Full transcript: "Face the Nation" on May 13, 2018

5/13: Face the Nation

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MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS: It's Sunday, May 13. I'm Margaret Brennan. And this is FACE THE NATION.

In a week where U.S. diplomacy took a giant step backwards, with the president pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal...


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made.


BRENNAN: ... efforts to craft a new relationship ahead of the summit with North Korea took a big step forward.

The North Koreans invited reporters to witness the dismantling of their main nuclear test site later this month. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled there to bring home the three American detainees. They were greeted by a triumphant President Trump.

But is North Korea really serious about denuclearization? And what impact will the U.S. breaking the agreement with Iran have on crafting a new one with North Korea? We will ask Secretary of State Pompeo.

The fallout from the president's decision to nix the Iran deal is already being felt in the Mideast, as U.S. allies scramble to craft a way forward with the Iranians. We will have reports from Tehran, Gaza and Jerusalem, where the controversial new U.S. Embassy is scheduled to open tomorrow.

We will also speak with South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham. He will respond to the cruel comment from a White House aide about his close friend John McCain, who is battling brain cancer.

Plus, we will sit down with former Defense Secretary and CIA Chief Robert Gates, and we will have analysis on all the news -- coming up on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION.

Tensions are rising in the Mideast, and we have three reports from the region.

We begin with CBS News foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer in Tehran.

Liz, after the U.S. pullout, what efforts are being made to salvage what is left of the nuclear deal?

ELIZABETH PALMER, CBS NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Dr. Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, left Iran yesterday. He went to Beijing first. He's then heading to Russia. And then he's going to Europe.

Basically, Dr. Zarif is going to ask these other five countries to guarantee what Iran most wants from a nuclear deal. That is access to international capital and banking. Now, these are things that the U.S. is signaling it's going to try and block under new sanctions.

So, Dr. Zarif is basically asking these other five countries to do an end-run around upcoming U.S. sanctions.

BRENNAN: And how are Iranian citizens responding to the deal falling through?

PALMER: Well, the hard-liners hit the streets after President Trump's decision, with the old cries of "Death to America."

But they and everybody else are actually much more angry with their own government. They're fed up, because they haven't had salary increases. There are no jobs. There's corruption. And, most of all, they say the Iranian government can offer nothing but a bleak future.

I have never heard people so angry here. At the moment, the government is keeping a lid on little protests that have been springing up everywhere, but it's anyone's guess how long they can maintain stability.

BRENNAN: Thanks, Liz.

The official opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem tomorrow threatens to make relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians even worse.

We want to bring in CBS News foreign correspondents Holly Williams and Seth Doane in Jerusalem.

Seth, let's start with you.


This embassy moving comes at a sensitive time and coincides with a number of events, including the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel. That is something, of course, that Israelis celebrate and Palestinians mourn.

Palestinian protests have been growing in the last six weeks. And they're expected to culminate early in the week in Gaza. Hamas has encouraged its supporters to storm the border. That is something that the Israeli military is bracing for. They have snipers. They have also positioned forces inside settlements and they have doubled the number of troops alongside Gaza and the West Bank.

They say they are determined to try to stop Palestinian protesters from infiltrating into Israel. But they have to walk a very fine line. They don't want to see things escalate. They certainly do not want to see things more images of Palestinian casualties broadcast on television sets around the world.

Meanwhile, here in Jerusalem, posters are around town celebrating this move and thanking President Trump and America for moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- Margaret.

BRENNAN: Seth, thank you.

Holly, what are you seeing in Gaza?


Well, we were here in Gaza on Friday when Palestinians clashed with Israeli soldiers along on the border fence. Palestinians have condemned the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem because they hope that East Jerusalem will one day be their capital if they ever get their own state.

Many of the demonstrators were peaceful, but some threw rocks and burned tires. And others stormed a border crossing port for cargo and damaged fuel and gas pipelines. Israel has now closed that crossing point and fuel shortages are expected here in Gaza.

Israeli shoulders fired tear gas canisters and live ammunition. They have killed more than 40 Palestinians over the last six weeks, including a 15-year-old boy who died of his wounds yesterday, according to officials.

Last night, Israel says that it bombed an underground tunnel built by Hamas. That's the militant group in control of the Gaza Strip. And similar tunnels have been used in the past to attack Israel.

The Palestinian protesters seem to be driven by anger and frustration. The blockade of the Gaza Strip for more than 10 years now has made this poverty-stricken place even more desperate.

The roughly two million people who live here have to contend with nearly 50 percent unemployment, frequent power cuts, and contaminated water -- Margaret.

BRENNAN: Thank you both.

We want to welcome Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, our first guest here in the new FACE THE NATION studio.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's great to be with you. Happy Mother's Day. It's a beautiful studio.

BRENNAN: Thank you.

