Full transcript: Sen. Lindsey Graham on "Face the Nation," June 30, 2019

Sen. Lindsey Graham on "Face the Nation"

The following is the full transcript of an interview with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, portions of which aired Sunday, June 30, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Graham, thank you for joining us. North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons. 

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: They didn't make a serious diplomatic offer when President Trump last met with Kim Jong Un. Should he be meeting with him again?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: There's no downside to keep trying. They haven't exploded a bomb. They haven't tested any ICBMs in a quite a while. So, I would encourage the president to keep talking. But the point is to get irreversible, verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula. That's the goal. And if Trump thinks he can do this by continue to engage Kim Jong Un, let's give it a try.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about China. President Trump had a meeting with Xi Jinping at the G20 and he seemed to make a concession by no longer banning American companies from selling goods to Chinese tech firm Huawei, which the U.S. has said is a national security threat and could be used to spy. So, is the president taking them off the blacklist something he should be doing?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well it's a lot of leverage because Huawei is a huge Chinese company, and it really is owned by the Chinese government, it's not a private sector company as we would know it. Microsoft came into my office trying to make sure that they could sell some technology to China that would not compromise our national security. So I don't know what he agreed to regarding exceptions to the ban. If they're minor exceptions, that's okay, but if we're selling Huawei major technology, that would be a mistake. So I don't know.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you don't worry that this is too much of a concession on national security grounds?

SEN. GRAHAM: I don't know yet. It's clearly a concession. There's some type equipment we could sell to Huawei and other Chinese companies that would not hurt our national security. But there's a reason that Huawei has been on the- on the banned list. It is a Chinese company owned by the Chinese government deeply controlled by the military that could be used to hijack technology, data and- and steal trade secrets and other things. So, I don't know the nature of the exception. There'll be a lot of pushback if this is a major concession. If it's a minor concession, I think it's part of the overall deal.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, we're speaking to you where you are, in Turkey, which is a NATO ally. We know President Trump did meet with President Erdogan--

SEN. GRAHAM: Right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --at the G20 as well, and he seems to have the impression that President Trump said there will not be U.S. sanctions if Turkey goes ahead and buys Russian made weapons systems.  Is that the case?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I'm in Turkey and it's being reported in the Turkish media that President Erdogan is claiming that President Trump, in their discussions, told Turkey that if you activate the S-400, we'll find a way around sanctions. I doubt if that conversation occurred. It's impossible- under our law, if Turkey buys the- activates the S-400 missile battery they bought from the Russians, sanctions would be required under law. And we also, a couple of days ago, passed legislation banning the sale of the F-35 to Turkey if they activate the Russian S-400 missile battery. There's no way we're going to transfer to Turkey the F-35 technology and let them buy a Russian missile battery at the same time. It would compromise our platform.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're not saying sanctions are inevitable at this point. You see a way around them, some kind of compromise?

SEN. GRAHAM: I hope so. Turkey's a strategic ally. They've helped us in Syria. They're a NATO ally, but they cannot have an S-400 Russian missile battery. President Trump's right that the last administration probably was too hard. They should have sold them the Patriot US missile battery to protect Turkish airspace. The way around this is to get the- Turkey to back off activating the S-400, replace it with a Patriot missile battery that is NATO compliant. I don't want a conflict with Turkey. They're a very important ally, particularly when it comes to Syria and the region. But under our law, there is no discretion. If they activate the S-400 Russian missile battery, they will be sanctioned under U.S. law and the F-35 technology cannot be transferred to Turkey. We need to find a way out of this dilemma.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm sure you saw that video of Presidents Putin and Trump seeming to laugh when asked about election meddling. Did that concern you? 

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. What concerns me is are we gonna be ready for their meddling next time. I've seen this administration up their game. In 2018, we had a midterm election without a whole lot of interference because we're- we're upping our game, so to speak. So it was clearly a joke. But the- the key to this is to continue to punish Russia so hard based on what they did in 2016 they will not do it again in 2020. And I can say this about the Trump Administration: they've level- leveled more sanctions against Russia than anybody. And one of the reasons Turkey can't buy the S-400 from Russia is because the law we passed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But last time you were on this program you said Russia did not learn its lesson. So when you see this joking about something so serious regarding an upcoming election, doesn't that counter everything--

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --in terms of a hard line the rest of the national security community is trying to send?

SEN. GRAHAM: I'm not so sure rebuking Putin in- in front of a bunch of cameras does much good. What hurts him is when you hit him in the polit- pocketbook. His oligarch friends are having a hard time placing their money around the world. We put tremendous sanctions on the Russian economy, particularly in the energy area and it's biting Russia. So actions mean more than anything in this part of the world. So, I'm pleased with what the administration's done regarding Russia, and we need to send an unequivocal signal that if you try in 2020 what you did in 2016, the worst is yet to come regarding Russia.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe that President Trump embracing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman undermines the US credibility on human rights?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, I don't think it helps. I led the effort to sanction M.B.S., the Crown Prince. There is no doubt in my mind that he ordered the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, that he knew about it, that he's done things like that to other people and that he's been a disruptive force throughout the region. That his behavior is unacceptable, and while Saudi Arabia has been a strategic ally, I choose not to turn my back on a ally who chops a man up in a consulate, violating every international norm. So, I'm in a completely different place when it comes to MBS. The president has a different job than I do, but, I think a majority that Congress, Republicans and Democrats are not going to accept business as usual with Saudi Arabia as long as MBS is around. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've been warning about Iran potentially restarting its nuclear program. Are you concerned that Israel would potentially carry out a strike that would draw the U.S. into a conflict? 

