Transcript: Sen. Tim Scott, Rep. Trey Gowdy on "Face the Nation," April 1, 2018

Sen. Scott and Rep. Gowdy on racial divides

Rep. Trey Gowdy, who grew up in an affluent white family, and Sen. Tim Scott, who is black and grew up in a poor, single-parent home, view their friendship as an unlikely one.

But it's exactly the kind of friendship they believe is needed to bring about more unity in a politically and racially divided time. Both of the South Carolina Republicans joined us to talk about their new book, "Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country," as well as the latest in the Russia investigation.

The following is a transcript of the interview with Scott and Gowdy airing Sunday, April 1, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  


MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning and welcome to "Face the Nation." I'm Margaret Brennan. We begin today with two congressional Republicans from South Carolina, Senator Tim Scott and Representative Trey Gowdy. Their new book "Unified" tells the story of their close friendship and their hope to heal a divided country. Welcome to both of you gentlemen.

TREY GOWDY: Thank you.

TIM SCOTT: Thank you.

BRENNAN: I want to talk to you both about why you wrote this book, why you did it together, but I want to also ask about some of the news of the moment. The special counsel did reveal this week that Trump campaign official Rick Gates, who is a cooperating witness in that investigation, knowingly had communications on more than one occasion during the campaign with a person the FBI believes had active ties to Russian intelligence. Congressman, as a former prosecutor, what does this say to you?

GOWDY:  It says that I'm glad we have Bob Mueller. I'm glad we have an independent ball and strike caller. Congress has proven itself incapable of conducting serious investigations. And our best hope for finding -

BRENNAN: You include our own committee, House Intelligence, on that?

GOWDY: Absolutely. Not just House Intelligence. Congressional investigations leak like the "Gossip Girls." They - I mean, they're terrible and I would be telling you that if I were staying in Congress. They are just not serious. Serious investigations don't leak. Serious investigations don't make up their mind first and then go in search of the evidence to validate your previously held conviction.

BRENNAN: Did your committee do that with clearing any collusion in the case of Russia?

GOWDY: I think Adam Schiff in March of 2017 said he had evidence more than circumstantial but not direct. And oh, by the way there is no body of evidence that's more than circumstantial but not direct, but he said he had it of collusion and we've been waiting for -- for over a month and -- for over a year now for him to actually produce that – that evidence. That is not serious. And -- and I'm hoping that either the Senate investigation or Mueller will - will be more objective.

BRENNAN: Senator, the person tied to Russian intelligence that we're talking about did work with Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. You've been on record in the past saying that President Trump should not pardon Michael Flynn. Do you view Paul Manafort differently?

SCOTT: I do not. I think it's important that the White House be clear on this position as it relates to not treating either person differently. The fact of the matter is keeping the pardon off the table is a necessary part of the process. I would be disappointed if President Trump were to pardon either one of these individuals. The good news is that the Mueller investigation continues. The better news is that the public will have as much information as necessary to draw clear conclusions. And today, it only reinforces why it's important for us to make sure that the investigation continues until it gets to the end. I hope that we get there sooner than later. But the reality of it is that the more information we find out, the better, and the more confident the American people will be in who we are as a nation.

BRENNAN: Does that mean you would support legislation to protect Bob Mueller from being fired?

SCOTT: I don't know that we need legislation to move forward. I don't know that there's a single senator that would come out in favor of stopping the investigation from going forward.

BRENNAN: Senator, you are on the Armed Services Committee. I want to ask you a bit about what we've heard from the president. He's been floating this idea of asking to use Pentagon funding to pay for this border wall.

SCOTT: Yes.

BRENNAN:  Is that lawful?

SCOTT: Well, certainly, I think it would take an act of Congress to make sure that we prioritize and appropriate the dollars for that objective. The reality of it is, as commander-in-chief he can certainly send signals through Secretary Mattis to have a conversation with Congress about where those dollars should be spent. Good news is we're spending – we're providing more money to the military than we have in a very long time -- more than a decade. The unfortunate reality is that the priorities of the DOD have already been set. However, our southern border is very porous. The truth is that more folks came through our southern border that did not come from Mexico. So it is certainly a national security issue. I think Homeland, so far, is a place that we should find the resources for building the wall, not necessarily the DOD. But I'll see what comes to -- before my committee to make sure that we have enough information to make a decision.

BRENNAN: You're saying Congress would need to weigh in to reprogram those funds that's not-

SCOTT: Absolutely.

BRENNAN: Something through executive authority you should direct.

SCOTT: You should not expect that from the president.

BRENNAN: I want to ask you both about this book you wrote together.

SCOTT: Yes.

BRENNAN: Why did you write this?

GOWDY: I think he has a compelling life narrative. I find it inspirational from - from the moment we became friends. I think his - the story of how he got where he is, is a story of hope that our whole country would benefit from. I think contrast is good. I think conflict is debilitating. I think it -- we're in a dangerous time in our in our history in terms of political discourse. I think most Americans want most of the same things out of life. We just have a tendency to focus on the things that we don't agree on as opposed to those that we do. But I think there's a hunger and a yearning for unity. And if you can find it with a handsome bald headed guy from Charleston and a middle aged son of a doctor from the upstate of South Carolina then I think everyone can benefit from unlikely friendships.

