Transcript: Sen. Mark Warner on "Face the Nation," May 20, 2018

President Trump tweeted about a new report in the New York Times on Sunday which detailed efforts by foreign governments to help the Trump campaign. The president lashed out against the Russia investigation, again calling the probe a "Witch Hunt" and denying there was any collusion between Russia and his campaign. 

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He joined us to discuss the New York Times report, the president's response and the possibility for action following the shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

The following is a transcript of the interview with Warner that aired Sunday, May 20, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  


MARGARET BRENNAN: Our next guest is Senator Mark Warner Democrat from Virginia. Senator, welcome back to the show.

SEN. MARK WARNER: Thank you.

BRENNAN: Last time you were on with us was after the Parkland students held a march on Washington calling for greater gun restrictions and around that same time you said, "I don't think we can sit through more of the mass murders and not take action." Will you take any this time?

WARNER: In my heart, absolutely I want us to take- take action. But, I understand why people are so frustrated and obviously condolences to the folks in Santa Fe, but I think people across America want more than condolences. I don't think there's a single bill that will stop these tragedies but there needs to be a combination of increased school security- which I would not include in terms of arming teachers. I think that is the wrong direction. I think more mental health training for particularly these troubled youth- boys in the high school age area. And I think we need reasonable restrictions on- on- guns. I mean background checks as I've said to you last time I was on. I think we need to look at assault weapon bans. We're the only nation in the world that has this many guns awash in our society and consequently we have more of these tragedies than any other nation around. And-- my hope would be for some of my Republican colleagues that they would allow their positions to evolve. I mean--

BRENNAN: Yours did on assault style weapons-

WARNER: yes- A decade ago-

BRENNAN: -and gun magazines recently.

WARNER: -a decade ago- A decade ago, when I was governor I was supported by the NRA. But the NRA, as more and more of these tragedies- with Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook or Parkland and now Texas and there's a host of others that have been faded from our memory. Same old, same old is not going to get it. We have to put the notion that guns are part of the problem and a reasonable set of rules that I think the vast majority of gun owners would support as well have to be a part of the solution.

BRENNAN: But nothing before November in this Congress.

WARNER: Well again, I don't know how my colleagues, who won't be open to any of these solutions, can face down victims or victim's families when they come in time and again and say please take these actions reasonable restrictions. My hope is that maybe this will spur action but unfortunately if history is to prejudge, there'll be angst and anguish and unless we change our Congress we won't get the changes we need.

BRENNAN: The president is tweeting this morning about a New York Times report that he is trying to discredit, saying that foreign governments other than Russia offered to provide help during the campaign specifically with social media manipulation. Is this something that the Senate Intelligence Committee is looking into or will look into?

WARNER: We're going to look into all of these claims, counterclaims. The thing that I find amazing is that somehow the president and his allies--

BRENNAN: To you, these reports are credible?

WARNER: There are credible components of the New York Times report. Some of this information is new to us but we're going to continue our investigation. But what is remarkable to me, is that the president somehow seems not to understand that when a foreign nation tries to interfere in our elections: that's wrong. That's illegal. The validity of the two Arab nations potentially intervening. Time will tell how true- how much truth there is there. But in regards to for example to Russia, we had just this week our intelligence community, bipartisan, came out and reaffirmed the findings of the intelligence community's overall assessment, Russia massively intervened in our elections and they did so to help Trump and hurt Clinton. Now the president--

BRENNAN: Still--

WARNER: the president

BRENNAN: Still no conclusions on-

WARNER: All of the tweeting that the president does-

BRENNAN: -cooperation or conspiracy?

WARNER: Well we do know this, we've seen repeated actions by at least Donald Trump Jr and others of being interested in receiving dirt on Clinton. Whether it was the famous Trump Tower meeting. Whether it was their outreach to Mr. Papadopoulos. Now we're seeing a potential pattern with other nations reaching out to try to interfere. The president who continues to be obsessed with this. What part of- What part of the basic tenets of our democracy is that you don't have foreign powers intervene does he not understand?

BRENNAN: I want to ask you also about something the president is publicly complaining about. He has said again yesterday that the FBI or the Department of Justice has in his words been "infiltrating" his campaign for political reasons and he called for those agencies to hand over documents to Congress. To your knowledge has there been any such action by those agencies?

WARNER: I have no knowledge of such actions. I do know this: that when the president or his allies in the house start going out and trying to threaten that they want to reveal classified information--

BRENNAN: You are talking about Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

WARNER: --and when individuals want to try to reveal classified information about the identity of an FBI or CIA source that is against the law. The first thing you learn when you get involved with the intelligence community is that you need to protect sources and methods and that if you were to out or to burn such an agent, that person's life could be in jeopardy. And I find it outrageous that the president's allies are in effect playing fast and loose with confidential information and don't take my word. Take the president's own FBI director, Mr. Wray, who said if you go out and start exposing classified information about informants that you will make America less safe. I find this totally outrageous on some of the actions of these allies.

BRENNAN: Just to clarify when you are saying that there is this-- it would be illegal to disclose this information. There are now published press reports with at least one if not more alleged FBI informants and their names. Are you saying that congressional sources leaked this information to the press?

WARNER: I'm not saying that congressional sources leak but I do know hope there was--

BRENNAN: So you don't know if there was illegal action?  

WARNER: I do hope there is investigation into figure out-- if they did leak and we have seen from some- some of Mr. Trump's allies a constant pattern of leaking. In my mind, this crosses the line that up until now even some of the president's allies have respected the integrity of our intelligence community. But this kind of ongoing assault from the president and his allies about the FBI, about the Department of Justice, where they attack them ad hominem. That leads to an area-- era where people can start saying I'm going to decide which laws I want to follow and which laws I don't want to follow. I believe you may see that kind of result taking place in this circumstance where it appears that some of the president's allies are trying to decide- well I don't want to follow a law that says I have to keep classified information secret. If we get into that realm we're in dangerous, dangerous territory.

BRENNAN: But when- If it is classified information that they have, are you saying that there is some credibility to this idea. The president's version of events is that there's an FBI spy in his campaign that is different from an FBI informant or somebody who was a whistleblower.

WARNER: I have no information--

BRENNAN: What part of this is true?

WARNER: I have no information that would indicate that the president's tweets or theory of the case is at all based in truth. I do know this: That classified information, identity of agents is sacrosanct. And when people for political purposes start being willing to try to reveal that information and I'm not saying that has happened but clearly the president and some of his allies have been calling for the FBI and Justice Department to come forward with those names. The FBI and Justice Department have tried to avoid that because that's just not the way they operate. That we're getting into areas that are- that are not traditional in any sense of the word.

BRENNAN: Senator, thank you for your time.

WARNER: Thank you.

BRENNAN: We'll be right back in one minute with more Face the Nation.