Transcript: Sen. Lindsey Graham on "Face the Nation," Dec. 3, 2017

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, joined "Face the Nation" Sunday and weighed in on topics ranging from the Alabama Senate race to President Trump's latest tweets on the FBI. He also discussed North Korea's recent provocative behavior.

What follows is a transcript of the interview, which aired, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, on "Face the Nation."


JOHN DICKERSON: Joining us now, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Congratulations, Senator, on Clemson's big win the other night--

(CROSSTALK)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Go tigers! Number one--

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me pick up on something we were just talking about with the majority leader, which is on Roy Moore. The majority leader said voters of Alabama are going to decide. That seems like there's a new standard. Basically, if it happened before he got into the Senate, the voters will decide. Sounds like he's going to be a senator.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think the body can regulate itself. You know, at the end of the day, when he comes to the Senate (if he does), I think an ethics investigation would be a smart thing to do. And we'll see what the ethics committee decides as to whether they look at behavior before he came into the Senate. Does that matter? If they do, what do they find? We'll see.

JOHN DICKERSON: Could you have him be a senator, by your lights? I mean, would you be able to be, based on what you've heard, would you be okay with him being a senator?

LINDSEY GRAHAM: We can't stop him from being seated. If there was an investigation and all six members of the committee said they believe he was a child molester, that'd be a problem.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me move on to the president's tweet this morning about the F.B.I. You're on the judiciary committee--

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Right.

JOHN DICKERSON: You oversee the F.B.I. The president says, in the tweet, that "after years of Comey with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigations and more, running the F.B.I.," he's talking about Comey there, "its reputation is in tatters. Worst in history. But fear not," he says. "We'll bring it back to greatness." F.B.I., worst in history? In tatters? Do you agree?

LINDSEY GRAHAM: No. I think Comey needs to answer questions as his time as director. I think he made some decisions that they were really very, very wrong. I would just say this with the president. There's an ongoing criminal investigation; Comey may be part of it. You tweet and comment regarding ongoing criminal investigations at your own peril. I'd be careful if I were you, Mr. President. I'd watch this.

JOHN DICKERSON: You were a former prosecutor. Along those lines, the president has said he knew that Flynn lied to the F.B.I. And yet, he has called the investigation into whether Flynn lied to the F.B.I. a witch hunt. And because it was a witch hunt, he fired James Comey. How can you know that you lied to the F.B.I. and then fire the F.B.I. director for investigating that?

LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think, number one, what Flynn lied about is not a crime. I don't think it's wrong for a transition person to talk to a foreign government about change in policy. I don't think the Logan Act is worth the paper it's written on. So I'm not really worried about what happened after the election in terms of trying to communicate with the Russians about the Israeli resolution or about sanctions.

It comes down to the following to me. Was there any effort by the Trump campaign to coordinate with Russian intelligence services or any entity controlled by the Russians to receive benefit during the election? And they found the one guy that would know that.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you, though, on that question of obstruction, because that's the other thing that's a part of this issue. And if you know he lied to the F.B.I., how can you say an investigation into whether he lied to the F.B.I. is a witch hunt that Comey should be fired for carrying out?

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Apparently, this statement is by the president's lawyer.

JOHN DICKERSON: Yeah.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: He says I didn't know. He wasn't in on the interview. He did know that he lied to the vice-president. The vice-president was very upset; he took action. To me, that's not the issue. Here's the issue, if I -- from my point of view. If there was coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, I can't think of a person who would know more about that than Flynn.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you, on the national security front, though, you're very critical of the Russians for interfering in the election--

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yeah, they did.

JOHN DICKERSON: Yeah. And a former Obama administration official says the interference was the cyber-equivalent or espionage equivalent of 9/11. So if after that kind of an event, give me your foreign policy judgment about an incoming administration that then says to the perpetrators of an event that that's serious, hey, let's work out a deal on these sanctions that are going to punish you for that behavior. Don't overreact because we'll be on your side later when we're in the administration. Give me your national security judgment.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Okay. Number one, the Obama administration sure didn't act like it was a 9/11. They were late to the game and did the least amount possible. What they did in the interim before Trump took office was a slap on the wrist. So I don't buy that whole narrative. I don't have a problem with the Trump administration reaching out to the Russians. We're going to take a different view about sanctions. And we're going to seek your help in the U.N. Security Council.

