Transcript: John Kennedy on "Face the Nation," February 16, 2020

Kennedy defends Barr for overruling Roger Stone prosecutors

The following is a transcript of an interview with Sen. John Kennedy that aired Sunday, February 16, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn to another big story this week: Attorney General Barr's strong public pushback to perceived presidential interference into Justice Department cases. Republican Senator John Kennedy joins us now from Louisiana. Senator, thank you for being with us. 

SENATOR JOHN KENNEDY: Thank you, MARGARET. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president says he has the legal right to intervene in criminal cases. Do you agree?

SEN. KENNEDY: Just because- does the president have a right to tweet about a case? Of course. Just because you can sing, though, doesn't mean you should sing. You can have a voice like Mick Jagger, but you wouldn't want to start belting out "Honky Tonk Woman" in church. This is a case where tweeting less would not cause brain damage. Look, Roger Stone is pretty good at bad decisions and nobody would confuse him with Alexander Hamilton. Bill Barr's Justice Department prosecuted him and convicted him. While the attorney general and others were trying to get the Senate's recommendations straight, the president tweeted, put the attorney general in an awkward spot and he spoke out--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think the interference--

SEN. KENNEDY: --I hope the president will--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --ends at tweets?

SEN. KENNEDY: I have no indication that it doesn't. And Bill Barr has said categorically and unequivocally that the president has never tried to influence him in a criminal case, nor should he. Look, this is my experience with Bill Barr. He's mature. He's serious. He exercises power fairly and intelligently. He's cursed with a rational mind and he's tough as a boot. And he has given the president his advice, his best advice. And I hope that President Trump will accept it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said that you take the attorney general at his word that he was already going to intervene in this case prior to the president's public tweet about Roger Stone. But--

SEN. KENNEDY: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --is it a good idea for him to get personally involved in such a politically charged case?

SEN. KENNEDY: Look, this is- this is the way the process works at Justice, particularly when a public figure is involved. There are checks and balances and there are multiple layers of supervision. Now, I- it has been reported, I don't know if it's accurate, it's been reported by two major mainstream news organizations that the- the four- the four front frontline prosecutors here said, look, we're going to recommend seven to nine years for Stone, and if you don't like it, they said this to their supervisors, we're going to quit and call a press conference. That's not the proper procedure. Nobody's above the law, but nobody beneath the law. Being- Mr. Stone's status as a chucklehead is not a criminal act.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, but the question was whether the--

SEN. KENNEDY: And there's nothing wrong--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --whether the attorney general himself should have gotten personally in- involved. He said in an interview with ABC that- that the U.S. attorney did consult with him before the filing. 

SEN. KENNEDY: Well he didn't initiate it. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: He disagreed on it, and then he--

SEN. KENNEDY: Bill Barr- Bill Barr didn't 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --personally got involved.

SEN. KENNEDY: Yeah. Bill Barr didn't initiate it. All Bill Barr's Justice Department did was prosecute the gentleman. The US attorney in Washington came to Bill Barr and said, hey, I've got a question about the sentence. So Barr says, well, let's talk about it, at least according to Mr. Barr's testimony. In the meantime, the frontline prosecutors went out on their own. Now, I don't know exactly what happened. I just know what's been reported, MARGARET, but I can tell you if a- if a staff- one of my staff members came to me and said, Kennedy, I don't agree with your position on net neutrality, and if you don't change it, I'm going to quit and call a press conference. I'll tell you what I'd do. I'd say you have me confused with somebody who cares about what you think. Go call your press conference. You can't resign because you're fired.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you want to call those prosecutors in for questioning? 

SEN. KENNEDY: I- I- if they want to make a statement, that's fine. If- if- if the reported facts are wrong,--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

SEN. KENNEDY: --they should say something.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, it would-  it would answer your questions, I guess.

SEN. KENNEDY:  But a frontline prosecutor-- 

MARGARET BRENNNAN: Right.

SEN. KENNEDY: --a front line prosecutor on any case, can't just go- go out on his or her own, particularly when it involves a public figure. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to--

SEN. KENNEDY: Now, Bill Barr--

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you- sorry, I just to just get to another topic as well--

SEN. KENNEDY: It's okay.

MARGARET BRENNAN:--since I have you here. Last time you were with us--

SEN. KENNEDY: OK.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --back in November on Face the Nation, you said if it could be demonstrated that the president asked for an investigation of a political rival, then it would be, in your words, over the line and probably impeachable. Do you still stand by that?

SEN. KENNEDY: It depends on why he asked for it. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because I want--

SEN. KENNEDY: I think what I said at the time- I think what I said at the time was that if a president asked for an investigation of a political rival because he is a political rival, that would be wrong.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, because I'm asking you-- 

SEN. KENNEDY: But if a president asks--

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- because President Trump was on Geraldo Rivera's program this week and said that he did direct Rudy Giuliani to go to Ukraine. And as we know, Rudy Giuliani has said he went to Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. So that description--

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, but you have to ask why.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --from the president, does it meet your standard?

SEN. KENNEDY: You have to ask why, MARGARET. The president asked for investigation of Joe Biden and his son and Burisma. He didn't get Joe Biden's name out of the phone book. He didn't ask for an investigation of Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. He asked for an investi- four words why the president asked for an investigation: Hunter Biden and Burisma. Now, these are the facts. I didn't make this up. President Obama put Vice President Biden in charge of the foreign affairs of two countries: Ukraine-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK.

SEN. KENNEDY: --and China. And in both cases--

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're running out of time here, Senator. 

SEN. KENNEDY: --his son walked away with millions of dollars of contract. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. I was just asking you about--

SEN. KENNEDY: And you know the message that sent to the world?

MARGARET BRENNAN: I wanted to ask you just about your standard, which is why I was going back to that. But we do have to leave it there, Senator.

SEN. KENNEDY: Let me- let me- let me be clear-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we will--

SEN. KENNEDY: Let me be clear--

MARGARET BRENNAN: I- I- 

SEN. KENNEDY: There's nothing wrong-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --Senator, I'm sorry-- 

SEN. KENNEDY: There's nothing wrong with a president asking for an investigation of corruption. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. Thank you. We'll be back with Senator Amy Klobuchar who had a strong third place in New Hampshire. She's going to join us from Nevada.