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Full transcript: Face the Nation on March 18, 2018

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MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS: Today on FACE THE NATION: The president makes some bold personnel moves and suggests there are more to come. But is the firing of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that has sparked a controversy that has Washington reeling.

Long a topic of conversation in Washington, the when will Rex Tillerson go question was answered Tuesday, when President Trump dismissed him by tweet.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo was named to replace Tillerson as the nation's top diplomat, with Gina Haspel, current number two at the CIA, moving up to the director's spot. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to hold that job.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.


BRENNAN: Kentucky Republican Rand Paul says he will block the president's nominees to State and the CIA. We will talk with him and Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who has a prickly relationship with the president, but is responsible for getting the new secretary of state confirmed.

Maine independent Angus King will be here to talk about Russia and the firing of Andrew McCabe.

We will also sit down with the South Korean foreign minister to get an update on the potentially historic meeting between President Trump and North Korean Kim Jong-un.

All of that, plus plenty of political analysis are coming right up on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I'm Margaret Brennan.

After a week at the White House filled with speculation about who the president would dismiss next, late Friday night, Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. McCabe was former FBI Director Jim Comey's deputy. He had announced his departure months ago and was just hours away from being able to retire with his full pension.

But the firing sparked a fierce debate over whether it was justified or if it's an assault on federal law enforcement. Outrage intensified when the president's attorney, John Dowd, called for an end to the Mueller probe, which could be seen as an attempt to influence the ongoing investigation into Russian investigation meddling.

We begin with Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul. He joins us from Bowling Green this morning.

Senator, we do want to talk to you about your opposition to the president's nominees for the State Department and the CIA. But, first, I want to ask you about the Mueller investigation and the firing of Andrew McCabe this morning. The president has had a lot to say about the special counsel's investigation, and it comes in the wake of news that his lawyers received questions from Mueller's team and that the Trump Organization itself has been subpoenaed.

Do you believe his statements are an attempt to influence the investigation?


Any time the president speaks, I'm sure it has influence on public opinion. I don't know how much influence that has on the investigation.

I would say that the facts with regard to McCabe are very important. It appears that the facts are from the inspector general's office, and the inspector general is something I'm a big fan of. They're objective. They are not partisan. They look at the facts.

They basically have said that McCabe leaked classified documents. That's illegal. But then he also lied about leaking classified documents.

And so the FBI are sticklers on this. And they don't tolerate lying from their agents. And so, if all that is true, I see no way that he could continue in his office, and that punishment is appropriate.

I mean, look at it in comparison to General Flynn. General Flynn has been offered a year in jail for lying about something or misleading the FBI about something that was actually legal. So, here we have an instance where McCabe does something illegal and lies about it. I would say this is a greater offense than Flynn.

BRENNAN: Have you seen the results of the investigation into Andrew McCabe, which have not been made public? And are you saying you agree he should have been fired?

PAUL: If the facts are true as they have been reported in the media, that McCabe lied about releasing classified documents, yes, it's against the law to release classified documents and against the law to lie about it if the FBI asks you about it.

So, that would be two significant infractions. And if they're true, absolutely he should be fired.

BRENNAN: But you don't know that he did that? You haven't seen evidence that he did that, is what you're saying?

PAUL: Only what the news is reporting on this.

And that's what everyone in the news says, that this is what happened, that he leaked -- he illegally leaked classified documents and then lied about it.

BRENNAN: The president also tweeted that there was tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the FBI, at the Justice Department and the State Department.

Are you concerned that there is some sort of chill effect that might be going through federal law enforcement in the wake of this firing and the president's statements?

PAUL: I'm afraid that the FBI has been terribly damaged by all of this, really starting with James Comey.

And I think there's been this politicization of it. I think James Comey could well have cost Hillary Clinton the election by basically not indicting, but then saying she was guilty as heck in a press conference.

And then I think they reversed course and then went over the top on Trump. Really, the FBI needs to learn to stay out of politics. And here is the problem. And from the beginning of our country, Madison warned about this, that men are not angels.

So, you have people at the FBI that turn out to be very biased, McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page. This is why I have been advocating that no one should be allowed to search Americans' data, Republican or Democrat, without asking a judge for permission through a warrant.

This is the institutional reform that I have been advocating. And it means that bias can come from either side. But law enforcement has such enormous power, it needs to be held in check and balanced by judiciary -- by the judiciary.

BRENNAN: Because of the slim Republican majority, your vote will be key here and much needed if the president wants to got his new secretary of state nominee confirmed, Mike Pompeo.

What do you need to hear from him to change your vote from a no to a yes?

PAUL: I have been very supportive of the president on taxes, regulation, the judiciary.

But when it comes to foreign policy, the thing I liked about President Trump was his opposition to the Iraq War. I guess what I'm perplexed by is that he keeps nominating people around him on foreign policy who actually thought the Iraq War was so good that they want to have an Iran war now.