JOHN DICKERSON: Even given your rough opinion of the Russians and what they did, it's okay to play footsie?

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yeah, well, here's what I'm saying. That behavior after the election is reaching out to a foreign government, then we have a different view about things. I'm not here to condemn the president about that. Here's what I'm saying -- that collusion between a campaign and a foreign government is unacceptable. There is no evidence of collusion. Nobody's been charged with it. But you found the one person who would know if it did exist. So it won't be long before we understand, one way or the other, whether Trump people colluded with Russia. Because I can't imagine it happening and Flynn not know about it.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let's take a quick break we'll be right back on the other side of that, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN DICKERSON: And we're back with Senator Lindsey Graham. Senator, before we get to North Korea, one more question on this investigation. The New York Times reported this week the president had made some calls up to the Hill about these investigations into Russian interference. Was that appropriate for him to make those phone calls?

LINDSEY GRAHAM: I don't know what the content was, but he's never asked me to stop an investigation. Yeah, it would be inappropriate for the president to say stop the investigation. It's not inappropriate to have a discussion in general. Again, I just want people to understand Mike Flynn would know if there was collusion, in my view, between the Trump campaign and the Russians. There's no evidence of collusion yet. Nobody's been charged with collusion. The Manafort lawyer said there was no collusion. But if there was, Flynn would know. And we're going to know pretty soon, one way or the other.

JOHN DICKERSON: But on a larger question, you're not saying it's only about collusion, because there is this obstruction of justice question--

JOHN DICKERSON: --which is quite important, and lying to the F.B.I.--

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Completely different, but that's not my focus right now--

JOHN DICKERSON: Sure, I understand. But I'm saying in general, that's not--

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Sure, absolutely, absolutely--

JOHN DICKERSON: --you don't want to want to overlook that.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: North Korea--

JOHN DICKERSON: North Korea. Where are we with North Korea right now?

LINDSEY GRAHAM: We're getting close to a military conflict because North Korea's marching toward marrying up the technology of an I.C.B.M. with a nuclear weapon on top that cannot only get to America but deliver the weapon. We're running out of time. McMaster said that yesterday. I'm going to urge the Pentagon not to send any more dependents to South Korea.

South Korea should be an unaccompanied tour. It's crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea. So I want them to stop sending dependents. And I think it's now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea.

JOHN DICKERSON: How close? You say we're getting close to a military confrontation. What are we talking about here?

LINDSEY GRAHAM: The intelligence community can tell you that better than I can. But I had an extensive discussion with the administration about this topic. The policy of the Trump administration is to deny North Korea the capability to hit America with a nuclear-tipped missile.

Not to contain it. Denial means preemptive war as a last resort. That preemption is becoming more likely as their technology matures. Every missile test, every underground test of a nuclear weapon, means the marriage is more likely. I think we're really running out of time. The Chinese are trying, but ineffectively. If there's an underground nuclear test, then you need to get ready for a very serious response by the United States.

JOHN DICKERSON: Should-- should the Congress be having a big, open conversation about preemptive war?

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yeah, I think so. I think the president, as inherent authority as commander-in-chief has the ability to strike North Korea to protect the American homeland. But this discussion needs to happen among ourselves.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about the president's team. There were a lot of back and forth this week about whether Secretary of State Tillerson was going to stay in the job--

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yeah.

JOHN DICKERSON: Net-net after all the reports and so forth is over, do you have confidence in the president's team around him to manage this tricky question?

LINDSEY GRAHAM: He's got the best national security team of anybody I've seen since I've been in Washington. The president, himself, early on, made the right decision. I'm not going to allow North Korea to hit America with a nuclear weapon. We're not going to live under that threat. If I have to go to war, and I don't want to, to stop it, I will. Everybody before President Trump screwed it up, including Republicans. Now we need to get it right. And I think he's got the right approach. He's got the right team. I hope China will help us. We're running out of time.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right. And we have run out of time, Senator. Thank you so--

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you.

JOHN DICKERSON: --much for being with us, and we'll be back in a moment.

© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Recommended