Face the Nation January 7, 2018 Transcript

CIA Director Mike Pompeo on "Face the Nation" on Jan. 7, 2018.

CBS News

JOHN DICKERSON, HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: 2018 is already a doozy. A blockbuster behind-the-scenes account of the Trump administration shakes up Washington and prompts the president to defend his mental stability, tweeting that he is "a very stable genius."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: This morning, you were tweeting about your mental state. Why did you feel the need to tweet about that this morning?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, only because I went to the best colleges -- or college. I went to a -- I had a situation where I was a very excellent student, came out, made billions and billions of dollars, became one of the top businesspeople, went to television, and for 10 years was a tremendous success, as you probably have heard, ran for president one time and won.

And then I hear this guy that does not know me, doesn`t know me at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DICKERSON: Meanwhile, challenges for the commander in chief in Iran, Pakistan and North Korea, where the president taunted Kim Jong-un about the sides of his nuclear button.

We will hear from the head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will join us to talk about the challenges for Congress in 2018.

And former Mississippi Governor and RNC Chairman Haley Barbour will joining us to talk about this election year.

And we will also have plenty of analysis here on the all the news here and abroad.

It`s all ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I`m John Dickerson.

With temperatures getting down to the single digits in Washington this weekend, the president, members of his Cabinet and the Republican congressional leadership left the city and huddled at Camp David to talk about priorities for the new year.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo was at Camp David for the meetings, but is back in Washington, and joins us this morning.

Welcome, Mr. Director.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: John, thank you for having me on this morning.

DICKERSON: The president said he`s a stable genius. Is he?

POMPEO: I`m with the president nearly every day. We engage in complex conversation about some of the most weighty matters facing the world.

I deliver to him this exquisite product that has been developed by my officers. He engages in a way that show his understanding and the complexity. He asks really hard questions. He delivers policy outcomes based on the information that we provide him.

My observation of the president is that we deal in serious matters, and that this book is in no way that.

DICKERSON: I`m going to get to those serious matters in a minute.

But take -- give us an example of this. There is this book you referred to. It`s got a lot of stories. There`s a lot of debate about the veracity of them.

Give us one of these penetrating questions, one of these insights the president has had.

POMPEO: Sure.

I will give you really good example. It was from early spring. So, I had been serving for couple of months at this point, if I have the timing right. And there was this question about Syria. Was this in fact the Assad regime that had used chemical weapons? That`s an intelligence question in the first instance.

Can you demonstrate that it was truly chemicals? Were they used against civilians? Was it the Assad regime that had done that? And he called me up had three very direct questions, basically what I just led up for you. Mike, I need to you answer those for me as quickly as you can.

And then we came back the next day and gave him what we knew at that point. He sent us back for a little more clarity, so that we were confident in what we were doing, before he made what he viewed as very a important foreign policy decision about how to respond to that. I could give you countless other examples, John.

DICKERSON: So, it seems to me we have a situation here where on the one hand you have the accounts in this book, which would, if it were true, and there were questions inside the administration about the president`s ability to perform his office, that would put a duty on those working around him to speak up.

And then on the other side you have what could be fundamental smear against democracy, which is to say fitness of the president, this isn`t just some political critique. This is about whether he can perform, which goes to the heart of what is going on.

Those are, it seems to me, two options. Is that the way you see it?

POMPEO: I can only give you my experiences, John.

I haven`t read the book. I have got plenty of important things to deal with. I don`t put this as one of those.

But my observation is that my dealings with the president on some of the most important issues that the president has to face are as professional and as thoughtful as the American people deserve. The president is handling these duties in a way that I`m incredibly proud of to be part of his team.

DICKERSON: Let`s move to one of those duties, North Korea.

"The New York Times" has a piece in "The times" talking about the intelligence failure on being able to track the North Korean missile program. And in that piece, it says this, talking about intelligence community.

"Their inability to foresee the North`s rapid strides over the past several months now ranks among America`s most significant intelligence failures."

What do you think of that piece, and is that right?

POMPEO: Yes, John, John, Mr. Sanger just got this one wrong.

DICKERSON: David Sanger, the journalist.

POMPEO: David Sanger, the "New York" -- the author of the piece.

Look, I have been one who has been candid where the intelligence community has made mistakes, where we have missed things. This is not that.

In this case, frankly, before my time, the work that was done to understand Kim Jong-un, to understand the regime, to understand the advancement of his missile program was really first-rate. That is, we did understand the progress that he was making.

So, multiple administrations have had access to that same set of information. And that program has progressed.

DICKERSON: But it`s not just David Sanger making this claim.

H.R. McMaster is quoted, national security adviser, is quoted as saying that the program has been quicker and the timeline is a lot more compressed than most people believed.

POMPEO: Yes, look, you are never going to get the day right or the week right.

What intelligence can provide to policy-makers is an understanding of capability and capacity, an understanding of motive and intent. We nailed both of those things.

And then our best effort to understand how that will proceed at what pace. We, frankly, got that mostly right.