And so I think the lesson of the Iraq War was that there are unintended consequences from regime change. And so I don't think somebody being the head of secretary of state who wants regime change in Iran is a good thing or wants regime change in North Korea.

You really want a diplomat to be in charge of the State Department, not someone who is advocating for war. So, I can't vote for Pompeo.

On Haspel, my main concern about her is that she oversaw an illegal black ops operation in Thailand that included torture. And I don't think torture is what America is about.

BRENNAN: Well, the CIA is looking at declassifying the details of exactly what her job was.

They have not confirmed that she ran that black site. But why don't you withhold your judgment on her until you see the details of her 33-year career?

PAUL: Because I think there is ample information out there. And it's not disputed that she ran the black ops operation in Thailand, that she did oversee enhanced interrogation.

In fact, her colleagues have said that she was an enthusiastic supporter of this enhanced interrogation, or water-boarding, or torture, as most of us have come to believe it.

There is also evidence that she signed a cable to destroy the evidence. There were videotapes, which I'm sure were ghastly, of the simulated drowning. And these were destroyed with her support and advocacy when she returned home to Washington.

So, I think there's got to be plenty of good people at the CIA who weren't involved with torture. And, really, we're supposed to be the symbol of hope for the world. And people who want freedom from totalitarianism, they want freedom from torture.

They don't want the freedom to torture. And so I think this sets a terrible -- this sets a terrible example for the world.


BRENNAN: To be clear, though, that was U.S. policy at the time. That wasn't her individual policy. But just to...

PAUL: She was at a high enough...

BRENNAN: ... quickly fact-check you on something there, sir, the investigator who looked into some of what you're talking about with those tapes, the CBS News security contributor, the former number two the CIA, Mike Morell, did clear Haspel, saying she didn't order the destruction, her superior did. She just drafted the cable.

PAUL: Yes.

BRENNAN: Does that change your view of her?

PAUL: I think she was -- I think she was a willing participant in water-boarding. I think she was a willing participant in destroying the tapes.

It wasn't her standing up and making a principled stand and saying, I'm going to the president, I'm not going to destroy these tapes. It was her writing the memo. And who actually advocated for it, her or her superior, there's no that she was protesting against torture. There's every evidence that she was covering it up.

This is not what we stand for as a people. We stand for freedom and hope. We can't be the country that torture prisoners. And I have got three young members of my family in the military. I don't want every enemy around the world to think, oh, it's OK to torture people because the Americans do it.

I don't want my family to be captured and for other countries to think, oh, torture is OK. Absolutely, we cannot have her be the symbol of this.


PAUL: Excuse me?

BRENNAN: Will you filibuster these nominations?

PAUL: Yes, I will do everything to stop -- now, I don't have the power to stop her nomination.

If there's enough votes, she will eventually win. But there are few things in life where it is worth standing up and saying, enough is enough, this is wrong.

This is -- this is beneath contempt. We are not a people that should be so fearful or so vengeful that we think that torture is somehow acceptable. On what level could torture ever be acceptable?

No, we should make a stand on this. She should never lead the CIA. And one other reason is, they have such enormous power to destroy lives. They can listen to all the phone conversations of the world. They can assassinate people with drones. We should not have someone at the top who has actually been an advocate of or a participant in torture.

BRENNAN: Well, Gina Haspel will speak her piece when she has that confirmation hearing.

Thank you, Senator.

We turn now to Maine independent Senator Angus King, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He joins us from Carrabassett Valley, his home state, this morning.

Good morning, sir.

I want to give you a chance as well to respond to the firing of FBI's Deputy Andrew McCabe. It came just hours before his retirement, when he would have been allowed to receive full benefits. What is your reaction?

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, I think the first reaction is much as Rand Paul said, that I think we got to see that inspector general's report.

I don't want to go on press reports with pieces of it. A long time ago, I learned there are two sides to every story. And I want to see what the inspector general says. I want to see what Andrew McCabe has in the way of a response.

But even if you assume for a moment that the inspector general's report said he did these -- he had these violations of the code of the FBI, if you will, my problem is the timing and the way it all worked.

It just seems mean-spirited to come down on a guy within 48 hours of his scheduled retirement. He had 21 years of exceptional service in the FBI.

So, it was clearly rushed. And I think there are questions about that and whether the administration was putting pressure on the Justice Department to take this action.

The whole thing appears, at least at this point -- we're going to find out more in the coming weeks, but it appears to have been compressed in order to take vengeance on this guy for some reason. And I don't think that's the way we should be governing.

So, we have to find out the facts of what he did. And if he did, then some punishment was necessary. But to rush it through in order to take his pension away from him within a few hours of the end of his tenure strikes me, as I said, mean-spirited.

BRENNAN: Your fellow Intel Committee member Mark Warner has called on all members of Congress to speak out in defense of the special counsel.

The president has a lot to say about Robert Mueller this morning. His own personal attorney, John Dowd, has called for an end to the Mueller probe. What do you make of that?