It's been an extraordinary week for you on many fronts. I want to ask you about North Korea. They have in the past pledged to dismantle nuclear sites before. They say they are going to do it again. Is this latest pledge a theatrical gesture or is it significant?

POMPEO: Well, my trip was designed to lay the groundwork to prepare for the president's meeting with Chairman Kim on June 12, now just 30 days away.

We have seen this happen before. We have our eyes wide open with respect to the fact that the North Koreans have not proved worthy of their promises. But we're hopeful that this will be different, that we won't do the traditional model, where they do something, and we give them a bunch of money, and then both sides walk away.

We're hoping this will be bigger, different, faster. Our ask is complete and total denuclearization of North Korea. And it is the president's intention to achieve that.

As he said, we will see if that works. But we're setting the conditions for a successful meeting between the two leaders.

BRENNAN: Have you defined denuclearization?

POMPEO: Yes. Total, full, complete.

BRENNAN: That means all dismantling, stopping computer modeling?

POMPEO: Yes. Yes.

BRENNAN: Getting rid of the centrifuges, stopping all enrichment, getting inspectors on the ground?

POMPEO: Yes, ma'am, the same deal we should have done with Iran.

BRENNAN: So, for you, you have talked about making it worth North Korea's while financially if they follow through.

John Bolton said today on another network that no one should look to the U.S. for economic aid, including North Korea.

POMPEO: That's right.

BRENNAN: How do you reconcile those two things? They seem to be in contrast.

POMPEO: Oh, it's very important. No, no. Oh, no, ma'am,(R)MDNM-- very, very consistent.

What -- what Chairman Kim will get from America is our finest, our entrepreneurs, our risk takers, our capital providers, not our taxpayers.

They will get people who...

BRENNAN: Private capital.

POMPEO: They will private capital that comes.

North Korea is desperately in need of energy support, electricity for their people. They are in great need of agricultural equipment and technology, the finest from the Midwest that I come from. We can deliver that.

And as I said earlier this week, we can create conditions for real economic prosperity for the North Korean people that will rival that of the south. And that is our expectation. It won't be U.S. taxpayers. It will be American know-how, knowledge, entrepreneurs, and risk takers working alongside the North Korean people to create a robust economy for their people.

BRENNAN: That sounds like sanctions relief to make it possible for a company to invest directly in North Korea. When would you do that?

POMPEO: Ma'am, if we get denuclearization, of course there will be sanctions relief, certainly. There will be more than that.

There will be a real -- the president has a commitment. And he will make this commitment to Chairman Kim, I am confident, that says, if you do the things we need to do, so that America is no longer held at risk by your nuclear weapons arsenal, and that you get rid of your CBW program and missiles that threaten the world, we will ensure that your people have the opportunity for the greatness that I know Chairman Kim wants them to have.

BRENNAN: Not many secretaries of state get to say they brought Americans home on their second week on the job or have even been to North Korea twice in six weeks' time.

But I'm wondering, in your interactions with Kim, because you have had them directly, have you assured him that the U.S. isn't trying to oust him from power?

POMPEO: I have told him that what President Trump wants is to see the North Korean regime get rid of its nuclear weapons program, in completely and in totality.

And in exchange for that, we are prepared to ensure that the North Korean people get the opportunity that they so richly deserve. It's pretty straightforward. And I said earlier this week I think, in that sense, Chairman Kim shares that same objective.

I think he understands that President Trump has put an enormous pressure campaign in place, with the aim of achieving a good outcome for North Korea and its people. That's our objective. That's the American goal that President Trump set forward.

BRENNAN: So, the U.S. no longer believes that Kim Jong-un is holding on to these weapons to secure his place in power?

In other words, you are saying no regime change?

POMPEO: Only time will tell how these negotiations will proceed.

The president uses the language, says, we will see. There is still a lot of work to do. The American leadership under President Trump has its eyes wide open. It could be that we won't be successful. It's possible. We acknowledge that.

We have watched this fail before. But the model that has been employed here is fundamentally different. And we're hopeful that we will get a fundamentally different outcome.

BRENNAN: What will this summit in Singapore look like? Are you walking into the room with President Trump to sit across from Kim Jong-un?

POMPEO: I don't know.

BRENNAN: You don't know yet?

POMPEO: I don't know.

We're working on details, the actual blocking and tackling of the meeting. We have been working on them for weeks. We will have teams working on them in the days and weeks ahead. We have got now some 30 days, I guess it is.

And there will be a great deal of work done between our two countries between now and then to finally set the stage for what we hope will be a very successful visit in Singapore between our two leaders.

BRENNAN: So, you're still figuring out the protocol. But you have spent the most time with Kim Jong-un.

POMPEO: I have.

BRENNAN: What has struck you about him?

POMPEO: What struck me about him?

