On this "Face the Nation" broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:
- Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. (read more)
- Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. (
- Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates (
- Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (watch)
- Panelists: Susan Glasser and David Nakamura (watch)
Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."
MARGARET BRENNAN: It's Sunday, May 12th. I'm Margaret Brennan and this is FACE THE NATION.
These are challenging times for the Trump administration as the President faces rising tensions with Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia. As trade talks stall President Trump raises tariffs on China and threatens more. The North Koreans test a second round of ballistic missiles, and the U.S. makes new military deployments to the Persian Gulf following intelligence reports that Iran is planning possible attacks on American forces in the region. Back at home, Democrats say the country faces a constitutional crisis over the administration's refusal to cooperate with Congress on several investigations, as most Republicans step up the pressure to move on from the Mueller report. But the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee wants to hear more from Donald Trump Jr. on the issue of Russian interference in 2016. We'll talk with a top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy, as well as Democrat Senator Michael Bennet who sits on the Intelligence Committee. Continuing a FACE THE NATION tradition, we traveled outside of Washington to talk with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served eight Presidents, to get his perspective on all those challenges.
Do you think it's a legitimate criticism of the President that he didn't confront Vladimir Putin about what the Mueller report concluded?
ROBERT GATES: I think that was a mistake, yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Former Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson will also join us.
And we'll have plenty of analysis.
It's all ahead on FACE THE NATION.
Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. We have a lot to cover today and we will begin with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. Good to have you here in studio.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY (House Minority Leader/R-California/@GOPLeader): Well, thanks for having me, and, first, may I wish you a very happy Mother's Day. I know this is your first Mother's Day, but also to my mom, and to my mother-in-law, and, most importantly, to my wife, mother of our children.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You get points for that. Well done. But, leader, let's-- let's talk about one of the things that we laid out there in the open, which is this decision to ask Donald Trump Jr. to come back to answer questions related to previous answers he had given to the Senate Intelligence Committee. You've said it's time to move on. But, if Congress hasn't finished its own investigation, how can you say that?
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: But, they have-- they have finished the investigation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Senate Intelligence Committee hasn't finished its work.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: But think about why the Senate is doing this. Donald Trump Jr. has spent twenty-seven hours already testifying. They're requesting him back based upon something that Cohen has said, when he is in jail for lying to Congress. But Cohen was talking about a meeting he wasn't even at. So that is why I believe we should move on. And if the Senate hasn't finished--
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know that it's specific to the Trump Tower meeting? That's--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: That is what they--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --the question.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: That is what they laid out the-- the reason why. But, more importantly, it's not going to change the outcome of the Mueller report. And no House or Senate, is going to have the number of attorneys, the ability to subpoena where they're going, the grand jury, all that. So, this is a time that the country wants us to move forward. We want to move forward. We got health care, we got trade.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: We got a crisis on our border. The Democrats are more interested in subpoenas than solutions.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But this, again, is a Republican-led committee that went forward with a subpoena. Bob Mueller never interviewed Donald Trump Jr. But this committee did. If there were no--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: For twenty-seven hours.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Sure, and if there were no charges brought, why not just respect the mandate of Congress and come back and answer the questions? You sound like you're saying he's too busy.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: No, I'm not saying he's too-- I'm saying the Mueller--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why does the number of hours matter?
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: The Mueller report-- because, if you've ever interviewed an individual twenty-seven hours, you get to the point of everything you've asked. The other part the Mueller--
MARGARET BRENNAN: The senators say they haven't had a chance to ask the questions themselves, only their staff did.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: But you had a Mueller report that had forty attorneys. FBI agents went to different countries, have more power within Congress, the ability for grand jury and others, and they found no evidence. So don't you think it's time to move forward? Don't you think the American public-- now, you're out on the road talking to Democrats who are running for President, listening. They're not being asked about this either. We've got a crisis on our southern border. We've got an economy--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: --that's stronger than we've had in fifty years. We have more people working in America than any time in American history.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Sure.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: You have more jobs being offered--
MARGARET BRENNAN: But a hostile--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: --than people actually looking.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --foreign power interfered in our democracy.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: No.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That was the purpose--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: You just--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --of this probe-- probe in the first place.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: Yeah, but you just had--
MARGARET BRENNAN: And you have--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: You just had that answered by the Mueller report.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Senate--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: There was no collusion and there's no obstruction.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But Senator Marco Rubio, who sits on this Intelligence Committee, has said Republicans who are criticizing this are-- are fundamentally, misunderstanding the intent of the committee investigation, that it is focused on this question of a foreign power interfering. The intent is to move towards legislation that can prevent it from happening again or at least make it harder. Doesn't that have merit?
