, Jefferson and Adams.

FAGEN: Adams. I...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, well I don't...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: You had to go all the way back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to be right back.

And last week full of action in the race for the White House and the newest front in the culture wars -- the movie, "American Sniper."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Back now with our Politics Buzz Board.

We saw all those Republicans out in Iowa yesterday.

But is the race on the Democratic side really wide open?

That's what Vice President Biden told me on "GMA."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there any chance you're going to challenge her?

BIDEN: Yes. There's a chance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: It may be a small chance, but our Facebook Sentimeter shows Biden outscoring Clinton this month.

As for Hillary, this week, she played another president, Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: One day he says, Vladimir, do you think you'd like to be president again?

I think I would, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And our latest ABC News/"Washington Post" poll had some good news for Clinton -- double digit leads over the top GOP prospects.

And we are back now with the roundtable.

And Sara Fagen, let me begin with you. You've worked in a lot of Iowa caucuses, most recently for George W. Bush.

What did you make of the big cattle call yesterday?

A lot showed up.

FAGEN: There are a lot of candidates and I think that speaks to the diversity of the Republican field. And I think ultimately it will prove to be a strength as we nominate somebody.

But the interesting thing about the caucuses this time and the early states is momentum always matters in politics, but it's going to really matter this time. And as you think about Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, Super Tuesday, March 1, over 600 delegates are going to be decided. So it's about expectations, not about who has the best speech or who ultimately even wins the caucuses.

ROBERTS: You know, I think Republicans should stay out of Iowa altogether. I mean, what happens to them is that they get pushed so far to the right in those venues that it gives them a terrible time...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did Mitt Romney last time.

ROBERTS: ...in the general election. It hurts them all.

And by the way, Steve King who hosted this is absolutely toxic in the Hispanic community. And if the Republicans want to get that vote, they shouldn't be showing up at a Steve King event.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You saw Jeb Bush not only stay away from this event, but also the night before the event, Bill Kristol, making a comment about immigration, Steve King's big issue, saying no there has to be a path to get these people out of the shadows.

KRISTOL: That's why it'll be contested in the Republican primaries. I'd say looking at the event as a Republican and a conservative, looking at the Iowa event, it cheered me up. If you look at the Republicans in congress, you get a little depressed honestly sometimes. But there are a lot of good, young candidates there. And you know there are governors like Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal and...

STEPHANOPOULOS: You agree with Jon Karl that Scott Walker helped himself the most yesterday?

KRISTOL: Yes. Yes. I think he's less well known. He's thought to be sort of dull and -- but in fact he's an impressive -- look, the guy has been a good governor. Mike Lee, the senator from Utah was very thoughtful, who is not running, gave a speech actually in Iowa yesterday. So I'm the only guy up here not running.

And he said I want a conservative who is positive, principled and proven. And then he kind of went through that. And it was intelligent.

But what was striking about Lee who is close to Rubio and Cruz is that he said I want somebody whose shown you can win elections and then govern after winning elections.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: I think Scott -- I think Walker -- the only final point I'll make is I think people are underestimating in D.C. and in New York and among the donor class the resistance to Bush and Romney. People want a fresh -- people want a fresh face.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I wanted to bring that to you, Donna Brazile, because I was watching, as I said, on CSPAN yesterday. And I was struck, there was a -- I guess, former speaker of the house in New Hampshire got up there. Now, no one in Washington would know him. But he got up and he started taking on Romney and Bush and got huge cheers from that crowd.

BRAZILE: I call them the legacy candidates. They seem to be an aversion this year to people who have run before. I mean, I'm a Democrat. I watched yesterday. And I didn't even have that much to drink watching it. And I have to tell, it was like a sequel to the 2012 cycle when the Republicans got up there and just basically gave the same talking points about this is America and we have to reclaim America.

But Scott Walker did his bio. He said I've won three times in the last four years. He was -- he didn't have the charisma of Ted Cruz, but I thought the audience just seemed to be more interested into a new voice.

FAGEN: Here's the difference between Governor Bush and Governor Romney, Governor Romney has run twice, eight years, raises over a billion dollars. You see these polls with him? And they're essentially a ceiling.

Governor Bush really other than his last name, voters outside of Florida they don't know anything about him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But does his last name become an anchor?