DICKERSON: When we last spoke in August, you said an attack from North Korea is not something that is imminent.

Where is that -- do you still believe that now?

POMPEO: I do.

DICKERSON: In October, you said North Korea was just a few months away from crossing the threshold to putting a U.S. city at risk of nuclear attack. Where are we now on that timeline?

POMPEO: That remains the same.

DICKERSON: Still a few months away from that?

POMPEO: Yes, sir.

DICKERSON: And few, are we three, are we four?

POMPEO: Can`t give you that kind of certainty.

DICKERSON: North Korean soldiers, there have been some that have sprinted to freedom. What are we learning from them?

POMPEO: So, two things that our analytic team would identify.

One is that this is a -- we talk about their nuclear force a lot, John. It`s the big focus, but I will promise you Secretary Mattis and our team never forgets that they have an enormous conventional capacity as well that threatens not only South Korea, but other neighbors.

And we -- I don`t want to on the show here this morning, but we have a -- what we think is very good assessment of their military capability, that is, how ready those enormous forces are.

DICKERSON: You said in December the president`s tweets actually help the CIA execute its mission.

This week, the president tweeted about his -- the nuclear button. How does that help the CIA do it mission?

POMPEO: Yes, sir.

I -- that tweet is completely consistent with U.S. policy. The president, unlike previous administrations, has made a real commitment, that is, the denuclearization of the peninsula is the mandate. That is what we are going to achieve. The president has made very clear that we`re going to do everything we can to do that in a way that doesn`t involve military action, but has equally made clear that we`re not going to stand for allowing Kim Jong-un to hold Los Angeles or Denver or New York at risk.

And I think what you saw in that message, the same as the rest of the messages that the president has put out and the State Department has put out, have made that policy crystal-clear. And it`s important that Kim Jong-un understand that clarity.

DICKERSON: Some people criticized that tweet and thought it was a little -- you don`t kind of joke around or you don`t be cavalier about nuclear buttons.

Is that, though, helpful, that kind of willingness to risk talking about nuclear buttons in a casual way in terms of keeping the other side off-guard?

POMPEO: Boy, I can`t tell you that Kim Jong-un has read that tweet, because I can`t prove it, but I`m confident that he did.

And my guess is that, as he reads it, he is trying to figure out exactly how it is he does what he wants to do, which is keep his nuclear weapons and stay in power.

I think that`s what you see happening this week, where he`s now agreed to have some conversations with the South Koreans. He`s looking for a foothold to walk himself back. This would be entire thoroughly consistent with his historical activity. When he sees the threat, he tries to pacify it.

And you can be sure that this administration is not going to fall prey to the same trap that previous administrations did.

DICKERSON: In the narrative so far with North Korea, they have continued testing. The U.S. has said, stop testing, we might talk in some fashion.

So, in that context, this decision to talk to the South Koreans would seem to be positive step, if he`s in the mood to step back, instead of test more missiles.

POMPEO: Yes, sir, I hope that`s the case.

I -- ever the optimist, always the realist. I hope that`s the case. But the past history would indicate that this is a faint, this is not likely to lead to any true change in his strategic outlook. That is, he will continue to want to maintain his nuclear capability. And that, the president has said is unacceptable.

DICKERSON: Is all the engagement in the last several months, has your picture gotten clearer, more sharp about the North Korean leader, or fuzzier?

POMPEO: A little more clear.

And, frankly, the focus of the great officers that work for me, their efforts to deliver to the president a little more granularity and a little more color to help understand what not only Kim Jong-un is thinking, but those around him.

John, we don`t think Kim Jong-un is getting the straight story from those around him about the tenuous position he finds himself in, both domestically and internationally. It is not a good thing, a healthy thing to tell Kim Jong-un bad news.

DICKERSON: The president this week also tweeted about the deep state.

Is there a deep state at the CIA?

POMPEO: No, sir.

DICKERSON: Has there ever been one?

POMPEO: So, I have only been there for a little while.

I can`t believe that it`s ever been there. These are professional who sacrifice so much to serve America. They`re patriots of the truest and highest order.

DICKERSON: Iran. What is the significance of the protests so far, and this a turning point, or is this just a flash point and the regime will continue to have power?

POMPEO: Difficult to know analytically if this is a turning point.

But it is different, John. The protests that we saw in 1999 and 2009 were from elites. This was not that. These were ordinary Iranians. The same people who would enlist in IRGC, their neighbors are now the ones out protesting.

And they`re protesting because they have seen the failed promises of President Rouhani and Zarif, that they haven`t been able to deliver the economic outcomes that they said. They said they would get JCPOA, and food would be plentiful, that commerce would reign, and that jobs would arise. And it simply hasn`t happened.

DICKERSON: The JCPOA is the so-called Iran deal.

So, in that sense, has the Iran deal forced destabilization in Iran, and is, therefore, that good in terms of U.S. interests?

POMPEO: Well, from the CIA`s perspective -- I won`t get into the policy piece of this.