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: Look, the-- the idea of a foreign entity trying to move into our elections is something Republicans have been working on for quite some time. We were the ones that pushed Obama, who ignored our concerns of what was going forward when he was President. This is something Republicans have stood up for a long time. But the question that the Mueller report has already answered, so why do you prolong that? If you want to look at entities that are trying to get into our elections, yes, that is something we've always worked on. But Donald Trump Junior has already testified for more than twenty-seven hours. If you want to bring him back in because something Cohen has said when he is in jail for lying and talking about a meeting he wasn't even in? No, I don't think that's right. But it's not going to change the outcome of what this investigation has already done and the power behind the Mueller investigation. That's the concern that I have.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So do you disagree then with some of your fellow Republicans who say they want to investigate the origins of the investigation?
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: No, I think that's very important from the origin of the investigation--
MARGARET BRENNAN: So it's not--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: --of where you go.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --time to move on?
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: No, it's time to move on. Was there obstruction? No. Was there collusion? No. But why did we even get to this point? Why did the dossier get to that point? What were the communications? You got an IG report coming in? That's going to be very important, but you never want America to have to live through this again. You don't want to have a President on any side of the aisle have to go through what we just went through again. So I think from that instance that's where Attorney General Barr is looking and I think that's appropriate.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So not all of these investigations are about Mueller.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You have, in the Democratic-led House, twenty or so investigations underway. Some of them, though, and we can put up on the screen some of the scope of these investigations. There are things like security clearances and whether those are being handled properly. These were questions that Republicans had--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: Yeah.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --when they held the majority. So don't you think there are some investigations here with merit?
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: There are some with merit and if you look at our ranking member Jim--
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you disagree it's just harassment.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: No. If you look at what Jim Jordan, our ranking member in there, he actually brought in the individual from the White House to talk about it. The-- the problem that I have is something a situation like Chairman Nadler is doing. Chairman Nadler just held the attorney general in contempt because he requested that he breaks the law. And if you will not break the law I'll vote in contempt. That's it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You mean in terms of disclosing grand jury information more publicly?
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: Exactly. And if-- if Chairman Nadler was that serious about getting to the bottom he hasn't even taken the time to go read, which he's approved to read, the ninety-nine-point-nine percent of any obstruction inside the Mueller report. But he hasn't even gone to read it while trying to hold the attorney general in contempt. He's asking him to break the law.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the-- as you know Democrats argue that this is a matter of transparency and going to see it without being made-- made public. You know the argument back and forth there.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: But that argument doesn't hold--
MARGARET BRENNAN: But what does the contempt--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: But think about that argument. He has the right to read it and he won't read it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: For the-- the reasons that they've given there, in terms of me being able to share it publicly. But you say it's time to move on. Legislatively--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: Ninety-eight. Nine--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --what is actually possible right now? Because we haven't really seen the White House go to Congress and say, put forth a vote on this hard-core proposal on immigration, even on infrastructure, which the President says two-trillion-dollar deals is what he wants to get done.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: But, see, that's not true. The administration has. The administration is sitting here trying to grow an economy that we're already the strongest we've been in fifty years. USMCA but Speaker Pelosi is withholding a vote on that. That would increase thousands of more jobs; increase our GDP of where we're going. We've--
MARGARET BRENNAN: You're talking about the USMCA? Mm-Hm.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: Yes, exactly. That has to be voted on in Congress. The power there is with the Speaker, when to bring it up, closing the loopholes on the crisis on the southern border. Think, just last month, more than a hundred thousand illegal crossings happened. These are the only ones that we are able to catch in one month. That is the size of your hometown of Stamford, Connecticut. A little more than about a hundred and thirty there. But that's--
MARGARET BRENNAN: We're going to--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: --in one month. That is a crisis. Even--
MARGARET BRENNAN: We're going to have to--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: But even--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --leave it there, though.
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: --The New York Times writes about this. Everybody knows there's a crisis.
MARGARET BRENNAN: About the humanitarian crisis?
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: Except the Democrats in Congress.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman, thank you very much--
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: --for coming in studio.
We turn now to Colorado Democratic Senator Michael Bennet. He is running for President, and he joins us from the campaign trail in Des Moines, Iowa. Good morning to you. Sir, you sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The decision to serve a subpoena to the President's son set off this firestorm among Republicans who were saying, the Mueller report is in, let's just move on. If Mueller chose not to prosecute and he had access to the transcripts from Congress's interview with Donald Trump Junior, what more is this? Why is this necessary?
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET (D-Colorado/@MichaelBennet/Intelligence Committee/2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate): Well, first-- first of all, Congress's business here is not to-- it-- we're-- we're not doing a criminal investigation. This is not about prosecuting anybody. This is about understanding how serious, and it was profoundly serious, the Russian's interference in our elections were in 2016, an interference that the President of the United States refuses to acknowledge. And then I would say, second, with respect to the Mueller Report, this is just in the early days. I know the President and his attorney general and allies would like to just wish the report away, but the American people are just starting to see this report. The Congress has not yet received an unredacted version of the report. We have not yet seen the underlying documents for the report and the report is report that conclusively says that the-- the special prosecutor could not clear the President of obstruction of justice. So, I think while they want to-- they do want to wish it away, I think that Congress has an important oversight role to per-- to perform here, including the Senate intel- Intelligence Committee.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So it-- it sounds like you're saying Republicans may be overreacting?
