Transcript: Sen. Lindsey Graham on "Face the Nation," November 11, 2018

Graham on acting AG, Mueller probe

The following is a transcript of the interview with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that aired Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham joins us this morning from Clemson. Senator welcome to "Face the Nation." I want to--

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --get right to it. The French president seemed to be saying the liberal world order is being undermined by forces -- nationalist forces -- that seem to be represented to many by President Trump. Do you agree to- with him?

SEN. GRAHAM: No I think he's got a political problem at home Macron does and probably picking a fight with Trump is good politics. I like the idea of President Trump pushing NATO to pay more, getting out of the intermediate ballistic missile treaty with Russia made sense to me because Russia's cheating and the treaty doesn't cover China and North Korea. I think the main friction is getting out of the Iran deal which I thought was bad for America and really bad for the world. So Republican presidents always have a hard time in Europe. I'm not really worried about this at all.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Senator, let's move to what's happening here at home. You're seeing some of the worst fires in California history raging--

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --there--

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Nearly [two] dozen dead yet the president is- is taking an aggressive combative stance here.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Even threatening to cut off funding. What's achieved by doing things like this?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well number one my heart goes out to the people who lost their homes I think about 25 people killed these are historically large wildfires in California. But we do have a forest management problem all over the country. We need to address. But you know California will receive the money they need. But going forward we need to look at some of the underlying causes of these fires and it's just not California we need to look at better forest management in terms of federal lands all over the country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you agree with the sentiment but perhaps not the tone is what I hear you saying there.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. This has been a debate for a while about underbrush clearing--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

SEN. GRAHAM: --in federally owned lands, but now is not time talk about cutting off money. With all due respect, we're going to help our friends in California. They need help.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you since you sit, and are an important voice, on the Judiciary Committee about what's happening now with the search for the new Attorney General now that Jeff Sessions has been forced out.

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said you're going to meet with the acting Attorney General this week--

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --are you going to ask him to recuse himself? And is Matthew Whittaker's appointment to this role constitutional?

SEN. GRAHAM: Good question. I talked with Matt, yesterday. I'm going to meet with him next week when we get our schedules aligned here. I think he's- was appropriately appointed legally. I don't think he has to recuse himself. I am confident the Mueller investigation will be allowed to come to a good solid conclusion, that there'll be no political influence put on Mr. Mueller by Mr. Whitaker to do anything other than Mr. Mueller's job. I'm confident that Mr. Mueller will be allowed to do his job without interference.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I ask you that question because, as you know, there have been a number of public statements made by Whitaker, including saying there's no criminal obstruction of justice charge to be had against--

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --President Trump--

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that seems prejudicial to many. He's referred to special counsel as the Mueller lynch mob. What about these comments suggest to you that he's going to be impartial?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, you don't recuse somebody because they have opinions different than the people they are overseeing. Trust me there is politics abounds when it comes to the Mueller investigation that Trump is guilty and no matter what Mueller finds. But the bottom line here is that Mr. Mueller will be allowed to do his job without political interference by-by Mr. Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker I think is legally qualified and otherwise qualified to oversee this investigation until a new attorney general will be appointed. And I think that will happen early next year.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Early next year, what's your first question for that nominee?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, depends on what the lay of the land is. If Mueller is still not finished with this investigation, are you gonna allow him to do his job? But a lot of questions about- about how the Department of Justice works.

MARGARET BRENNAN:The president issued an order this week and says he's going to issue another executive order having to do with immigration--

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --Does he have the authority to bypass Congress in doing these things?

SEN. GRAHAM: You know the 14th Amendment birthright citizenship, that's got to get to the court. Maybe the executive order is the way to start that discussion. But when it comes to changing asylum laws saying that somebody here illegally cannot apply for asylum, I don't know if you can do that by executive order, but I support that policy. Right now people are marching on our border, if they- they cross illegally then they asked for asylum. Asylum shouldn't be a magnet for illegal immigration. So I support the policy change. I'm not so sure you can do it by executive order but we'll see.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well the ACLU suggests that that's actually contravening Congress and established law.

SEN. GRAHAM: I might want to get another- I might want to get another opinion than the ACLU. But the point is that I do believe asylum laws are being abused. They've become magnets for illegal immigration. People cross the border illegally, then apply for asylum. That's not the way asylum is set up to work. I support the policy change. Congress probably should do it, but I'm open minded to the executive order. I- I just don't know the answer really.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You've been speaking a fair amount about what's going on in Florida and the recount there.

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The Florida Department of- of- of Elections has presented no evidence whatsoever of criminal activity there.

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president has been sort of fanning the flames, some would say, of conspiracy here, saying Democrats are trying to steal it. Don't you think in--

SEN. GRAHAM: --Well, I think--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --some ways that this undermines election integrity when you're actually trying to uphold it?

SEN. GRAHAM: I think what undermines election integrity is Broward County can't get their act together over multiple elections. If the Florida law enforcement officials see no fraud, I'll accept that. But they are in violation of the law, Broward County. They're supposed to report results within 30 minutes of the polls closing. They counted almost 80,000 votes days after the polls closed. So the problem is not with President Trump's rhetoric. The problem is with the incompetence and the mischief--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.

SEN. GRAHAM: --in Broward County.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Alright, Senator Graham, thank you very much. Lots to get--

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --through today.