From the CIA`s perspective, what is clear is that there have been economic difficulties in Iran in places outside of Tehran. There`s a massive unemployment. What the Iranian people were promised has not happened. They can see that. And thus they have taken to the streets.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about Pakistan

The U.S. is cutting off aid to Pakistan. That is -- Pakistan is a nuclear power. Is it a good idea to be pressuring Pakistan, given all that is all on the rest of the plate in the United States, with a nuclear power?

POMPEO: John, again, I`m going to avoid the policy that you asked about.

But I`ll talk to you about from the intelligence perspective what we see. We see the Pakistanis continuing to provide safe harbor, havens inside of Pakistan for terrorists who present risks to the United States of America.

We are doing our best to inform the Pakistanis that this is no longer going to be acceptable. So this conditioned aid, we have given them a chance. If they fix this problem, we`re happy to continue to engage with them and be their partner. But if they don`t, we`re going to protect America.

DICKERSON: Haven`t we always, though, kind of -- we get a lot and the U.S. intelligence benefits from things that the Pakistanis let the United States do as well.

And so isn`t there kind of a relationship that may not be perfect, but for the bad things they do, they allow U.S. counterterrorism forces to benefit from staging or other benefits out of Pakistan. So, isn`t that at risk in terms of -- as a national security problem for the United States?

POMPEO: The president has made very clear that he needs Pakistan to cease being a safe haven for terrorists that threaten the United States of America, end, period, full stop.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about the reauthorization of the FISA so-called 702 section.

POMPEO: Yes, sir.

DICKERSON: There is some question about how long to reauthorize it.

What is the CIA`s position about this program, which allows surveillance of foreign people, but also, critics believe, allows a back door to gaining information about Americans?

POMPEO: John, the Section 702 is an important component of American national security. It allows us, the CIA, to observe communications from non-U.S. citizens, persons outside of the United States.

That`s central to our mission. And so we are very hopeful that we can reach an accommodation, that we can get to the right place. And I understand it may well come to a vote this week. I hope that`s the case.

I hear the critics from the other side. I understand their concerns. I hope that we can accommodate them in a way and achieve our national security mission, while doing -- while continuing to protect Americans` privacy. Those are both important missions. I think we can do them both.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you a final question here.

This is an election year, 2018. We`ve had a lot of talk about the Russians` effort to destabilize the 2016 election.

Are the Russians engaged in trying to undermine the elections, and do you worry about that this year?

POMPEO: Yes, sir, I do.

DICKERSON: Are they currently doing that?

POMPEO: Yes, sir, have been for decades.

DICKERSON: Yes.

POMPEO: So, yes, I continue to be concerned, not only about the Russians, but about others` efforts as well.

We have many foes who want to undermine Western democracy. So, there is this Washington-based focus on Russian interference. I want to make sure we broaden the conversation.

We have an important function as a part of the American national security team to keep the American elections safe and secure and democratic. We`re working diligently to do that. So, we`re going to work against the Russians or any others who threaten that very outcome.

DICKERSON: All right, Director Pompeo, thanks so much for being with us.

POMPEO: Thank you, John.

DICKERSON: And stay with us. We will be back in one minute to talk with Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul in his first Sunday show appearance since being injured in an altercation with his neighbor.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: And we`re back with Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul.

It`s good to have you back, Senator. We hope you have fully recovered.

And, by the way, happy birthday as well.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Thank you. Thank you.

I was wondering if I would get any presents today, but I understand that the ethics rules of the Senate won`t let me take any presents. But thanks for having me on.

DICKERSON: That`s right. Well, your presence is our present.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKERSON: Thank you.

The -- how are you feeling, by the way?

PAUL: A little better each day. It was sort of, I guess, a living hell for the first four or five weeks, difficulty. Couldn`t get out of bed without assistance, six broken ribs, damaged my lungs, two bouts of pneumonia.

It was really a tough go of it. But each day, I feel a little bit better. This last month, I have been doing better.

DICKERSON: You haven`t talked about the motivation for this, but there is an increased -- in politics today, things have gotten a little bit uglier.

Do you talk -- was that a part of what happened here, and do you talk about that with your colleagues?

PAUL: You know, my colleagues come up all the time, and they want to make sure that there is some kind of deterrence, because people don`t want to think that it`s open season on our elected officials.

I was also at the baseball field when we were shot at with automatic -- semiautomatic fire, and Steve Scalise was severely wounded. And I was 10 feet from a young staffer who was shot in the leg.

So, yes, I have been involved in violent attacks twice in the last year. And so, yes, we`re very aware of it. And I think one of the thing about motivations is, people got obsessed, some in the media, about the motivations, but I think really we usually don`t ask, if someone is raped or mugged or whatever, why the person did it.

We want punishment and deterrence. And I guess that`s what I`m mostly about. I just don`t think of any kind of motivation or justification, whether it`s political or personal, to attack someone who is unaware from behind in their own yard.

DICKERSON: Sure, although if it`s politically motivated, those who are involved in politics might think about changing the way they behave to change that climate. But...

