Transcript: Sen. Mark Warner on "Face the Nation," December 2, 2018

The following is a transcript of the interview with Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner that aired Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to "Face the Nation." Virginia Senator Mark Warner is the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee and he joins us here. Senator as a Democrat, how do you remember Bush 41?

SENATOR MARK WARNER: President Bush was a class act and I think he realized, and reflecting on this program this morning, American leadership is critical. But that leadership needs to be both economic, military but also moral leadership. And I think President Bush did think about the transition from the end of the Cold War, as Vice President Cheney was mentioning, or his ability to deal with the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China or his situation with Kuwait. 

He always knew that America was stronger with alliances and the rest of the world looked to that American leadership in all those realms, as I mentioned, militarily economically but also morally, and I think it would be- all of us as we reflect on his legacy to remember that those lessons are still important for all of us to keep in mind.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It sounds like you're describing a different brand of Republicanism than than what you're seeing now

SEN. WARNER: Well- a bit different, yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to- I want to get to your role right now on the Senate Intelligence Committee where you are the ranking member. This week we heard that the president's former personal attorney Michael Cohen pled guilty to lying to Congress about financial interests, specifically a building in Moscow that the Trump Organization was seeking to build during the campaign. And that was reportedly discovered after the special counsel came and asked your committee for a transcript of what Michael Cohen had said. What does all of this signal to you?

SEN. WARNER: Well it signals one, that if you lie to Congress and I was with our chairman, Chairman Burr on Friday when he said, if you lie to Congress, we're going to go after you, we're going to make sure that gets referred and--

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's rare to go forward with the prosecution again--

SEN. WARNER: --we've made a number of referrals. But I think what it also says is that Donald Trump as a candidate said no dealings with Russia. I think if I'd been a Republican Dem- a Republican delegate going into the summer of 2016 I think would have been a relevant fact to know that actually Donald Trump was still trying to do business with the Russian government, maybe that's why he was so reluctant to say anything bad about Vladimir Putin. 

What we also know at this point is not only were this ongoing business deal but you had the president's son and his son in law meeting with Russians. We had the president's campaign aides being aware that there were the Hillary Clinton emails. We had the president's campaign chairman Paul Manafort offering to brief Russian agents. There seems to be all of these past lead to ties with Russia and Mr. Trump continues to deny any of that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well the president is essentially saying seeking a profit is not a crime, right? And- and separating out this allegation of collusion with Russian intelligence versus his his organization's business interest--

SEN. WARNER: But Margaret what I'd- what I'd say is, we can debate whether it's a crime or not, but he was, during that period, was denying any ties to Russia. And I do think it would have been a relevant factor, frankly, for Republican delegates to know that during that time period when he was saying only good things about Vladimir Putin, as a candidate for president he was still trying to do business with that very same government.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you know that candidate Trump knew about the pursuit of this tower?

SEN. WARNER: Again, I'm not- I only know what Mr. Cohen has said and clearly most of the individuals that are affiliated with Trump have led themselves into being accused of lying--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --Was he instructed to lie? Michael Cohen?

SEN. WARNER: I don't know. I think that is a very relevant question that the American people need an answer to.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said at the beginning of our conversation you've made a number of referrals. Now to be clear, what you're investigating here is sort of parallel to what the special counsel is doing there in terms of- of pursuing criminal charges, potentially. But we saw these two probes intersect this week. When you say you've made a number of referrals, are you saying you've said to the special counsel a number of Trump associates are lying and we have proof of it?

SEN. WARNER: Again, I'm not going to go into which individuals have been referred, but what--

MARGARET BRENNAN:  --But what were they referred for?

SEN. WARNER: Well, if we've seen something that we feel it would be appropriate to go to the special prosecutor, as Chairman Burr mentioned, we'll make those referrals. And we want to make clear that lying to Congress is a crime.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In the case of Michael Cohen, the special counsel came to you. Is that correct?

SEN. WARNER: We have an ongoing relationship with the special counsel. We have as you said, though, two different approaches. The special prosecutor is a criminal investigation. We are a counterintelligence investigation and we've concluded obviously that Russia intervened massively and we need to preclude that from happening again. 

We're also looking into the question of whether that- there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. I believe there are clear evidence that the Russians were offering information about Hillary Clinton. We know that, that's been documented in a number of these meetings. The question about whether it was full conclusion- collusion, that is something both Chairman Burr and I are reserving judgment until we see all of the witnesses and we've got more folks to see.

MARGARET BRENNAN: A matter of other business. You saw the president at this gathering of world leaders in Argentina. He unveiled what is an agreement I guess in principle with Mexico and Canada for a new free trade deal. He says he's gonna reject the old NAFTA and get this new one approved and in place, no problem. Is it going to be that simple?

SEN. WARNER: It's not going to be that simple. Candidly, he- based on, and I've not done a full review at this point, but I think he could have actually renegotiated most of this activity within the existing NAFTA framework. But he wanted to put his own stamp on and now Congress has a right to come in and review whether it's labor, whether it's environmental, whether the deal is actually better. I think those are all open questions and I think you've already seen pushback from folks on both sides of the aisle.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you're not ready to say you're going to vote for--

SEN. WARNER: --I'm not--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --or against it?

SEN. WARNER: --ready at all at this point.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Alright, Senator. Thank you for joining us.

SEN. WARNER: Thank you.