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Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on June 16, 2019

6/16: Mike Pompeo, Tom Cotton, Pete Buttigieg
6/16: Mike Pompeo, Tom Cotton, Pete Buttigieg 47:29

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

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (read more)
  • Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. (read more)
  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. (read more)
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, D-Ind. (read more)
  • CBS News Elections & Surveys Director Anthony Salvanto (watch)
  • Panelists: Amy Walter, Leslie Sanchez, and Antjuan Seawright (watch)

Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's Sunday, June 16th. I'm Margaret Brennan and this is FACE THE NATION.

Tensions in the Middle East erupt as the U.S. accuses Iran of attacking two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and firing a missile at a U.S. drone surveying the damage.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll get the latest from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton. President Trump says he'd be open to offers of assistance from foreign countries who say they have damaging information about his opponents.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There's nothing wrong with listening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That made Republicans and White House advisors cringe and Democrats pounce. We sat down with South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He's one of twenty-four Democrats running for President. We'll also talk with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff. Plus, as the 2020 candidates pick up the pace, offering more policies and more personal attacks--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Joe Biden is a dummy.

JOE BIDEN: The President is, literally, an existential threat.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --we'll kick off the 2020 CBS News Battleground Tracker with a look at where the field stands in the early primary and caucus states. And what matters most to Democrats when it comes to finding their nominee.

Plus, we'll have analysis on all the political news of the week just ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. We begin today with the increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Good morning, Mister Secretary and happy Father's Day.

MIKE POMPEO (Secretary of State/@SecPompeo): Thank you. Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We've had a series of events in past days, the attacks on the tankers and these reports of a missile being fired at a U.S. drone. How is the U.S. going to respond?

MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, I think you have to put it in the context of forty years of behavior inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is-- this is consistent with how they have behaved previously. They did it when they were in the JCPOA. They built their missile program. We relieved sanctions. They took American sailors hostage. This is a regime that has caused much trouble around the world. The last forty days we've seen a number of activities, not just these past two, but four other commercial ships which challenged the international norms of freedom of navigation. The United States is considering a full range of options. We have briefed the President a couple of times. We'll continue to keep him updated. We are confident that we can take a set of actions that can restore deterrence which is our mission set.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You say a full range of options. Does that include a military response?

MIKE POMPEO: Of course. Of course. The President will consider everything we need to do to make sure, right? But what's the President said? We don't want Iran to get a nuclear weapon. The previous administration put them on a pathway that virtually guaranteed that they could get there. So we withdrew from the ridiculous JCPOA and are moving ourselves towards a set of policies which will convince Iran to behave simply like a normal nation. And so you've seen them attacking international waterways trying to frankly drive up the price of crude oil around the world so that the world will cry, "uncle" and allow Iran to--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why would they do that if they're so cash-strapped and they need these customers? Why would they attack them?

MIKE POMPEO: Because Iran can't sell its crude oil. We have stopped them from doing that. We have put sanctions in place that have taken them from roughly 2.7 ma-- barrels per day, million barrels per day with American sanctions.

MARGARET BRENNAN: CENTCOM released this video of purporting to show an IRGC Revolutionary Guard patrol boat pulling up alongside these vessels and removing a mine from the hull of the ship. How certain are you that this is the IRGC and will you take that evidence and present it to our allies and the United Nations?

MIKE POMPEO: Of course, we will.


MIKE POMPEO: And-- and we don't just purport, that's what that video is. This was-- this was taken from an American camera. This is the stuff-- this is the real data. Yes, we've shared it with allies already. You've had the chance to see it. I made a bunch of phone calls yesterday. I'll make a whole bunch more calls today. The world needs to unite against this threat from Islamic Republic of Iran. Margaret-- Margaret--


MIKE POMPEO: Yes, Margaret--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --definitely, the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

MIKE POMPEO: It-- it-- it is. And-- and, Margaret, I'll remind you, too. China gets over eighty percent of its crude oil transiting through the Strait of Hormuz. South Korea, Japan, these nations are incredibly dependent on these resources. We're prepared to do our part. We always defend freedom of navigation. We are going to work to build out a set of countries that have deep vested interest in keeping that strait open to help us do that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So when you talk about military response, you're talking about that keeping the waterways open? You are not at this point talking about a strike on Iran?

MIKE POMPEO: Oh, goodness. President Trump has said very clearly, he doesn't want to go to war. At the same time, we've made very clear that--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you have the legal authorization for a strike on Iran?

MIKE POMPEO: We-- we always have the au-- authorization to defend American interests. Remember, they now have attacked U.S. aircraft. They-- on June sixth there was a missile fired from Yemen with-- that we assessed had Iranian assistance that took down an MQ-9 aircraft. These are attacks on fundamental, international norms, and now on American interests, and we always have the right to defend our country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But I ask you because there are questions about whether the existing Authorization for Use of Military Force, the AUMF, would actually include a strike on Iran.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you confident that you could go, and not have to ask Congress for permission to take action?

MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, I-- I don't want to get into hypotheticals. But the American people should be very confident. The actions that the United States takes under President Trump will always be lawful, always consistent with our Constitution, and we will always do the hard task it takes to protect American interests, wherever they are.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But do you need Congress's permission?