PAUL: Maybe. Maybe.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about the climate here in Washington, this new book about the White House, a lot of debate about it.

As a politician, the president has responded by talking about his mental stability. Why do you suppose he did that, when, instead, he could say, forget this book, we have passed tax cuts, we`re defeating ISIS, we have nominated bunch of judges? Why do you think he did that?

PAUL: You know, I don`t know.

I guess my first response was, this was sort of gossipy book, OK like Kitty Kelley book back from when I was in high school. I remember her books would come out. And nobody really believed them. They were treated as sort of like a sitcom or treated as a television show. They weren`t really treated seriously by the media.

I do think, from my experience, when I look at the president -- and I have been around the president quite a bit, I have been in the White House quite a bit with him. I can give you one example that I think really shows his great insight and ability to cut through to the chase and do things that ordinary politicians don`t do.

And that is when I took him the idea of letting individuals join together to buy insurance across state lines. Every politician, Republican and bureaucrat in Washington said we couldn`t do it. And they hadn`t done it in 30 years. He looked at the original law. He told his lawyers, look at the original law and see if the interpretation of these previous government attorneys have been correct.

And he had the wherewithal just to say, no, we`re going to let individuals join these groups, so they can get cheaper insurance and perhaps better insurance as well, and perhaps get insurance for people who don`t have insurance.

But he did that because he`s different than any other politician. And now we have all these wiseacres out there wanting to criticize and be presumptuous about trying to judge someone`s intelligence. I can tell you he has got the wherewithal to do things that no politicians has been able to do, and in a good way.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you a couple of policy questions on the -- we talked about Section 702 of the FISA with the CIA director.

You have held up a nomination of John Demers, and you`re also talking about filibustering this. Why?

PAUL: Well, 702 is supposed to get information on foreigners.

And so we have a lower-than-constitutional standard. We say, well, the Constitution doesn`t apply to people in other countries. And I agree with that.

So, we collect a massive amount of information on foreigners. But they talk to Americans. So, after you gather millions and billions of bits of information, it turns out there`s a lot of Americans in the database.

What we don`t want to happen is that domestic law enforcement, policemen and FBI, are looking in a database that was collected without constitutional protections.

And let`s say they decide to prosecute medical marijuana people in Colorado, which is legal in Colorado, but now the federal government is talking about changing their policy and going after them.

What if they`re searching a database that was collected on foreigners to get incidental information on medical marijuana in Colorado? I have a real problem with that.

So, they should have to get a warrant before they look at that. And, really, none of that information should be used for domestic crime, because it was gathered with a less-than-constitutional standard.

DICKERSON: So, you have a problem with it. What are you going to do?

PAUL: Well, we will try to stop them.

The people on the other side, the CIA director and others, they want permanent reauthorization, no reform. And when you ask them, are you using this for domestic crime, there`s a little bit of -- they`re not -- they kind of say, well, we don`t do it very often, but they won`t tell you whether they are sort of looking at the information and then not presenting in court, but using that information to develop what`s called parallel construction, develop cases.

They want just permanent reauthorization, which to me means no more oversight by Congress. The reason we need more oversight is that people -- as Madison said, men are not angels. And we have seen recently how we have had some people in the FBI that had bias against the president.

We also have seen now people in the Department of Justice who were married to people that were doing opposition research on Trump. So, you can see how people are human, and bias could enter into this.

And the history of the CIA and the FBI are not without blemish. The Hoover years are a great tarnish. We also had civil rights activists in the `60s illegally spied upon. We had Vietnam protesters illegally spied upon.

And we had this great to-do, the Church Commission, back in the `70s. And FISA was supposed to rein that in. But now many of us, Senator Wyden and I have, in a bipartisan way, looked at this and said, my goodness, we have to defend the Americans` right to privacy. And right now, we`re sort of a minority in the Senate. In the House, though, it`s close to 50-50.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator, we`re going to have to leave it there.

Thanks so much. And happy birthday again.

PAUL: Thank you. Thanks.

DICKERSON: And we will be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: To help us break down new developments on the foreign policy front, we turn now to Tom Donilon, national security adviser to President Obama, and Michael Morell, who served as the deputy director of the CIA and is now a CBS News senior national security contributor.

Mike, let start with you.

This "New York Times" piece about intelligence agencies missing North Korea, what do you think?

MICHAEL MORELL, CBS NEWS SENIOR SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: John, I think this is a deeply flawed piece. It`s not consistent with my experience, which is that, over a very long period of time, the intelligence community has accurately assessed both North Korea`s nuclear program and its missile program.

And it`s not consistent with the observable facts. And what I mean by that is, if the CIA at the end of the Obama administration and the end -- and the beginning of the Trump administration was saying we had years here, then why did Barack Obama tell President Trump in the transition that this was his most urgent and serious problem?

And then why did the Trump administration move so quickly to put maximum sanctions on North Korea, right? This is not an intelligence failure. This is an intelligence success.

DICKERSON: Tom, give us your sense of where things stand right now with North Korea. The director said months away still from a missile that could hit the United States. Where do you think things are?