He is very knowledgeable, in the sense of, he knows the files. He's very capable of engaging in complex set of discussions. When I ask him a question about something that's a little off, he answers it. There is no cards.

It is Chairman Kim in this case interacting with me directly, having a robust discussion about what the outlines of a successful negotiation between our two countries might ultimately be.

BRENNAN: You brought those three Americans home from North Korea. There are still at least four Americans being held in Iran. Their families are concerned that tearing up this diplomacy, exiting the nuclear deal, puts their loved ones at risk. What can you tell them?

POMPEO: Two things.

First, everyone should know that this administration is intent on bringing home every American who is held anywhere in the world. We have got Pastor Brunson in Turkey that we desperately need to get back. We have others held in Iran and in Syria. We're working diligently to get each one of them back.

With respect to whether the actions of this past week with respect to the JCPOA increased anyone's risk, I think that is ludicrous. The Iranian bad behavior increased. It only increased during the time of the JCPOA.


BRENNAN: Are you willing to carry out a prisoner swap with Iran, still?

POMPEO: I can't answer that question.

We didn't change -- exchange anything for these North Korean detainees. They came back because Chairman Kim thought it was in his best interest to do so. And we're thankful for that. And we're hopeful that Mr. Rouhani, who fancies himself a Westerner, would undertake to release the Iranian detainees as well.

He talks about the fact that he wants European business there. The least he could do would be to return all of the people that his country, Mr. Rouhani's country, has hold of.

BRENNAN: Fundamentally, a number of our European allies, as you know -- I'm sure you have had some difficult conversations in the past few days -- have been frustrated that the U.S. cut short the diplomacy, in their view.

They said in a conversation with you last Friday, you assured them that they had -- they were close to this side deal to address the things President Trump was worried about.

Why not try it? Why not finish that? Why did the president cut that off?

POMPEO: Oh, Margaret, we did. We did try.

The president set out a set of objectives. He tasked me in my first couple weeks to work with the Europeans to try and do it, although the work had been ongoing before I arrived at the State Department. And in no time were we able to reach an agreement.

The Europeans wouldn't simply accede to the requirements to fix the deal. And so they had some 90 days to do so.

BRENNAN: They thought they would have another five days and could get there on the sunset...


POMPEO: Margaret, we had 90 days to work at it.

And you should know we will continue to work. President Trump and President Macron have both said we want to get a deal that is right, a bigger deal. We will be hard at that in the weeks ahead. I hope to be a central part of achieving that.

It would be a wonderful thing if we could get the Europeans to do this.

But, Margaret, I do want to add this. Fundamentally, what's happened during the time of the JCPOA was that the Iranian wealth creation fueled their malign behavior. The money they that had to go and launch missiles into Riyadh in Israel, putting Americans at risk, was provided by the economic benefits they got from the JCPOA.

President Trump wants to starve them of that wealth.

BRENNAN: So, fundamentally, though, are you trying to negotiate a new nuclear deal, or are you trying to put together a coalition to defeat Iran?

POMPEO: We're going to put together a coalition that pushes back against not only Iran's nuclear program, which, by the way, Margaret, they still deny.

No Iranian leader has admitted they had a weapons program. And the facts are now public that they did. They ought to at least be honest about that. But it's not going to just be the nuclear file. It will their missile program. It will their effort to build Hezbollah. It will be their threats against Israel. It will the work that they're doing in Yemen to launch missiles into Saudi Arabia, for goodness' sakes.

This is the activity that the Iranian regime has undertaken during the JCPOA. We're going to make a shift. We're going to deny them the benefit of the economic wealth that has been created and put real pressure, so that they will stop the full scale of the sponsorship of terrorism with which they have been engaged in these past years.

BRENNAN: Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming on FACE THE NATION.

POMPEO: Thank you very much, Margaret. Happy Mother's Day to you.

BRENNAN: Thank you.

We will be back in one minute with Senator Lindsey Graham.


BRENNAN: We go now to Jerusalem and South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. He is leading the congressional delegation attending the opening of the U.S. Embassy there.

Thank you for joining us today, Senator.

I want to talk to you about the Middle East, but start first here at home.


BRENNAN: Your good friend John McCain, I know you were just visiting with him, and there's been some controversy here over a White House aide's comments, that Senator McCain's opposition to Gina Haspel for CIA doesn't matter because he's -- quote -- "dying."

Are you satisfied with how the White House has responded?

GRAHAM: No, not really. It's a pretty disgusting thing to say. If it was a joke, it was terrible joke.

I just wish somebody from the White House would tell the country that was inappropriate, that's not who we are in the Trump administration. And John McCain can be criticized for any political decision he's ever made or any vote he's ever cast, but he's an American hero.

And I think most Americans would like to see the Trump administration do better in situations like this. It doesn't hurt you at all to do the right thing and to be big.

