Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on January 12, 2020

On this "Face the Nation" broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:

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MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm Margaret Brennan in Washington. And this week on FACE THE NATION, the critical standoff between the U.S. and Iran deescalates, but the conflict takes a tragic turn and now there's a new crisis, as Iran admits to erroneously shooting down a passenger aircraft killing a hundred and seventy-six. We'll have the latest.

And here in the U.S. some in Congress are demanding answers as to why the administration continues to send mixed messages about the, quote, "imminent threat" used to justify the strike in the first place.

On Saturday, the Iranian government acknowledged what they've been denying for days, that following retaliatory missile strikes on U.S. installations in Iraq--they'd unintentionally shot down Ukrainian passenger jet mistaking it for an incoming missile. A high-ranking Iranian official was quick to point to U.S. provocation as partially to blame. Now Iranians are angry with their own government and the U.S.

As Washington and Baghdad remain at an impasse over the role of U.S. forces in Iraq, we'll talk to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll also ask him about the intelligence behind the killing of Soleimani. The administration's handling of the crisis is causing frustration even among some Republicans loyal to the President.

MIKE LEE: Now, I find this insulting and demeaning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Republican Mike Lee, Democrats Tim Kaine and Adam Schiff will all be here. Plus, former Secretary of State John Kerry weighs in on Iran and why he's supporting Joe Biden.

And a special behind-the-scenes report from our Liz Palmer, she and her team spent a tumultuous week in Iran.

All that and more, is just ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. We begin this morning with the secretary of defense, Mark Esper. Good morning to you, Mister Secretary. Good to have you here.

MARK ESPER (Secretary of Defense/@EsperDoD): Good morning, Margaret. Thank you for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Our team in Tehran witnessed anti-government protests, chants against the regime. What is the U.S. assessment of what's happening on the ground?

MARK ESPER: We are safer today than we were just a few weeks ago. Why? Because we took out the world's foremost terrorist leader, Qasem Soleimani, who had the blood of hundreds of American dead service members on his hands. Secondly, we restored deterrence with Iran without any United States casualties. And, third, we reassured our partners-- partners and allies in the region that we will stand up and defend our interests. I think when you look at--

MARGARET BRENNAN: In terms of restoring deterrence, there wasn't an-- Iran fired off missiles at the United States' bases, so.

MARK ESPER: We-- we are confident we restored deterrence. And if you look to your question--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You don't expect any further attacks on U.S. presence?

MARK ESPER: We do not expect any further attacks. But if you look at what's happening on the ground today, you have just yesterday in Tehran and other cities, Iranians chanting, "Death to the Ayatollah. We don't-- we don't think America is our enemy." You can see the-- the Iranian people are standing up and asserting their rights, their aspirations for a better government, a different-- a different regime.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So what is the assessment, though, of-- of what level of threat there is to the regime's hold on power? Because the President was tweeting yesterday in Farsi messages that he stands with the protesters and he's following closely what's happening.

MARK ESPER: Well, we do stand with the Iranian people. They want the same things that most people around the world want. They want prosperity. They want the ability to-- to live their lives, to raise their children. And we do support those same aspirations for people wherever they are. I just think you see a very corrupt regime that the Iranian people are finally standing up and trying to hold them accountable.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So is there still an offer to negotiate with that regime you call corrupt? Because by saying you stand with the protesters, it seems to be in contradiction to an offer to negotiate with the government they're protesting against.

MARK ESPER: Well, it is still the legitimate government, if you will, of Iran. And what we've said, I've said publicly, the President certainly has said, is we will meet with them. We're willing to sit down and discuss without precondition, a new way forward, a-- a-- a series of steps by which Iran becomes a more normal country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's-- offer still stands?

MARK ESPER: That offer still stands.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And if something happens to these protesters in the street, I mean is there a line that the President won't meet with Iran?

MARK ESPER: The President has drawn no preconditions other than to say we're willing to meet with the Iranian government.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. I want to ask you about the downing of this Ukrainian commercial airliner. The Iranian foreign minister tweeted, admitted it was a mistake on their behalf, but also said, essentially, the U.S. contributed because of the escalation. What's your response to that?

MARK ESPER: Well, first of all, it's a terrible tragedy. A hundred and seventy-six people from many nations killed. It's a shame that the first reaction of the Iranian government to show their corruption, wanted to say that it was American propaganda, when, clearly, it was just a horrible mistake. To somehow allow Iran to play the victim card with the international community is just ridiculous. These tensions started many years ago, twenty years ago, forty years ago, and escalated in the past twelve months, led by the terrorist leader, Qasem Soleimani, who is escalating attacks against United States forces in the region, in Baghdad in particular, which ultimately led to the siege of the United States embassy there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about that attempt to breach the perimeter and the embassy. But also, broadly, the threat that the U.S. was tracking that has been described as imminent time and again by the administration. The President said last week that there was an attempt to blow up the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Here's, specifically, what he said on Fox News.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP (Fox News/Friday): I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies, but Baghdad certainly would have been the lead. But I think it would have been four embassy; could have been military bases; could have been a lot of other things, too. But it was imminent. And then all of a sudden he was gone.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why couldn't you share that specific threat with senators in a classified briefing?