TOM DONILON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Yes, I agree with Michael`s point on the analysis.

The United States should be doing -- given the high cost of potential military conflict on the peninsula, should be everything it can do, short of war, at this point to pressure the North Koreans to the negotiating table and to achieve our goals, as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency said earlier.

That includes working with our allies. It includes continuing sanctions or pressure. And, by the way, we just started really in a lot of these areas, in the bank and finance and oil and energy area. And it`s having some effect. And I think we saw some of that effect with respect to Kim Jong-un on New Year`s Day reaching out to the South to talk. 

So, I agree with the assessment that it`s not likely to lead anywhere fundamental different at this point, but nonetheless I think an indication of the pressure.

We need much more aggressive enforcement. We should be thickening our ballistic missile defense system as part of our deterrence efforts. We should put pressure on the human rights front and to get a negotiation at some point. I think there`s a lot more pressure we can put on them.

DICKERSON: All right, we`re going to be back to this segment in a moment.

We need to take a short break. We will have a lot more with Mike Morell and Tom Donilon when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: And we will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION, more analysis. And, also, former GOP party chairman Haley Barbour is with us.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS ANCHOR: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION.

We`re back with Mike Morell, former deputy CIA director, and Tom Donilon, former national security advisor to President Obama.

Mike, let me start with you.

The president said this week that the talks between the North and South in Korea are the result of his hard pressure. Do you buy that?

MIKE MORELL, CBS NEWS SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I think what the North Koreans are doing, John, is reaching out to the South for two reasons. One is to divide the United States and South Korea. This is a long-term strategy on the part of Seoul and this is just another example of it.

The seconds is, they are looking for some economic gains here. They are hurting as a result of the sanctions. And they`d like to come to some arrangement with the South Koreans where they get something for being more positive.

On the South Korean side, they`re being receptive because they`re concerned about the tough rhetoric in Washington. They`re concerned about war. And they don`t want that to happen.

DICKERSON: Tom, what do you make of the president`s tweet about nuclear weapons?

TOM DONILON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Yes, I agree with Mike`s analysis on this -- on the North coming. I think they are under pressure and the sanctions are starting to bite.

On the tweeting on nuclear weapons, no president should talk about nuclear weapons in a cavalier fashion. It`s really decidedly bad topic for tweeting, frankly.

You know, since the dawn of the nuclear age, in August of 1945, ever president has thought to speak in the most precise terms about nuclear weapons and the circumstances under which the United States night use them. Since the dawn of the nuclear age, presidents have endeavored to speak about nuclear weapons separate from conversations about regular weapons, right, that we might use.

Peggy Noonan had a really good column in "The Wall Street Journal" yesterday, which I encourage your viewers to take a look at, where she said that this could destigmatize, right? It leads to a destigmatization of the -- of the use of nuclear weapons, which is not in our national interest. Every president since John F. Kennedy has thought to make the use of nuclear weapon less likely rather than more likely.

We`ve been lucky over the course of, whatever, 72 or 73 years. And it`s the result of care and precision and really a kind of consciousness of what these weapons are about. And we really shouldn`t press our luck. So it`s a profoundly bad topic for Twitter.

My last point in this is, I would encourage the White House staff -- I know that General Kelly has said that he doesn`t pay attention to the president`s Twitter account. That`s a mistake. These are presidential statements and the world pays attention. And I would encourage them to have a national security carve out if they could ever achieve it with the president to say, these are the kinds of things you need to get advice on. These are the kinds of things you should sit with your advisors on and do in a much more precise, conscious fashion.

DICKERSON: Mike, though, the CIA director said, no, this is perfectly in keeping with the U.S. policy, which is if it looks like the president is, you know, ready to go, then that helps put pressure on the Koreans and even the Chinese, too.

MORELL: So, John, I couldn`t agree more with what Tom said. And I would just add that people often defend the president on this by saying he`s keeping our adversaries off balance, right? From a tactical perspective, that`s something you wanted to do on the battlefield, for example.

Strategically, you want just the opposite. You want great clarity in terms of what the United States wants, what its red lines are and what we`re willing to do about what we want, right? And this is a strategic issue. So you want great clarity from the president, not things that raise questions about what we will or won`t do.

DICKERSON: Tom, what do you make -- moving over to Iran --

DONILON: Yes.

DICKERSON: What do you think of the protests and how should we think about those?

DONILON: Yes, a couple of things. One is that I think the protests in some respects reflected failed expectations, right, by the Iranian people. The director of the CIA was right, they`re a different in kind and geography from the protests in 2000 -- 2009. It is out in more rural and outside the big cities.