BRENNAN: Should the president himself apologize?

GRAHAM: I will leave that up to him.

But if something happened like that in my office, somebody in my office said such a -- such a thing about somebody, I would apologize on behalf of the office.

BRENNAN: Let's turn now to the Middle East.

When you were on this program back in March, you said President Trump doesn't have a strategy to contain Iran and that Israel was careening towards a war. Do you think President Trump has a strategy now?

GRAHAM: Well, he's got a strategy to deny Iran a pathway to a bomb by withdrawing from this agreement.

Fifteen years from now, all the restrictions on their uranium program go away. They can enrich and reprocess uranium and potentially plutonium without limitation. So, getting out of the agreement, I think, stops a nuclear arms race.

But when it comes to containing Iran on the ground in Syria and other places, we don't have much of a strategy.

BRENNAN: How does exiting the existing deal to freeze the nuclear program stop Iran from getting a bomb? I mean, many would say the president didn't present an alternative to cut off all the pathways.

GRAHAM: The mere passage of time, they can have an industrial-strength enrichment program. And every Arab nation in the region has said that this deal was terrible.

It means that Iran one day will get a bomb without cheating. Israel believes it's a bad deal. I believe it's a bad deal.

BRENNAN: But U.S. allies that I have spoken with say they were very disappointed President Trump didn't allow them to broker this side deal to address what you are talking about, but still preserve the deal itself.

And they say this has really damaged relations with Europe.

GRAHAM: Here is what I would say to our European allies.

This deal you made was terrible in the eyes of everybody in the region. The closer you are to Iran, the worse this deal is. So, I hope we can find a new deal. What would a new deal look like?

Nuclear power available to the Iranians and the Arabs, without any of them having a capability to make a weapon. If all Iran wants is a nuclear power program, they can have it. If they want an enrichment capability unlimited in nature, the answer is no. We're telling our Arab allies they can have nuclear power, but they can't enrich.

BRENNAN: But do you believe that John Bolton and President Trump actually want another diplomatic deal? Because our allies doubt that.

GRAHAM: No, I think they do. I think they want a deal where Iran cannot, over the passage of time, develop a nuclear weapons. The current deal is terrible.

They took $150 billion. They didn't spend it on hospital, roads and bridges. They rebuilt their military. They're dismembering the Mideast. They hijacked our sailors on the high seas. How much has to happen before you realize Iran is not getting better; they're getting worse?

How many times do they have to fire missiles with "Death to Israel" on the side of the missile before you believe that they're not -- they are up to no good?

So, let's cancel this deal and get a better one, where they can have nuclear power, but they can't make a bomb.

And let me just say this. If they try to enrich again, if they try to go big in terms of enrichment, then I think that is a hostile act toward the state of Israel and the United States.

BRENNAN: You're in Jerusalem now, sir. Do you believe that the two-state solution is dead?

GRAHAM: No, because it can't be.

If you had one state that was Jewish in nature, eventually, you would have to have some kind of apartheid, where Arabs and Palestinians couldn't vote. Two states means a Jewish state with an Arab component, a Palestinian state living in dignity side by side with Israel.

The problem is, the Palestinians are divided. You have Hamas controlling Gaza, Palestinian Authority controlling the West Bank. Gaza is a rocket-launching factory against Israel. Until the Palestinians reconcile under one flag, there will never be peace.

BRENNAN: If President Trump can pull off a diplomatic agreement with North Korea, does he need congressional consent for a treaty?

GRAHAM: I would urge the president, if he can negotiate an agreement with Kim Jong-un, that he takes that agreement and sends it to the Senate.

I think that would be a good thing to do. This is a historic opportunity. But if the past is any indication of the future, you have got to watch North Korea like a hawk. But I do believe they're at the table because they see a different person in Donald Trump, and they believe, if he had to, Trump would use military force.

China certainly believes that.

BRENNAN: Secretary Pompeo said on Friday that the U.S. is willing to help North Korea achieve prosperity if they denuclearize. Is there an appetite in Congress to provide that kind of investment or sanctions relief?

GRAHAM: It would be the best money we ever spent.

If you could ever -- if you could really get North Korea to give up their nuclear program, then I think there would be lot of support in Congress to give North Korea a better life, provide aid, relieve sanctions, with one condition, that you give up your nuclear weapons program in a verifiable way.

When it comes to North Korea, I think there would be a lot of congressional support. The average North Korean is about three inches shorter than those in -- their friends in South -- their neighbors in South Korea, because of the terrible conditions in North Korea.

BRENNAN: And you would want U.S. troops to stay at current levels?

GRAHAM: I would want U.S. troops to stay in South Korea to stabilize the region.