MARK ESPER: Well, that information-- there was a reference in this-- in this exquisite intelligence to an attack on the United States embassy in Baghdad. That information was shared with the Gang of Eight. All that exceptional intelligence shared with the Gang of Eight, not the broader membership of the Congress.

MARGARET BRENNAN: A specific threat against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad to blow it up--

MARK ESPER: Well, I was--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --was shared with the Gang of Eight?

MARK ESPER: I was not in that meeting with the Gang of Eight. But I will tell you, I spoke to one of the briefers. What the briefer said to me coming out of that meeting was his assessment that most, if not all the members, thought that the intelligence was persuasive and that they-- and that the Gang of Eight did not think that it should be released to the broader members of Congress.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But, broadly, can you clarify though, was the specific threat that the President shared with Fox News about four U.S. embassies being under threat, also shared with Congress? Why was there a difference?

MARK ESPER: Well, what the President said was he believed that it probably and could have been attacks against additional embassies. I shared that view. I know other members of National Security Team shared that view. That's why I deployed thousands of American paratroopers to the Middle East to reinforce our embassy in Baghdad and other sites throughout the region.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Probably, and could have been.

MARK ESPER: Mm-Hm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That is-- that sounds more like an assessment than a specific, tangible threat with a-- a decisive piece of intelligence.

MARK ESPER: Well, the President didn't say there was a tangible-- he didn't cite a specific piece of evidence. What he says probably-- he believed, could have been--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you saying there wasn't one?

MARK ESPER: I didn't see one with regard to four embassies. What I'm saying is I share the President's view that probably-- my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies. The embassies are the most prominent display of American presence in a country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The description had been that this was a imminent threat to U.S. personnel and facilities in the region.

MARK ESPER: Mm-Hm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that a more accurate description than what the President provided?

MARK ESPER: Well, what I've said publicly, I've-- I've said many times, is that we had information that there was going to be attack within a matter of days that would be broad in scale, in other words, more than one country, and that it would be bigger than previous attacks, likely going to take us into open hostilities with Iran.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that threat gone?

MARK ESPER: That was orchestrated by Qasem-- Qasem Soleimani. He was the one-- was-- has led the attacks against America for twenty years now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

MARK ESPER: So we had every expectation to believe that this would happen. In fact, a very, very senior person from the intelligence community said the risk of inaction is greater than the risk of action. That was compelling for me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that threat gone?

MARK ESPER: That threat has been disrupted. I think what we have to find out now is continue to work to make sure that that threat is completely eliminated.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you understand the frustration and anger from members of Congress who say why the President-- why can the President tell Fox News something he can't tell members of Congress or-- or members of his administration can't explicitly explain to members of Congress?

MARK ESPER: Well, look, I understand the frustration. The fact is that evidence, that information is only available to the Gang of Eight. That's been practice and policy for decades.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you said you don't know that it was told to the Gang of Eight.

MARK ESPER: Well, I'm talking about, the intelligence stream, the exquisite intelligence. That was told-- that information of that source and method was revealed to the Gang of Eight. I understand the frustration of the broader members of Congress. They are not going to have access to that information. I would support it if we-- if we didn't jeopardize the sources and methods. And I think the President said the same.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Mike Lee, who will be with us on this program--

MARK ESPER: Mm-Hm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --also was frustrated with your briefing. And he said, you know, why did you tell members of Congress that it would, essentially, be a negative message to try to call into question that the authorization for military force in Iraq.

MARK ESPER: Well, no--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why did you oppose that debate?

MARK ESPER: Well, first of all, for every member that didn't like the brief, there's members that thought it was the greatest brief ever. That was never said that they should not have a debate, that they should have a discussion. I was asked a specific question about do I have concerns about a debate? And what all I said was this: is as that debate continues--don't-- not have a debate--but as that debate ensues, be conscious of the messaging, particularly to our troops, because they are looking for messages. Do they have the support of the American people while they are in harm's way? Why do I say that? My predecessors-- predecessors have said that in the past. And I had the personal experience in the 1991 Gulf War. I was on the ground preparing for our final actions to go into Iraq.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

MARK ESPER: And we watched very carefully the debate in Congress in mid-January of that year to find out did we have the support of the--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

MARK ESPER: --American people and our lawmakers.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Quickly, are other Iranian leaders still potential targets? Because we have reported that there was an IRGC leader in Yemen targeted the very same day Qasem Soleimani was killed.

MARK ESPER: Look, I'm not going to speak to any planned or alleged operations. We will exercise everything we need to do to protect the American people, to protect our forces, to protect our embassies.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're not denying that report?

MARK ESPER: I'm not going to speak to any-- any reports.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. I want to quickly ask you as well about the presence in Iraq. Will the U.S. cut off U.S. aid if the Iraqi government tries to expel U.S. troops?

