Transcript: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on "Face the Nation," August 11, 2019

Gillibrand: DOJ should "infiltrate" white supremacist groups

The following is a transcript of the interview with Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York that aired Sunday, August 11, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She joins us this morning from the campaign trail in West Des Moines. Good morning to you Senator. 

SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Good morning. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You support universal background checks, a ban on large magazine and assault weapons, and an anti-gun trafficking law. You need Republican votes to get all those things through Congress, what can actually pass now?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: You know I think things are changing. Since kids have been marching out of their schools and marching on Washington and are really demanding action. You've seen a level of advocacy that I've never seen before. And I think if Mitch McConnell would have the courage to call us back into Washington to vote we would pass the universal background checks bill that's already passed the House, and we would pass the bill that I wrote which is anti-gun trafficking which the last time we voted on it got 58 votes. We only needed 60. So we're only two votes shy and I believe we have the momentum and the advocacy behind us today to pass that as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What about red flag laws? Your colleague in New York, Chuck Schumer, has said they are ineffective cop outs.

SEN GILLIBRAND: I think you can pass a red flag law but it's insufficient. What we really need to do is also pass a ban on assault weapons, particularly the military style weapons, that have resulted in people losing their lives within seconds and then the large magazines.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Many of your Republican colleagues would agree on red flags being insufficient. They also don't think background checks necessarily would be. The argument is for more tools for law enforcement. So do you support making domestic terrorism a federal crime and would you sign on to Dick Durbin's bill to increase resources to combat it?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: Absolutely. And as president I would direct my Department of Justice to investigate white supremacy and other domestic terrorist groups. To infiltrate them, to make sure we know if they're planning attacks and to actually combat white supremacy in society because these groups are domestic terrorists.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So when talking about white supremacy, you and some of your colleagues and competitors have been linking the president's rhetoric to emboldening white supremacists. You said "he is emboldening white supremacists his entire presidency and his campaign." Are you actually saying that President Trump is responsible for the killings in El Paso and Ohio?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: What I'm saying is that his words have consequences and the words he has been using have been hateful and divisive and racist and has truly emboldened white supremacy and hate crimes across this country. Since President Trump's been elected hate crimes have increased- certainly across my state and across the country- against all groups. More racism, more anti-Semitism, more white supremacy, more anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-refugees. And it's changing who we are as a nation. And that's one of the reasons I'm running for president--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But- but in terms of that-- 

SEN. GILLIBRAND: -we need a president who will bring us back together again. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --in terms of the name calling and putting it in the political context. Don't you think that is ratcheting up the rhetoric rather than having cooler heads prevail?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: What President Trump has done is ratchet up the rhetoric. When he's at a rally in Florida and someone says "What are you going to do with immigrants" and someone shouts "kill them, shoot them" President Trump laughed. So he is not leading us in the right direction. He has used words like infestation. He's used words like invasion. That is creating a climate where people are- literally today fueled by anger and hate. They are hunting down other people using weapons of war. That's what we're up against right now. And President Trump will not stand up to the NRA, will not stand up to the gun manufacturers--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well what about--

SEN. GILLIBRAND: --to get these guns off the streets.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --well what about, though, what Joaquin Castro- the congressman did this week with publishing the names of some of President Trump's top donors? It's publicly available information, but some would say he was targeting these individuals. Is that helpful or is that dangerous given what you're describing?

SEN. GILLIBRAND: Those are his choices not mine. I will call out racism when I see it. I will call out white supremacy when I see it. I will call out hate and I will stand up against it in every form.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about New York financier, Jeffrey Epstein. He is an accused child molester, pedophile, sex trafficker. He committed suicide while in federal custody. The FBI and IG are investigating. Do you think the U.S. government has failed his victims? 

SEN. GILLIBRAND: Well I'm concerned. These survivors deserved a day in court, they deserved justice. They deserved to speak out against this perpetrator, and it is a shame that he committed suicide. I do think there needs to be a full investigation about why he was taken off the terror watch, excuse me, why he was taken off the suicide watch list. I think it's a strange decision given that he attempted suicide once already. I want to know why he was left in a circumstance where suicide was even possible. I think it needs a full investigation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Gillibrand, thank you.