MIKE POMPEO: To-- to do what, Margaret? I mean depend-- you-- I-- I don't know how to answer the question in the abstract. Permission--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you said a range of options are being looked at.

MIKE POMPEO: Yes. Every-- every option we look at will be fully lawful.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I want to ask you that because when you were trying to lay out this case, as you know, some allies have said that video released was not enough to convince them. With the exception of the U.K. and Saudi Arabia, some allies are saying we need to see more and hear more from the United States. President Trump, as you said, he campaigned against Middle East wars. But there is also this perception that the administration is spoiling for this fight. You were a vocal critic when you were in Congress--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --of the nuclear deal you called the JCPOA earlier. The national security adviser right now is one of the architects of the 2003 war in Iraq. According to the latest Economist poll, fifty-one percent of Americans say the President is not honest versus thirty-three who say he is. If you've a credibility gap that is going to be hard for you to sell something to the American public, how do you resolve that?

MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, we're not selling anything. These-- these are simple facts. I've had many conversations over the past, frankly, weeks talking about Iran's activity. No one doubts the dataset. I haven't-- I haven't heard a single person say they think--

MARGARET BRENNAN: The German foreign minister said the video was not enough.

MIKE POMPEO: The German foreign minister has seen a great deal more than just that video. He will continue to see more. I will concede there are countries that just wish this would go away and they want to act in a way that is counterfactual. No one disputes that this is the Islamic Republic of Iran taking these actions to deny this international right away-- waterway and the freedom of navigation that is a fundamental right of every country to travel through that. No-- I've seen no one deny it, and I'm confident that as we continue to develop the fact pattern, countries around the world will not only accept the basic facts, which I think are indisputable, but will come to understand that this is an important mission for the world.

MARGARET BRENNAN: One of the things when you're at the podium at the State Department earlier this week you presented as a fact was an attack that was carried out in Kabul in May.


MARGARET BRENNAN: The Taliban said they carried it out, but you blamed Iran for it. What evidence do you have that Iran was behind that attack?

MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, in that same statement the Taliban said they killed ten people. I would suggest to you that the credibility of the Taliban is not something you ought to bring onto your show. We-- I-- I-- I--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you believe Iran was behind it?

MIKE POMPEO: I-- I-- we have confidence that Iran instigated this attack. I-- I can't share any more of the intelligence. But I wouldn't have said it if the intelligence community hadn't become convinced that this was the case.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So there's more that you can't share with us to back that up?

MIKE POMPEO: Yes-- yes, Ma'am. That's correct.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Iran state media says that they are going to start looking at ramping up their production of nuclear fuel. What does the U.S. do to stop this if you've already withdrawn from the nuclear accord?

MIKE POMPEO: Think about that. Iran is now announcing that in a matter of days, they can begin to spin up their nuclear program. This tells you how flawed the deal was, right? It tells you that the deal had no capacity to actually stop them--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But what do you do now? Do you just keep putting more sanctions on? Desperation doesn't always lead to the best decision making.

MIKE POMPEO: Our-- our intention is this. We-- we know that their nuclear program accelerates if they have more money and wealth. If they have more capacity, more resources, they have access to metals and to materials and to fissile material. If we relieve sanctions, their nuclear program presents an even greater risk to the United States. And so our mission has been very clear: deny them the wealth and resources and their capacity to build out a nuclear program, and be prepared to do all that it takes to prevent that from happening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you quickly about Russia. The New York Times is reporting that the U.S. is escalating digital attacks, cyber attacks, inside of Russia to hit back an attempted interference in 2018. The President has called this report both false and treasonous which then suggests that there is some truth to it. So which is it?

MIKE POMPEO: I never comment on intelligence matters.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The President said it was--

MIKE POMPEO: I-- I never-- I never comment on intelligence matters. Having-- having come from being CIA director, I know how important it is. But you should know, and your viewers should know that the United States of America, under President Trump, has taken enormous effort to ensure that our elections are not interfered with, not from Russia, not from any other country in the world. It's a serious matter, it's one that this administration took seriously, at the direction of President Trump from the very beginning of his time in office, and we'll continue to do that. I only wish the previous administration had been so serious about preventing election interference.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's interesting that we are sharpening this point because it's the same week when we heard from the President, as you know, who told an interviewer on ABC earlier this week, that he would first listen to a foreign government if they tried to offer him dirt on an opponent and then make a decision as to whether or not to inform the FBI. As the former CIA director, someone who talks every day to foreign governments, what would you advise the President to do?

MIKE POMPEO: President Trump clarified his remarks. I think it's pretty clear he'll do the right thing. I'm highly confident of that. I-- I don't have anything else to add.


MIKE POMPEO: I-- I saw his remarks. He said-- he said, I think in both instances he said he'd-- he'd do both. He said he'd report this to the FBI. Look it-- it-- it-- it's you all present this as--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But, he presented-- no, he presented-- he used the word maybe--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --and that it was-- he'd listened first--

MIKE POMPEO: I listen-- I listen to this very closely. The President made very clear he's going to do the right thing. I have enormous confidence in that I've watched him do it.