MARK ESPER: Well, let's take this one step at a time. We're not there yet. What we need to do is sit down, have discussions with Iraq. We're doing that now. I want to-- we also intend to do that with our NATO partners. I had a good conversation the other day with the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg. We're going to send a team over to discuss how can NATO play a bigger role in the Iraq mission? Two important missions there. One is to train, advise, and assist the Iraqi military. And number two is the enduring defeat of ISIS. We are committed to both those operations. And I think that we can work out a better way forward.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does plussing up a NATO presence mean drawing down the five thousand U.S. troops?

MARK ESPER: Well, it could. It's been my aspiration for some time to have a smaller footprint in Iraq and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you have a number in mind?

MARK ESPER: --in the broader Middle East. No, I think that's-- that's a matter for commanders on the ground to assess. We have to look at whether the capabilities that our NATO partners can bring to the-- bring to the-- bring to the fore. And I think that has to be a process in full respect of-- of-- of Iraq's sovereignty. At the end of the day, the United States government wants what the Iraqi people want, and that is a strong, prosperous, and independent Iraq.

MARGARET BRENNAN: On Saudi Arabia, we are reporting-- CBS News is reporting that about a dozen or so Saudi service people may be expelled from the United States in the wake of that Pensacola shooting and an investigation. Is that the right number? What-- can you tell us about that? And what did the President mean when he said Saudi Arabia deposited a billion dollars into a bank account in exchange for U.S. troop deployment?

SEC. ESPER: Well, two separate things. You know, first of all, the-- what you're referring to is an investigation being conducted by the DOJ and the FBI in the wake of that-- that tragic shooting in Pensacola some-- few weeks ago. In the wake of that, the department has taken a number of steps to-- to ensure it doesn't happen again. I've signed out directives that address enhanced screening of all of our foreign students that address credentialing going forward, weapons policies, etc. So we're doing everything we can. The investigation is being conducted by DOJ and FBI. I'm sure they will release something on that in the coming days.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the billion dollars into the U.S. bank account?

MARK ESPER: Well, what the President is referring to is burden sharing. Burden sharing comes in many forms. When we talk to NATO, we talk about contributing more to their GDP to defense commitment. And the President's actions have resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars more being contributed by our NATO allies. It includes--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But that's not a transaction like what he described.

MARK ESPER: Well, it includes host nation support, it includes foreign military cells, it includes providing troops on the ground, and in cases it provides helping to offset some of our operations maintenance costs, which the Saudis are committed to doing, just as they did offset costs during the 1990 and '91 Gulf War.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary--

MARK ESPER: Burden sharing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --appreciate your time.

MARK ESPER: Thank you, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we'll be back in a moment with the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. Stay with us.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're joined now by the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff. Good morning to you, Mister Chairman.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D-California/Intelligence Committee Chairman/@RepAdamSchiff): Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You are part of the Gang of Eight, so you're part of that group that received the very classified briefing that the Defense Secretary was referring to. He said the intelligence was exquisite, and it was incredibly detailed. Do you quibble with his characterization of what you were told?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: I don't quibble with it. I think it's just plain wrong. There was no discussion in the Gang of Eight briefings that these are the four embassies that are being targeted and we have exquisite intelligence that shows these are the specific targets.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What about U.S. embassy, Baghdad?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: It-- it--