FAGEN: I don't think the last name has become an anchor. You know, his brother used to joke always about, I inherited all of my father's enemies and only half of his friends. And there's some truth to that. But...

BRAZILE: But Sarah, people in my generation have voted six times for a Bush.

FAGEN: But they are -- Jeb Bush is different than George Bush. They have different styles, different agendas.

ROBERTS: Florida makes a big difference.

I mean, part of Mitt Romneys -- governors are better nominees. And part of Mitt Romney's problem was that he was the governor of Massachusetts and that didn't work for Republicans. Florida is a very, very different story.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But even speaking of Florida, Bill Kristol, it has not scared Marco Rubio out. He's going to travel all across the country this week. He gave word to Jon Karl on Friday that basically his people are saying the rally is in.

KRISTOL: Yeah. And I think he senses that he respects Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush was really a mentor and a patron of his. But I think he wants to go to the voters and say, look, Jeb Bush was a great governor. It was 10 years ago. I think I have more of a vision for the country going forward.

I do think -- I think Sara is right in this, I think Jeb has a real chance. There's upside to Jeb in the sense that -- but he hasn't been in office since 2006. He needs to make a forward looking case for...

ROBERTS: I do think there's a lot people looking ahead and these candidates do not...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But there's no reason for any of these candidates to get out right now.

ROBERTS: No. No.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It looks like the field is going to expand.

BRAZILE: It's wide open.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What I'm wondering about, and let me begin with you on this one, Sara, how is it going to winnow down? Will we see a major winnowing from 15 or 16 candidates down to five or six before the votes, or is it going to take Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina to do it?

FAGEN: I think historically we have seen that winnowing. A lot of it happens after the Iowa straw poll, which is going to in fact, is going to occur in August. We'll see who plays in that and who doesn't.

But I think some will not be able to raise the resources to compete and some will go through some of these early straw votes that are really fundraisers, but nonetheless are tests of organizational strength.

I will say this about Scott Walker, and props to his team having done a number of those types of early events. That was well orchestrated inside that hall. You know, Scott Walker gave a fine speech, but the cheers and the hoopla around the speech didn't really match the speech.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Organization matters.

ROBERTS: You know, I would also say that when he was governor he got death threats and then somebody said that they were going to kill his wife and gut her and string her up like a deer. I don't think I would said that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to move on before we go to this controversy over American Sniper. Breaking all kinds of records at the box office for January. Clint Eastwood directed. Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle, the most decorated American sniper in Iraq. And here's a bit of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you ever think that you might have seen things or done some things over there that you wish you hadn't?

BRADLEY COOPER, ACTOR: Oh, that's not me, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's not you?

COOPER: I was just protecting my guys. They were trying to kill our soldiers and I'm willing to meet my creator and answer for every shot that I took.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Look at the headlines it's generating right now. Washington Post, "Enemy fire blindsides American Sniper." Bloomberg, "American Sniper, the official Oscar nominee of the culture wars." Wall Street Journal, "Hero or killer?" Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol, "The American Sniper freakout."

KRISTOL: Yeah, the left hates the fact that a movie was made that is pro-American, pro-military, and not I wouldn't say pro-war, but not hostile to the war in Iraq. And the left has totally freaked out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And this what surprised me the most about the reaction. Yeah, Michael Moore said, you know, snipers aren't honorable. You had Seth Rogen for a minute complaining about it. And so I sat through the movie, I watched the movie, I thought Cooper's performance is amazing.

But Donna, I can't see how you could walk away from that movie and see it's a pro-war movie? I does involve misery.

BRAZILE: It's not -- George, I haven't seen the movie. I've seen he trailers. I'm a SAG member, so I've been focusing on my little stuff.

But it's humanizing. It humanizes an individual who is a war hero. It's not anti-war or pro-war, it's about a man, his life, his legacy. I don't know why all of the...

FAGEN: Well, I was -- I saw it last night in Times Square with 300 people from all walks of life. And what really struck me is at the end of the movie how 300 people sat there in stunned silence...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Because Kyle gets killed.

FAGEN: Right, but the reality is I do agree with you it was about a character. And Bradley Cooper has said that.

But I hope every American sees this, because it will give you a greater appreciation for what these individuals sacrifice and also what their families sacrifice.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's such an important point, Sara. And Cokie, I want to close with this, because there has been such a disconnect between those who are fighting our wars and the rest of us.