MIKE POMPEO: I've watched him do the right thing every time we've had an important national security decision to be made. He's evaluated options and made very good choices about how to proceed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mister Secretary, thank you for time.

MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton. In addition to serving on the Intelligence and Armed Services committees, he has also written a new book called, Sacred Duty: A Soldier's Tour at Arlington National Cemetery. Good morning and happy Father's Day, Senator.

SENATOR TOM COTTON (R-Arkansas/@sentomcotton): Good morning, Margaret. Thanks for having me on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You have long been defined as a hawk on Iran. You see these recent attacks, these are commercial vessels not military installations. What kind of response is warranted?

SENATOR TOM COTTON: Well, Iran for forty years has engaged in this kind of attacks going back to the 1980s. In fact, Ronald Reagan had to reflag a lot of vessels going through the Persian Gulf and, ultimately, take military action against Iran in 1988. These unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you-- you're comparing the tanker war in the eighties to now and saying that that's the kind of military response you want to see?

SENATOR TOM COTTON: We can make a military wreck-- response in a time and in a manner of our choosing. But, yes, unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

MARGARET BRENNAN: A retaliatory strike? When we had Secretary Pompeo on just a few moments ago, he said the U.S. always has the authorization to defend American interests. As someone who sits in Congress, do you believe that he can act-- the administration can act without coming to Congress first?

SENATOR TOM COTTON: Yes, Margaret, going back to President Washington and all the way down to President Trump, the fastest way to get the fire and fury of the U.S. military unleashed on you is to interfere with the freedom of navigation on the open seas and in the air. That's exactly what Iran is doing in one of the world's most important strategic chokepoints. The President has the authorization to act-- to defend American interests. Certainly, he-- it would be in keeping with what President Obama did unwisely in Libya in 2011 in launching a week's long campaign to overthrow the government there. What I'm talking about is not like what we've seen in Iraq for the last sixteen years or Afghanistan for the last eighteen years. But retaliatory military strikes against Iran that make it clear we will not tolerate any kind of attacks on commercial shipping on the open seas.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you believe that the existing authorization for military force is sufficient? You've also said, though, and as someone who's served in Iraq, you have an appreciation for the need to be careful in parsing intelligence and in first reports. How do you convince the American people that they need to stomach something, in terms of a potential strike, that you're describing as somewhat easy to carry out, when there were such vast underestimations of what U.S. force would bring about in Iraq and elsewhere in the past?

SENATOR TOM COTTON: Margaret, those are two very different things. In 2002, our intelligence agencies, just like every Western intelligence agency, was trying to assess the state of a weapons of mass destruction program, one of the things that states worked the hardest to keep secret. There's really not much to assess right here. Everybody can see with their own two eyes, those Iranian sailors going up to a ship and taking a mine off of it. Iranian sailors, ultimately, boarded and height-- and took hostage the crew of one of those ships that they just released yesterday. They tried to shoot down one of our surveillance aircrafts over the Persian Gulf as we were simply trying to monitor what had happened there. As you heard Secretary Pompeo have said they've increased their support on attacks on American troops by supporting a Taliban attack in Afghanistan--


SENATOR TOM COTTON: --just like they killed five hundred Americans in the Iraq war. So there's no doubt here what Iran is up to. They are struggling under the sanctions that we have placed on them. The status quo for them is unacceptable. They're hoping that they can drive up the price of oil and, therefore, benefit from it, since their oil exports have declined so much. And also, get more pressure put on the United States to back off our campaign of maximum pressure. That's not going to happen. If anything, we need to increase that pressure and I think this unprovoked attack on commercial shipping warrants retaliatory military strikes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. So that's a step farther than what the secretary said the President was currently willing to stomach. I want to ask you as well about what the President said this week. He said he would listen, as you heard in that ABC interview, to foreign countries who might have dirt on his opponents before deciding whether or not to report it to the FBI. Doesn't this underest-- undermine all of the efforts to make our elections secure when you have the President of the United States say something like that?

SENATOR TOM COTTON: No-- no, Margaret, he said as well not just on ABC, but especially on Fox-- Fox and Friends later in the week that he would, in fact, report those kind of contacts to the FBI. That's a very different thing, too, than what happened in 2016--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, but that's why it's relevant now and--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --what we're talking about now in terms of negative signals--

SENATOR TOM COTTON: --and the President--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --being sent.

SENATOR TOM COTTON: The President said that he would report that to the FBI. And, remember, that's just simply receiving information in a hypothetical. What happened in 2016 is Hillary Clinton hired a foreign spy--


SENATOR TOM COTTON: --who then recruited--let me finish--who then recruited Russian spies to fabricate lies about her political opponents that was then used--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you're okay with what the President said?

SENATOR TOM COTTON: --that was then used to generate a law enforcement investigation into the administration's political opponents.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you're okay with what the President said?

SENATOR TOM COTTON: The President said that he would report those kind of contacts to the--

MARGARET BRENNAN: He said maybe.


MARGARET BRENNAN: He said maybe. Which I'm asking you. I ask you the same question--

SENATOR TOM COTTON: The President said he would as-- as--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Would you say maybe as your answer?