KING: I think it's a huge mistake for the president. I think it's very dangerous for the country.

Robert Mueller is as straight an arrow as there is in America. He's a former Marine. He's a prosecutor. I think he's a Republican. He was -- when he was appointed, everybody said, hooray, this is the right guy.

And now he's just doing his job. And for the administration to keep trying to undercut what they're trying to do, the president keeps saying there's no story here, they didn't do anything wrong.

If they didn't do anything wrong, why are they going to such extreme lengths to undermine this investigation, which is being carried out in a very responsible way? You have noticed there haven't been many, if any leaks from the Mueller investigation, nonpolitical. They're trying to get to the bottom of a very complicated set of facts.

And anybody that says there's nothing to it, well, they have already had three or four guilty pleas and 15 or 20 indictments. That tells me that there is something going on here, and there's something serious. It may or may not involve the Trump campaign or the president, but it certainly involves a lot of other people.

This is a serious investigation. And if the president tries to terminate it prematurely, I think it will be a true constitutional crisis.

BRENNAN: What is the top question you have for Gina Haspel when she comes before your committee?

KING: Well, the reason question I have is, OK, what did you have to do with this so-called enhanced interrogation, which Rand Paul quite properly pointed out is actually torture?

And I particularly interested in the destruction of the videotape, because that was, as I understand it, against the instructions of the general counsel of the CIA. Somebody knew they were doing something wrong. I think the CIA should declassify as much surrounding this circumstance as possible, so she can answer these questions in an open setting, and the American people can understand what the context was.

I'm very, very troubled by this. And, as Senator Paul said, it seems to me there may be other people qualified to do this job that weren't involved in what John McCain has characterized one of the darkest moments of our recent history.

BRENNAN: You did vote for John Brennan to become CIA director. He was higher-ranking within the agency at the time when these practices, as you call it torture, were carried out.

How did you reconcile that? Why vote for him and withhold it for her?

KING: Well -- well, because we determined -- and there was lot of examination -- that he wasn't directly involved in the decision-making. He was there. He was an executive at the CIA.

But she was on the spot. At least, that's what -- and, again, we're talking about material that isn't fully in the public sphere. And that's why first thing I said was, the CIA should declassify as much of this as is remotely possible, so that we can all make a full judgment.

But her involvement was much more direct and hands-on, if you will, than John Brennan's. And, also, John came forth basically said, I regret that we did this.

One of the questions I want to ask her is, how do you feel about what went on, and what is your view looking back? And the other thing we have to think about, Margaret, is, she's going to work for a president who has said water-boarding is no big deal.

And although it's the law of the land that it can't be done now, is he going to try to change that? And is she going to follow orders from a president that tells her to do something that's contrary to the law because she was involved in this project 15 years ago?

So, those are the kinds of questions I think she's going to have to answer.

BRENNAN: And if she says she personally disagrees, it would be enough to switch your vote?

KING: Well, I'm not sure.

It's the whole context.


KING: I want to listen to her explanation and how she reacts to the questions.

BRENNAN: Got it.

Senator, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

We will be back with more FACE THE NATION in one minute.


BRENNAN: Earlier, we sat down with Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. He's head of the Foreign Relations Committee and also happens to be one of the president's toughest critics in the Republican Party.


BRENNAN: You're leaving the Senate. And you have been pretty candid in your past about what you thought of where the president was.

You questioned his stability. You questioned his competence.

Do you have a reason now that you're being more careful in your language? Have you fixed your relationship with the president?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Well, look, I don't think people realize that we never stopped talking.

When you say being more careful, I'm -- again, I'm assessing things as they are. And, as I just mentioned, there has been a lot of progress made. Sometimes, it's a little uncanny as to how it happens. And it's very unorthodox.

The president, just like a lot of businesspeople, just picks up the phone, and sometimes things happen in a good way, sometimes not. But we have made some -- we have made progress in North Korea. There's no question.

BRENNAN: You think progress is a meeting?

CORKER: Well, I'm really talking about the things we have done to bring the international community together to put us in a place where discussions can take place.

The Iran deal will be another issue. It's coming up in May. And right now, it doesn't feel like it's going to be extended. I think the president likely will move away from it, unless my -- our European counterparts really come together on a framework.

And it doesn't feel to me that they are. Now, as we get within two weeks of the May 12 date, that could change. But...

BRENNAN: You think the president is going to pull out of that Iran deal May 12?

CORKER: I do. I do.

BRENNAN: Now you have this timeline in May, where you could see the U.S. pulling out of a nuclear deal with Iran, at the same time it's starting to negotiate with North Korea about its nuclear program.

Do you think it makes things harder to get anywhere with North Korea?

CORKER: I don't. I mean, I know people...

BRENNAN: You don't think they're related?

CORKER: I don't.

Look, I -- I have used that argument, OK? But, at the end of the way, I think this -- this whole situation with North Korea and the way that it's shaping up right now, as I mentioned, is somewhat unorthodox.

