Transcript: Sen. Lindsey Graham on "Face the Nation," December 15, 2019

Graham: "I love Joe Biden, but none of us are above scrutiny"

The following is a transcript of an interview with Senator Lindsey Graham that aired Sunday, December 15, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. We begin today with the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham. He joins us from Doha, Qatar. Senator, good morning to you. The president has said he's heard you out on the merits of a short Senate trial, but he's going to do whatever he wants, he says. Should Republicans in the Senate really be taking their marching orders from the person being investigated?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: You know, I understand the president's frustration, but I think what's best for the country is to get—get this thing over with. I am clearly made up my mind. I'm not trying to hide the fact that I have disdain for the accusations in the process. So I don't need any witnesses. The president can make a request to call witnesses. They can make a req- a request or call Mike Pence and Pompeo and Joe Biden and Hunter Biden. I am ready to vote on the underlying articles. I don't really need to hear a lot of witnesses.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the president says he wants—he would love those individuals to testify. He says he wants evidence. He wants to make his case. Why are you opposed?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, well, I'd tell the president, if somebody is ready to acquit you, I'd sort of get out of the way. If you start calling the witnesses the president wants and they're are going to start calling Mike Pence, you know, the secretary of State Pompeo, I don't think that's good for the country. I don't think it's good for the Senate. You need 51 votes to get a witness approved. I want to make my decision based on the trial record established in the House as a basis for impeachment. That's just me, one senator. But I think there's a general desire by a lot of senators to not turn this thing into a circus. I understand the president's frustration by being shut out of the house but I need to do what I think is best for the country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, back when you were in the House, during the Clinton impeachment, you were an impeachment manager. And I want to play a clip from what you said on Face the Nation back then in 1999:

(BEGIN CLIP)
SEN. GRAHAM: All I ask for is a chance to do it meaningful if you have one day and you're stuck with a judiciary report, I don't think history will judge the Senate well. If they decide to acquit the president, there needs to be a record well developed where both sides had a chance to prove their case. So I hope we have a trial that is meaningful, that will withstand historical scrutiny, that will follow the precedents of the past. I've never known and impeachment trial without a witness and just lasting one day to present the case for the House. That's frankly not fair.
(END CLIP)


MARGARET BRENNAN: Why have your standards for Senate trial changed?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, Ken Starr investigated President Clinton for years, spent millions of dollars. He was an outside counsel. Bob Mueller investigated Donald Trump for two years, spent twenty-five million dollars. I supported the Mueller investigation because I think he would be fair. It was not a witch hunt in my view. This is the first impeachment trial being driven by partisan politicians conducted behind closed doors. The testimony was selectively leaked. The president was denied the ability to participate meaningful in the House hearing. And I want to end it. I have nothing but disdain for this. I'm trying to make myself clear. What you're doing in the House is bad for the presidency. You're impeaching the president of the United States in a matter of weeks, not months. You had a two-year investigation, that wasn't enough. I think this whole thing is a crock. You're shutting the president out. The process in the House, any partisan group could do this in the future. You're weaponizing impeachment. And I want to end it. I don't want to legitimize it. I hate what they're doing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Rudy Giuliani spoke to our Paula Reid and said when he was in Ukraine just in the past few days, he had to go buy a whole separate suitcase because he came back with so many documents for this report he wants to make. He was at the White House on Friday. Do you plan to look at the information he gathered? Is he credible?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I don't know what he found, but if he wants to come the Judiciary Committee—Rudy, if you want to come and tell us what you found, I'll be glad to talk to you. When it comes to impeachment, I want to base my decision on the record assembled in the House. We can look at what Rudy's got and Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and anything else you want to look at after impeachment. But if Rudy wants to come to the Judiciary Committee and testify about what he found, he's welcome to do so.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. We'll look for that. You have, though, announced a separate investigation into your friend, Joe Biden. And you said that- that you love him, but you want to pursue this investigation. He was asked about this on CNN--

SEN. GRAHAM: I did. I did, very much so…

MARGARET BRENNAN: He was asked about this on CNN recently and I want to play that bite.

(BEGIN CLIP)
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I am disappointed. And quite frankly, I'm angered by the fact. He knows me. He knows my son. He knows there's nothing to this. Trump is now essentially holding power over him that even the Ukrainians wouldn't yield to. And Lindsey is about to go down in a way that I think he's going to regret his whole life.
(END CLIP)

MARGARET BRENNAN: He says you're going to regret this your whole life. Is there anything that you've done with this Ukraine investigation that- that gives you pause?

SEN. GRAHAM: Oh no, not at all. Joe Biden is a- is a friend. He's one of the most decent people I've ever met in my life. But here's the deal. This whole process around the Ukraine is—reeks with politics. They've done everything but take a wrecking ball to Donald Trump and his family. We're not going to live in a world where only Republicans get looked at. As much as I love Joe Biden and I'm sincere when I say that, now that you want to talk about Ukraine, it's pretty hard for me to go home and tell my constituents to ignore the fact that Hunter Biden received fifty thousand dollars a month from a gas company in the Ukraine, run by the most corrupt person in the Ukraine. And two months after the gas company was investigated, the prosecutor got fired. I don't know if there's anything to this. I hope not. I hope I can look at the transcripts of the phone call between Biden in the Ukraine--Joe Biden after the investigation began and say there's no there, there. These are legitimate concerns about what happened in the Ukraine. I love Joe Biden, but none of us are above scrutiny. I'd like to knock all this off and get back on governing the country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the Supreme Court is also going to take a look at whether or not the president can block his financial records from being released to the public. It's pretty significant ruling on presidential- on precedent here. Do you think any president should be able to block this from Congress?

SEN. GRAHAM: If the Supreme Court rules he has to release his financial information, he would be bound to do so. I personally think he should release his tax- tax returns. I think anybody running for president going forward should release their tax turns- tax returns. But the president has legal rights. He's an American. We can't have laws for everybody but Donald Trump.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Graham, thank you for joining us.


A portion of Graham's interview also aired during "Face the Nation"'s political panel:

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you care deeply about Afghanistan and the 12,000 troops who continue to be stationed there. There was a attack on a U.S. airbase at Bagram this week, by the Taliban, and they took out a medical facility nearby. The U.S. still wants to have peace talks with the Taliban. Is this a credible process? They're attacking U.S. bases.

SEN. GRAHAM: I don't think it's a credible process as long as they use violence. Before I'd even consider dealing with the Taliban, I'd want a ceasefire. But at the end of the day, how does this war end? I do not encourage these negotiations as long as they're resorting to violence. And I think we need to do a deal with Pakistan.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the Taliban control nearly half of the territory of Afghanistan right now. Washington Post had some incredible reporting this week detailing documents from the Bush administration, from the Obama administration, talking about mismanagement of this conflict. And this was not made public by those officials at that time. Why isn't this being received by Congress with the demand for hearings? I mean, people are likening this to the Pentagon Papers and the war in Vietnam.

SEN. GRAHAM: Right. Well, to be honest with you, I know General Petraeus pretty well. I never thought I was sugar coated about Afghanistan. Has it been mismanaged? Yeah. Has money being wasted? Absolutely. Is President Trump right to demand that Afghanistan do more and we pay less? Is President Trump right for NATO and the region to pay more in Afghanistan? Absolutely. Is he right to withdraw some of our forces? Yes. But we can't leave Afghanistan until this time- the time is right. International terrorism will come back. We're spending a lot of money in Afghanistan without a lot to show for it. I think we need to change that policy.