MARGARET BRENNAN: He said that was specifically referenced.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: Well, I don't recall, frankly, in that briefing there being a specific discussion about bombing the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The brief was much more along the lines, frankly, of something that Secretary Pompeo admitted the other day when he said that we don't know precisely where and we don't know precisely when. That was much more the nature of the briefing that we got. In the view of the briefers, there was plotting. There was a-- an effort to escalate being planned, but they didn't have specificity. And so when you hear the President out there on Fox, he is fudging the intelligence and when you hear the Secretary say, well, that wasn't what the intelligence said, but that's my personal belief, he is fudging. When Secretary Pompeo was on your show last week and made the claim that the intelligence analysis was that taking Soleimani out would improve our security and not-- and leaving them in would make us less safe, that is also fudging. That's not an intelligence conclusion. That is Pompeo's personal opinion. Intelligence--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that a polite way of saying they're lying?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: Well, you know, you could certainly put it that way. But, frankly, I think what they are doing is they are overstating and exaggerating what the intelligence shows. And when you're talking about justifying acts that might bring us into warfare with Iran, that's a dangerous thing to do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But to be fair, because you are the Intel Committee chairman, you know, the Intel Committee often or-- that the Intelligence Committee works in assessments, in judgments, in putting together mosaics, pieces of information to come to a conclusion. When Esper is working in beliefs and projections, isn't that just how it works? Impossibilities and not necessarily always having one conclusive piece of the exact place and time?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: Well, that's exactly right. But that-- that means that you need to be very clear about what you're saying the intelligence shows and what it doesn't. If we were to ask the intelligence agencies, will taking Soleimani out make us safer or less safe? They would say to us, Congressman, that's a policy judgment that the policymakers need to make. What we can tell you is if you take him out, here are the likely repercussions. Those repercussions that we were briefed about were far more dangerous to this country than anything that Soleimani was plotting, as far as I can tell. And so when you're talking about taking out a top government official of another nation, an act that might bring us into outright warfare--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: --the burden of imminence, of showing imminence with very great specifics, I think is very high.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So I-- I just want to button up because the Defense Secretary also said that in that Gang of Eight briefing, when he said there was sensitive information shared, though, he said he wasn't in the room, that it was the Gang of Eight's decision not to share the information with the rest of Congress. He said he'd be okay with it if sensitive bits were taken out.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: Well--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is this is a political decision?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: He said a couple of things. He said that what he was told by the briefers is that most or all of the members were completely satisfied. That's not correct. I can tell you I wasn't, and there were other members of the Gang of Eight who were equally unsatisfied with the proof of imminence. In terms of the-- what he has described and others have described as the exquisite nature or sources and methods, we often don't share the most sensitive sources and methods with all of the members, but that's not an excuse for withholding from the members the underlying facts. And so if the intelligence showed that there were four embassies being targeted that should have been shared with the members. It wasn't because I don't believe that is what the intelligence showed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Have you heard from members of the intelligence community that they objected to what the administration did?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: They are not going to volunteer that. In other words, the intelligence community doesn't want to get crosswise with the White House and with--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've spoken to CIA director Gina Haspel?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This was, it appears, according to Esper's description, also her assessment.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: Well, I don't know whether Esper has represented that the CIA director supported or didn't support a strike on Soleimani. The job of the CIA director is to say, this is what our intelligence shows, this is what our intelligence analysts tell us will be the repercussions if you take Soleimani out. That is the principal role. It's the President's call whether that justifies taking a strike, but that should be done in consultation with Congress and approved by Congress. And neither of those things happened here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Should other IRGC leaders be targeted?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: I think that we have escalated enough, and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Even though Iran says it's standing down and the President has used that phrase?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: Well, I think what we're likely to see, at least in the near term, is the end of Iran's overt attacks, like the missile attack on our bases. I don't think that we conclude-- conclude at all that we've seen an end to the-- their use of Shia and other proxies. And so the risk to American troops and to American civilians continues, I think is-- is greater now as a result of the administration's actions. Iran has been humiliated by-- by this taking out of their top leadership, but also by their disastrous shoot down of this civilian aircraft.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: That makes them, I think, more dangerous and provocative in the sense that we may very well see covert retaliation against the United States.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to switch gears, because in your role, you were also playing a key-- a key-- you are a key figure in the impeachment investigation up to this point. I'm wondering if you have a sense about whether you'll be an impeachment manager when this goes to a Senate trial?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: Well, that'll be the speaker's decision. I don't want to get ahead of her--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you want to be?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: --thinking. I've told the speaker that I will play whatever role that she and the caucus believe would be useful.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the speaker was on another network today and seemed to leave open the idea of subpoenaing John Bolton, the former national security adviser to the President. Is that something you would be looking at? Are you looking at?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: You know it's certainly something that we are considering. But, look, Americans want to see a fair trial in the Senate. They want to see a trial that's fair to the President and they want to see a trial that's fair to the American people, that brings all the facts forward. There-- there's little sense in bringing Bolton in to the House and not allowing the senators to see his testimony. If they're going to be the triers of fact and they will be they should hear from the witness directly. He has offered to come forward and testify. There is no reason not to have him testify unless you just want to cover up the President's wrongdoing. If McConnell succeeds in making this trial a trial without witnesses--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: --it will be the first impeachment trial in history where the subject of the trial didn't resign, mid trial where they didn't have witnesses. That's not a fair trial. That's a sham. That's a cover up. And I think one of the things that holding on to the articles has succeeded doing is--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: --fleshing out McConnell and the President's desire to make this a cover up.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we will get to what that trial might look like with Mike Lee, senator from Utah, a Republican ally of the President, who will be with us soon.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back with Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee. He's written a number of books about the Constitution and our country's founding documents. He joins us this morning from Salt Lake City. Good morning to you, Senator.

SENATOR MIKE LEE (R-Utah/@SenMikeLee): Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard the Secretary of Defense say that there was a specific threat assessment shared with the Gang of Eight. Should that threat stream have been shared with the rest of Congress, people like yourself?

SENATOR MIKE LEE: Yes, it should have. It's important to remember that the Gang of Eight does not equal Congress. The House of Representatives has four hundred and thirty-five members. The Senate has one hundred members. Look, I understand Secretary Esper's point. I understand that not every piece of information can or pragmatically should be shared with all five hundred and thirty-five members of Congress, but drive by notification to eight people is not the same as notification to Congress. Remember, there is an important constitutional reason for this. We have some overlap between-- and some natural tension between the Article 2 commander-in-chief power--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SENATOR MIKE LEE: --enjoyed by the President and the Article 1 Section 8 War Power that is possessed by Congress. In order to know and understand where one power ends and another begins in any context, we need to have a certain amount of information--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You--

SENATOR MIKE LEE: --and an adequate amount of information was not shared with us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, there was information shared with Fox News in that interview the President gave where he said it was his belief that there were four embassies that were going to be threatened by attack by Iran. You've spoken to the President. Was that television interview the first time you heard it?