ROBERTS: Well, it's a terrible disconnect, because we've been fighting for 10 years and several of our soldiers have had to go back for three and four deployments and what is happening is very, very difficult for military families. And our country really needs to pay attention to that and be grateful not just say thank you for your service, provide for these families. And some of them are really...

STEPHANOPOULOS: ...percentage of the Americans bearing all of the burden.

ROBERTS: But that's the volunteer army.

BRAZILE: Gives you a great appreciation for those who serve.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you all very much.

Up next, remarkable new development, remarkable new document in the debate over Guantanamo detainees.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Obama insists Guantanamo will be closed before he leaves office, but 122 detainees are still there. And this week, the controversy over what to do with him and how they've been treated intensified with the publication of Guantanamo diary. The first time we're hearing from our prisoners still at GITMO. Here's Nightline anchor Byron Pitts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BYRON PITTS, ANCHOR, NIGHTLINE: Over the years, we have seen the images, had access to declassified reports, details of the dark deeds at Guantanamo all done in America's name.

Now, Guantanamo diary gives a deeper glimpse beyond those ghosts in orange jumpsuits, we see for the first time the soul of one man trapped inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was tortured.

PITTS: Sleep deprivation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Extreme isolations, shackled in stress positions, sometimes naked.

PITTS: It's the story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a college educated electrical engineer from North Africa detained there in the months after 9/11 and questioned about the Millennium plot, a plan to attack various sites including LAX.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a voice from the void, from kind of the deepest void.

PITTS (voice-over): Transferred to Guantanamo in 2002, Mohamedou describes alleged episodes of torture and sexual abuse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two female interrogators take off their uniform tops and spend 10 or 12 hours sexually molesting him and taunting him.

PITTS (voice-over): Mohamedou admits he pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, fought with them in Afghanistan in the early 1990s but insists he left the battlefield and the movement long before 9/11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He happened to be in certain countries at times when acts of terrorism were in planning. So either he has the worst luck or perhaps he might have been involved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was in some places where there was Al Qaeda activity but there is absolutely nothing that connects him to any terrorist plots.

PITTS (voice-over): Mohemadou's book is published at a time when recent attacks from Paris to Canada to Australia have been stark reminders that terrorism still continues to cause death and chaos more than 13 years after 9/11. And while the president had called for Guantanamo to be closed, just this month five detainees were released to other countries, 122 men still remain there.

Today, Gitmo is as much a political albatross as it is a prison.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now is not the time to be emptying Guantanamo with no plan for how and where these individuals are going to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is from (INAUDIBLE) Senator Lindsey Graham, the cold, hard reality is that --

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), S.C.: There are people at Guantanamo Bay that are going to die in jail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will he be one of those people, you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's kind of an astonishing statement. And I think it inverts our basic and fundamental understanding of due process.

PITTS (voice-over): According to the Department of Defense, Mohamedou's allegations of abuse, as well as other detainees' allegations, have already been subject to several comprehensive investigations.

He has full access to federal court for review of his detention and is eligible to appear before a review board to assess whether his continued detention at Guantanamo remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.

Whether he is a security threat or not, Mohamedou Ould Slahi is an authentic and unfamiliar voice from the shadows of America's war on terror, kept silent no longer. For THIS WEEK, Byron Pitts, ABC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks to Byron for that.

We're joined now by the lawyer for Mr. Slahi, Nancy Hollander.

And Cliff Sloan, who went to last month's (ph) State Department special envoy in charge of closing Guantanamo.

Welcome to you both.

And, Cliff, let me begin, whether you saw the numbers, there are 122 remaining detainees at Guantanamo; 55, I believe, have been approved for transfer.

What does it mean, to have been approved for transfer, and I know you can't go into great detail on individual cases, but what does it mean that Slahi is not one of those approved for transfer?

CLIFFORD SLOAN, THE FORMER U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE'S SPECIAL ENVOY: It's a very important distinction in understanding Guantanamo. It's actually 54 who are currently approved for transfer.

