Transcript: Sen. Dick Durbin on "Face the Nation," December 15, 2019

Durbin: Trump would want to call witnesses in trial if they "would exonerate him"
Durbin: Trump would want to call witnesses in... 06:18

The following is a transcript of an interview with Senator Dick Durbin that aired Sunday, December 15, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the number two Democrat in the Senate, Richard Durbin. He joins us this morning from Chicago. Good morning to you, Senator.

SENATOR RICHARD DURBIN: Good morning, MARGARET. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, about 20 years ago when Bill Clinton was being impeached, you had said at the time you wanted it dismissed. Now the tables are turned. We're set most likely for a trial in the Senate. But since the votes aren't in Democrat's favor, why not just dismiss it?

SEN. DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that it isn't just the president who's on trial in an impeachment proceeding. The Senate is on trial. And we have a constitutional responsibility. I hear people like Senator McConnell talking about the fact that he sat down with the folks at the White House. He's already made his decision even before he's taken his oath to promise impartial justice. He sees no need for us to spend a lot of time. My friend Senator Lindsey Graham refers to the whole thing as a crock. You know, what it boils down to is we may interfere with some tee times here, but we ought to really stand up for the demeanor, the history, and the traditions of the Senate in terms of doing this in the proper way.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you don't want a short trial?

SEN. DURBIN: No. I think what we ought to do is, as we did 20 years ago, let's have Senator McConnell sit down with Senator Schumer- Trent Lott sat down 20 years ago- and start this proceeding in the proper bipartisan way. That hasn't happened yet. I don't know what Senator McConnell is waiting for. And MARGARET, let me tell you what happened 20 years ago. They decided, Trent Lott, that the entire Senate, all 100 members, would go to the old Senate gallery and sit down together. We realized at that moment we were embarking on a moment that would be captured in history, this impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. And you had interesting alliances form. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

SEN. DURBIN: --comes together with Phil Gramm of Texas to talk about the procedures during impeachment. The Senate finally realized we were on trial, too, and we had to comport ourselves in a dignified way.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why do you think it's so different this time? Is it- is it McConnell's leadership? Is it President Trump?

SEN. DURBIN: Well, Senator McConnell proved to us when the vacancy of Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court that he would ignore logic and common sense and even Senate tradition to take a political position. And he announced recently he would switch his position 180 degrees if the same thing happened to President Trump. So the starting point is not good. It takes four Republican senators who care enough for the Senate, for all of our colleagues to say, let's do this properly. Regardless of the outcome, whatever it may be, at the end of the day, let's be able to turn around and say, as Alexander Hamilton promised, the Senate is the right place for this trial.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we- we know, are- the votes don't appear to be there to remove the president. But when it comes to the process of this, Democrats do get a say if it does take, as Lindsey Graham has said, 51 votes to approve a witness. Do you plan to call them and who do you wanna hear from?

SEN. DURBIN: Well, I can tell you where I'm standing, if it is a true trial there needs to be evidence. And we have had an effort by the administration to deny to the House of Representatives any evidence, documents, witnesses. At one point, Chairman Nadler of the House Judiciary invited the president or his attorneys to come sit at the dais and ask questions to follow the proceeding. They turned him down. It appears to me there are no witnesses the president would want to call to exonerate himself. Maybe such a witness doesn't exist. I don't know. But the bottom line is, if we are going to have an actual trial, we should consider evidence. And that's why I think Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell need to sit down and have an orderly, respectable process in the Senate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you have a list of witnesses set to go?

SEN. DURBIN: There are a lot of potential witnesses, that's for sure. But in terms of those that we'd actually choose and whether they'd be called or deposed, those are things we can work out. Once we have a spirit that this is a constitutional responsibility, that really is a reflection on who we are as United States senators.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, less than half of the country thinks that the president should be impeached. How do you make a more persuasive case to the public in the Senate than your House colleagues did?

SEN. DURBIN: I could just tell you, we-we present the evidence and let the American people follow this trial in the Senate. You know, it isn't a question of political popularity as far as I'm concerned. For the longest time, many of us said which Republican is going to defy the wishes of their political base and come forward and do the right thing for the country?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

SEN. DURBIN: Same thing applies to Democrats. Will we ignore our political base and look at our Constitution? That's what should guide us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about a hearing you were part of this week, the contentious hearing over secret surveillance, the FISA process, as it is called. Inspector general laid out significant errors by the FBI. And specifically, I want to ask you about what an FBI lawyer did when he retroactively changed an email that was presented as part of evidence regarding a Trump campaign associate, Carter Page. Jim Comey is on Fox this morning and he said Carter was treated unfairly. Does the U.S. government owe Carter Page an apology?

SEN. DURBIN: Well, I can certainly tell you, based on what we saw, they do. And here's the bottom line. Many of us have been looking at this FISA, the secret FISA court for years, saying this isn't the first and won't be the last time that the FBI misrepresents evidence before this court and proceeds. We have tried to reform the proceedings. Senator Lee, Republican Senator Leahy, Democrat, myself, others have been pushing for FISA reform. We couldn't get the Republicans to join us in that effort. Maybe now they will. This should be a bipartisan effort to clean up the FISA court. What happened in this situation was inexcusable. But remember what the inspector general said is the bottom line. Opening this investigation--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

SEN. DURBIN: --was warranted and not political.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But he also said there were 17 significant errors that he uncovered-- 

SEN. DURBIN: No question about it. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --alone. I'm wondering if you have confidence in the current director, Chris Wray, to be able to fix some of these problems. Jim Comey, again this morning, was saying there are maybe systematic problems regarding surveillance within the FBI.

SEN. DURBIN: I do have confidence in Mr. Wray. I voted for him. I support him. I looked at his background. And I think he can do this job and do it well. But to have the president in his corner would be very helpful. The president's very critical of the FBI intelligence agencies. If we're going to bring about real reform, the White House has to be in on it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Senator Durbin, appreciate you joining us today. FACE THE NATION will be back in one minute, so stay with us.