SENATOR TOM COTTON: --as anyone should. And what people should not do is what Hillary Clinton and the Democrats did which is hire a foreign spy to recruit Russian spies to fabricate lies about their political opponents.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is Tom Cotton's answer to the question maybe when it comes to offering you and your campaign dirt?

SENATOR TOM COTTON: I would report those kind of contacts to the FBI.

MARGARET BRENNAN: No, maybe. Thank you very much, Senator.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be back in one minute with Congressman Adam Schiff.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We are back now with California Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Happy Father's Day to you, too, Chairman.

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

MARGARET BRENNAN: Good to have you here. You heard Tom Cotton, the Senator, and before, that the secretary of state, lay out this case against Iran. You, because you're on the Intelligence Committee, have been tracking the intelligence as well. Is there any question in your mind that it is Iran and its Revolutionary Guard that is behind these attacks?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: There's no question that Iran is behind the attacks. I think the evidence is very strong and compelling. In-- in fact, I think this was a class A screw up by Iran to insert a mine on the ship. It didn't detonate. They had to go back and retrieve it. I can imagine there are some Iranian heads rolling for that botched operation. But, nonetheless, the problem is that we are struggling, even in the midst of this solid evidence, to persuade our allies to join us in any kind of a response and it shows just how isolated the United States has become. Our allies warned the United States, I think our intelligence agencies warned policymakers, that this kind of Iranian reaction was likely a result of a policy of withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement. And so what we see is a split of the U.S. from our allies and we see Russia and China coming together and having Iran's back. This is, I think, the worst of all situations and the maximalist pressure campaign has massively failed and only heightened the risk of conflict. For my colleague, Senator Cotton, to advocate that we attack Iran and provoke a war that there's no congressional authorization necessary, I think is exactly the wrong answer on-- on both levels. Congressional approval is necessary to initiate hostilities against Iran. We should be trying to corral a response, though, from the international community to protect shipping, to impose sanctions, but because we have so alienated ourselves from our allies that's not happening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you see the risk of-- of this getting out of control and escalating further? I mean you hear very clearly from the secretary of state, the President is not seeking war. Senator Cotton is laying out a very different pathway.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: I think that's true. Certainly, the President has said that he doesn't want war. But, nonetheless, his people, and I don't know if this is Pompeo or Bolton or both seem to be taking actions to undercut that ambitions to stay out of warfare at a time when the President sent a message, apparently, through the Japanese prime minister, of an interest in going back to the table to negotiate, Bolton was announcing new sanctions on Iran. Now is that an effort to scuttle the President's effort to initiate a dialogue? It certainly seemed to have that effect. But I think the-- the whole idea that somehow through this pressure campaign we were going to force Iran to capitulate and say, okay, we'll come back to the table, we'll give up everything was naive-- dangerously naive in the first place and this is what our allies are reacting to. This was eminently foreseeable. These attacks on shipping were eminently foreseeable, and the fact that our reneging on the deal hasn't made us safer is part of the proof. And I-- and I think for the secretary to tell you this morning that, see the flaws in the nuclear deal? Iran can go back to enriching now. We left the nuclear deal. How is that to make the case that the nuclear deal was flawed? We left the deal and now we're going to complain that Iran is leaving as well?

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to switch gears to talk a little bit about Russia. There was this New York Times report, that I'm sure you saw, that the U.S. is stepping up cyber, I guess, offensive actions to shut down, potentially, Russian infrastructure if needed. Part of it is retaliation for attempts to interfere in elections, including 2018, and now. Is the national security community responding in a stronger way to Russian interference than what we hear from President Trump, himself?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: Certainly, I think the intelligence community is training its focus and resources on the Russian threat, even if the President isn't. I can't comment on whether the New York Times report is accurate or inaccurate. But, certainly, we-- we've had a heightened focus on Russian meddling in our elections. There have been persistent concerns about Russia and other nations preparing the battlefield in terms of our energy grid, and establishing a deterrent I think is very important. But that effort to establish a determined-- deterrent is dramatically undercut when the President a month ago told Putin over the phone that he still thinks the Russian interference in our election was a hoax. When the President says that he still is open to receiving foreign help and he may or may not call the FBI. What I found most disturbing about that New York Times story about whether we're preparing the battlefield, in terms of the electrical grid in Russia, was the fact that the security officials with the administration felt they couldn't tell this to the President because he might compromise that information in a conversation with the Russians, or he might countermand their orders, their military decisions because of the President's obsequious attitude towards Russia.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is Congress getting briefed on that? Is there enough congressional oversight of this kind of program?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: We are certainly. And-- and again I can't confirm whether the program that is described in The New York Times is either accurate or inaccurate, but we certainly press the intelligence community and our military to be briefed, kept currently informed and I think we are-- are being kept informed. But-- but it's a continual effort.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said recently that you may subpoena the FBI director, Chris Wray, to ask him questions about the original counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign as it relates to 2016. Why is that necessary? Are you still suggesting that the President may be a Russian asset?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: What I'm suggesting is that the counterintelligence investigation that began when the FBI had concerns that people around the President and ultimately the President might be acting as witting or unwitting agents of a foreign power. We have not been able to get a briefing on since the day James Comey was fired. Now we are still-- now we are just starting to get some information from the FBI. I think the threat to subpoena the director has had some impact but we still don't know just who did the FBI have concerns about--


REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: --what findings did they make. The special counsel does refer in his report to FBI agents who were abetted and--


REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: --sent some findings back to headquarters. We need to see those findings.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman, thank you very much.