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: I think that what you've had is a sequence of events that started with the attorney general of the United States acting like the President's defense lawyer and summarizing Mueller's document falsely and implying that somehow the document didn't show wrongdoing by the President. And Republicans like Mitch McConnell have taken advantage of-- of that false summary-- summary that Mueller has said is false and have said case closed. And we haven't-- the American people haven't even heard Bob Mueller testify yet. So, I think that they ought to allow this to take its course.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Bob Mueller had an issue with context, I don't know if he used the word false. But in-- in terms of the Mueller report, it-- it did make clear, as you have said in your personal view, that the President committed impeachable offenses. That sounds like you're saying you support impeachment. What is the point of that process if it's just going to be dead on arrival in a Republican-controlled Senate?
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: Well, I've said that I don't-- I-- I'm not ready to say the President should be impeached. I said that he-- I think it looks from the report as though he's committed impeachable offenses. I think there is every reason why the investigation in the Congress should continue and then we should make an assessment of where it leads. You're quite right that as long as the Republicans are in charge of the Senate and they are-- want to bury their heads in the sand about what's going on here that it's unlikely that that process will go through all the way to the end, which is why I think Nancy Pelosi has wanted to say, let's not jump to a conclusion on impeachment yet. Let's let the process go forward and see where it takes us. And by the way, ultimately, I think where it will take us is to replacing Donald Trump in 2020, which is what we need to do.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, and something that you personally would like to see happen there. As-- as we mentioned you are in the field yourself. You wrote an op-ed recently saying that while you do support a hardline approach to China, you think President Trump has been really bad for farmers. Do you support a third bailout for farmers?
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: I-- I-- I think it shouldn't be necessary. I think-- look, Donald Trump has shown himself to be the most fiscally irresponsible President we have had in generations. Here's a guy who's managed to rack up a two-trillion-dollar deficit at a moment of full employment in the country. It is almost impossible to do that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So what I would you do differently--
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: And his solution--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --if you are a commander-in-chief--
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: What I would do--
MARGARET BRENNAN: --leading these talks?
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET: Yeah. What-- what I would do differently is mobilize the world against China's mercantilist trading policies, which the President is right to point out have been unfair. But putting tariffs on our allies, putting tariffs on even the Chinese that are actually taxes on American producers, American farmers, taxes on the American consumer and taxes on the American worker, I think are completely the wrong way of doing this. I can assure you the Chinese have a longer attention span that Donald Trump has. So I have just spent three-- two days with farmers in Iowa. I've spent time with farmers all over my state as well. They-- they were facing low commodity prices. They're-- in my state, they're facing drought. In Iowa, they're facing flooding and-- and now on top of that, they're facing the retribution by-- by-- by our trading partners and our foes. And that's a direct consequence of the President's immigration-- or trade policies. His immigration policy has also been terrible for farmers in my state. People are selling their equipment because they can't hire people to be able to do the work they need to keep their farm or their ranch or their dairy operation in business. And-- and it's ironic because he-- he has such massive support among so many of these folks, but we'll see what happens over time.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Senator Bennet, as we said you are on the campaign trail, we appreciate you joining us today.
We'll be back in one minute with an interview with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It's our seventh year of traveling to Williamsburg, Virginia, to sit down with former Secretary of Defense and now chancellor of William and Mary, Robert Gates, to talk about the news of the day. We asked him whether he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin had paid an adequate price for meddling in the 2016 election.
ROBERT GATES (Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director/William & Mary Chancellor): No, I think we have not reacted nearly strongly enough to Putin and to Russia for their blatant interference in 2016. And I think there are ways we can do that. It's not military, but it's, perhaps, a certain set of sanctions. It's also using some of our own capabilities to go back into Russia and, let's say, inform the Russian people of the magnitude of corruption of Putin. And-- and I think we can make a case about that. And I think-- I think we can create more problems for him in a-- we have the capabilities to do that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why don't you think the President has done that?
ROBERT GATES: I don't know whether it's his peculiar relationship with Putin whether he feels like any acknowledgment of Russian involvement in the 2016 elections somehow de-legitimizes his being elected President. I don't know what the mix of motives are. But the interesting thing is everybody around the President actually has a much more realistic view of the Russians and that includes up on the Hill.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And it's a favorite talking point for the Trump administration to say that they're-- that they've been the toughest on Russia of any administration.
ROBERT GATES: And in some respects, that's true.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In some respects.
