Transcript: Sen. Lindsey Graham on "Face the Nation," April 28, 2019

Graham: Mueller probe "over for me"

The following is a transcript of the interview with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that aired Sunday, April 28, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, South Carolina's senior senator, Lindsey Graham. Senator, good to have you here in studio. 

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We just heard about this tragic shooting. It was an AR-15 style semi-automatic weapon. Hate crimes seem to be on the rise in this country. What do we need to do to combat this, prevent it?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I think somebody interdicted the shooter, thank God, and it could have been worse, but in- I think in California you can't buy a gun until you're 21. So let's find out how this guy got the gun, what his motives were and I'm a big supporter of protective orders, allowing local law enforcement to go to a judge if there's ample evidence somebody is becoming a danger to themselves or others. About 15 states have such laws. I'm trying to get a national grant program to incentivize states to pass laws to allow local law enforcement to go to judges to take guns out of hands of people that are showing really disturbing signs or danger signs. And I think in Parkland that would have made a big difference, here I don't know. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we'll continue to follow the details as we learn more about what happened there, but I want to talk about what you are preparing for this week. 

SEN. GRAHAM: Right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Attorney General Barr will be answering questions for the first time really in detail about the Mueller Report. I know you've said you're done with it.

SEN. GRAHAM: Pretty much. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But what is it that you're going to try to focus in on with this hearing?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, he gave a four page summary. Does the report support his summary? Does the report actually indicate there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians? I think the idea that this president obstructed justice is absurd. He turned over a million documents to the special counsel. Almost everybody around him testified. I can't think of one thing that President Trump did to stop Mueller from doing his job. He never claimed executive privilege. From my point of view, I've heard all I need to really know. Now I want to look and find out how all this happened.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But on that point of attempting to obstruct justice or not, the president seems to want to continue to litigate this because he came out this week and said and denied that he had ever thought or told anyone--

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --to fire Don McGahn, the White House counsel. But that directly contradicts sworn testimony--

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that was in the Mueller Report, where Don McGahn said he almost quit he was so pressured to fire the special counsel.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well that's a--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who do you believe? 

SEN. GRAHAM: I think it's just all theater. It doesn't matter. I don't care what he said to Don McGahn. It's what he did. And the president never obstructed--

MARGARET BRENNAN: It doesn't matter to you--

SEN. GRAHAM: Oh, God no, I mean--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that the president is changing a version of events that perhaps some would say, lying.

SEN. GRAHAM: If you're going to look at every president who pops off at his staff and you know, ask him to do something that's maybe crazy, then we won't have any presidents.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But in terms of the firing, this was Don McGahn, the White House counsel, being pressured to fire the special counsel.

SEN. GRAHAM: But he didn't.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But--

SEN. GRAHAM: And, I don't care--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But--

SEN. GRAHAM: I don't care what they talked about. He didn't do anything. The point is the president did not impede Mueller from doing his investigation. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And it doesn't--

SEN. GRAHAM: Case closed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --trouble you that the president is changing his version of events?

SEN. GRAHAM: I don't- I don't care what happened between him and Don McGahn. Here's what I care about. Did Mueller- was Mueller allowed to do his job? And the answer is yes. Name one thing that they did to stop Mueller from doing his job, and if you can't then there's no obstruction.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Will you call him again to testify?

SEN. GRAHAM: No- me? No. No, I'm- I'm done.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What about the special counsel?

SEN. GRAHAM: I'm not going to re-litigate it. I don't know how clear I can be, Margaret. It's over for me. He didn't collude with the Russians, obstruction of justice in this situation is absurd. I fought hard as hell to make sure Mueller could do his job, I introduced legislation to make sure he couldn't be fired. It's over. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But in terms of this report, it was not just the obstruction of justice- that you seem to be saying you're over. All the details in here about Russia and what they tried to do, what they did succeed at doing in terms of--

SEN. GRAHAM: That's a--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --accessing computer systems.

SEN. GRAHAM: --different conversation.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Isn't that worth--

SEN. GRAHAM: One hundred percent.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --a- a conversation? I mean Senator Marco Rubio came out and said this week he went as far as to say that they had the ability there were in a position to alter Florida voter rolls back in 2016.

SEN. GRAHAM: I think that that's the point. There's two things I'm going to look at: what did they do, and are they trying to do it again, and how do we stop them. I think that's something we all need to focus on. And how did this start. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is the president focused on that enough, on that--

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, he's got a good team around him--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --doing it again threat? 