And I think you're dealing with a leader there that probably doesn't think the same way that other countries and their leadership might. So, I'm not sure that it's going to end up having a detrimental effect.

BRENNAN: Do you think the president should sit down with Kim Jong-un?

CORKER: I think it's fine. Look, it's going to happen.

BRENNAN: You do believe that meeting is going to happen?

CORKER: I think, ultimately, it happens. I do.

You already seen -- you have seen the administration sort of move away from an instant meeting. They have said that they don't know exactly when it's going to occur. And I think there's...

BRENNAN: So, maybe not May, which is when...


CORKER: Well, I think you're seeing that happen because of the realities of what you have to do in preparation to make sure that it's successful.

It takes awhile for that to occur. We do have back channels ourselves, by the way, to North Korea. And we have our ways of setting things like that up in an appropriate manner.

BRENNAN: And do you think Mike Pompeo, who is currently at the CIA, but will ultimately face confirmation ahead of your committee to become secretary of state, is he the right person to be leading that diplomacy? Is he already laying some of this groundwork?

CORKER: I think he became aware of his situation over the weekend.

And you saw where he had already briefed himself up on North Korea a little bit more fully than he otherwise would have probably. It's my sense that Pompeo is much more aligned with the president.

And so I think one of the questions he will get during the hearing process is just ensuring that he's going to be giving honest assessments and that full range of options to the president as decisions are being made.

My sense is, though, they will get along. They will move much more fully together as they move down the path on foreign policy.

BRENNAN: Do you expect to have a new secretary of state by May?

CORKER: Look, it's -- Margaret, as you know, we're moving into the -- sort of the election season, and things are beginning to feel slightly more partisan. I hope that's the case, but we will see.

BRENNAN: Rand Paul says he's going to block the nomination.

CORKER: Well, we have 21 members. And so it takes 11. And we have one member who said they would oppose him.

There were two Democrats who voted for Pompeo on the floor as -- who are members of the committee -- for CIA.

BRENNAN: Have you spoken with Rex Tillerson since he was fired?

CORKER: I had a long conversation with him, yes.

BRENNAN: How is he doing?

CORKER: I think he's doing fine.

I think he feels he knows he's laid the groundwork for North Korea. I know he feels like he's moved things along in a good way, wants to have a very good transition with Pompeo. He's a class act in that regard.

So, I think he's at peace. I think he obviously wanted to stay a year. He moved beyond that. I think he was planning to be here this -- this entire year also, to make it two.

But, look, I think he feels like he served his country well and knows that the president needs to have his own secretary of state or one that he more gels fully with.


BRENNAN: And you can see our full interview with Senator Corker on our Web site at

We will be right back.


BRENNAN: We want to go now to Moscow and CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer, where today's presidential election is taking place against the backdrop of new sanctions and expelled diplomats -- Liz.


As you can see, it's a beautiful day today here in Moscow, which may have helped voter turnout. Certainly, from what we saw at the polling stations this morning, it looked pretty heavy.


PALMER (voice-over): All the signs of a real contest are here, but everyone knows how it's going to turn out. And President Putin should be announcing his victory in a few hours' time.

That will make him the longest continuously serving leader in Russian history, beating the record set by Joseph Stalin.

The U.K. government certainly won't be sending its congratulations. Britain's foreign secretary has said it's likely Putin himself decided to poison the Russian exile Sergei Skripal with nerve agent.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: We think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision.

PALMER: In retaliation, Britain said it would expel 23 Russian diplomats. Then Moscow responded tit for tat and announced it would expel 23 British diplomats.

Meanwhile, Moscow was also taking heat from Washington last week, when the U.S. Treasury announced fresh sanctions against Russia for meddling in the election and staging cyber-attacks.


PALMER: Now, in retaliation for that, the Russians have announced that they will be expanding their so-called black list, which is a list of Americans who are not allowed to visit or do business in Russia, although it's worth noting they have never made the contents of that list public -- Margaret.

BRENNAN: Liz, thank you.

We will be right back.


BRENNAN: We will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION.

White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short, he is with us. Lots of questions for him when we come back, so stay with us.


BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. I'm Margaret Brennan.

We turn now to Marc Short, White House director of legislative affair, to get the administration's perspective on all that is going on in Washington.

Marc, you're a busy man.

Let's start on the nominations question.


BRENNAN: Republicans really can't afford to lose a single vote. You just heard Senator Rand Paul says -- saying he opposes both the nominee to be CIA and the secretary of state. How do you get enough votes to get your guys through?

SHORT: Well, we think we have two incredibly qualified candidates there. Mike Pompeo, as you know, graduated top of his class at West Point, graduated top of his class at Harvard Law School, served our country with distinction in uniform, served our country with distinction in Congress. He's done a phenomenal job at restoring morale at the CIA. We think he is a phenomenal choice. He earned 15 Democrat votes in his confirmation only a year ago.