But, you know, the nuclear deal put pressure on the regime to deliver, right, on economics. That was the promise that President Rouhani made. And they haven`t been able to live up to that. And that`s, I think, somewhat of the cause for -- this is (INAUDIBLE) internal politics. You know, in general, one quick thing on this. You know, the -- we do have a situation here where the president has to decide this week whether he`s going to continue waving the sanctions as part of the nuclear deal. All the objective observers indicate that Iran is complying with and we`re getting the -- what we wanted out of the nuclear deal, which was a transactional approach to put a lid on their and roll back the stop their nuclear -- the nuclear program. For the United States to pull out will only isolate ourselves, right, and it will make us the issue as opposed to Iranian behavior of the issue.

DICKERSON: Mike, let me ask another question. How does the U.S. calibrate putting pressure on an authoritarian regime, but, on the other hand, not becoming a thing that they can use to rally --

MORELL: Right.

DICKERSON: You know, look at the (INAUDIBLE) the United States.

MORELL: Right. Let me just add, I think that these are the most significant protests in Iran since the revolution in 1979. I think they`re more significant than 2009, which was limited in geography, as Tom said, it was limited to those people who were already ideologically opposed to the regime.

This is much more geographically spread and these are the supporters of the regime. These are the supporters of the supreme leader. These are the supporters of Rouhani, right? So this is fundamentally different.

Their -- and 2009 was about an election. This is about economic opportunity. This is about corruption. This is about the regime itself. So this is very significant, right?

In terms of what we do going forward, I think we have to speak out for freedom in general because we want to send a message to the rest of the world, but I think we have to be extremely careful about how we do that because there is nobody inside of Iran to wants U.S. interference in Iran, right? So I -- whatever we do, I think we need to be careful and I think we needed to do it with our allies and partners.

DICKERSON: All right, we`re going to have to end it there.

Tom, Mike, thanks so much.

And we`ll be right back with former Governor Haley Barbour. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: We`re joined now by a very familiar figure here in Washington, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, also a former head of the Republican National Committee.

Governor Barbour, welcome back to the broadcast.

What do you make of this book, "Fire and Fury"?

HALEY BARBOUR, FORMER MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR (R): I suspect a lot of it is not true or is exaggerated. I hadn`t read it. Don`t intend to. But it just strikes me as President Trump`s very unpopular in Washington, he`s very unpopular with the liberal media elite, and that this story just kind of plays to those prejudices.

DICKERSON: And yet the president`s reaction has been to go right at this book. You know about politics. Why would a president basically put at the center of the conversation his competency by responding in the way he has? Hasn`t he added a bunch of days to this story?

BARBOUR: Well, I think if we look back through the year, the president is more likely to respond to things than most presidents have been.

DICKERSON: Yes.

BARBOUR: And this is just another case of that.

DICKERSON: What`s your sense of the way things are going to work out in politics this year, in 2018? You`ve got lot of congressional elections. How -- what`s the landscape look like to you?

BARBOUR: Well, I think biggest thing is the economy. We had very slow economic growth in the Obama administration. We averaged 2.1 percent a year of GDP growth. Where over -- since World War II, we`ve been averaging 3.1 percent. So think about it in the heartland the economy had been growing half again faster.

Well now, under Trump, we are above 3 percent. Obama never had a year where economic growth was 3 percent. If the economy grows, and if people recognize not only the tax bill is going to put more money into the private economy and less money into the government, also what he has tried to do and is successfully doing in terms of regulatory reform to again take costs off of business where they can spend more money on hiring people, giving raises, on investing, I think that`s the big thing for Trump. But it`s not only getting good results, it`s getting credit for the good results.

DICKERSON: But -- well, and you say it`s just -- the media elite doesn`t like President Trump, but his approval ratings suggest that that are people outside of that group that have some issues with him. And you`ve seen the generic ballot on -- asking Democrats and Republicans. Those are not great signs for Republicans going into an election year.

BARBOUR: Well, of course they`re not. But I have to say, let`s not act like the public is not affected by what the media tells them they`re supposed to be thinking.

DICKERSON: Well --

BARBOUR: Now, in the Hillary Clinton election it turned out that the public decided they were going to go in a different direction from what the media was telling them. But Trump has to live with that. The Republicans have to live with that. He is not going to get all of a sudden popular with the liberal media elite. That isn`t going to change.

DICKERSON: Should Republicans run with the president? They want him coming to their district?

BARBOUR: In mid-term elections, Republicans, Democrats, whomever, every candidate ought to run for their state, whether they run for governor, for senator, for congressman, for their district, on their issues, their campaign against their opponent`s campaign. And if I were the Democratic -- former Democratic National chairman, I`d give them the same advice.

DICKERSON: The president said he`s not going to campaign for any challengers to incumbents. What do you make of that decision?

BARBOUR: That would be typical. I mean I was political director (INAUDIBLE) Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan didn`t take sides in Republican primaries, period. But he certainly would have never gone out and campaigned against an incumbent Republican. It would have been just foreign to his experience in politics. So I don`t think there`s anything unusual about that.

DICKERSON: The -- you know, let me ask you about that political director part. You`ve seen the inside of a White House. President Trump came to Washington and he was going to do things differently. And this Michael Wolff book, let`s leave that aside, it doesn`t come out of nowhere. There`s a context. This is a president who`s doing things differently.