China is moving around. I want to stay close to our allies in Asia. But if you had a peace treaty that ended the Korean War, you had a verifiable agreement where North Korea gave up their nuclear weapons, and they really meant it, and we could prove it, then I would leave it up to the president if he wanted to reduce troops and send them somewhere else.

I don't want a war with North Korea. The best thing that could happen is for them to give up their nuclear weapons program. I'm not trying to spread democracy to North Korea. I'm not trying to unify South Korea and North Korea. I'm trying to stop an unstable regime from having more weapons that can hit America.

BRENNAN: Senator, thank you for your time.

We will be back in a moment.


BRENNAN: Earlier this week, we traveled to the College of William & Mary to speak with former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Bob Gates. That interview will be coming up in our next half-hour.

And, tomorrow, Jeff Glor will anchor the evening news from Jerusalem. He will be covering the opening of the new American Embassy there and will interview Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As for FACE THE NATION, we will be back in a moment.


BRENNAN: We will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION, including our conversation with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

And our political panel will weigh in on all the news of the week.

So, stay with us.


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

Former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Robert Gates served eight presidents, working on nearly every national security issue that America faces. When we spoke at William and Mary Friday, I asked Gates whether he thought North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un was really serious about dismantling the country's nuclear program.


ROBERT GATES, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY AND CIA DIRECTOR: I think he's serious about this. I think he sees an opportunity, as do we. I think the president's tough talk and the willingness of the Chinese and the Russians to agree to the toughest sanctions we've ever really applied to North Korea certainly increased the pressure on the North Koreans to come to the table.

But I think he also feels that he's at a point with his nuclear program and his ballistic missile program that he can, at least for some period of time, go without testing and test the U.S. administration and see what might happen.

Yes, I think it's very complicated. They have a nuclear enterprise that is dramatically larger than Iran's, miles and miles of tunnels, multiple sites, existing nuclear weapons. So getting to genuine denuclearization will be a very complicated process.

BRENNAN: You've raised concerns in the past about President Trump's unpredictability as a leader, but do you see that unpredictability as an asset in this case?

GATES: I think that the unpredictability in terms of some of the tweets and some of the tough talk did get the attention of the North Koreans and the Chinese as well in terms of fire and fury and -- and so on. You know, my view is generally that tactical unpredictability is good and, as an asset, strategic unpredictability is probably not a good idea for a great power.

BRENNAN: Where would you put the president's unpredictability, tactical or strategic?

GATES: Well, I think that's not clear yet.

BRENNAN: What is he actually able to offer as some kind of incentive for Kim Jong-un to negotiate away his weapons?

GATES: Actually, I think the president goes in with a lot of cards to play. A peace treaty, diplomatic recognition, a guarantee that the United States would not try and overthrow the regime by force, the whole panoply of economic sanction that have been put on. So he has a lot to negotiate with.

BRENNAN: If the president gets something in hand from the North Koreans, do you think he has to go to Congress to get approval of it?

GATES: I think he should. If you just do these things by executive agreement, first of all, that doesn't make it the law of the land for the next president. The next president, with the stroke of a pen, can overturn it just as President Trump has done with the Iran deal.

BRENNAN: That would need to include inspectors on the ground in North Korea. That would need to include Kim Jong-un actually dismantling some of his nuclear program.

I mean is -- is the benchmark here at least what was negotiated in the Iran deal and the president has to go beyond that?

GATES: Well, it's -- it's at least that.

When you have a program as expansive as the North's, you have to have any time, any place inspections. You have to have a huge number of inspectors that can go around the country and can observe destruction of facilities, who -- who can monitor that they stay destroyed, that they aren't being rebuilt someplace else in secret.

So -- so the magnitude of the -- of the monitoring and the verification of any agreement would be, I think, an order of magnitude more complicated and bigger than is the case and has been the case in Iran.

BRENNAN: Where do you put the odds at success at?

GATES: I put the odds of immediate success as very low. But the odds a -- of a -- of getting something accomplished over a longer period of time and a kind of step by step approach, beginning with what the president has already gotten in terms of their willingness to talk and the cessation of the testing and so on.

Kim looks at the world and he sees that Gadhafi gave up his nuclear program. He's dead. His regime is gone. Saddam never had nuclear weapons. He's dead. His regime is gone. Kim looks at this and says, why would I give up my nuclear weapons?

And so I think you have to change the strategic environment in Asia for Kim actually to give -- be willing to consider giving up his nuclear weapons.

BRENNAN: What is the immediate impact of exiting the Iran nuclear deal?

GATES: Well, I think, in the short term, isolates the United States. I think it was a flawed agreement. You know, we were supposed to get any time, any place inspections. And to have an inspections regime where the Iranians can say, you can't look at any of our military facilities, where -- where would you most logically put a -- a nuclear program, except on a military facility.

