Transcript: Sen. John Kennedy on "Face the Nation," June 2, 2019

Kennedy: Trump "known to play with fire but not live hand grenades"

The following is a transcript of the interview with Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana that aired Sunday, June 2, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: Now, to Republican Senator John Kennedy who joins us this morning from New Orleans. Good morning to you, Senator. You heard this week as the country did from Rob- Robert Mueller who said in front of the cameras, "If we had confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime we would have said so." Are you confident the president did not commit a crime?

SENATOR JOHN KENNEDY: Here's what I heard Mr. Mueller say this week first, "I quit. No más. I've done the best I can. If you're happy with it fine. If you're not happy with it call your priest or your minister or your psychiatrist, but I'm done and I don't want to testify. Look at my report." I look at his report and I see the following: number one, no collusion, so no indictment.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well actually he said it wasn't about collusion--

SEN. KENNEDY: Number two on obstruction of justice--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --he said no conspiracy or evidence that amounted to ability to prosecute conspiracy.

SEN. KENNEDY: That's what I was going to get to- that's what I was going to get to next, Margaret. On the obstruction of justice he said, "I'm not saying the president did it. I'm not saying the president didn't do it. I am saying I'm not going to bring an indictment." You can- you- you can hear what you want to hear in the report. People obviously have strong feelings about this. I have never heard--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But I'm asking what you heard.  

SEN. KENNEDY:  I have never- I've heard- I heard--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you confident the president did not commit a crime?

SEN. KENNEDY: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you. You reference there that you think Bob Mueller is done. He said he prefers not to come back and testify.

SEN. KENNEDY: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But then some of the people who support the president including his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have said that maybe he should. In fact Giuliani was quoted by The Daily Beast saying if they allow Congressman Meadows and Jordan and a few others out there, they'll eviscerate Robert Mueller. He would love to have him testify. Former White House attorney John Dowd said something similar. Are you swayed by that at all? Do you think Mueller should testify?

SEN. KENNEDY: No, not at this juncture I don't think it'll do any good. If he wants to I wouldn't object but he clearly doesn't want to. And if you make him testify he's going to say, 'Read my report.' Look the next- the next step in this Margaret, my- my Democratic friends have got to make a decision on impeachment. Now, I think impeachment will be a Sisyphean task. It'll be tough going in the Senate. Impeachment polls right up there with skim milk among the American people. But- but my advice to my Democratic friends is if you want to do it, go hard or go home. You know if you want to do it go- go to Amazon online, buy a spine and do it. But go hard or go home if you're not going to do it then let us get back to work.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

SEN. KENNEDY: I hate to waste a year and a half.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood. But in terms of moving on from the Mueller Report, you have the attorney general say he's not ready to move on when it comes to the question of the origins of the counterintelligence probe itself which to be clear was opened after a Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, had some contact with Russians discussing stolen information from Hillary Clinton. So do you support the attorney general's probe here into the origins of the investigation itself?

SEN. KENNEDY: Yes. And let's look at the facts. Forget the spin. In the 2016 election, the FBI, maybe the CIA, and the Department of Justice decided to investigate both presidential candidates, Secretary Clinton and then- then nominee President Trump. Now that's pretty breathtaking. And arguably those investigations had an impact on the election. I don't know whether they did or did not. I don't know how you'd prove it, but that's a pretty serious step by the FBI and the Justice Department. I'd like to know why they did it. I do believe there were some people, small handful of people at those agencies that acted on their political beliefs, either for Trump or for Clinton, or against Trump or against Clinton. And I don't want to see it happen again. I don't see the harm in looking at the facts. And in fact I've asked the president to- to- to look- look for every document at the FBI and Justice Department pertaining to the 2016 election and the investigations, properly redact them, and let the American people see them. American people figure it out if you let them see the facts.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about another issue and that is the president's decision to put this 5 percent tariff on a broad range of Mexican products to punish that country for allowing migrants across the border. Chuck Grassley, fellow Republican senator, says this is a misuse of tariff authority and congressional intent. Are you a supporter of the president's decision to do this?

SEN. KENNEDY: I think it was a mistake. I'm not saying we don't have a crisis at the border. We clearly do. I'm not saying it won't work. President Lopez Obrador has already indicated that he's willing to talk, but I worry about the long-term ramifications. We have a deal with Mexico on trade. It's called NAFTA. In fact we just shook hands on a new deal. It's called NAFTA, too. When you give your word, you stick to it. And I really worry about us negotiating trade deals with other countries and whether those countries will wonder, "Well if we- if we make concessions and trade hard and we reach a deal, will America stick to it?" Now having said all that I don't think the president's going to impose these tariffs. My experience with the president is he's a very smart man. I wouldn't call him risk averse. He's been known to play with fire but not live hand grenades. And if- if- if he slaps a 25 percent tariff on Mexico it's going to tank the American economy. And I think the president knows that and I don't think he'll do it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Kennedy, good morning to you. Thank you for joining us.