Transcript: Sen. John Cornyn on "Face the Nation," January 19, 2020

Cornyn says Democrats "getting cold feet" on impeachment

The following is a transcript of an interview with Senator John Cornyn that aired Sunday, January 19, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We now go to a senator who was part of a small group of Republicans invited to discuss impeachment trial strategy with Leader McConnell. That's Texas Senator John Cornyn, who joins us now from Austin. Good morning to you, Senator.

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: Good morning, MARGARET. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: What can you expect to see this week? How long will this process take? Will there be a motion to dismiss or are we charging ahead with this trial?

SEN. CORNYN: Well, we'll start with the introduction of the resolution that will guide the schedule on Tuesday and in the Clinton impeachment that was adopted by 100 senators. Here, unfortunately, our Democratic colleagues are probably not going to participate, but it is- 53 senators, I believe, will embrace essentially the same rules of the road that applied to the Clinton impeachment trial, deferring the decision about additional witnesses until after both sides have had a chance to make their presentation and senators have a chance to ask questions. And so, we'll be sitting there in our chairs, about probably on the order of six hours a day starting at 1:00 p.m. on East- Eastern Time and then six days a week. So this is going to be, I think, kind of a grueling exercise, but also one that will be public

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you say there will be at some point a decision on and potentially a vote on whether to allow witnesses. You're in leadership. 

SEN. CORNYN: Well, I would-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do Republicans have the numbers to block that vote from actually approving witnesses to be heard?

SEN. CORNYN: Well, if I can make a distinction, MARGARET, the- the House heard testimony from 17 witnesses, more than 100 hours of testimony. All of that will be available to the impeachment managers to present their case to the Senate. And then after they're through, then if the senators, 51 senators, want to hear more then- then we can vote to subpoena those witnesses. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, as you know, House Democrats argue not all the facts have been revealed. That's why they're arguing for new witnesses and new evidence to be introduced. I know you've said you're open to hearing from former national security adviser John Bolton. Does that mean that the rest of Republican leadership is open to issuing a subpoena to compel him?

SEN. CORNYN: Well, I find it curious that Chairman Nadler of the Judiciary Committee called this a rock solid case. But if the House isn't prepared to go forward with the evidence that they produced in the impeachment inquiry, maybe they ought to withdraw the articles of impeachment and- and start over again. This isn't the Senate's responsibility to make the case. This is the House's responsibility under the Constitution. And the Senate's supposed to decide the case sitting as a court of impeachment. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. 

SEN. CORNYN: So, this is really on the House to make that decision. They can continue to process additional witnesses in the House. They could even vote on additional articles of impeachment. But this to me seems to undermine or indicate that they're getting cold feet or have a lack of confidence in what they've done so far.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But- but yet you said the door is still open to holding a vote to hear from witnesses. I mean, you were Mitch McConnell's-- 

SEN. CORNYN: Yes. 

MARGARET BRENNAN:  --number two for- for some time. Do you think he can control the caucus to prevent a vote to approve witnesses?

SEN. CORNYN: Well, this is a very serious matter, obviously. This is the third time in American history where we've had a trial on impeachment charges. Unfortunately, this seems to be more of a political or policy differences than- than actually a high crime and misdemeanor as the Constitution requires. So, I think we--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So- so you reject--

SEN. CORNYN: -- we're going to proceed with caution.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You reject that government watchdog report, the GAO report, that does say there was a violation of the law?

SEN. CORNYN: Certainly not a crime and something that no one had ever dreamed in the past would have been- risen to the level of impeachment. This is one of the basic problems with the House's case--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But isn't it central--

SEN. CORNYN: --is the Constitution--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --to that question of the president withholding aid for personal gain, which is the allegation?

SEN. CORNYN: Well, it's- it is- he's been charged with abuse of power, which is not treason, which is not bribery, which is not a high crime and misdemeanor. So, this is the first time in history where a president has been impeached for a non-crime for events that never occurred. Ultimately, the investigation never took place and ultimately the- their aid was delivered. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

SEN. CORNYN: This is really unique, and I think every senator is going to take this very seriously.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that- that is certainly what the- the White House is arguing. But I want to ask you about the legal brief that Democrats did submit. It included a number of things, including documents that have been revealed recently by Lev Parnas, an indicted business associate of Rudy Giuliani. Among them, a letter that says that Rudy Giuliani himself was acting with the approval and knowledge of the president when he was reaching out to the president of Ukraine. Should all of these items be admissible during trial?

SEN. CORNYN: Well, as you know, MARGARET, I was a judge for 13 years in- in state courts and in no court in America would that kind of hearsay be admissible. But having said that, I would be--

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's a letter from Rudy Giuliani. 

SEN. CORNYN: Well, I would be careful before crediting the veracity of somebody who is under indictment in New York, the southern district of New York, and who's trying to get leniency from the prosecutor and who has ties to Russian oligarchs. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, yeah, he--

SEN. CORNYN: The Russians--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --exactly, but--

SEN. CORNYN: --had a lot to do with our elections and disinformation campaigns, and this could be part of that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you certainly would have knowledge, since you're on Senate intelligence on that. But given what you're saying are Lev Parnas' ties to Russian oligarchs, which is often shorthand for Russian mafia, doesn't it trouble you that he was working so closely with Rudy Giuliani, who is acting on the president's behalf and saying he was acting on the president's behalf?

SEN. CORNYN: Well, there's no question that there have been a- a series of grifters and other hangers on that have associated themselves with the president's campaign or claimed to have special relationships with the president. But this is not the issue that the Senate's going to be deciding. We'll take the issue of evidence as it comes. If the impeachment managers want to rest their case on the credibility of somebody who's under indictment in the Southern District of New York with extensive ties to Russian oligarchs and organized crime, as you point out, then that's their choice. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is Congress going to investigate, should they investigate what was going on with Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch who, according to these documents released by Lev Parnas, appears to have been under surveillance?

SEN. CORNYN: I'm sure that will happen. And I know the Ukrainian government has asked for some help in- in some of this investigation. But as you point out, I've been a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the three year plus investigation into the Russian active measures campaign. We know that Ukraine was plagued with corruption. We know of the ties between Ukraine and- and Russian oligarchs, which are proxies for Vladimir Putin. And so, that's why I think we need to approach all of this with a little bit of caution and make sure we have our facts right and make sure we know about the credibility problems that some of these purported witnesses have before we take it at face value.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But these text messages, are you saying there's reason not to believe that she was indeed being surveilled or potentially at risk?

SEN. CORNYN: Yeah, I just don't know the answer to that. I would say I'd- I'd say anything is possible in this- in this smarmy environment in Ukraine and- and- and- and in Russia.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you have questions for Rudy Giuliani about any of this?

SEN. CORNYN: Not relative to the impeachment. I just, you know, that's- that's a relationship that causes many of us to sort of scratch our heads. But I'd say he's not relevant to the articles and what the Senate's gonna be asked to do, impeaching a president for the third time in American history for a non-crime over events that never occurred. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Cornyn, thank you. And we'll be back in one minute with former director of the National Economic Council, Gary Cohn. Stay with u