And that means that with a very intensive process that President Obama ordered on his second day in office and to be approved for transfer, it means that six departments and agencies, DOD, the Joint Chiefs, Homeland Security, the director of National Intelligence, the State Department, the Justice Department, all had to unanimously agree after reviewing everything about the individual, that the person can and should be transferred. And that process has stood the test of time. It's been a very accurate process.

So a very high priority is moving those 54 who are now approved for transfer.

Now Mr. Slahi was not approved for transfer at that time. But what's very important is there's also a new process for those who were not approved for transfer, where he'll get a full hearing, so where he can fully participate and show that incarceration is not warranted because he doesn't present a significant security threat.

And one thing that's very important in this context, any information from torture or what's called cruel, degrading --

(CROSSTALK)

SLOAN: -- cannot be --

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Ms. Hollander, under questioning, Mr. Slahi said in the past that he was a member of Al Qaeda.

What kind of evidence can you present in this new hearing that might get him freed?

And are you convinced personally that he's no longer a threat?

NANCY HOLLANDER, LAWYER FOR MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: I'm convinced that he was never a threat. He's innocent; he was never charged with a crime all the time he's been there. And at the time that he joined Al Qaeda, that's not the same Al Qaeda that came to the United States.

This was in '90, 1990, when the Afghanis were fighting against the Soviets with full support from the United States. So that's what -- that's where we are and that's all they have against him. There is no reason to think he was ever a threat and should absolutely --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Even though he was in many of the same places as those who were tied to the bombings?

HOLLANDER: Well, he's basically being accused of some long-ago associations and that's really all there is.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what happens next?

You talked to Cliff about the other hearings.

What's it going to take to get, first of all, these several dozen who have been approved for transfer out of Guantanamo?

And then what do you so with those who remain, who can't be cleared or who are not cleared?

SLOAN: So first of all, move everybody who can be moved, those who are approved for transfer. We have gotten a very welcome support from friends and allies around the world for people who can't go back to their home country because of security concerns or humane treatment concerns.

Of the 54 who are approved for transfer, 47 of them are from Yemen. They need to be resettled to other countries; we've been doing that; recently resettled 12 Yemenis in other countries. So move forward with that. And there's been broad --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- back to Yemen now.

SLOAN: No, they're not going back to Yemen. They're going to go to other countries. And there's been very strong support from a wide range of groups and individuals, including the pope in the last week came out with a very strong statement, calling on countries to accept these individuals for resettlement as a humanitarian gesture.

Get it down to a very small core. For example, there are 10 who are facing criminal charges in the military commissions and when there's that very small core, work with Congress to remove this irrational bent on moving people to super secure facilities in the United States.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Ms. Hollander, you encourages Slahi to write this book I know. What's been his reaction to the publication?

And what do you hope the public will take away from "Guantanamo Diary"?

HOLLANDER: What I hope the public will take away is seeing what this is like, to be a prisoner in Guantanamo for 13 years, never charged with any crime, an innocent person who the United States government tortured. To hear it from his eyes, to see it in his heart, and to see that this is a person who maintains his humanity and his humility. He holds no grudge. He says he would like to sit down and have a cup of tea with these people.

It's a very important book for Americans. And we want to see him released and we want to see him home in Mauritania.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And as far as you know, has anything come of these investigations into the abuse?

HOLLANDER: Well, the government has admitted most of the things that Mr. Slahi says in reports in 2008 and the former chief prosecutor in Guantanamo, Col. Davis, said there was nothing that they found against him in 2007.

So he needs to go home.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And another hearing is coming.

Nancy Hollander, Cliff Sloan, thank you both very much for your time this morning.

HOLLANDER: Thank you so much.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we'll be back after this from our ABC stations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we end this week with some good news. There was no word of service members killed this week in Iraq or Afghanistan. That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World News Tonight" and I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."

Below is the full transcript of the "This Week" interview with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: Let's get more on this now from the White House chief of staff, Dennis McDonough.

Dennis, thank you for joining us this morning.

DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Thanks for having me, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And let's begin where Jim left off right there, Yemen.

The president also said that those operations against Al Qaeda in Yemen, such a dangerous group, not suspended.

But "The Washington Post" reported this week several senior administration officials saying it -- they have been suspended, we've lost intelligence and one said the chaos has aided al Qaeda, "There's no question in our mind that al Qaeda has gotten a breather."

Hasn't all this unrest helped Al Qaeda in Yemen?