ROBERT GATES: And the sanctions--
MARGARET BRENNAN: You're a cold warrior. You-- you actually believe that?
ROBERT GATES: I-- I think in terms of the magnitude of the sanctions that have been put on Russia, they are more significant than had been imposed in the past.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think it's a legitimate criticism of the President that he didn't confront Vladimir Putin about what the Mueller report concluded?
ROBERT GATES: I think that was a mistake, yes. I think he should've-- he should've said, we've had this discussion, the evidence is in, and-- and-- don't ever do this again or there will be consequences for Russia. I think he-- I think he very much should have raised it with him.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Republican leadership on Capitol Hill says Mueller report case closed. Should it be?
ROBERT GATES: The piece of the Mueller report about Russian interference is not case closed. And, frankly, I think elected officials who depend on honest elections to get elected ought to have-- ought to place as a very high priority measures to protect the American electoral system against interference by foreigners.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We have already kicked off campaign 2020. Will you be supporting President Trump?
ROBERT GATES: I have no idea what I'll do in 2020.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You--
ROBERT GATES: We'll see.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You consider yourself, though, to be a Republican?
ROBERT GATES: I do. I do.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're not sure if you are going to support the Republican nominee?
ROBERT GATES: It's a long time until the election.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think, though, when you say you still are a Republican, has the party itself become the party of Trump?
ROBERT GATES: I think to a considerable extent it has and-- and I'm-- I'm disappointed that more Republicans don't stand up more often for traditional Republican values whether it's greater fiscal discipline, internationalism, trade and so on.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I was rereading your memoir before we sat down to talk and you said in your memoir, Joe Biden is impossible not to like. Quote, "He's a man of integrity, incapable of hiding what he really thinks, and one of those rare people you know you could turn to for help in a personal crisis. Still, I think he's been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades." Would he be an effective commander-in-chief?
ROBERT GATES: I-- I don't know. I don't know. I-- I think I stand by that statement. He and I agreed on some key issues in the Obama administration. We disagreed significantly on Afghanistan and some other issues. I think that the vice president had some issues with the military. So how he would get along with the senior military, and what that relationship would be, I just-- I think, it-- it would depend on the personalities at the time.
MARGARET BRENNAN: He's a peer of yours. Does that mean you're older?
ROBERT GATES: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You think he's right for this moment?
ROBERT GATES: I think I'm pretty busy and pretty active but I think-- I think having a President who is somebody our age or older, in the case of Senator Sanders, is- I think it's problematic. I think that you don't have the kind of energy that I think is required to be President. I think-- I'm not sure you have the intellectual acuity that you might have had in your sixties. So, I mean it's just a personal view. For me the thought of taking on those responsibilities at this point in my life would be pretty daunting.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The argument being made though is he's-- you think he's been wrong for forty years, but he's got forty years' experience. He has foreign policy experience and there's this argument about American values right now and who we are as a country. Do you think given that that-- that there is a role for him in the conversation right now?
ROBERT GATES: Well, I definitely think there's a role for him in the conversation. And I think he will raise some issues that the other candidates for the Democratic nomination need to address. I've had my issues with-- with him on foreign policy, but I've hardly heard a word out of any of the other twenty candidates on foreign policy at all. I have no idea what any of them think about any of the issues you and I have been discussing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You think that's a mistake that more of this isn't discussed on the campaign trail? Because the argument is foreign policy doesn't win you the election.
ROBERT GATES: It certainly doesn't win you the primaries. But I would think that in the interviews and so on that's the opportunity for them to say, you know I actually know something about foreign policy and here's what I think on these issues. So I-- I think-- I think it's irresponsible not to give people, the-- the electorate more broadly, some idea of where you're coming from.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Going back to the question I asked you about Joe Biden being a peer of yours and his age you raised Senator Sanders' age also as a concern. Is the President's age a worry for you?
ROBERT GATES: Well, he's getting up there, too. He's-- he's a little younger than we are but-- but not a lot. I think it has to be, you know, it's a question people ought to-- ought to address. The other side of the coin is by the time of his second term Ronald Reagan was up there also--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
ROBERT GATES: --and I think Ronald Reagan was a pretty great President. So I mean there are exceptions.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But the mental acuity issues that you raised for Joe Biden, or for anyone in that age group, you would apply to the President as well.
ROBERT GATES: Well, I was talking about myself as much as anything else. But I think-- I think it's a question-- when you're talking about being the President of the United States, the ability to do the job in every respect has always got to be a consideration.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Our conversation with Secretary Gates will continue in our next half hour. We'll hear his thoughts on China, North Korea, and Iran.