And we'll be back in just a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Next week, we will talk to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders out on the campaign trail in Columbia, South Carolina.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION, including an interview with South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is one of the twenty-four Democrats running for President. He's thirty-seven years old and if he wins he will be the youngest President ever. He would also be the first openly gay President. We caught up with him on the campaign trail in Virginia.

(Begin VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: MARGARET BRENNAN: You faulted Democrats, in a speech this week, for kind of not having much of a strategic foreign policy for the past few decades--

PETE BUTTIGIEG (Mayor of South Bend, Indiana/@PeteButtigieg/2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate): I think--

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean by that?

PETE BUTTIGIEG: I think that it's been difficult, even confusing, to figure out what our foreign policy is because Democrats became so absorbed in opposing whatever the Republicans were doing. Now often, rightly so. What the Republicans were doing was often terrible. But we got so sucked into that. For example, take the Iraq war, which I opposed as a student and continue to think was a terrible idea. We were so horrified by the way that democracy promotion was done at gunpoint then, that it very nearly made our party into isolationists when actually we've often been the ones who believed in more international engagement. And so--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you would fault Joe Biden, who you'll be standing on the debate stage with for his vote.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Well, I certainly think that vote was a mistake and-- and I have a different view on that-- that conflict. But it's more than any individual voter, any individual conflict. It's-- what worldview is going to anchor our approach? We're not going to be able to figure out who we are as Democrats by keying off the Republicans and just deciding when we're against it and when we're going to accommodate it. We have to have our own view, and I think our own view needs to be based on the idea that American interests, American values, and American relationships all need to fit together. And it's very clear that the U.S. is adrift. I would argue, under this administration, the U.S. does not have a foreign policy. Maybe an approach, but the approach is not pretty. It involves coddling dictators. It involves blaming fellow Americans for a lot of the problems we have around the world. And it's no substitute for a policy in which the U.S. is leading. We can either lead the rest of the world or we can resent the rest of the world. We can't do both.

MARGARET BRENNAN: President Trump said if a foreign government offered him information on his opponent he'd listen. He said it's just like opposition research. What do you think of that answer?

PETE BUTTIGIEG: We're talking about foreign interference in American politics. And by the way, this isn't hypothetical. This isn't theoretical. We were attacked by a hostile foreign power that decided that they could damage America, destabilize America, by intervening in the election to help him win. And they did and he did, and now America's destabilized. If you believe in putting this country first, how could you ever talk about allowing a foreign-- potentially hostile foreign power to interfere in the most sacred thing that we have in our civic tradition in America, which is our elections?

MARGARET BRENNAN: He said he'd listen before he'd considered reporting it.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Is there a scenario in which that's acceptable?

PETE BUTTIGIEG: No. Just call the FBI. It's not hard. It's not complicated.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you've been asked about the President and the Mueller report--you said that if you are elected, that you would consider pursuing obstruction of justice charges.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: It's not up to the President to pursue charges. This is the thing--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But his Justice Department--

PETE BUTTIGIEG: --so I absolutely-- I absolutely believe that there are plenty of reasons to-- to think that there may have been illegal behavior and--


PETE BUTTIGIEG: --prosecutors should look at that and no one is above the law. Not a President, not a former President, no one. I also believe that the last place you look for guidance on how to conduct a prosecution is to the Oval Office. The less our law enforcement and prosecution has to do with politics the better. And I--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So when some of your competitors say that there should be obstruction of justice charges pursued you're saying you're not endorsing that.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: There should be a Department of Justice that can think for itself. There is tons of evidence that would point to an obstruction investigation. I'm just saying it shouldn't be ordered up by the President.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You look at a Buttigieg Justice Department, potentially, prosecuting the President-- former President, would you ever consider a pardon?

PETE BUTTIGIEG: I don't think that it's appropriate for pardon power to be used to cover for malfeasance or corruption in office. Right now--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, Ford's pardoning of Nixon--

PETE BUTTIGIEG: You know, I don't know--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --inappropriate?

PETE BUTTIGIEG: --what I would have done in the 70s and-- and-- and that historical counterfactual other than that I'm bothered by the possibility that public corruption went unpunished and the idea that that could happen in the future is equally problematic.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe the Trump administration when it says that those attacks on tankers that happened this week were conducted by Iran?

PETE BUTTIGIEG: There is certainly a concern that this is consistent with a pattern of malignant behavior by Iran. What I'm also concerned about is that this appears to be part of an escalation where this administration might be leading us on a path to war that could get away from this White House very quickly. Look, it-- it is nothing new for Iran to be acting in destabilized-- destabilizing ways in their region. We see it quite a bit. The question is what are we going to do to make things more stable before the situation becomes uncontrollable?

MARGARET BRENNAN: So what would you do?