BRENNAN: You're going to need some of those Democrats this time too.

SHORT: Well, I think it's unfortunate where Rand Paul's position is and before the hearings begin and getting some of the answers to his questions. I think that, you know, Rand himself ran for president on policy. This kind of -- to put your head in the sand about North Korea and Iran and just hope they don't development nuclear weapons, that's out of -- that's out of sync with the rest of the American people, which is why they went a different direction.

But we think there's enough Democrats that will help support our candidates. And I think with Gina Haspel, you know, as you mentioned in your previous interview, 33 years of service in the CIA, station chief in multiple, the most dangerous places in the globe. Somebody who has earned the sport not just of Republican people who have run the CIA, but also Democrat heads. People like Leon Panetta. People like Brennan. People like Clapper. And even not in the CIA, but in the intelligence community. So she has broad, bipartisan support. We think she'll earn the support of many Democrats in her confirmation hearing too.

BRENNAN: Will the president agree to allow the CIA to publicly release information, the details of her background that Rand Paul and Angus King say they want to hear more about?

SHORT: I'm sure that we're going to look to provide as much information as necessary, without compromising any international secrets. So we're going to want to be cooperative. But, again, I think that we have two incredibly qualified candidates. The president's very excited that he's nominated them. And that -- looks forward to putting them in office as soon as possible.

And, you know, Margaret, as we -- as we face negotiations with North Korea, it's all the more important that this happen expeditiously. It's important that members come together and make sure these conformations happen quickly in the next coming weeks.

BRENNAN: But this was a decision the president made. And you're saying you need a secretary of state. Well, he had one until he fired him.

SHORT: Well, that's true, Margaret, but I think that the reality is that these are negotiations that are now beginning. It's important the president be on the same page with the secretary of state, who he works with and agrees with on many fronts. And so we -- we think that Congress should work quickly.

We're very frustrated at the pace of Congress in many nominations. As you and I have discussed off camera, the reality is that so far the number of filibusters in our nominees is four times greater in one year than the last four presidents combined in their entire first terms. It's really reaching an historic obstruction.

BRENNAN: And behind on nominations, too.

But I want to ask you about the place you work every day.

Senator Jeff Flake said Republicans should come out against the president if he starts attacking Robert Mueller, that that is a red line. The president's had a lot to say about the special counsel this morning. Are you hearing outcry from Republicans?

SHORT: I've not heard a lot of outcry from Republicans. In all due respect to Jeff Flake, I'm not sure as far as him representing the Republican Party, couldn't get re-elected in his own state today. So the reality is --

BRENNAN: You think Republicans are OK with the kind of (INAUDIBLE) the president is having this morning?

SHORT: I'm not -- I -- I don't -- I don't -- I don't think that the president or anybody right now in our White House is suggesting not cooperating in any way with the Mueller investigation. We've cooperated every single way. Naturally there's --

BRENNAN: The president's attorney called for an end to (INAUDIBLE) --

SHORT: Everyone in the White House has cooperated on this. And what I said is, is that we have cooperated in every single way, every single paper they've asked for, every single interview. And I think the reality, Margaret, is that, yes, there's a growing frustration that after more than a year and millions and millions of dollars spent on this, there remains no evidence of collusion with Russia.

BRENNAN: The investigation's ongoing.

SHORT: Of course it is.


SHORT: It's ongoing over a year. And it's been ongoing also in both the House and the Senate during their own independent investigation where the House has concluded there was no collusion.

I think at some point the American people are owed an answer to say, OK, if there is no collusion, how much longer will this drag on?

BRENNAN: Well, that is why they Justice Department put that special counsel in place, saying that the American people deserve an answer to that question of what Russia's influence was. So, in these public statements, isn't the president appearing to discredit or attempt to discredit the outcome of that?

SHORT: I think the president's expressing his frustration, which I think is well warranted and merited. As I said, there has been no evidence whatsoever of collusion. There's been millions and millions of dollars spent at taxpayer expense trying to uncover this.

And the reality is that there's two separate issues here. One is Russia interference, Margaret. And if you look at Russian interference, this administration has imposed sanctions. This administration has helped to arm Ukraine with defensive weapons to protect against Russian aggression. This administration partnered with NATO condemning the most recent murders in Britain by Russia. The previous -- the previous -- the previous -- the previous administration -- the previous --

BRENNAN: Right, but the president hasn't tweeted about those things today (INAUDIBLE) we didn't (ph) ask you (ph) about Ukraine.

SHORT: Well the previous Obama administration did absolutely nothing as far as combating interference in the elections. So this administration has taken action.

As it relates to collusion, there is none.

BRENNAN: How's morale at the White House? We know the chief of staff held a meeting this week to reassure people.

SHORT: Morale on our team is great, Margaret. I think the reality is we're --

BRENNAN: The legislative team.