We'll be right back in a moment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Ahead, we'll talk to Henry Paulson, the man who led the Treasury Department during the 2008 financial crisis. He's also one of the pioneers of foreign investment in China. So, we'll get his new thoughts on the new trade tariffs and the U.S. economy. Don't go away.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back with more of our interview with former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Robert Gates and our panel for analysis. We'll also speak with Hank Paulson, the former Treasury Secretary, about the trade war with China. Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We continue our interview with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So the world is watching these trade talks between the U.S. and China and there seems to be this brinkmanship game over tariffs underway. Does China have an advantage over us?
ROBERT GATES: Well, the Chinese have an advantage because they have a strategy. We don't. They have set goals. They have a strategy for achieving those goals. And we really don't have a strategy. We haven't had a strategy in quite a while.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You don't think the Trump administration has a broader plan for China?
ROBERT GATES: I don't think basically that recent U.S. administrations have had a strategy for how to deal with China long term.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why?
ROBERT GATES: In Washington I always like to say that long-term planning is a week from Thursday. Washington is so consumed all the time by the issue of the moment that it's very difficult to have-- to get senior people to set aside the time to think about where do we want to be in five years with this country or that country. That's what the National Security Council and its staff is supposed to do in terms of bringing together all of the elements of the government to figure out where we want to be. But recent administrations, I think, have not been able to do that very well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We've seen there are number of hot spots right now attracting attention from the Trump administration, Iran in particular. The U.S. just sent B-52s, redirected an aircraft carrier to the region. It's supposed to be a warning to Iran that the U.S. will defend itself but how do you interpret this sort of muscular response?
ROBERT GATES: In a way we're kind of returning to a presence that we had when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were at their height. The theocracy in Tehran really is hostile to the United States, all the way down to the core. And-- and so trying to figure out how to deal with these guys, and to warn them not to take some rash action that would precipitate a response by the United States I think is a-- is an important element. I think the administration is sending that signal. But it isn't just the fact we walked away from the Iranian nuclear deal. This is a more deeply embedded rivalry and-- and dislike between these two countries.
MARGARET BRENNAN: They would argue-- they negotiated with the United States with the world and the result after that diplomacy was to have the U.S. walk away. What is their incentive now to talk?
ROBERT GATES: What the agreement did not address was what the-- was their testing of ballistic missiles of increasing range. And it did not address at all their meddling and interference in the Middle East; their support for Hamas and so on. Now, those are the kinds of things that actually are creating a lot of turbulence in the Middle East. And-- and so getting a handle on that kind of behavior seems to me important. I believe the original agreement had some very deep flaws. But once it was signed I think it was a mistake to walk away from it. We-- we should have then used various other pressures to address these other issues.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So that was a strategic misstep by the Trump administration?
ROBERT GATES: I think so, in part, because it ended up isolating us as well as the Iranians.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We heard this week from Iran this threat that they may not comply, they have been and the rest of the world stayed in the deal. What happens if this thing actually does fall apart?
ROBERT GATES: I think moving ahead like this for Iran just puts them deeper in a box because then it will not only be the United States that has re-imposed sanctions, it will put the Europeans in a position where they have to do that as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you think the Iranians are bluffing?
ROBERT GATES: No, they may be making a mistake which may be even worse.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We spoke recently with Iran's top diplomat, Javad Zarif, and he basically said he thought President Trump was being manipulated by his advisors, particularly John Bolton along with some U.S. allies and he seemed to be saying, we're on the path where an accident--a military confrontation of some sort could happen. Is that where you see us headed?
ROBERT GATES: I think there's that risk. Absolutely. I mean if the Iranians make the mistake of launching an attack in the Persian Gulf on a more-- American warship or if they carry out an operation against American troops in Iraq or something like that, the administration probably won't have any alternative but to retaliate and--
MARGARET BRENNAN: But do you think that-- that there is that manipulation happening to create the conditions for that?
ROBERT GATES: I don't believe that the President is being manipulated and I don't believe his advisers are trying to maneuver him into a position that provokes an incident with the Iranians that could then be expanded. I don't-- I don't believe that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It sounds like you're saying miscalculation, though, is still a possibility here.
ROBERT GATES: I think it's a very real risk right now, yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You're a former Secretary of Defense, former CIA director. Do you still speak with foreign leaders?
ROBERT GATES: Sometimes, not all that often but sometimes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Trump says that John Kerry should be prosecuted under the Logan Act because he still talks to foreign leaders, specifically, Iran's foreign minister. What do you make of that?
ROBERT GATES: Well, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever been prosecuted under the Logan Act. And I think it's been in effect since World War I, so--
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're-- you're laughing about this.
ROBERT GATES: So, I think-- I-- yeah, I mean this is not going to happen. And American politicians and former leaders talk to other leaders all the time.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So these accusations from the President that it is because the former secretary of state is interfering that it's keeping Iran from negotiating. You think the President's just wrong?
ROBERT GATES: I don't believe that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And there's nothing wrong with it in your-- in your view?