BRENNAN: But do you think President Trump breaking a U.S. commitment to this international agreement will have implications that are negative?

GATES: I do. I absolutely do. I am -- my own view would have been, it would have been better to stay in the agreement at least for another six months and essentially lay down an ultimatum to our allies and say, either you join us in very heavy penalties against the Iranians for the ballistic missile programs and you join us in resisting Iranian meddling in the Middle East, either you help us with those things or, in fact, I will walk away from this agreement.

I -- I think -- I think we could have pushed the Europeans a lot harder to work with us. And then in six months, basically if they hadn't done that, then you would be in a much stronger position. But as it is now, at least for the time being, we're the country that's isolated.

BRENNAN: You had privately cautioned against the appointment of John Bolton. Now he is within the administration. What are your concerns about the advice he's giving the president?

GATES: Well, I think that there's a difference between being a television commentator and having responsibilities of office. And I've seen this happen a lot. One thing that has struck me is -- is that the process at the NSC seem to be working better in terms of documentation of things, of positions being taken. He's clearly got a strong relationship with both -- has developed a strong relationship with Secretary Mattis and, obviously, with Secretary Pompeo. So I think in that sense, the president is probably better served because there's less infighting, if you will, within the administration.

BRENNAN: You were at the CIA for 26 years. Do you agree with Senator John McCain that Gina Haspel is a patriot, but that her refusal to acknowledge tortures in morality is disqualifying for her to be the director of the CIA?

GATES: No, I don't think it's disqualifying. I think that -- I worry about presentism. I think you have to go back to 2001-2002 and the horror that people in the administration felt. People were terrified about when the next attack was coming. And only with the retrospect of 17 years of no foreign-based major attack taking place again can we go back and revisit these things.

I don't know Miss Haspel. But by all accounts, she's had an extraordinary career. A very distinguished career. Has really served her country well. And I think to -- to -- to say she should not be director of CIA today, in the absence of any evidence she did anything wrong 15 or so years ago, I -- I think is a mistake.

BRENNAN: How do you assess President Trump at this point of his presidency?

GATES: I think the jury is still out, so to speak.

BRENNAN: But you've moved away from your initial criticism of him in 2016.

GATES: I'm concerned about the way he's treated our allies. By the same token, I -- I think that his -- his tougher approach to North Korea has paid dividends. We'll see how many dividends they pay over how long a time. I think that his tough talk with the Europeans has accomplished something that all of the rest of us who berated them for not spending enough on defense, they are beginning to increase defense spending. So it's -- it's not an -- an entirely one sided picture in my view.

BRENNAN: Thank you very much for you time.

GATES: My pleasure.


BRENNAN: The full interview will be on our website at facethenation.com.

And we'll be back in a moment with our panel.


BRENNAN: Now to our panel for some political analysis.

Dan Balz is the chief correspondent for "The Washington Post." We'd like to welcome Salena Zito to the broadcast. She's a national political reporter for "The Washington Examiner," and the author of "The Great Revolt: Inside the Populous Coalition Reshaping American Politics." Jeffrey Goldberg's the editor in chief of "The Atlantic." And we'd also like to welcome Seung Min Kim to this broadcast. She's a reporter for "The Washington Post," who covers the White House from Capitol Hill.

Welcome to the show.


BRENNAN: Let's start with you then. You heard Bob Gates say that Gina Haspel shouldn't be disqualified for any past relationship with the torture program that the U.S. undertook, or enhanced interrogation techniques. Does she have the votes to get confirmed?

KIM: I think right now things are looking very good for Gina Haspel. Over the weekend we saw another red state Democrat, Joe Donnelly from Indiana, say he would support her.

So looking at the numbers right now, I think the one question mark we have about a potential Republican defection is perhaps Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who told us on Capitol Hill over last week that he's very -- thinking deliberatively about what Senator McCain said about Haspel's nomination last week.

But aside from that, you have at least two Democrats who are supporting her. So her prospects on Capitol Hill look very good right now.

BRENNAN: And that comment from John McCain basically saying there shouldn't be any kind of, you know, question that -- that discounts the morality of torture here. That any connection is too much to vote yes.

KIM: Exactly. And I think what's interesting is, you see the absence of Senator McCain felt in so many ways on Capitol Hill. But since he's the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, he actually would have been able to question Gina Haspel at her hearing, as what we call an ex officio (ph) member of the committee. So while his statement was very strong, it would have been interesting to see how Ms. Haspel would faired under a questioning from Senator McCain.