BRENNAN: Why is it an unlikely friendship? Senator?

SCOTT: Well, we were raised very differently. We have different perspectives. While we're both Republicans, the reality of it is we come down very differently on a lot of the issues. I think about an affluent fellow from a doctor's house. A poor kid, single parent household. I think about the challenges of race in our state. We have a very provocative history on race in South Carolina. The truth is that after the 2015 Mother Emanuel Church shooting, I found myself turning to a white guy in the aftermath. It became clear to me that there is a chance to bridge real gaps in this country. And if that was an example of one real bridging of a gap - after a racially motivated shooting in Charleston, South Carolina led me to turn to a white guy that I did not know before I came to Congress. Are there lessons within this friendship that can help our nation that seems to be so polarized, in such conflict, mired in challenges, and sometimes heading towards tribalism? If there's a way to bridge that gap, can we and should we tell that story? I think we can, and I think we should, and we did.

BRENNAN: What did you think when you got that phone call that night of the shooting in Charleston?

GOWDY: Just what Tim said. We have a provocative history in our state when it comes to race. My first thought was – was – was a spiritual thought: "God how can you let nine people be murdered when all they wanted to do was go learn about you?" And then what it would mean to a black man to know that they were murdered simply because of the color of their skin. It just kind of a "Let's don't - oh lord let's don't go here again in South Carolina." And the beautiful part was his intention was to start a race war in our state. And it had –

BRENNAN: The shooter's intention?

GOWDY: Exactly the opposite effect.

BRENNAN: You've talked a lot about the incident in Charleston and that really sort of inspiring you to sit down and issue this call for action. What are you asking the public for in this book?

SCOTT: I think if you look at the polarization that exists in this country, we have to find a path back to being one nation. I found that path through a horrific church shooting that provided me a chance to reflect on progress and pain. My family -- I think of my grandfather who as a -- passed away in 2016. He was unable to drink from the same water fountain for the vast majority of his life, unable to go to a restaurant, unable to walk on the same sidewalk, could not finish school beyond third grade. And for me to live out a part of his American dream, to be able to converse and to challenge other folks. And then in the aftermath of a church shooting -- think about all that history in my family -- to turn to Trey was just such a symbol of progress that I believe that all things are possible in this great nation. I think it's perhaps one of the greatest national security issues we have in this country -- that if we allow the polarization to continue in this country, those outside of this country that want to bring harm will - will eat, will feast on the division in this country and create more polarization. The Russians did that during the 2016 election. They focused on the opportunity to sow seeds of discord that only leads to an erosion of our foundation and makes us quite more vulnerable.

BRENNAN: Do you think that President Trump and his administration have deepened this divide? Have you seen any signs of hope that they're helping to bridge it?

SCOTT: I will say that when I went to the president after the Charlottesville incident, he asked me what could he do? We were not on the same page as it relates to the history of race in this nation. But we found common - a common position on legislative remedies that could help people in distressed communities. The opportunity zones that we're talking about throughout this country, the president said he would commit to supporting that legislation. He did. It's now law and now 50 million Americans may see reasons to breathe hopefully about the future because of that legislation that will bring more resources into distressed communities.

BRENNAN: After Charlottesville you said the president is not a racist but he is racially insensitive.

SCOTT: Yes.

BRENNAN: Is that still what you believe?

SCOTT: Absolutely. Yeah, the president is not a racist, but is he racially insensitive? I think the answer is yes.

BRENNAN: You haven't seen an improvement in language or in actions by the Justice Department.

SCOTT: Well I can't - I can't say whether or not the entire administration reflects his position. I will say that he has been very positive on legislative remedies. I think if you follow the facts what you'll find is that unemployment rates within the African-American community at six point nine percent haven't been this low in almost two decades. The Hispanic community hasn't been this low in almost two decades. The fact is that the policy position of the administration is moving this country in the right direction economically. We still have to work on the tone and the rhetoric.

BRENNAN: Once again, we are seeing protests about the shooting of an unarmed black man, and questions being raised about excessive force, in the case of Stephon Clark. And this question at the White House was responded to with the answer, "This is a local matter." Do you think that these conversations need to be had at the federal level? Do you wish that they were, or is that not appropriate?

GOWDY: No, it's a national conversation. I actually took the "local matter" to be, maybe because I'm a prosecutor, that it's a state crime. It's a local law enforcement matter, from a criminal justice standpoint. But it's a national conversation. Tim knows my bias, I'll put that word in quotes, is towards law enforcement, as you would expect a prosecutor's to be. I am not oblivious to the fact that there are bad police officers, just like there are bad everything else.

He has helped me remarkably. Not -- not just him, but also other people of color in my life have helped me understand -- every interaction I've had with the police, it's been because I was speeding. I should have had an interaction with them. I've never been stopped by Capitol Police, and I don't wear a member pin. He's been stopped wearing a member pin. So I am naive to believe that my life experience covers everyone.