ROBERT GATES: I think-- I think it's a matter of judgment and I think-- I think trying to hold a negotiation, if you will, with a foreign leader when you're out of power is a mistake. I think that's a mistake in judgment. There's only one President at a time and negotiations with other governments ought to be left to the administration-- to the President.
MARGARET BRENNAN: North Korea, another hotspot. Do you think the President is on the right track?
ROBERT GATES: Under his-- President Trump's three predecessors, all tried to negotiate with the North Koreans and all failed. I thought that the President's decision to reach out to Kim Jong-un and offer a personal meeting-- sure, there were risks. But I thought it was a bold stroke that might create an environment where there could actually be progress toward getting limitations on-- on the North Korean nuclear program. I believe that the North Koreans will never completely denuclearize.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The proposal in Hanoi--
ROBERT GATES: It was-- was basic-- yes, was basically the same strategy that he's followed with-- with Trump's predecessors. You know, we'll do a little and you do some. You-- we'll do a little and you do more. And--
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you don't think he is serious about diplomacy?
ROBERT GATES: I think-- Kim? I think he is. But I think he's got a different set of objectives. I'd like to say over the years of negotiations the nuclear facility at Yongbyon has been opened and closed so many times it ought to have a revolving door.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So that's not a serious offer by North Korea when they put it on the table in Hanoi?
ROBERT GATES: They've done this before.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So pre-- the President was right to walk away?
ROBERT GATES: I think he was. I think he was. Because now, I think they're unrealistic in believing that they can get complete denuclearization. So the question is if the North won't give up all of its nuclear weapons, are other limitations worth pursuing?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
ROBERT GATES: And what's the alternative to pursuing those other alternatives?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, North Korea hasn't handed over its weapons inventory. They haven't dismantled their missiles. They haven't broken down any part of their nuclear program. So how long do you keep talking before you say this just isn't going to work?
ROBERT GATES: As long as there's no nuclear testing it's probably worth keeping the door open. But at some point, people have to realize that if you just drag this thing out, it's not going to lead to anything.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back with some analysis from our panel.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to our panel for some analysis. Susan Glasser covers the presidency and foreign policy for The New Yorker and David Nakamura covers the White House for The Washington Post. Good to have you here. It-- it was interesting to have Bob Gates take us around the world, all these hotspots seem to be bubbling up this week, a lot on the Trump administration's plate. David, from your reporting with the North Koreans and this round of testing, what is the-- you know, what are they looking for here? Is it a third summit? What are they trying to--
DAVID NAKAMURA (The Washington Post/@DavidNakamura): The North Korean strategy has long been if they are not getting the kind of attention from the United States that they want they act this way and they start to sort of press the boundaries. Now we're seeing since the breakdown in the talks in Hanoi without a deal, increasing signals that Kim Jong-un is frustrated and he wants Donald Trump to re-engage. How they re-engage is not clear. The U.S. side says they sent feelers to Pyongyang and they are not hearing anything back and which side, sort of, budges and says, okay, we're ready to renegotiate, reopen this, is unclear. And I think what you're seeing now, both with the tests by the North that have not, you know, gone so far as to force Trump to say that they are violating this ban on ballistic missile testing that he's so trumpeted as an achievement. But not-- not just that, but now there's a seizure up by the United States of a North Korea cargo ship suggesting that the-- the-- the North is trying to get around the economic sanctions.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
DAVID NAKAMURA: This is leading to greater tensions and how they, sort of, break through that to get back to negotiating table is not clear, especially at a time when Trump is also engaged in this trade war with China and he is trying the keep the Chinese support on the sanctions regime.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And the U.N. said that forty percent of the North Korean population is near starving right now. I mean they are really getting squeezed by these sanctions. Does-- does delivering food aid violate the maximum pressure campaign, Susan? Does the President have a way around this?
SUSAN GLASSER (The New Yorker/@sbg1): Well, I think he does. You know, the other thing is that President Trump has shown that he really won't be bound by many of the constraints anyways that in the past. He's not, as you know, one of those people who in his negotiations insists on consistency at the expense of all other virtues, right? And so in this situation, I-- I agree with David that the North Koreans are really looking to pressure the United States in some way back to the table. Kim Jong-un is, essentially, launching these missiles. He's given a deadline interestingly of the end of the year--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
SUSAN GLASSER: --for there to be some sort of progress here. And, you know, what's striking is that President Trump, although he suffered what looks like an embarrassment, the collapse of this summit, his theory of the case that the North Koreans would respond to his pressure differently than the three previous U.S. administrations, that hasn't paid off either. Trump has been pretty unwavering in his very, very public desire to go back to the table as well. So I think that, you know, once again we're seeing it's much easier to blow up deals than it is to make them, despite Trump believing that he is a great dealmaker.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And, David, while the President has said these short-range missile tests don't violate his sense of-- of trust with Kim Jong-un, that's got to make Japan and South Korea a little nervous.