SENATOR MIKE LEE: Yes, it was. Let me say about the President. I have great respect for President Trump for how he's handled this situation and how he's handled other situations involving his immense power as commander-in-chief. I believe more than any other President in my lifetime, President Trump has shown restraint in the way he's exercised that power. There-- any other President--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But do you have a problem with learning it on television?

SENATOR MIKE LEE: --would've taken us to war several times. Yes, but the problem there is not with the President. The problem is with those who are briefing us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.

SENATOR MIKE LEE: Those who are briefing us, I believe would have done a different job under the light of day had television cameras been there than they did in private--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SENATOR MIKE LEE: --where his boss couldn't see what they were saying, that they were not helpful and they didn't reflect well on the President's great restraint that he's shown and deference to the American people.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, I want to continue this conversation, specifically, about War Powers as well on the other side of this commercial break. So stay with us.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Some of our stations are leaving us now, but we will be right back with Senator Mike Lee and then Democratic Senator Tim Kaine and former Secretary of State John Kerry. Plus, a report from Elizabeth Palmer, our CBS News team in Iran. Stay with us.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We're back now with more from Republican Senator Mike Lee. Senator, you heard the defense secretary say there was not one definitive, specific piece of intelligence that indicated these four embassy attacks were being planned. It was a belief. Does that give you pause?

SENATOR MIKE LEE: No, not necessarily. Look, I want to be clear, within hours after General Soleimani was killed, I made a public statement to the effect that the fact that he is dead is a good thing. It's a positive signal for the safety and security of the American people. And I stand by that. This is a guy who would've done a lot of damage.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm not sure if the Senator can still hear me. I think we just had an interruption on that feed. So, hopefully, we'll pick it up. Standing by, though, in Richmond, going live now to Virginia's senator, Tim Kaine. Good morning to you, Senator.

SENATOR TIM KAINE (D-Virginia/@timkaine): Good morning, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you and Senator Lee have actually found some common cause here, despite the difference in your parties, on a frustration regarding the President's lack of consultation with Congress. And I want to dive into that. But let's--

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- start off specifically on-- on what we learned. Because you are on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has oversight of the State Department and, therefore, embassies, were you aware that there was any kind of threat, specifically, to embassy Baghdad and three other posts, as the President has described?

SENATOR TIM KAINE: No, I wasn't, Margaret. I-- I was at the classified briefing because I'm both a-- an Armed Services and Foreign Relations member. That was not told to us in the classified briefing, nor was there a suggestion that multiple embassies were threatened. And I think that was one of the reasons that the senators in the briefing were so unhappy. We felt that the evidence was far short of imminent threat. We were mad that they were so dismissive of the notion that Congress would have anything to do with questions of war and peace. And we also thought that the administration was very cavalier about the Iraqi reaction-- the Iraqi resolution of parliament that the U.S. should leave. They were sort of like, oh, that's just the way the Iraqis talk.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: This is a very serious concern. And the administration was downplaying it in a way that I think was very unrealistic.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But, specifically, the Defense Secretary said the Gang of Eight was told in specific detail and they chose not to share it with members of Congress. You are saying that you were never told of a threat to the U.S. embassy?

SENATOR TIM KAINE: No, no, and, as I've talked to the Gang of Eight, again, this is classified information, I'm not going to put that all on the table. But members of the Gang of Eight on the Senate side, were not happy with the degree of him-- this-- this question of was there an imminent threat? The administration says there was exquisite and detailed intelligence. That means it was specific. But for it to be-- justify the President taking, essentially, an act of war on Iraqi soil to wipe out a-- an Iranian military leader, it had to not just be a plan, but an imminent threat. And that usually means it's more than a plan. There's been some move toward making a decision to execute on the plan. And we heard nothing about that in the briefing or in any of the conversations I've had with administration leaders.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why is it not sufficient enough for the administration to say broadly there was a threat to U.S. personnel in the region, as Esper said, within days? Why don't you trust that?

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Well, look, the bottom line is the Constitution makes really plain it's-- it's Congress that gets to make the decision about whether to go to war. And, ultimately, that's a judgment about the troops. We don't want to put our troops in harm's way unless there is deliberation in front of the American people about whether it's important. Now a President can act unilaterally to stop-- defend against an ongoing attack or an imminent threat.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: But if it's more than that, it's supposed to be for Congress, because Congress will have this debate in a way that the American public will be informed of the stakes. And then if we debate and vote at the end of the day--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: --then it's fair to ask our men and women in uniform to risk their lives and health. But if we're not willing to do that, or if the President tries to rush to war and escalate, then you run the risk of making mistakes that are just so fatal in their consequences you can hardly ever, you know, undo them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The President says he doesn't want to go to war. I want to get to that authorization of use of force.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Yep.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We went back and we looked, and-- and the original AUMF from 2001, and then there's one in '02, but in the wake of the al Qaeda attacks on this country, that was the premise for this authorization Congress gave at the right time.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It has-- was then used over the past almost twenty years to send troops to Libya, Turkey, Georgia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, the Philippines, Cuba. There are Democratic presidents. Why hasn't any party made a full-throated effort to get a new authorization for military force?

