Transcript: Senator John Kennedy on "Face the Nation," November 10, 2019

GOP senator wants to hear from witnesses before deciding on Trump removal

The following is a transcript of an interview with Sen. John Kennedy that aired Sunday, November 10, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning and welcome to "Face the Nation." It's a big week here in Washington. So we want to get quickly to our very first guest, Republican Senator John Kennedy, who joins us this morning from Kenner, Louisiana. Good morning, Senator. Congrats on the big win.

SENATOR JOHN KENNEDY: Thank you, Margaret. It was a great game. I'm proud for our- of our youngsters, but Alabama played a great game, too.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Very generous of you there. I want to quickly get to the issue at hand. You heard—

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, no, I meant it. Actually, I meant it. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm glad. In our show open, you heard a quote from yourself talking about what is appropriate and inappropriate in terms of quid pro quos. If a quid pro quo was shown to be for the president's own political benefit, is that appropriate?

SEN. KENNEDY: The quid pro quo, in my judgment, is a red herring. Here- here are the two possible scenarios. Number one, the president asked for an investigation of a political rival. Number two, the president asked for an investigation of possible corruption by someone who happens to be a political rival. The latter would be in the national interest. The former would be in the president's parochial interests and would be over the line. I think this case is going to come down to the president's intent- his motive. Did he have a culpable state of mind? For me, Margaret, there are only two relevant questions that need to be answered. Why did the president ask for an investigation? And number two, and this is inextricably linked to the first question, what did Mr. Hunter Biden do for the money?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I want to ask you now. There have been more than twenty five hundred pages of sworn testimony that have been released to the public. Have you read any of those depositions? 

SEN. KENNEDY: I've read some, but any lawyer, in my judgment, who knows a law book from a J. Crew catalog knows that a- a sterile transcript is no substitute for live witnesses.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. 

SEN. KENNEDY:  And I thought-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well I want to—

SEN. KENNEDY: I thought— 

MARGARET BRENNAN: — ask you specific—

SEN. KENNEDY: --Speaker Pelosi—

MARGARET BRENNAN: So I just want to ask you specifically because of the point you're making in terms of differentiating intent, motive, and culpable state of mind. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, a decorated army officer who gave sworn testimony — it was released this week. He currently works at the White House, listened to President Trump's call—

SEN. KENNEDY: Right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --with the Ukrainian president and he testified, quote, "There was no doubt that the president was seeking political investigations of political rivals." So is it appropriate to ask foreign governments to investigate Americans?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, it depends on the circumstances. I'm not going to go through the two scenarios that I just gave you, but it depends on the circumstances. And there is- there, I would say this about the transcript. I could comment on the gentlemen's testimony if you let me hear his live testimony. Let me hear the cross-examination. Let me judge his credibility. Let me judge his body language. And also allow the opposing party to call their own witnesses and rebuttal. That's- that's due process, not to- not only allowing the witnesses you want, as the chairman has done, and then leaking selective portions of it to friendly members of the media who lap it up like a puppy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, all the depositions that- that I'm quoting from are now publicly released. So it was—

SEN. KENNEDY: Now they are. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the government that released them. Right.

SEN. KENNEDY: But before when they were trying— but before when they were trying to- to establish the- a narrative with the American people, they were selectively leaking. And- and that's what matters—

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, now we're moving into public-- 

SEN. KENNEDY: — here Margaret, what are the American-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Well, now the case has got to be made to the American public—

SEN. KENNEDY: I'm sorry? 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Now the case has to be made to the American public in these public hearings. So is there anything that you could hear from Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, if and when he was called to testify, that would lead you to ever vote for the removal of the president?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, again, I've got to hear- I've got to hear the testimony. You--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So that means maybe?

SEN. KENNEDY: --You- you- if you want to- if you- if you assert- if you try to assess how a trial is going for our- for our defendant, you don't just listen to the lawyers opening statements and you don't just read the transcript. You sit there and listen to all the testimony, the cross-examination, and the context. And I- I think- I think that- that Speaker Pelosi's decision and Adam Schiff's decision to prevent the Republicans from calling their own witnesses in the live testimony is just doubling down on stupid. The American people, I think, are going look at this and go, "I get it." They're going to give the president a fair and impartial firing squad.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you're not—

SEN. KENNEDY: And- and that's not due process.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're not suggesting here that the witnesses, like Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, lack credibility?

SEN. KENNEDY: I don't know. I can't. I wasn't allowed to hear them. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

SEN. KENNEDY: What I am telling you is that if it can be demonstrated that the president asked for and- and had the requisite state of mind, that the president asked for an investigation of a political rival, that's over the line. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.

SEN. KENNEDY: But if he asked for an investigation of possible corruption by someone who happens to be a political rival, that's not over the line. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, over the line, does that mean impeachable?

SEN. KENNEDY: Yeah, probably. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, there is something you could hear—

SEN. KENNEDY: But again—

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that could potentially persuade you to vote for removal?

SEN. KENNEDY: What? I can't answer that, Margaret, because that- that- that- that encompasses all possible scenarios. That's like asking me if I didn't go fishing Saturday, how many fish will I have caught? All I'm saying is that- that- that it ought to be fair. It ought to be public. I read somewhere that democracy dies in darkness. It ought to be public. Both sides ought to be called- able to call their witnesses in front of God and country and the American people. And then let the American people decide and- and the president and his counsel should be allowed to participate. Now, I think that would be fair. And then I- I will happily judge the evidence. But you can't limit the witnesses, as Chairman Schiff and Speaker Pelosi's are doing. Selectively leaked portions of the—

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SEN. KENNEDY: --transcript that favor your opinion to friendly members of the press who lap it up like a puppy. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well—

SEN. KENNEDY: I don't think any fair minded person in the Milky Way believes that Speaker Pelosi or Chairman Schiff are impartial here. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well--

SEN. KENNEDY: So, but they can—

MARGARET BRENNAN: --we look forward to the trial--

SEN. KENNEDY: --at least follow due process.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We look forward to the trial in the Senate. And then seeing what you decide to do, senator. Thank you for joining us.