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, engage our allies. We are not alone. At least we shouldn't be acting alone. And if we want to see stability in the Middle East we should be engaging with our partners there as well as allies like our European partners who are such an important part of the Iran nuclear deal. And, by the way, another thing I would never have done--


PETE BUTTIGIEG: --is to get us out of the nuclear deal setting off a chain reaction that has destabilized the regional security framework and the politics of that area, and making it that much harder for any moderates that-- that are still in the Iranian regime to get anywhere because they look foolish for having staked their careers on the idea that you could trust Americans. We need to have a completely different approach. And when the same people who led us to the war in Iraq, like the National Security Adviser John Bolton, are now, apparently, guiding our policy toward Iran in-- in the White House, it makes you wonder whether we can really take this President at face value when he says he doesn't want us to go to war.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You also said you would rejoin that nuclear accord with Iran, but the U.N. watchdog, the IAEA, has already said that Iran is ramping up its production of nuclear fuel. There are bans on arms that are going to expire right on the precipice of the election and shortly after you'd be entering office. So is that really a viable alternative?

PETE BUTTIGIEG: We're going to have to do something new. The point is that we never should have left it in the first place.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you want new negotiations and a new deal with Iran?

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Any negotiation is going to have to meet the needs and the realities of the moment. Unfortunately, the moment we're in is one where the United States' influence in this region has diminished because of the-- the way that we have withdrawn. So what we're going to have to do is re-engage with our partners, re-engage with anybody who has an interest in stability in the region and do whatever we can to once again meet the objective of stopping Iran from developing nuclear capabilities which is exactly what that deal was doing. Even this administration certified that that was the case.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mister Mayor, thank you for your time.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Good to be with you.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: The full interview is on our website at

We will be right back with a look at where the 2020 field of Democrats stand in the primary season.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Today, we are unveiling our CBS News 2020 Battleground Tracker which we launched in 2016 in partnership with YouGov. The first part of the 2020 Battleground Tracker will focus on the Democratic caucus and primary contest, up to and including Super Tuesday. We'll have polling specific to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina along with aggregate polling from those states, plus, the other fifteen where contests will be held starting on February 3rd in Iowa through March the 3rd, which is Super Tuesday. In that aggregate of eighteen early contest states, former Vice President Joe Biden is leading the field of candidates with thirty-one percent of voters support. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are behind him with seventeen and sixteen percent respectively. Senator Kamala Harris rounds out our top tier at ten percent. Our next group has Mayor Pete Buttigieg polling at eight percent, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke at five and Senators Corey Booker and Amy Klobuchar polling at two percent. The rest of the field comes in with one percent of the vote or less. Joining us to tell us more about this first batch of polling as well as what we can look forward to this campaign season is CBS News Elections and Surveys Director Anthony Salvanto. Anthony, I know you live for this. Explain what's so different about the Battleground Tracker?

ANTHONY SALVANTO (CBS News Elections and Surveys Director/@SalvantoCBS): Well, it promises to be a big election, so we've got to go big with the polling. And what that means is talking to more people than we ever have before, more than you will see in most other polls. It means being in the states that really matter, the districts even that are going to matter and award delegates. But, mostly, Margaret, it means putting this in terms that voters can relate to, understanding how they think about this race and getting beyond the horse race. So, for example, you mentioned as clear in all these early states Joe Biden is leading when we pollsters come along and ask who are you going to vote for in six months? But it's early so what are voters doing? They are considering some of these candidates when we ask them, which candidates might you choose? Then we see a much closer contest. We see Warren under consideration. Certainly, Sanders, Harris, and to a lesser extent Buttigieg. Those are the folks that really define that top tier and those are the folks that voters are starting to narrow their choices already in this big field. You also see differences in what voters want in a candidate in general.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. And that's what I want to ask you. What are voters looking for?


MARGARET BRENNAN: Is there a divide among Democrats?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: Yeah. In fact, there is. We asked people, what should the parties' message be? Should it be that the party would, if they win, return things to the way they were before President Trump took office? Obviously, Democrats want to defeat President Trump. Or should the party press for a more progressive or liberal agenda that it's ever had before? And there's differences in vote choice based on how people divide on that. The folks who go with more of that return message are much more for Joe Biden but the folks who say they want a more progressive agenda, well, there you've got a mix--not just Biden but also Warren and Sanders, really, jockeying with him for the top spot.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And what makes someone electable?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: Well, that's the word that gets thrown around this town--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Electability, right.

ANTHONY SALVANTO: --a lot, right? So what we did was we-- we turn people into political strategist a little bit and maybe they do a better job than a lot of the-- the folks in this town. We asked them, who do you think has the best chance to beat President Trump? And by and large they think that Joe Biden does have a very good chance. The other candidates when voters tried to game out those chances placed the more at maybe they can win than a definitely win. That's one of the big things that's propelling Joe Biden. But then we went a little further and we said, okay, Democrats, tell us what you think swing voters are going to want come that general election in 2020?