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Well, Margaret, as you know, I have been working on this since I came to the Senate, and I have the same concern. When I came to the Senate in 2013, I criticized President Obama for taking us into military action in Libya without congressional authorization, for going on ISIS in Iraq and Syria without congressional authorization. I will say this, when I started on this crusade six, seven years ago, very few people were interested in it. But in the last year, the good news is finally, members of both parties and in both Houses have started to step up and take the congressional responsibility seriously. I do think we have to rewrite and redo the 2001 authorization that authorize us to wage war against non-state terrorist groups--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: --that are connected to the perpetrators--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But-- but what--

SENATOR TIM KAINE: --of the 9/11 attack.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --what you're proposing now and you happen--

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Here's-- yeah, here's what I'm proposing now is that--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --you're working with Senator Lee on it. But I just want to point out that there does seem to still be a carve-out for imminent threats. How--

SENATOR TIM KAINE: And there should be. So, sen-- senator--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --how would that not stop what the President just did?

SENATOR TIM KAINE: Well, Senator Lee and I are basically trying to restore this to its constitutional place, so we have-- we have a resolution that would basically say no war against Iran unless Congress, specifically, votes to authorize it. But we do state, as you point out, the President can defend the nation against an imminent threat, and that is existing law. That's-- the constitutional framers clearly understood that. We're skeptical of the evidence that this President has put on the table about imminent threat. That's why we're challenging the briefers and that's why we're challenging the President. But at the end of the day, I think this is less about the President than it is about Congress. Congresses of both parties for a very long time--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: --have hidden under their desks rather than have votes about war. Votes about war are tough. I-- I've cast two of them in the Foreign Relations Committee. Fundamentally different than any vote you'll ever cast.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: And so many members of Congress, what they want to do is hide under their desk, let the President just do whatever the President wants, and then they think they can escape accountability for the consequences of war.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: It's time to go back to what the framers envisioned. We shouldn't send our best and brightest into harm's way if Congress doesn't have the guts to-- to have a debate and have a vote.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Senator Kaine, thank you for laying out your case. You-- you were persuasive enough to get Senator Mike Lee on board with this, and he joins us now.

Senator, thanks for sticking with us. I know we had some problems with the uplink there, but we can see and hear you now just fine. What Senator Kaine, essentially, said here is no elected official wanted to get their hands dirt-- dirty and go on the record to vote for a war, which is why Congress is allowed for this to continue without a new vote on an AUMF. Can you get other Republicans on board with this beyond yourself and Rand Paul?

SENATOR MIKE LEE: Yes, we can, and I believe we will. Look, my grievance here is not with the President of the United States. He's exercised his power with great restraint and respect for the Constitution. It's not even really as much with the briefers, even though, I didn't love the briefing the other day, as it is with Congress. Congress is the problem. We have to remember that this isn't just about this President or this war. This is about the future question of what any President can do to get us into any war. Over many decades, Congresses and White Houses of every conceivable partisan combination have put us down this path where it's very easy for members of Congress to wash their hands of it--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SENATOR MIKE LEE: --to step away and say, this isn't our problem and we have created this problem. We created the day-- (AUDIO CUT) of a full explanation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Senator, can you hear me?

SENATOR MIKE LEE: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, good.

SENATOR MIKE LEE: Pretty fine, thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We had some interruption there. You spoke to the President. Have you received any private assurance that Congress would be consulted if he plans to take future military action against Iran?

SENATOR MIKE LEE: Yes. And it's always implicit that we will be consulted. I always want to make sure that any step that is taken is either authorized by one of the AUMFs in question in '02 or '01, or that there is some indication that the strike in question is necessary in order to repel an imminent or actual attack on the United States. That's always the question. And that's one of the reasons why I'm co-sponsoring Tim-- Tim Kaine's resolution is to make clear--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

SENATOR MIKE LEE: --that neither the '01 nor the '02 authorization can be read fairly to authorize a war against Iran.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But this was-- there are things short of war. There are-- is hostile activity. There is, you know, a targeted strike like this. And-- and what you are supporting here, this resolution, there is still a carve-out for an imminent threat. So how would that stop the administration from doing again what it just did?