SHORT: We're -- I think the reality is, is what the American people want to know is, despite the media's coverage of who's up, who's down, what's the latest palace intrigue --

BRENNAN: The secretary of state was fired this week.

SHORT: They want to know, what's the latest palace intrigue?

BRENNAN: That's -- that's not the media.

SHORT: What the American people want to know is, what is the unemployment rate? It's the lowest in 17 years. How are jobs doing? Lowest unemployment rate for Hispanic-Americans in history. Lowest for African-Americans in history. You see an economy that's growing again.

BRENNAN: But you're -- you're confident that the -- the staffers you're working with, you come to work every day, feel that their jobs are safe? I mean why did the chief of staff have to have that meeting (ph)?

SHORT: Any time -- any time in this environment there's always going to be lot of turmoil, Margaret. That's something you sign up for. You recognize you serve at the pleasure of the president. We sign up knowing that we're trying to do the will of the American people.

And as you look at the records of this administration and what the American people are pleased at with the way the economy is growing and the way that they are being protected, ISIS having lost 99 percent of the territory it contained prior to this administration, we're making America safer, the economy is booming, 4.5 million Americans have either received a wage increase or bonus since the tax plan came into effect. The economy, where we are as a country, the consumer sentiment reached a 20 year high just this week.

BRENNAN: Yes. All right. Well, Marc, you got a lot of work to do this week. Thank you very much for making the time to come on the show.

SHORT: Thanks for having me on, Margaret.

BRENNAN: We'll be right back.


BRENNAN: It's been 10 days since President Trump accepted North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un's invitation to meet. But there's still been no public response from North Korea. Yesterday I spoke with South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-Wha, who was in town for talks on trade and North Korea. That's where our conversation began.


BRENNAN: Have you heard anything from North Korea in response?

KANG KYUNG-WHA, SOUTH KOREA'S FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, nothing publicly. But there is the channel of communication now established. So I'm sure there are back and forth messages.

But I think the North Korean leader would also need some time given the readiness with which President Trump has accepted the invitation to talks. I think we were all quite surprised by -- by the -- the readiness of that decision. I think it was an extremely courageous decision on the part of President Trump.

We believe the North Korean leader is now taking stock. We give them the benefit of the doubt and the time that he would need to come out with some public messaging.

BRENNAN: So you were surprised President Trump accepted so quickly. Do you think Kim Jong-un was surprised?

KANG: I think we all were.

BRENNAN: Your president, Moon --

KANG: Yes.

BRENNAN: Has plans already --

KANG: Yes.

BRENNAN: To meet with Kim Jong-un next month.

KANG: Uh-huh.

BRENNAN: What does South Korea hope to achieve from that conversation?

KANG: This is, of course, also a very historic engagement. And the North Korean leader is coming just south of the DMZ for the third inter-Korean summit. The two previous ones were held in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. So the indication that he is willing to come south for this is -- is very significant in itself.

BRENNAN: In the talks between North and South Korea, will the nuclear program even be a topic, or are you saving that for President Trump?

KANG: No, we're not saving that for I think President Trump. I think this is a concern, not just for United States, but for South Korea as well. But I think we will want to discuss key security issues, including the denuclearization issue.

BRENNAN: What conditions do the North Koreans have to meet before this conversation happens?

KANG: Well, in effect they already have. We have asked the North to indicate, in clear terms, the commitment to denuclearization. And he has, in fact, conveyed that commitment.

BRENNAN: He's given his word?

KANG: He has given his word. But the significance of his word is -- is quite -- quite weighty in the sense that this is the first time that the -- the words came directly from the North Korean supreme leader himself. And that has never been done before.

BRENNAN: The idea of a North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, meeting with an American president, caught a lot of people by surprise.

KANG: Uh-huh.

BRENNAN: What is the significance of that to South Korea?

KANG: Well, it clearly demonstrates that President Trump's will, determination, to resolve this issue once and for all. And I think that's hugely appreciated by the South Korean public. The previous years, before the administration, has been one of non-action, called strategic patience. What has changed is the maximum pressure campaign, which is a series of Security Council sanctions, but also U.S. unilateral sanctions.

North Korea is in a situation of very limited ability to engage economically with the outside world, which means it has very limited ways of improving its -- the livelihood of the people.

BRENNAN: You're describing a weak North Korea financially.

KANG: Economically, definitely.

BRENNAN: But they've never been this militarily strong when it comes to the development of their nuclear program. They've never come this close to being able to hit the U.S. mainland with a weapon before. So they're actually walking into these talks in a strong position in some ways.

KANG: But the -- I think -- I think that's probably what -- what goes in to the North Korean calculation of coming out to dialogue at this point. But, again, it's -- it's the strength on the -- on the side of its nuclear missiles program, on the side of the economy, very, very weak and increasingly so.

The art of diplomacy and negotiation is this -- what this boils down to.

BRENNAN: What is South Korea and what is the U.S., it's partner, willing to offer North Korea at this negotiation?