BRENNAN: Jeff, I want to ask you, you know, we heard from the new secretary of state at the start of the program, Mike Pompeo. Did it surprise you when he said he doesn't know whether he'll be involved with these talks with Kim Jong-un?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes. It's surprising and unsurprising because this is a spontaneous administration. This is an improvisational administration. We are entering a period of maximum risk, of maximum opportunity as well, both in North Korea and Iran. But you intensify the risk when you don't even tell us who is going to be negotiating with the North Koreans. The idea that Donald Trump alone in a room with the North Korean dictator is -- it's a fraught idea because you don't know what he's going to do and we don't have a sense of how far he wants to go. So it would be interesting and useful to have a secretary of state who actually notion the North Korean leadership to be involved in that. And it was a little bit surprising that he said that, to be honest.

BRENNAN: He might not want to get ahead of his boss, but he certainly has the most development relationship.

GOLDBERG: I personally would bring the secretary of state with me. But that's just me.

BRENNAN: When you negotiate with Kim.

GOLDBERG: Yes, when I -- whenever -- look, whenever I negotiate with the North Koreans, I'm always bring my -- I'll bring Dan Balz, actually. Yes, I'm bringing Dan Balz.

DAN BALZ, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You're better off bringing a secretary of state.

GOLDBERG: All right, all right, all right.

BRENNAN: Dan and Salena, I want to get to you both because talking about the president and his behavior and what makes him uniquely him, you've studied a lot about that, including the people who really stand by their votes for him.

And you had a piece this week looking at the heart of this country and the people still standing by President Trump.

Do you believe here that going into November that coalition that helped elect him will re-elect a Republican majority.

BALZ: I'm not confident of that at this point for -- for two reasons. One is, I think there has been some erosion in the intensity of support among some of the people who backed him in 2016. It's not that they have broken with him, but they are -- they are -- they are nervous about him. And particularly about conduct and behavior, much more than specific policies. So I think that's one aspect of it.

The other is, as President Obama showed, it is very difficult for somebody who gets elected president to transfer that coalition to back that person to other candidates who don't have the same kind of connection with voters. Candidates have to develop that connection themselves. And in a midterm election like this, the Democrats have an advantage. It's the first midterm after a president gets elected. That's always better for the out party. So for all of those reasons, I'm not confident that the president can deliver his coalition in November.

BRENNAN: But you said in your piece, the people didn't change, the Democrats did. That's what one person you interviewed told you.

BALZ: Well, that's right. I mean -- and, I mean -- I -- I -- I ended up talking more to Republicans than people who had supported Trump. But in talking to some of the Democrats in the Midwest, I think there's a feeling that the national Democratic Party doesn't understand the Midwest in the same way that a lot of the Trump voters felt that -- that -- that they didn't understand the Midwest. And -- and their view is, the Democrats have to figure out a way to be able to talk to the center of the country while continuing to hold the coasts. And if they can do that, then they will be genuinely completive in 2020.

BRENNAN: And, Salena, that's a question you're asking in your book. I mean, is that even possible?

SALENA ZITO, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, and, you know, one of the things about this coalition is, is that Donald Trump wasn't the cause of it. He was the result of it. So this coalition, I believe, is willing to continue to break things, even outside the ballot box.

I'm unsure what's going to happen in -- in the midterms. But I do understand that it is still pretty strong and it's pretty intense and -- and they still believe that both political parties, not just the Democrats but the Republicans as well, aren't listening to what they have to say. And I find that fascinating that this movement is going on. But we're still not hearing it. And -- and so that --

BRENNAN: Not hearing it you're saying on Capitol Hill? Not hearing it how?

ZITO: Not -- not hearing it in the way it's depicted when -- typically when -- when there's news reports and they talk -- and they talk about, you know, well, the Trump voter is this and or that and this is what they want.

Case in point, look at the Republicans in West Virginia, they were convinced that Don Blankenship had a chance. Well, I had been in Don -- to West Virginia. It's in my backyard. I live in Pittsburgh. Don Blankenship had zero chance. Absolutely none. But both the Republican establishment and a lot of the news media thought this was something that was going to happen. So they still don't understand what is causing this coalition to stay together, but also to have their voice be heard in the ballot box.

BRENNAN: We want to talk about this more on the other side of this break. So we will be back in a moment with more from our panel.


BRENNAN: We are back with our panel here.

Let's pick up the conversation with you, Seung Min Kim.

I want to ask you, this report out of the White House this week that the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson was just lambasted in a meeting with the president, so much so that she actually drafted a letter of resignation. For the moment they say she is staying. What was the feedback like on Capitol Hill? I mean, at this point, there are a number of people who have been reshuffled in this cabinet. Can you get a Homeland Security secretary confirmed?

KIM: I think as members of the Senate, particularly Senate Republicans, are just exhausted with the constant cabinet drama that we've seen, especially that has picked up this year.

First of all, just on the simple fact that you have to confirm all these replacements once their ousted and a lot of these are very difficult tasks in a midterm year.