SEN. GRAHAM: The ball- the most likely war would be between Israel and Iran if the Iranians started to reprocess and enrich beginning July the 7th in a manner that would accelerate their path to a bomb. Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear armed Iran. The world should not tolerate a nuclear armed Iran. And I hope the president understands that if they begin enrichment on July the 7th, that he needs to get ready to send the strongest signal possible that this cannot be tolerated. I don't mind the Iranians having a nuclear power program. I don't mind the Arabs having a nuclear power program, but none of them should be able to make their own fuel, enrich or reprocess uranium. There are 50 nations that have nuclear power that do not enrich and reprocess. I would put Iran and the entire Arab world on that list. Nuclear power? Yes. A pathway to a bomb? No. And Israel cannot risk the consequences of a breakout by the Ayatollah-

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. 

SEN. GRAHAM: -- who has sworn to destroy the state of Israel. And when he says "Death to Israel," I think he means it, and I believe people in Israel believe he means it. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But enriching, as you say, doesn't necessarily mean you're moving towards a bomb. Do you know what President Trump's red line is in terms of what Iran does with its nuclear program?

SEN. GRAHAM: The reason the president got out of the JCPOA is that after 10 years there are no limits on the enrichment reprocessing capabilities of the Iranians. Again, there are 50 nations throughout the world that have nuclear power that don't make their own fuel. The way you make a bomb is you enrich and reprocess, going- but the difference between nuclear grade fuel and a bomb is a matter of months. So, what I think the president should do is offer the Iranians and the Arabs the same deal. One, two, three agreements for the entire region- Arab and Iranian region where you can have nuclear power you get your fuel from the Russians and the Chinese, the Iranians can and we'll provide it to the Arabs. That's the only good outcome I think. And I think anything less than that is going to lead to an Iranian breakout, and that puts Israel in a really bad box.

MARGARET BRENNAN:  Here at home, I know you've been working with the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and some Democrats as well to try to find some compromise around asylum laws. The president said that he will go through with rounding up migrants after--

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the July 4th holiday. What's happening? Do you see any legislative compromise?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes, I do. I spent about an hour with Speaker Pelosi and here's the compromise: we'll start turning the aid back on to Central America. Without investing in Central America, this problem never stops. It is in our national security interest to help the triangle- Northern Triangle nations with their economy, with their rule of law problems. But if you don't turn off the magnets that attract people, which is our asylum laws, if you don't reform them, they'll keep coming. All you have to do is to put one foot on the United States soil, if you're from Central America with a small child, you're not going to get deported. They're advertising all over Central America, "Pay a coyote, pay a smuggler, get to America. If you bring a small child you're never going to go- be sent back." We need to change those laws and we also need to invest in Central America. To me that's the deal.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But, on that question of children, it- it was that image of that El Salvadorean father who drowned along with his 2-year-old daughter that really captured--

SEN. GRAHAM: Right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --a lot of attention this week. That was his child. That was not a tool to exploit the asylum system. 

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: By warning that asylum is going to get tougher--

SEN. GRAHAM: Can I--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --and saying that the border might close, doesn't that incentivize people that take the risk in the first place? Doesn't that turn people towards trying to come to the United States, rather than dissuade them?

SEN. GRAHAM: Good question. Here's what I think, and I don't know and it does break your heart to see that image and the thought that went into it. Here's what I think the father believed:  "If we can just make it across the Rio Grande, and I can put one foot in America, my child and myself are gonna be in America and we're not going to get sent back." I would like that asylum claim to be made in Mexico at a U.N. center so that this father doesn't have to risk him and his child drowning in the future. Asylum claims should be made in the home country or in a facility in Mexico because the reason he tried to go across the river- he was told by people in Central America, "If you can put one foot on American soil, you're home free." And this is a tragic result of that policy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to quickly ask you about your friend, Joe Biden. How do you think he performed in the Democratic debate this week?

SEN. GRAHAM: He's got to up his game. But anybody that knows Joe Biden, there's not a racist bone in his body. That's not a clichè, that's reality. But the narrative is that maybe it's not his time and that he's not up to the task. I think you will esti- underestimate Joe Biden at your own peril. I watched the debate. The policy options being presented to the country by the leading contenders on the Democratic side are their biggest problem. Pretty liberal, pretty extreme. But when it comes to Joe Biden, I think the next debate, he's got to change the narrative. And one thing I'll say about Kamala Harris, and I said this before, she's got game. She is very talented, she's very smart and she'll be a force to be reckoned with.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Graham, thank you very much for your time.