MARGARET BRENNAN: In other words, not you, but what do you think others are looking for?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: Exactly. So, as they game that out, Democrats say they think those swing voters are the ones they got to try to lure back to the party might more-- might be more inclined to want a moderate and even a white male for those swing voters they think would be concerned about race and gender even as the Democrats themselves, of course, have the most diverse primary field in history.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Most diverse, also, most crowded that we have seen. And that's one of those questions we often ask when we are talking to candidates is is that hurting you that this field is so full, twenty-four candidates? So is it? I mean why are there so many?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: Well, there are so many in part because I think the rules incentivize this, which is to say this year the Democrats have changed their rules so that party leaders and elected officials don't have as much say in the initial part of the contest as they used to. They got rid of what they called super-delegates. That--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Part of this is a response to 2016?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: It's definitely a response to 2016 when a lot of Democrats felt that those party leaders may have had their fingers on the scale for--


ANTHONY SALVANTO: --Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. So this year you've got much more power at least in that first run with voters and electing delegates to the convention. That's one reason. And the other is that with such a front-loaded schedule, a lot of big states are going to be holding their contests early--


ANTHONY SALVANTO: --not just the ones you mentioned, you know, California, Texas, et cetera, that brings a very diverse electorate into the mix. And so a lot of candidates feel like, well, they can pick up delegates in all of those different places, maybe why not take a shot? And that's one reason why you're going to see so many candidates on those stages come next week.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Anthony, I know we will be talking a lot to you in the coming months. Thank you.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll have more results from our 2020 Battleground Tracker ahead.


MARGARET BRENNAN: It's time now for some political analysis. Amy Walter is the national editor of the Cook Political Report. Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic strategist and contributor on our digital network, CBSN. And Leslie Sanchez is a CBS News political contributor and also a familiar face on CBSN. Good to have you all here. Amy, I want to start with you. You heard Anthony lay out the Battleground Tracker and some of the nuggets he picked up and it reminds me of the way you framed it, revolution versus restoration.

AMY WALTER (Cook Political Report/@amyewalter/The Takeaway): Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It seems among the Democrats the fight to be had is on the revolution part of the ticket.

AMY WALTER: Right. And that's where the Warren and the-- the Sanders fight is right now. They're taking about a third of the-- of the vote. But we were talking right before the panel, the person then we-- we wonder then who will Biden ultimately have to fight with for that restoration? And that's-- we haven't seen that quite yet. Even Pete Buttigieg I think is on the sort of Warren and the Sanders part of that, again saying we need somebody different. We need a-- we need a new way of thinking about things. We don't need to go back to the old ways. He says that a lot, right?


AMY WALTER: Let's not go back to the 90s. We need to be looking to the future, not such veiled swipe at a candidate who was very active in the 90s. The person who really is I think a threat to then Joe Biden is somebody like Kamala Harris, where you see that, she doesn't pop up really very much in the polling, her numbers overall are pretty low, but when you ask people about their second choice, her name comes up very high in that list. I think she's at forty-five percent in your poll, which suggests that people don't necessarily are not thinking a whole lot about her. They don't know a whole lot about her quite, yet, but they have her in the back of the mind of sort of a, hmm, if not Joe Biden, maybe I'll take a look at her.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Maybe we'll give her a shot. But she is someone that in that interview with Pete Buttigieg he did also take a little bit of a gentle swipe, Antjuan, we'll say in terms of trying to differentiate how he would respond to potentially prosecuting the existing President. Are we going to see these elbows get a little sharper next week on the debate stage or are we still going to have these just sort of veiled swipes?

ANTJUAN SEAWRIGHT (Democratic Strategist/@antjuansea): Well, politics is a contact sport, and so you just have to assume for people who want to separate themselves from their opponents they're going to do everything they can to--

MARGARET BRENNAN: They've been pretty gentle so far.

ANTJUAN SEAWRIGHT: It's too early. We're not even in preseason yet. We're still in the training camp phase-- phase of this process. It's too early. Of course, they're going to be, it is going to be a strong attempt to define their opponents but also to swipe at the frontrunner, Joe Biden, we've seen some of that to this point, I think it actually backfired, I think it has made him stronger. But to Pete's point, he is trying to climb the ladder of getting to the space that you're talking about where he is well positioned to be an alternative to Joe Biden. But the candidate who has the ability to take a (INDISTINCT) and keep on ticking will ultimately be the one that I think will be able to take on Donald Trump, and to this point the polls indicate that person is Joe Biden.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. And so when we see that debate stage it's not going to be ganging up on Joe Biden. That's not going to be a successful strategy?

ANTJUAN SEAWRIGHT: I think-- I-- I will not do-- I do not think it will be. I think that what the voters are hungry and thirsty for is what people are for, laying out your own policy agenda. We've heard that time and time again. And I think that if I was on that stage I would strictly talk about what I was for, but I would speak to quality of life issues, because I think that's where everyone is, everybody wants to feel secured, they want to feel like they their America is better than their parents' and grandparents' generation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Leslie, there was a lot of attention this week to internal polling--

LESLIE SANCHEZ (CBS News Political Contributor/@LeslieSanchez): Mm-Hm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --or other polling that might suggest President Trump is more vulnerable particularly in the Heartland than he would allow others to believe.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Where are these sort of soft spots for him?