I have no idea what he sees when he sees blue lights. And – and – and I think he's benefited. Well I know he has. He calls the widows of fallen police officers before I call them in South Carolina. So he gets the dangerous side of it, but he is also a black man who's had a very different relationship with law enforcement than I have.

So you ask, "Why write the book?" So we can talk to one another, find the things we have in common, instead of racing to the conflict, which is commercially successful, and you get a lot of clicks. It's just destroying our country.

BRENNAN: We've got to take a quick pause in the conversation. We'll be right back in a moment.

BRENNAN: We're back now for more with Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy to talk about their new book, "Unified." Congressman Gowdy, I've got to be honest. A lot of people in Washington when they hear that you are issuing a call for unity will say, "He's been associated with two of the most, you know, divisive, politically heated probes in Washington - the probe into what happened in Benghazi, and the most recent House intelligence probe into Russian election meddling." How do you reconcile those things?

GOWDY: I hear about the divisiveness. I just don't hear about it from my colleagues. I hear about it a lot from people in your line of work, how divisive I am. And yet, I don't have a fractured relationship with a single solitary Democrat that serves in the House. So, conflict sells.

It is much more commercially appealable to refer to something as hyper partisan, or deeply divisive. The reality is, with respect to Benghazi, I did everything I could to handle that like a normal investigation. I was not hyper focused on Secretary Clinton. Lots of other people were, including people in your -- with respect -- in your line of work.

It's not interesting enough to simply find out how our folks were rescued from the annex. If it didn't involve her, folks weren't interested in it. So, out of a hundred witnesses, one was named Clinton. And out of all the hearings we had, zero were about her e-mail. But yet, that's the narrative that's imprinted. And it's one reason I can't wait to be out of politics frankly --

BRENNAN: (laughs)

GOWDY: -- where -- where the jury is a little more open minded. They haven't made up their minds yet. Facts matter. And there's a referee that can say, "You know what, there is no evidentiary support for that whatsoever." In politics, you can say it and get away with it.

BRENNAN: Well, you know, you do talk in the book though about the Benghazi investigation being personally difficult.

GOWDY: It was terrible.

BRENNAN: You, actually Senator, described it as probably the loneliest extended session of his life.

SCOTT: Let me just weigh in here very quickly. Whether it's Russia, or the Benghazi investigation, the one thing that Trey tried to do in both situations was go after the truth. Not after -- not after Hillary Clinton. And Republicans were unhappy with that. He went after the truth. Democrats were unhappy because Hillary Clinton was attached to the conversation, and she had no choice but to be attached to it. It happened on her watch.

But on the Russia situation, the fact of the matter is, if you listen to Trey Gowdy talk about how poorly the president's lawyer represented his position, there's no question that if you're looking for a way to be partisan on the issue, you don't make those comments.

BRENNAN: You're referring there to John Dowd?

SCOTT: If you're looking for the truth. Yes. If you're looking for the truth, then you go where it leads. And there's no doubt that if you look at the actual evidence on both of those situations, it is clear that Trey Gowdy was looking for the truth. And one of the reasons why I talk about that in the book, the Benghazi story, is because to watch the weight of the investigation on his face, and on his shoulders, and frankly on that hair that is now whiter than snow --

BRENNAN: (laughs)

SCOTT: -- it is because he did not want to be a partisan. His objective was to be a prosecutor looking for the truth and then present the evidence to the American people and let that jury decide.

BRENNAN: You know, in reading this book, it sounds -- it's clear the affection you have for each other. And Congressman Gowdy, you seem very supportive of the senator and him staying in Washington, though you say you're going back home.

People are going to ask the question of whether you are going to make a run for office. I know you're not going to want to answer it, but congressman, should he run for president in 2020?

GOWDY: Oh, I don't know about 2020. I've run in two Republican primaries, talk about lonely. That's the loneliest feeling in the world, running against an incumbent in a primary. I would love for Tim –

BRENNAN: So you don't think that'll happen for President Trump? He won't be primaried?

GOWDY: It may, but I don't think it's going to be Tim Scott. I would love Tim Scott to run for president, whether it's 2024 -- whenever it fits his heart.

But he has a cheery, optimistic brand of conservatism that I think our country would benefit from, and quite frankly, whether he won or not, our country would be better off hearing someone with his life story. The grandson of a man who couldn't read, picked cotton, and then he grew up to pick out a seat in the United States House of Representatives. That's the story I wish my fellow citizens could hear. Whether he wins, I hope he runs.

BRENNAN: Senator?

SCOTT: I'm not even running for my homeowner association's presidency. So, at this point, I thank God that I've had the privilege of serving the great people of South Carolina and this great nation.

I'm a kid that got a second chance. I almost flunked out of high school as a freshman. My mother worked 16 hours a day to give me a reason to believe in this nation and having a great work ethic. I'm blessed already to fulfill a part of the mission that I think the good Lord has sent me to fulfill. And as long as I continue to work hard for the people, whatever the good Lord has next for me, I'm open to it.

BRENNAN: Senator, Congressman, thank you very much for sharing your story.