KANG: At this point we haven't offered it anything. We had made it clear that we will engage, but there will be no reward for dialogue.

BRENNAN: Does South Korea trust Kim Jong-un?

KANG: As I said, it's not a matter of trusting, it's mean -- it's a matter of discussing and pressing for action. And once you see those actions, then you move forward further.

BRENNAN: When President Trump says things like he did reportedly at this political event earlier this week when he suggested U.S. troops could be removed because of a trade dispute, how are those comments received in South Korea?

KANG: Well, any time troops are mentioned, it raises eyebrows. So, yes, it has caught attention. But we are absolutely confident of the American commitment to the alliance and the troop presence in our country.

BRENNAN: So you don't take comments like that seriously?

KANG: Well, we take any comment coming from the president very seriously. But in -- but, yes, but in the larger scheme of things is this alliance that have been the bedrock of peace and security in the -- in -- on the Korean peninsula, but also the northeast Asia for decades.

BRENNAN: Next week those tariffs on steel and aluminum go into effect.

KANG: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

BRENNAN: What's going to happen to South Korea?

KANG: Well, we've been arguing very much, you know, as ally, and at a particularly -- and a visible alliance at this point when we are trying to make the most of this opportunity that is created to come to terms with the North Korean nuclear issue, that we -- we -- we need -- we need an exemption on this. So we've put all of our arguments and considerations on the table we're hoping for a good result.

BRENNAN: No assurance that you will be exempt yet?

KANG: I think we'll know when the decision is made and announced. But I think we've put -- we're putting the best arguments in place.

BRENNAN: This comes in the middle of what was already tough renegotiation of that U.S. free trade deal with South Korea. So are you concerned that some of this beating up on trade is going to hurt the alliance?

KANG: There have always been trade issues. The steel issue is not entirely new. This is particularly big, but we take it for what it is and try to deal with it.

But, again, yes, coming at this particular time, it -- it's not helpful.

BRENNAN: Minister, thank you.

KANG: Thank you.


BRENNAN: You can see our full interview with Minter Kang on our website,

We'll be back in a moment with our political panel.


BRENNAN: For some political analysis.

Dan Balz is chief correspondent at "The Washington Post." Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR. And Mark Landler is a White House correspondent at "The New York Times."

Dan, we've been talking a lot about the hirings and firings at the White House this week. You saw late Friday Attorney General Jeff Sessions fire the deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. Some are saying this will win him a few political points. What do you make of this?

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think that's probably right. He'll gain some points with the person he needs to gain those most with, and that's the president of the United States, who very much wanted to see McCabe go and had been -- had been tweeting for a long time and making statements that I think put the attorney general in a position where he had to act and had to fire him. And we have seen since that firing the president of the United States come back in and ratify that and push harder on that. So I think that what we -- what we saw was the intimidation coming from the president of the United States.

Again, we haven't seen the -- the report -- the IG report that lays out the rational for the firing. And I think everybody is -- is right in saying we have to see that before we can draw full conclusions. But there clearly was pressure coming from above on the attorney general on this. He was not acting simply as an independence agent.

BRENNAN: And we know that because the president sent a tweet at one point specifically pointing out that McCabe was going to retire for full benefits. And this firing came hours before that would have been possible.

BALZ: Right. And, you know, we've -- we've seen a number of people say, regardless of the merits of the case, the notion that this was rushed in a way as to be punitive and mean spirited is part of the issue that we now -- we now have. And following that, John Dowd's statement yesterday, that this would be a good time for Mueller to close down the investigation, initially suggesting he was speaking for the president, then walking that back, again, raises this question of the pressure that is being put on the Justice Department and on the special counsel.

BRENNAN: Susan, you're already hearing from Jeff Flake. In the past you've heard from Senator Graham say, don't go near Bob Mueller. That's a red line here. Is that for show? I mean Marc Short, from the White House, was saying they haven't heard that kind of outcry from congressional Republicans.

SUSAN DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: You know what we had heard from congressional leaders like the speaker and the majority leader in the Senate is that they have confidence in Mueller's investigation, that they don't support any effort to interfere with the investigation.

I do think that the interpretation of the president's reaction to the McCabe firing does seem like there is an acceleration of his frustration towards Mueller.

I don't know what happens if the president really does try to close down this investigation or go further with firings at the Justice Department. Congress has really been under Republicans quiet largely about how the president has handled this. They have not been very confrontational with him.

It has been described as a red line. I do think that's fair. I do think Senator Angus King, who you heard earlier on the program say something along those lines would -- would be like a constitutional crisis. And I think he's -- he's accurate in that. I think it's a concern, though, that Republicans at this stage continue to keep private. We did not see much of a reaction coming from Capitol Hill either about the firing of McCabe or his comments about the Mueller investigation. But the concern is real.

BRENNAN: You did have a few comments saying the Judiciary Committee is going to be looking into exactly what happened.