Based on your experience in being inside politics, I mean, it goes too far to say that this is a White House that`s just like every other one. I mean there are some rough edges to it. And the questions that I`m asking you is, given your experience, how are people to evaluate those rough edges?

BARBOUR: Well, first of all, a lot of what he`s trying to do is hard. We just passed a tax reform bill, the biggest tax reform bill since 1986. It happened. I was political director of the White House in 1986. It took us more than two years. And we had Democrat support from the beginning.

When President Reagan announced his tax reform package in the spring of 1985, the Democrat response was given by Daniel Rostenkowski, the chairman of Ways and Means, who said the Democrats are for tax reform, too. And we want to work with the president. We don`t agree on everything, but we want tax reform. Still took us to the end of `86.

So that they got this done in one year I think is remarkable. I had been saying, I don`t believe you can get it done that fast.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you about putting together a bipartisan position on immigration, You`ve encouraged your party to -- you`ve said, we`re not going to deport 12 million people and we shouldn`t. Where is that issue with the Republican party now given that President Trump ran and is continuing to govern as somebody who`s being very tough on undocumented immigrants?

BARBOUR: Yes, I think, in the Obama administration, if they had tried, they could have passed, instead of putting DACA in -- in effect by executive order, I think they could have passed some immigration reform and it fell apart, not because of people`s bad intentions or anything, but you remember when all those children came up from Central America, and that made some people afraid of that issue at the time.

DICKERSON: But it fell apart because the Senate passed it but then the House couldn`t.

BARBOUR: Well, because of what happened. You know, because you had this huge influx of children coming from Central America.

But let me just say, DACA is the place that seems to be the easiest place to start.

Let`s don`t forget, President Obama said repeatedly he didn`t have the authority to do what he ultimately did. But most Americans realize, somebody got brought here as a child, whether it was illegal or not, they didn`t commit a crime. And these are people that are making real contribution to our country.

But it`s got to be a compromise. And I think you`ll get that done before the end of March when you start seeing the extension that Obama -- I mean Trump gave expires the end of March. I think they`ll get something done.

DICKERSON: OK. We`re expiring here. Governor, thanks so much for being with us. And we`ll be right back with our political panel.

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RAMESH PONNURU, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: He doesn`t watch that much cable news and he doesn`t care about what the media thinks. He is the number one consumer of cable news. And not only that, his communications aides are out there performing for him. They`re trying to sell themselves to the president rather than trying to sell the president to the public. And that`s one of the reasons I think you`ve got the situation where the president has this intensely loyal base but is still unpopular with most Americans.

DICKERSON: Mike, how do you read where we are?

MIKE ALLEN, AXIOS: Well, John, there are factual problems with what the president is calling a fake book, some of them big and some of them small. But what Michael Wolff has does is let the people in the country in on the conversation that the people around this table have every day. You can quarrel with specifics in the book, but as you all well know, the descriptions he has of the president, how he does the job, his proclivities that Molly was talking about, those exactly mirror what we hear off the record from the people who spend all day with him, including the contradictions.

So the president totally trusts his own instincts, even though they change. He likes generals, but he doesn`t like to be told what to do. And he lets people in on the fact that the president just doesn`t read, doesn`t have an attention span and will cut you off when you`re trying to explain some of the big, big issues to him.

DICKERSON: And, you know, Mike, you`re right about the off the record conversation that goes on around these issues.

But, Molly, we also know that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Bob Corker, a few months ago raised some of these questions. In other words, did the president have the temperament for the job? So it`s not just Michael Wolff who`s been raising these questions.

MOLLY BALL, "TIME": Absolutely. And the other big thing that I think Mike is right, that is revealed by the book, is the degree to which these conversations are going on among supposed allies of the president and the people around him.

ALLEN: And employees.

BALL: And employees. And I -- you know, I`ve -- it`s been a concern for the White House for a while now that the president is surrounded by people who don`t necessarily respect or like him very much. And the president, I think, is aware of that and it bothers him. And this book has really thrown that open for all to see that even the most intimate relationships in the White House are people who have a very different view.

And so Republicans on Capitol Hill at the time of the Corker comments there was a lot of conversation about, well, people say this in private and now here`s someone saying this in public. And that has been the looming question, I think, as this presidency has continued to become more, shall we say, interesting, is at what point do Republicans on Capitol Hill do more of them start coming forward to have this conversation in public.

PONNURU: You know, we didn`t need this book to have a national conversation about the president`s fitness for office. What this book is doing, I think, is confirming the president`s opponents in their negative opinion of the president and confirming the president`s supporters in their negative opinion of the media.

DICKERSON: Right.

PONNURU: It is a polarizing book that I think sets back the discussion. Bad, sloppy journalism that cuts corners has been the president`s ally more than it`s been his enemy.

DICKERSON: Yes, that`s right. Mike, I want to ask you about Steve Bannon, who is a player, a central player in this book. The president denounced him this week. He`s also -- you`ve got a statement that Bannon has put out.