LESLIE SANCHEZ: Right. I think it's a really fair question when you're talking about incumbency but I also would like to look at the historical context, right? We know for the most part people prefer to give President two terms unless there's something wildly different about it, just, historically, you're going to do that. What's different about Trump is if we even compare, I would told my Democratic colleagues to Obama at his point in his administration, 2011, 2012. They are within three or four points of each other in terms of approval rating. He also had just-- had a big defeat in the midterms, you know, speaking of Obama and same kind of, you know, bruised egos in that sense, but by the time he got to election day there was a resounding defeat, and that's part of what Republicans are looking at, the President, his-- is mostly flat lined when it comes to approval rating but what I am not hearing talked about is style of leadership. That's what Republicans learned in the primary last go around. It was not an issue mano a mano on policy, it was this new approach, a new more centrist approach that wasn't particularly Republican it certainly wasn't conservative. But it was breaking the polarization-- it's-- it's a bold polarization but it was breaking traditional Washington and that's what's you're going to need in contrast to this President if any Democrat is going to get leeway.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And is Biden the biggest threat still to him? I mean, that's certainly from our polling what people's impression is that he is the best shot.

LESLIE SANCHEZ: I think for most part you could say that because he's going to appeal to a lot of that Rust Belt voter, the-- the-- the working laborer, a lot of areas that Trump did well in that other Republicans have not done particularly well in and not consistently. But, again, I'm going to go back to the economy, if you look at the economic numbers in those states--which is what we looked at in the midterms as well--if it's over fifty percent, then it's likely to swing toward Republicans, and that's what I'm going to be watching.


ANTJUAN SEAWRIGHT: But-- but I think--


ANTJUAN SEAWRIGHT: But-- but it's been pretty obvious that health care is the number one issue of the day for Democrats and Republicans. And to your point, here's an interesting thing about Joe Biden. He is one of very few people running in our primary that could bring the many corners of our party together-- together and takeaway from the Trump voter who voted for him in '16 who voted for Barack Obama in 2008. And if health care is the number one issue of the day--


ANTJUAN SEAWRIGHT: --the Republicans have failed the American people as it relates to access and affordability.

AMY WALTER: There is one really important thing, though, in that-- the pushback from the Trump campaign on the polling they said, well, in our own polling when we gave voters a choice, of a candidate who had these certain qualities, then the numbers got much tighter. This is called an informed ballot, basically, what they were saying is if you had a choice between Donald Trump and a socialist, who would you vote for, right? That there's a reason that the term socialist is coming up a lot, not just from the Trump campaign, but everywhere else--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're teaming up perfectly here, Amy.


MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to play the sound bite here from Senator Bernie Sanders.

BERNIE SANDERS (Wednesday): I do understand that I and other progressives will face massive attacks from those who attempt to use the word socialism as a slur. But I should also tell you that I have faced and overcome these attacks for decades and I am not the only one.

AMY WALTER: Yeah. Well, what the poll showed is that that's not working really well right now. Because when you ask Democratic voters who they think is the most electable, who's the-- who's a candidate-- who's best able to beat Donald Trump, this is where Joe Biden wins, in part, because it's harder to attack him with those qualities. So it's pretty clear what the Trump campaign wants to do. Look, they're not going to win because Trump's numbers are going to increase.


AMY WALTER: Obama's numbers as he ran through 2012, his approval ratings went up, that's not what's going to happen here. His numbers are going to probably stay the same, Trump's are but he has to make whoever the Democrat is as unpopular as he is. And if you look, there's a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. The candidates who they said who are you the most uncomfortable with, Trump's number one at fifty-two percent, Sanders number two at forty-one percent. That's the danger.

LESLIE SANCHEZ: Well, in the historical part you had more people-- Trump get more support in terms of the primaries than ever before, he also had more people voting against him in the primary--

AMY WALTER: That's right.

LESLIE SANCHEZ: --than ever before. So it was the dichotomy of the two--


LESLIE SANCHEZ: --which again, goes to that point of what were they looking for with Trump if you look at the voters?

AMY WALTER: That's right.

LESLIE SANCHEZ: Authen-- Authenticity. They were tired of this polished-- as people in the business, you know, who do a lot of the messaging and preparing candidates, voters were tired--


LESLIE SANCHEZ: --of the veneer around politicians, they wanted somebody who was nontraditional in that sense who had conviction, whether you like it or not. And then-- and the funny part about-- about the President is he said, they said, oh, he'll be more presidential when he gets into the White House, you know, oh, yeah, when I get there I'm going to be more presidential and it's like wearing a pair of shoes that are too tight. You know, you may get down the hall but the second you can't, you're going to take him off and that's what he's done. And people have respected, they may not like his style but they respect what he's done and now he gets legitimate credit for a booming economy. That is a really difficult thing to move against as a candidate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we've got to-- we've got to leave it there, unfortunately. It's all the time we have.


MARGARET BRENNAN: But we have, what, more than five days to go. I'm sure we'll be bringing you back to talk more.


MARGARET BRENNAN: So thanks to all of you on our panel. And we will see you Friday night when our digital network CBSN airs a special two-hour edition of red and blue, live from Columbia, South Carolina, where twenty-two pres-- Democratic presidential candidates will be appearing at one of the biggest events in the primary season, Congressman Jim Clyburn's Annual Fish Fry.

We'll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That is going to do it for us today. Thank you all for watching. And we want to wish all the fathers out there a very happy Father's Day, including my dad, my father-in-law and my husband, who has his very first Father's Day today. For FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan. We'll see you next week.

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