SENATOR MIKE LEE: Well, anytime we have something like this and we've signaled in advance that it's not covered by an existing AUMF, then, yeah, we're-- we're relying on the good faith use of a commander-in-chief power by the President. This is not a new precedent; it's not-- it's not contingent on or-- or rooted in-- in this presidential administration. This goes back to 1791 when George Washington pointed out that it's okay for the President to act in order to repel an actual or imminent attack--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

SENATOR MIKE LEE: --without authorization from Congress. But he also noted that it's important that any sustained military effort does have to be authorized.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Lee, thank you for joining us. Next time, I hope you're here sitting across from me so we can see and hear each other more clearly next time.

We'll be back in a moment with former Secretary of State John Kerry.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Dubuque, Iowa, and the presidential campaign trail where former Secretary of State John Kerry is on a campaign bus trip with former Vice President Joe Biden and you can hear that bus generator going in the background. Good morning to you, Mister Secretary.

JOHN KERRY (Former Secretary of State/@JohnKerry): Sorry about that. Good morning, Margaret. Good to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I-- I want to pick up kind of where we just left off with-- with the two senators. You know you-- you've been touting Joe Biden's foreign policy experience as a reason voters should consider voting for him. Bernie Sanders, his opponent, has-- has taken that on as a reason essentially, not to specifically focusing in on Biden's vote to help authorize the-- the war in Iraq. He called "it appalling that after eighteen years, Joe Biden still refuses to admit he was dead wrong on the Iraq War, the worst foreign policy blunder in modern American history." Given what you know about the region and how Iran was, essentially, empowered by that, why-- why doesn't he just call it a mistake?

JOHN KERRY: Well, I think I-- I-- in fact, Margaret, I think that Bernie, regrettably, is distorting Joe's record in the following sense. I mean he doesn't have what Joe Biden has, which is eight years of sitting on the National Security Council and demonstrating his judgment, whether it was on his leadership, dealing with the migration that was flowing across our border and helping to resolve that with the presidents of those countries or his work pulling troops out of Iraq and negotiating that and working as perhaps the lead point man on that effort. I-- I think that-- that I know very well what Joe's position was because I answered those questions back in 2002, 2000-- 2003 and '04. And it was very clear that what we were doing was listening to a President who made a pledge that he was going to do diplomacy; that he was going to exhaust diplomacy, build a coalition. And, ultimately, we learned, as Joe did and I did, that the intelligence was distorted. So Joe spoke out and criticized. Joe was against what they were doing. The vote was not a vote, specifically, to go to war. It was a vote for the President to have leverage with respect to getting Saddam Hussein back to the negotiating table, back to the inspections, excuse me. And I think we were let down and Joe has said many times that it was a mistake, obviously, to trust the words of the administration who didn't follow through on what they said they were going to do. And I invite you to go back, read my speech on the floor and others--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

JOHN KERRY: --where I said this is not a vote, specifically, to let the President go to war. So I think Bernie is trying to drive a wedge in there. I understand that but I think the vice president has unparalleled--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

JOHN KERRY: --demonstrated accomplishment and success in foreign policy as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and as vice president. And he, in my judgment, is the one person running for President--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

JOHN KERRY: --who the moment he takes office, has the ability to be able to address a lot of questions, including the credibility of the United States.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

JOHN KERRY: Joe has told the truth. People know that. And I think they will trust in his capacity to lead the country at a very, very delicate time--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

JOHN KERRY: --when foreign policy experience--

MARGARET BRENNAN: It is--

JOHN KERRY: --is, in fact, a premium.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It is. And Iran, an issue you know well, is front and center right now. But, virtually, every single Democrat running for office right now is claiming the same or virtually the same Iran policy, which is to try to revive the deal that you negotiated. There's-- some would say a shell of it left now. Shouldn't voters expect more out of a Iran strategy from someone trying to be commander in chief?

JOHN KERRY: Well, Joe Biden is, in fact, providing more, which is to recognize that-- that it's not enough just to go back to where we were because, obviously, circumstances have changed and things have evolved in the last three and a half years. And-- and what-- what Vice President Biden knows we have to do is make sure now that all the things that we were going to do in the follow on agreement, which was always contemplated. Margaret, you were there. You're an expert at this. You know exactly what the truth is about it. We were trying to take the nuclear weapon off the table first and then negotiate Yemen, Hezbollah, threats against Israel--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

JOHN KERRY: --the regional question of trafficking of arms. And-- and so Vice President Biden understands that now has to also be front and center--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

JOHN KERRY: --as you-- as you revive the agreement. But the truth is, France, Germany--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

JOHN KERRY: --Britain, China, Russia are all still trying to keep the agreement in place because they recognize it's the strongest, most transparent, most accountable nuclear agreement on the planet--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

JOHN KERRY: --and it did take a nuclear weapon off the table until President Trump decided unilaterally to ignore all of our allies and move to get out of the agreement.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the President--

JOHN KERRY: And everything--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the President's going on the--

JOHN KERRY: --that's happened in the last days--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --going on the-- the attack on that deal this morning, specifically, mentioning you. Perhaps, not a surprise. But, you know, I-- I know the deal you negotiated lifted sanctions, gave some relief in exchange for capping the nuclear program. There was also a parallel negotiation that released some cash as part of a settlement of a different, separate dispute. The President this week put blame on the administration, your-- the administration you served on with, essentially, helping to provide money to the IRGC. I want to play a sound bite of what you said in 2016 to CNBC when you were asked about how Iran would spend the money.