DAVIS: Yes. The question here, too, and as Dan said, it's not -- we don't know a lot about the substance, right? We haven't seen the IG report. But I do think there's a lot of members of Congress that look at this and are -- do raise questions about the timing. And why didn't they make a better case to the public. If -- if the substance is there, if Andrew McCabe did deserve to be fired, if the facts are on your side, then let the facts play out and let the public be on your side. And so the way it was handled, I do think, there is some frustration. Congress has not been very aggressive in its oversight of this administration. This might be something they just simply can't ignore.

BRENNAN: Mark, the president already had quite a week of news after firing his secretary of state, leading to these reports of chaos, upheaval, more changes to come.

What is happening? What is motivating this kind of communication from him today?

MARK LANDLER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I mean, the president's talked recently about how he's actually getting closer to having the cabinet that he wants in place. And, you know, there's a school of thought that says that --

BRENNAN: He picked the first cabinet.

LANDLER: He picked the first cabinet. But to be fair, he picked some people he didn't know well, people who were recommended to him by outsiders. Rex Tillerson is a good example of that. And now, after 14 months, I think he's coming into his own and I think he's decided he wants to have people around him who agree with him, who see the world the way he does, who don't push back.

One thing about Rex Tillerson is he pushed back on the Iran deal, for example. Mike Pompeo, by all accounts, won't do that. Tillerson was very forward leaning on diplomacy with North Korea at a time when the president wasn't. Pompeo would be much more inclined to line up with the president.

And so I think that we're seeing the president in some sense coming toward having the type of people around him that he's most comfortable with. And then you also have to say, this is a guy who does operate by having a chaotic environment around him. The type of chaos that many people would find untenable, President Trump is comfortable with. He always has been in his business career, and he is now as president.

BRENNAN: It was interesting to me to hear Senator Corker, in our interview, basically say, yes, the Iran deal most likely is dead in May. As you bring up Mike Pompeo, the nominee to be secretary of state, has been a vocal critic of that deal.

I mean what do we extrapolate from some of these changes the president is making to his cabinet?

LANDLER: Well, the Iran deal is an interesting test case because you've got several people on the national security team who have argued strenuously that the president not rip it up.

BRENNAN: H.R. McMaster being one of them.

LANDLER: HR. McMaster, Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, and the secretary -- the former secretary of state. With Pompeo in police, he will now have one less voice making that case. And also, to be sure, the president has gotten more and more impatient each time he's had to make this decision. And so I think Senator Corker is reflecting reality, which is, we're at the end of the line for this deal and without Tillerson's voice there to defend it, the likelihood is much higher he goes ahead and rips it up.

BRENNAN: Dan, you know, also this week you had the president saying that this defeat of Republicans in this Pennsylvania special election wasn't really a defeat, it was in some ways a referendum of Trumpism. Is that how you read Conor Lamb's victory?

BALZ: Not exactly. I mean if you want -- if you want a good example of a great attempt at spin, that was the argument. That one way or another Conor Lamb became the new congressman from that district because he was very Trumpian.

No, I think quite the opposite. I think this was, as we have said many times, this was a district that went 20 percent margin for Donald Trump, but it also went 17 points in favor of Mitt Romney in 2012. This was not just a Trump district, this was a solid Republican district. And the fact that it moved as dramatically as it did is an indication that Republicans have stiff headwinds heading into the midterm election.

Yes, Conor Lamb said some things that put him in a little bit better position in that district. He said he wouldn't vote for Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader, for example. He talked about being in favor of the Second Amendment. But in many other ways, he ran it on Democratic issues and the turnout was very, very strong.

And so I think we saw two things. One, that there were obviously some people who had voted for Donald Trump in 2016 who ended up voting for Conor Lamb. And the second, which we've seen again and again and again is that the energy and the enthusiasm and the intensity is greater on the Democratic side at this point than it is on the Republican side.

BRENNAN: Susan, so those stiff headwinds change the calculus of those in the Republican Party right now in terms of the willingness to challenge the president?

DAVIS: It is a very tricky thing for Republicans to do that because the one thing that was true, and also in Pennsylvania was true, is Republican voters aren't angry at the president. They still like him. The question is, are they going to show up and vote for people down the ballot? And Democrats face a similar problem under the Obama era, that Democratic voters still liked Barack Obama but they didn't show up in the midterms to support him.

One of the lessons of these midterm elections is that the president can hurt you, but he can't necessarily save you. And that I think Republicans, even though there was some very optimistic spin coming out of this race, a very aware of the fact that the House majority is very much in play. And that if they can't figure out a way to run in an environment where the president has an approval rating in the low 40s, that a lot of unexpected losses could be coming their way.

BRENNAN: Susan, Dan, Mark, thanks for coming on the show.

BALZ: Thank you.

LANDLER: Thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you.

BRENNAN: We'll be back in a moment.


BRENNAN: That's it for us today. Thanks for watching. Until next Sunday, for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan. 

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