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, no, he's got a good team around him to make sure we harden our infrastructure. But what Marco said was a bit stunning I've never heard that before. So what I want to do is make sure that Intel and Judiciary and Homeland Security, the three committees are working together to harden the infrastructure against Russia or anybody else interfering in 2020. And Russia is still up to it. So the takeaway for me is that they were very involved in the 2016 election. They're coming at us again. I'd like to stop them. And one way to stop them is to make them pay a price.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're talking about this with a level of seriousness that we did not hear from Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the president. I want to play for you some sound when he was speaking this week about the Russia probe when he said it was actually more damaging to have the Mueller investigation. Listen to what he said.

*SOUND ON TAPE*

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is he minimizing the threat to national security?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I like Jared a lot, but he's leaving out a big detail: the Russians hacked into John Podesta's emails, the campaign manager for the Democratic candidate for president. The Russians hacked into Hillary Clinton's emails, the candidate for the Democratic Party. Can you imagine what we would be saying if the Russians or the Iranians hacked into the presidential team of the Republican Party? So, no, this is a big deal. It's not just a few Facebook ads. They were very successful in pitting one American against the other during the 2016 campaign by manipulating social media and they actually got into the campaign email system of the Democratic Party. An attack on one party should be an attack on all. The Russians are up to it again. And here's what I tell President Trump: everything we've done with the Russians is not working. We need more sanctions not less.

MARGARET BRENNAN: More sanctions, now?

SEN. GRAHAM: Now. Before 2020. Because clearly they don't have the message. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: I also want to ask you about some of the remarks you have made in the past because we know as Democrats start talking about the details of the Mueller Report, combing through it and already calling for impeachment proceedings to begin against the president the United States. Here's what you said back in January of 1999 when you were helping to lead the impeachment of President Clinton.

*SOUND ON TAPE*

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you agree?

SEN. GRAHAM: I was a lot younger. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But it sounds like some of what you're characterizing here, saying everything in the Mueller Report, it may not be great but it doesn't reach the level of being able to prosecute. 

SEN. GRAHAM: Well a high crime--

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's different from what you described there, which was to say behavior of a president--

SEN. GRAHAM: Sure it does. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the cleansing of an office--

SEN. GRAHAM: Well it- it--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --is important. 

SEN. GRAHAM: It's got to be a higher crime a misdemeanor not defined by the prosecution team but by a political body called the House of Representatives approved by the Senate. So there was an article of impeachment against President Clinton for lying under oath about having sex with Monica Lewinsky. I voted against that because I believe a lot of people would lie to protect their family if they were blindsided about an affair. So I didn't want that to become a high crime or misdemeanor. What President Clinton did was interfere in a lawsuit against him by Paula Jones and others, hide the evidence, encourage people to lie. So to me he took the legal system and turned it upside down. But it doesn't have to technically be a crime. What President Trump did here was completely cooperate in an investigation, a million documents, let everybody that the special counsel wanted to talk to be interviewed. Don McGahn was interviewed for 30 hours. I believe the president did nothing wrong. Whether you like him or not I'll leave that up to you but this--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But even the pressuring Don McGahn-- 

SEN. GRAHAM: See but-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --to fire this fellow. He may not have done it.

SEN. GRAHAM: See that-- 

SEN. GRAHAM: Okay, if you're going to let that be the standard of impeachment, that you have an interaction between a White House counsel and a president that- that you find uncomfortable then we'll have nobody serve. So here's the deal for me: you actually have to do something. Bill Clinton lost his law- law license for five years because he did something. But to my Democratic friends, if you agree with the 1999 statement I made, you think this office needs to be cleansed, impeach him. It's up to you. If you think Donald Trump deserves to be impeached, then impeach him. I don't.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Quickly before you go, I want to ask you about your old friend Joe Biden--

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the vice president throwing his hat into the ring, President Trump seeming to suggest he's too old. What do you think?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well yeah that's up to the voters to decide. I think President Trump is very vibrant. And I know Joe- Joe Biden. If you travel with Joe Biden, you won't think he's too old. Here's the problem for Joe. Does he fit into the Democratic Party of 2020? I don't know, he's a good man. I like him a lot. I disagree with him on- on policy. I hope he doesn't apologize for the life he's led because he's led a good life. But if he starts apologizing for all the policy positions and decisions he's made throughout his life, that will be disappointing. I don't know how he fits in this party but I do know this. He's a good man and he would be a strong candidate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Graham, thank you.