MCDONOUGH: Well, you heard the president say this morning in his press conference that, in fact, al Qaeda, you know, hides in dark corners and tries to make sure that they're operating in places where they're not going to be pursued.

That means that that, in fact, al Qaeda, you know, hides in dark corners and tries to make sure that they're operating in places where they're not going to be pursued.

That means that a lot of the places that they spring up and where they try to operate are places like Yemen or Somalia or North Africa, where the security forces are underdeveloped, where the political situation is volatile.

And that's why we have put in place a strategy that is designed to make sure that we are not only strengthening our partner security forces for them to take the fight to al Qaeda, but we're...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But we don't have a partner now, do we?

MCDONOUGH: -- also on the forward lean, George. We're also on the forward mean to make sure that if we see something that is presenting a threat to us, we will not be afraid to act. In fact, you've seen this president do that time and again.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But will the country -- will the president be able to work with the Houthis, who are closely tied with Iran?

Will they have this same commitment against al Qaeda?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I think -- well, that remains to be seen. And what the president also said today is that we want to see this resolved through a political process that's transparent, that includes all the actors in the country, mindful of the fact that AQAP lives in these chaotic situations.

So I'm not going to jump to any conclusions. I am going to say to the parties on the ground that they have to resolve this transparently, peacefully, politically and we will, while they're doing that, continue to make sure that we're focused on the threat to us and to our people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We also have that threat from ISIS.

Any hope of saving that second Japanese hostage?

And do we have any information on the American woman still being held?

MCDONOUGH: Well, the president had a good talk overnight, our time here, with Prime Minister Abe, underscoring our continued support for and partnership with the Japanese, they making this huge investment of, you know, halfway around the world, like we are, in Iraq and Syria against ISIS.

And as it relates to our hostages, we are obviously continuing to work those matters very, very aggressively. We are sparing no expense and sparing no effort, both in trying to make sure that we know where they are and make sure that we're prepared to do anything we must to try to get them home.

But Kala's (ph) family knows how strongly the president feels about this and we will continue to work this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker Boehner sent a shot across the president's bow this week by inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to speak before the Congress. But it's not just Republicans who are questioning the president's Iran strategy. Bob Menendez, the -- the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says the more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.

That is some tough talk right there.

Are you confident that Congress is not going to pass the kind of sanctions bill that you say will cripple the Iran negotiations?

MCDONOUGH: I'll talk about Congress in a second.

Let me tell you what we've done, George, over the course of the last year.

Frankly, over the course of the last six years, we've united the international community, isolated Iran, dramatically reduced their oil production and their revenue generated from oil while, over the course of this last year, with the temporary deal that we have in place, we've capped their illicit nuclear program, frozen it and pulled it back -- pushed it back in very important ways.

That's a virtually important development on the ground. We want to maintain that unity with our partners, the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese, importantly. They, too, continuing to press the Iranians because of the nature of the threat of this illicit nuclear program.

We've asked Congress for -- for forbearance, for some time to allow us to run these negotiations so that it is we who are, united with our allies, maintaining Iran isolated, rather than going with some kind of premature action up there on the Hill that would risk really splintering the international community, making it we, not the Iranians, who are isolated.

That's exactly what we're going to do and we'll obviously talk to Senator Menendez and others along the way, as we have from day one this matter.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, I've got to ask you about the Super Bowl. We're going to show a picture of you playing strong safety at St. John's...

MCDONOUGH: Oh, good lord.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- right there.

MCDONOUGH: (INAUDIBLE).

STEPHANOPOULOS: A little blast from the past.

MCDONOUGH: Is it black and white?

STEPHANOPOULOS: It is black and white. You look pretty fierce right there.

But, you know, the president, when the Ray Rice stuff came out, the president said he was shocked by what he saw.

What's his take on this whole Deflate Gate?

MCDONOUGH: You know, I haven't talked to him about this, as he's been traveling the last couple of days. And I think our view, and surely my view, is I've got a lot of, you know, balls in the air at the moment, you know, George. So I'm going to make sure that I'm focused on those.

I'll let everybody else, you know, try to figure out how much air goes into this particular scandal.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Dennis McDonough, thanks very much for your time this morning.

MCDONOUGH: Thanks, George.