In terms of the Homeland Security secretary, it's usually a tough battle because it deals with the issue of immigration, which is also a sensitive issue on Capitol Hill. It would be interesting to see -- Secretary Nielsen is actually scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill this week, on Tuesday, as part of a regular oversight hearing on national security, border security issues. I am confident that this issue will arise and that they will be questioning, you know, what are the concern that the president outlined in this meeting, did you actually threat to resign? And it will be interesting to see how she responds under oath.

GOLDBERG: Well, what's fascinating about this moment is -- is, if you want to look at Donald Trump, people think of him as inconsistent, but there's remarkable consistency here. What triggered him in this case was fear that she was not applying herself rigorously to the issue of immigration. This is the -- this is the week that he withdrew from the Iran deal, like he said he would. There's the deal that he moved -- that he's moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, like he said he would. Immigration, he comes back to it again and again and again. I mean it's -- it's not that hard to predict what gets him going and what triggers him. And it's a pretty interesting guide this week to -- to what's going to come, because he comes back to the same issues and promises over and over again.

BRENNAN: But Republicans bet (ph) they could move him away from those (INAUDIBLE).

GOLDBERG: I would not bet with those Republicans. I wouldn't.


Well, Seung Min Kim, though, I want to ask you again, I mean, on this idea of the president being able to deliver on his campaign promises of being at odds with Congress, he also tweeted yesterday that the Senate needs to stay in section, not go away for August recess. What are the odds of that happening?

KIM: Well, I will say that last year Mitch McConnell did delay the Senate recess for two weeks. He actually cut that delay by a week. So it actually ended up being a week.

But I think there is a sense of frustration that Republicans are sensing from their voters that they aren't getting things done. So to the extent that they can show that they are in Washington, that they are passing pieces of Trump's agenda, they are confirming his nominees that have been backlogged in the Senate, that could be a benefit.

But, at the same time, there are people who want to go back home and campaign. Nobody wants to be in DC in August. But the fact is, the other complicating factor is that there is a government funding issue that we're going to face every September. And the president made it very clear earlier this year, I'm never signing a massive omnibus spending bill like this again. He very reluctantly signed that $1.3 trillion measure.

BRENNAN: Now he's trying to get some of that money back.

KIM: He's trying to get some of that money back. He is also insisting that some -- or more money for the border wall be in whatever package that has to be in September. That is a classic recipe for a shutdown. But if -- if -- but the -- the recess -- you have to say (INAUDIBLE) recess could be a tactic to actually try to get that funding -- funding work done ahead of time. But we know this Congress, they never do anything without a deadline.

BRENNAN: Salena, you said the media is not picking up on what the coalition is saying. Is the president tapping into what the coalition is saying?

ZITO: Absolutely. I mean you look at some of the things that he's given back to them, at least from their point of view. Look at the tax reform bill. A lot of people -- you know, in -- in Washington, especially among the Democrats, the sort of story line was, it's just crumbs. But people, you know, outside of the beltway, you know, an extra hundred bucks in your paycheck every two weeks, that pays for stuff. You know, at the end -- at the end of four or five months, that's a nice vacation with your family.

So, you know, tax reform is very important to them. And in terms of religious freedom and in toward -- in toward -- you know, with Gorsuch, that was also incredibly important to them. How he's negotiated and got to the point where he is with North Korea, absolutely. You know, they are happy with what he has accomplished.

Now, to San's point, he's absolutely right, they don't always like his comportment (ph). They don't always like the way he says things. But they're seeing results and they see it impacting their lives and their communities and their families and they think that is a good thing.

BRENNAN: Dan, Mike Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, gave a commencement speech yesterday in where he says the country's facing an epidemic of dishonesty, and he called it one of the most serious dangers facing our democracy.

BALZ: Well --

BRENNAN: You've written a bit about truth.

BALZ: I -- I have written a bit about that.

I mean we're -- we're in a moment -- I mean others have defined it this way -- in a -- in a post-truth era in which we can't agree on facts and we have a president of the United States who deals in falsehoods. We've seen that over and over again. And I think that it has created a corrosive affect both on the, you know, on the -- you know, on the democratic process, but also on the -- on the relationships among people who are in other ways looking for ways in which we can solve some problems. So it's -- the environment that has been created -- and Donald Trump's not the sole reason for this -- the environment that we're in and has been created has left us at a point where we can't get things done. And instead we're at war with one another and we are dismissive of people who have attitudes and views that are different from our own.

BRENNAN: Fascinating conversation. Interesting read from both of you.

Thanks for joining us.

We will be right back.


BRENNAN: (INAUDIBLE) day to get this studio and all the infrastructure required to run in place. So to our Washington bureau technical staff and all the people behind the scenes, we really appreciate all that you've done, all that you do every week and every day to get FACE THE NATION on the air.

And to my mom, my mother-in-law and all the mothers out there, Happy Mother's Day.

Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.