ALLEN: Yes, so this just went up on Axios, the president getting a statement of regret from Steve Bannon. This is the first time that Steve Bannon has responded to the book. There`s one word that`s missing, a couple of words that are missing from this statement, one of them is "sorry," one of them is "apology." He won`t quite go that far. But Steve Bannon trying to hold on to his place in the conservative movement.

So he`s praising Donald Trump Junior, who, as you all know, is extremely popular with the base. And he`s saying that he has been out there defending Trump, defending Trumpism. He said he`s willing to go back into the breach for Trumpism. And he says regret -- he regrets that he took so long to respond and that -- these comments.

But I can tell you, this is going to be way too little too late for the president. The president, Axios has reported, is telling his allies who go out on TV, he wants them to bury Steve Bannon.

DICKERSON: So, Ramesh, this is in some sense palace intrigue and useless, except this was the president`s senior advisor, was there with him in the campaign and also had some ambitions about how 2018 would play out. Bannon backing sort of more Trump-like characters in campaigns as he saw it than the establishment. Do you think this matters or is this just palace intrigue?

PONNURU: There still is Republican Party establishment that is not in love with Donald Trump, even though it is allied to him. And what I think the net effect of this Bannon controversy is to bind that establishment more closely to the president. They hated Steve Bannon. They are happy to see him marginalized and isolated. And they are cheering the president on as he does that. They are speaking with one voice with the president in saying, let`s get rid of this guy forever.

DICKERSON: Yes.

ALLEN: That`s a great point. And related to that, in the palace intrigue, who is this victory -- who is this book a clear victory for? Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump. Javanka, as Steve Bannon calls them in this book, they wanted him outed. They said they didn`t trust him. The president had said that he thought Steve Bannon was the leaker and it all turned out to be true because what`s so fascinating about this Wolff book and why more of it is true than the White House is letting on is, he did something that is very rarely done, and that is, he just took a lot of off the record comments and printed them. And I think this was clearly --

DICKERSON: Which, by the way, that ain`t -- that ain`t by (INAUDIBLE) --

BALL: That`s not OK.

DICKERSON: You`re not supposed to do that.

BALL: Right.

ALLEN: Under any -- well, or anyone else, right.

BALL: Well, and it hurts all good journalists who honor our agreements with our sources. I mean that`s deeply problematic.

PONNURU: When he seems to have printed things that he heard rather than things that he corroborated and checked out.

BALL: But what you don`t see in that Bannon statement is, I didn`t say that.

DICKERSON: Right. Right.

BALL: The Bannon comments, he has -- he has -- he has -- he has sorted of reversed himself in some ways. He hasn`t taken it back and he hasn`t said he didn`t say it. So that part of it clearly --

(UNKNOWN): And a lot of --

BALL: But the -- and the Bannon thing does matter because to the degree to which Trump had someone creating a vision for him, creating an ideology that was unique to him, that was Bannon. That came from Trump`s gut, but it was Bannon who was putting that into a theoretical framework. With him gone, I think there`s much less of a root for that.

But, electorally, a lot of the cat is out of the bag. These primary challengers already exist and are turning some of these primaries, particularly in a place like Nevada, into a referendum on the Trump party versus the traditional Republican Party. Bannon`s bark was always worse than his bite in terms of having challengers in every single state. But the challenges are already there in some places.

ALLEN: And the reason that Steve Bannon isn`t denying what he said, and not many other people have either, is Michael Wolff has dozens of hours of tape. And a lot of that tape, the people thought it was off the record, but it is on tape, gives you very little place to go now that it`s out.

DICKERSON: Do you think the president`s on any of those tapes?

ALLEN: I don`t know the answer to that.

DICKERSON: But this is an important point, that the pushback has been broad and not specific, which is a point in Wolff`s --

ALLEN: And the thing that`s totally bogus -- story, just real quick. The thing that`s totally bogus about their pushback is, he did have the access. He was over there all the time.

DICKERSON: He was sitting in the West Wing when the other staff found out that Comey was fired. He was there.

DICKERSON: Yes. Right.

BALL: Right.

DICKERSON: Ramesh -- go ahead.

BALL: It reminds me in a lot of ways of the Ed Klein (ph) books about Hillary Clinton. But the difference is that nobody thinks that he was anywhere close to the Clintons, whereas Wolff, yes, he was in there. He --

DICKERSON: And this was a period in the White House where things were a little loosey goosey.

Mitch McConnell seemed very, very happy about Steve Bannon`s rough patch. Why is that important?

PONNURU: Right, and it just gets back to my point about the party establishment being bind -- binded closer to the president and being very happy about Bannon`s absence. Bannon wanted to take down McConnell. One of the things he wanted from the candidates he was backing for the Senate was their pledge that they would oust McConnell as the Senate Republican leader.

DICKERSON: All right. We`re going to have to leave it there. Thanks to all of you.

An extraordinary book. We`ll be hearing about this undoubtedly for more than just this week.

And we`ll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DICKERSON: That`s it for us today. Thanks for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I`m John Dickerson.

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