Transcript: Sen. Tom Cotton on "Face the Nation," April 22, 2018

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, who sits on the Senate's intelligence and armed services committees, sat down Sunday for an interview on "Face the Nation."

What follows is a transcript of the interview that aired on the April 22, 2018, broadcast.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to begin with Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton who is one of the president's closest allies in the Senate. Welcome to the show.

SEN. TOM COTTON: Good morning Margaret, good to be on with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's great to have you in person here- here in Washington. Pyongyang made this announcement about suspending some tests but they didn't say they're giving up their nuclear development or their weapons. Should the release of three Americans be a condition for these upcoming talks?

SEN. TOM COTTON: Well, I think this announcement on Friday is better than continued testing but it's not much better than that. As you say, it's easily reversible decision they made no announcement about their medium or short range ballistic missiles that threaten hundreds of thousands of Americans in Korea and Japan just like it threatens our allies there. But I do think they show that the president has put Kim Jong un on the wrong foot for the first time North Korea has been on the back foot for a long time.

The fact that Kim requested this summit the president accepted I think to his surprise and moved so quickly said he's not going to ask for U.S. troops to be removed and also made this announcement shows that he realizes that time and momentum is on the side of the United States and our allies. I know the president and Director Pompeo who will soon be Secretary Pompeo is committed to bringing those Americans home. I hope that will happen before this- this summit occurs.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you expect the release to happen before Mike Pompeo?

SEN. TOM COTTON: I know- I know they're working hard to achieve that goal.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You mentioned Mike Pompeo. As we've said he is a friend of yours, CIA director, wants to be secretary of state. One issue that some of the Democrats at his hearing like Senator Menendez had with his nomination is that they frankly say they don't know which Mike Pompeo to believe. The congressman who advocated for striking Iran and North Korea and criticized the diplomatic deals there or the one who now says he wants to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran and negotiate with North Korea. Is this driven by politics or a change of conviction?

SEN. TOM COTTON: Driven 100 percent by politics, Margaret, 15 Democrat--

MARGARET BRENNAN: His change of position?

SEN. TOM COTTON: No, the Democrats opposition to Mike Pompeo.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But Mike Pompeo's change of position--

SEN. TOM COTTON: Mike Pompeo has not-has not changed his position. I've known Mike for many years we've traveled the world with each other. Mike is committed to diplomatic solutions everywhere. The difference Mike Pompeo and a lot of those Democrats or the previous secretaries of state is that Mike Pompeo recognizes that the credible threat of military force is essential to getting diplomatic solutions. But a lot of these Democrats--

MARGARET BRENNAN: He opposed the Iran nuclear deal and he said in his testimony now he wants to preserve it.

SEN. TOM COTTON: Opposing the Iran nuclear deal doesn't mean that you're opposed to diplomatic solutions. It means you're opposed to a bad diplomatic solutions.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: But that was a change in position for him?

SEN. TOM COTTON: Ultimately, it's the president that makes that decision. Mike Pompeo will conduct foreign policy on behalf of the president, but as he said in his testimony it's the president who will make that decision. But the Democrats especially on the Foreign Relations Committee are really engaged in shameful political behavior. Fifteen of them voted for Mike Pompeo last-last year to be the director of the CIA. Not a single one of them to my knowledge has said that he's done a bad job in fact many of them--

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's a very different job than being America's top diplomat and credibly negotiating which is why they get to this fundamental question.

SEN. TOM COTTON: And as Director Pompeo said in his testimony he has committed those diplomatic solutions, but ultimately the secretary of state is conducting diplomacy on behalf of the president. Most of these Democrats don't have a problem with Mike Pompeo. They are still struggling to get over the election of Donald Trump in 2016 or frankly they face elections this year in 2018 and they're afraid of scaring the Move On dot org or Code Pink crowd. And it's really shameful behavior.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Last week on this program U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley announced quite definitively that sanctions were coming on Russia and related to chemical weapons attacks. Then the White House walked that back. Does that very public disagreement trouble you?

SEN. TOM COTTON: You know, Margaret, I can't comment on what was happening behind the scenes in the National Security Council. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the president gets differing opinions and has disagreements among his cabinet members on those questions. If it gets to the president's desk, it's a hard decision. I do know that this administration has been much tougher on Russia than the Obama administration ever was. They've expelled dozens of diplomats and spies and imposed new sanctions--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you saying Nikki Haley was expressing her opinion and not a position?

SEN. TOM COTTON: I can't-- I can't tell you about what was happening behind the scenes and what the negotiation or the deliberations were for the National Security Council last weekend. I can only say that I know this administration has- has been very tough and taken a very firm line on Russia by doing things like expelling Russian spies and diplomats, closing consulates, imposing lots of sanctions to include on Russian oligarchs that are very close to Vladimir Putin. Bombing Russia's client Bashar al Assad in the region and I expect those measures to continue.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You speak very frequently with the president. Do you agree with his argument that the special counsel led by Robert Mueller was based on an illegal act as he tweeted on Friday?

SEN. TOM COTTON: I assume that we're talking here about Jim Comey's memos that were released and now may have contained classified information--

MARGARET BRENNAN: He said the special counsel specifically was created out of an illegal--

SEN. TOM COTTON: Well, Jim Comey testified to my committee the Intelligence Committee that he wrote those memos and then gave them to a friend of his in hopes that they would be leaked to The New York Times and then that would lead to the appointment of Robert Mueller. I think that's unfortunate behavior on Director Comey's part now especially that we know that they may have contained classified information. The inspector general is reviewing them.

At this point though, I think it's best for everyone involved to include the president for the special counsel to conclude his investigation by following the facts to their conclusion as quickly as he can. Just like we're trying to do on the Intelligence Committee.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Would you advise him to continue tweeting about his personal attorney Michael Cohen? Who he says may flip.

SEN. TOM COTTON: The president gets lots of advice about what he should and should not tweet to include members of his close family and he continues to do so. So I don't think he's going to take advice about his Twitter comments from a senator no matter how much they work together.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Cotton, thank you. Good to have you in studio.