DAVID NAKAMURA: Absolutely. Absolutely. You just had the prime minister of Japan here a few weeks ago. He's taken a really hard line on these talks in contrast to what's happening with the president of South Korea. So there's a split among U.S. allies. Tokyo and Seoul do not see this the same way. It's certainly concerning for the Japanese that they are re-launching these sort of shorter-range missiles, projectiles, new weapons that Kim Jong-un talks about. And it's unclear, you know what-- but it also sends a signal that the North-- North Korea is continuing to make progress on its overall weapons system. And this is something that, as this thing drags out there's a sense that the North Koreans-- of course, they want the end to sanctions. There are, you know, major issues with the economy and that's troubling for Kim Jong-un and his long-term future, but I think over time there's idea that North Korea likes these talks because they continue to drag this out in a way that gives them more time.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Susan, on Iran, that was another flashpoint this week. The Pentagon sent anti-missile battery, B-52 bombers, an amphibious ship, combat helicopters, aircraft carrier, what is this buildup aimed at?
SUSAN GLASSER: Well, you know, look, talking about maximum pressure I think that is the goal right now of the administration. But, again, on North Korea, on Iran, we haven't talked about Venezuela yet, China. What you see-- I think across a broad number of front is that people are so eager to find a Trump doctrine in foreign policy. There is no Trump doctrine in foreign policy, right? And, you know, if you will lose yourself all day long trying figure out why are they tough and talking about human rights here, but on the other hand with North Korea talking about embracing a dictator. In-- in Iran, we are looking at one year after the President blew up the Iran deal, walked away from this accord that was negotiated not only by the United States but its key allies and partners. So you could say, well, we're just seeing the inevitable unraveling of that previous agreement. That's what's happening right now. But I think that it really connects back to the-- the great uncertainty about what the Trump administration policy is--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
SUSAN GLASSER: --in the Middle East more broadly, right? You have this situation in Syria where the Iranians are there on the side of the Syrian regime. You have the Russians there as well. Interestingly, you could say that President Trump has a very hard-line policy in many of these places, and the only question is whether he himself actually supports it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
DAVID NAKAMURA: That's a great point, because I was going to say that, you know, Trump undercuts his aides so often. We've seen that from the start of the administration--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
DAVID NAKAMURA: --they're speaking out of two sides of their mouth. And there is idea that Trump is building the maximum pressure on Iran, like he did with Pyongyang. And the goal being that Trump himself would then get to the negotiating table with the Iranians. And Trump himself said call me.
SUSAN GLASSER: That's--
DAVID NAKAMURA: He said call me right after John Bolton was suggesting there was a new hard line in-- in place. And so, you know, what I think is interesting also, in the end of the Iran deal on the nuclear weapons, you know, the allies have been cut out of the U.S. policy--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
DAVID NAKAMURA: --and the U.S. approach and Trump believes himself to be the great dealmaker, only I can fix this. You've seen him do that with North Korea, now with Iran potentially. And, of course, with China where he got a lot of kudos for a harder line policy on Chinese economic practices, what a lot of allies believe is predatory, but he's cut out the allies in sort of building the pressure on China and even negotiating.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I thought it was interesting talking to Bob Gates, that he said he stands by his assessment that Joe Biden has been wrong on foreign policy for forty years, but then he pointed out, the Democratic candidates, no one's really articulating their view of what American should be doing. So all the problems you're laying out may get handed off to another commander-in-chief in 2020. Where do we pick up?
SUSAN GLASSER: Well, look, I mean, first of all, you have President Trump to the extent there is a unifying team, it often has been up until now a sort of anything but Obama's foreign policy. And that-- that was usually a pretty sure way to predict the otherwise unpredictable, right? So if President Trump saw a place in a way to undo something that Obama did, for example, the Iran nuclear deal, or to achieve something he felt Obama did not, for example, a breakthrough with North Korea, he would do it. It's very hard after two years, after four years--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
SUSAN GLASSER: --to make the argument that your foreign policy doctrine is just to do what the other guy didn't do. Democrats would face that problem as well. You know there would be enormous-- President Trump is, obviously, extremely unpopular with the Democratic base, so simply arguing that you would do differently than Trump may be enough for-- of a foreign policy argument, generally speaking, American voters aren't looking for a consistent worldview and doctrine from their presidential candidates as much as they are focused understandably on the economy and what's happening here at home.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
SUSAN GLASSER: But, look, the bottom line is that it may suit President Trump to have Joe Biden as the nominee--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
SUSAN GLASSER: --and to be able to once again to say, well, at least I'm cleaning up the messes from Barack Obama. Biden would be like that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we want to talk about the challenge the U.S. faces from China with former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. That's up next.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We're now joined by Henry Paulson, treasury secretary for George W. Bush. He was the administration's point person on the 2008 financial crisis and also led previous U.S. trade talks with China. It's great to have you here in studio. You know China's leadership very well, both from your time as treasury secretary and building out business for Goldman Sachs there for many, many years. How do you expect China to retaliate against the U.S. since these talks seem to have stalled?