JOHN KERRY (U.S. Secretary of State/January 2016/CNBC): I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the IRGC or of other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists. You know, to some degree I'm-- I'm not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that could be prevented. But I can tell you this: Right now we are not seeing the early delivery of funds going to that kind of endeavor at this point in time. I'm sure at some point some of it will.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I remember talking to you at the time. Money is fungible.

JOHN KERRY: Sure.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why, though, did you think--

JOHN KERRY: Absolutely. Money is fungible.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that that was a risk worth taking if you knew the possibility of-- of what would happen with that money?

JOHN KERRY: Well, what I was really saying, I think, first of all, Margaret, you are an expert at this. You were there. You know that the President's tweet is a lie. And the President tweeted this morning, because I am coming on the show and he knew you'd ask me the question or he'd push you in a place where you did ask the question. You and the media, I think, need to call a lie a lie. You know--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mister Secretary, I asked you that question in 2015, too.

JOHN KERRY: --they didn't get a hundred and fifty billion dollars. No, no, no. But let me just finish. You know-- yes. And I'll-- I'll answer that. I was saying, clearly, some money from the budget of Iran is going to go to the IRGC. It always has. That's no surprise. But the truth is and-- and President Trump-- I-- I-- well, he probably doesn't know this, but the fact is his own defense intelligence agency in 2017 testified to the Congress that very, very little money actually went to the IRGC at all. Most of the money went to the economy of Iran, which is precisely what I said and what we all said. So, the IRGC has never had a problem getting money, Margaret. But the fact is Donald Trump keeps saying they got a hundred and fifty billion dollars. A lie. He keeps saying that all of that money went to pay for it. It did not. His own defense intelligence agency says most of the money went for the economy of the country. So, you know, we have to stop--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.

JOHN KERRY: --dealing with questions on Donald Trump's lies and start dealing with the reality of what is going on. The fact is--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.

JOHN KERRY: --that mo-- the vast proportion of that money--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

JOHN KERRY: --went to the economy of Iran and they're always going to be funding the IRGC. There was no question about that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

JOHN KERRY: And the IRGC budget has not gone up markedly as a result--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.

JOHN KERRY: --of what happened with the agreement, period.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mister Secretary, thank you for joining us. I want to take a break because we have a report from Iran.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer has been reporting from Tehran all week. Yesterday, she and her team were unexpectedly asked to leave by the Iranian authorities and have now departed Iran. Before they left she filed this reporter's notebook.

(Begin VT)

ELIZABETH PALMER: This week ended with the unthinkable, Iran admitted to shooting down a passenger plane killing everyone on board. But it had begun with the unknowable, what Iran would do to avenge the killing by America of its most revered military hero, Qasem Soleimani.

This is not just a mourning procession, it's a political message.

In all my years of covering Iran, I have never seen such high-stakes drama. Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, warned the U.S. revenge was coming.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF (Tuesday): In a clear and proportionate.

ELIZABETH PALMER (Tuesday): When?

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF (Tuesday): As we choose.

ELIZABETH PALMER: They chose that very night. Iranian missiles fell on two U.S. bases in Iraq.

DAVID MARTIN: A rocket attack was launched against the Al Asad Air Base.

ELIZABETH PALMER: The world held its breath.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP (Wednesday): The fact that we have this great military equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it.

ELIZABETH PALMER: But with no casualties, America held its fire. And the two old enemies appeared to call it a draw. Ordinary Tehranis heading out in the first real snowfall of the season called it a relief.

Were you relieved when he said there would not be another American attack?

WOMAN: Yes. I sleep very--

ELIZABETH PALMER: Well?

WOMAN: Very well.

ELIZABETH PALMER: But another bombshell was about to burst.

MAJOR GARRETT: CBS News has learned that U.S. officials are confident that Iran shot down a Ukrainian jetliner.

ELIZABETH PALMER: On Wednesday morning, wreckage and bodies from Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 lay strewn across Iran's western suburbs. By Friday when we managed to reach the site, there was little left, even for the scavengers.

Local people say that yesterday, Thursday, around lunch time, trucks, cranes showed up and took most of the pieces that were here away.

Amid rumors of a cover-up, world leaders called for an international investigation and the victims' families prayed for answers to soothe their grief. The answer came suddenly in a stunning TV address that said Iran's army had shot down the plane by mistake. It was a huge admission for this proud and prickly country, which may have appeased critics outside Iran but it's inflamed them at home. Protests erupted in Tehran last night, crowds of students who despise the government for its corruption and ineptitude. Iran starts next week not only in conflict with the U.S. but also with itself.

(Crowd protesting)

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Elizabeth Palmer reporting from Tehran.

We'll be right back.

(ANNOUNCEMENTS)

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us today. Thank you for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.