HENRY PAULSON (Former Treasury Secretary/Chairman of the Paulson Institute): Well, Margaret, let me begin by saying happy Mother's Day.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Oh, thank you.
HENRY PAULSON: And-- and-- and to-- and to my mom, Marianna, and my wife Wendy. Now I'm not going to predict how China is going to respond. They've been very restrained to date. They clearly want a deal and need a deal, as does the United States. No one wins a trade war. So I'm expecting, you know, a-- a fairly restrained response.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You had one of the President's top economic advisors Larry Kudlow on air today saying that the Chinese came to talks this week and then backslid on some of the things they previously agreed to. Why the miscalculation?
HENRY PAULSON: Well, there-- there's often miscalculations, right? People misunderstand China. They've got a different political system than ours but they've got politics, they've got vested interests. But, you know, the bigger picture here is this is a deal that's can be very good for the United States and very good for China. The Trump administration has been working very hard to do something, which I think would make a big difference for American workers, for the American people, in terms of getting more balanced trade, in terms of protecting IPR, in terms of breaking down some big structural barriers to competition. And China's got plenty of problems themselves. They've got an inefficient financial system, inefficient state-owned enterprises, massive misallocations of capital. So their reformers know that if they're going to grow at an acceptable level, they need some structural changes. So this I think is a, you know, been a missed opportunity for both-- both countries. But I-- I believe and I think the overriding point here, the big picture is if and when this deal is done, and I'm an optimist, I think it will get done, the-- the underlying tensions are still going to be there, because this is-- stakes are much bigger than a trade war. The, you know, the-- the basic economic problem is still going to exist.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You've put up huge warning signs around this. You said you fear an economic cold war, an economic iron wall.
HENRY PAULSON: Yeah. I said-- I talked about an economic iron curtain. And the reason I did is this, Margaret, that the-- as I said, the stakes are much bigger than-- than a-- than a trade war. This is a battle between two countries to drive, to set the standards for the technologies of the future, the technologies of which kind of bolster economic growth and competitiveness around the world. And so the fundamental issue is technology.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
HENRY PAULSON: Okay? That's where the battleground is. And technology has blurred the lines between national security and economic competitiveness. And so, you know, I think it's vitally important we protect our national security. But growing an important part of trade is technology related and so the real risk is that both counties, through their actions, will throw up or create an economic iron wall, which means we'll be decoupling global supply chains, right, we'll be having two systems with incompatible standards and-- and rules. And so as I look at it, the defining strength of America is innovation. We need to protect our technology. We need to protect our innovation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
HENRY PAULSON: But if we close ourselves off from other, you know, other innovative economies and entrepreneurs, we jeopardize our leadership position in the world and we're much less attractive as a destination for foreign investment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you seem to be saying the moment is ripe for this deal.
HENRY PAULSON: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You're optimistic. But you don't like tariffs.
HENRY PAULSON: Yeah.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's the President's main tool here.
HENRY PAULSON: Right.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is this going to damage the U.S. economy?
HENRY PAULSON: Well, so you're darn right, I don't like tariffs. Why don't I like them? Because they're a tax on the American consumer. But I see an even more perverse effect with tariffs. Those who do us the great honor of investing in America of doing business with our companies and suppliers, do so because we've always had predictable, reliable economic policies. Tariffs jeopardize that. But now we see a situation where Republicans and Democrats and many-- and many international companies are applauding for tariffs if they're used to-- to get concessions from China.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
HENRY PAULSON: And why is that? The reason is is because we're in a tough spot in negotiations. Our-- our tariffs are either non-existent or very low. So how do you put pressure on other countries to act? How do you put pressure on China? We don't have very many good tools. So that's why they-- they-- they prefer tariffs. Now I--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it going to hurt us economically?
HENRY PAULSON: Now-- yeah, but-- but I would-- I'll say this: I would prefer-- I-- I would-- I would prefer the tactic of working with our allies to put pressure. But I got to admit that's an imperfect tool, right? Because our allies aren't very tough when it comes to negotiating with China. But will it hurt us? I tell you, if this persists too long, it will. Okay? There will be a cost to it. We're-- we're-- we're trying to accomplish something that's very important in terms of opening up the Chinese economy.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm.
HENRY PAULSON: But there is a cost. And as strong as our economy is right now and it is--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
HENRY PAULSON: --very, very strong, as strong as it is, I'll tell you if--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mister Secretary, we have to leave it there.
HENRY PAULSON: Okay.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I am so sorry. We're running up against a hard break.
We will be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you all for watching. To all the moms, including my own mother, my mother-in-law, happy Mother's Day. For FACE THE NATION I'm Margaret Brennan.