Transcript: Sen. Tom Cotton on "Face the Nation," January 26, 2020

Cotton defends Trump for saying injured soldiers had "headaches"

The following is a transcript of an interview with Senator Tom Cotton that aired Sunday, January 26, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We now turn to Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton. Good morning and good to have you here, Senator. 

SENATOR TOM COTTON: Good to be on with you, MARGARET. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You raised concerns earlier this week that China was giving misleading information about what's happening. President Trump has since thanked China for its transparency. Have your concerns abated?

SEN. COTTON: So MARGARET, given China's record of dishonesty and incompetence when it comes to dealing with these public health emergencies like the SARS outbreak in 2003, I think this is a case where an ounce of prevention truly does equal a pound of cure. We know from the outsets earlier this month that local Chinese authorities in Wuhan and in the Hubei province were not as forthcoming, not as quick as they should be. As we heard in the report, Xi Jinping has now said they're going to try to centralize the response to this. Hopefully they'll be more transparent. Obviously, things that are very fast breaking even since the president said what he did just a couple of days ago.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you think they are getting more transparent? 

SEN. COTTON: They're trying- they're- they're apparently moving that direction. Again,-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. 

SEN. COTTON: --I think we should be skeptical of China because they have a history of dishonesty when it comes to these kind of outbreaks. And this is a- this is a very serious matter.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And they're putting in some travel restrictions internally. But do you think, as- as you suggested in a letter earlier this week, that there needs to be a ban on entry to the US from China?

SEN. COTTON: So- so right now, what the CDC has done is try to direct all air traffic from Wuhan into a handful of American airports. If that doesn't control the situation, we may need to look at expanding that from all Chinese traveling in the United States. I also think it would be appropriate for the Food and Drug Administration to expedite, on an emergency basis, approval for testing kits to state and local governments, so you're not just depending on the federal government to test these things. But again, we need to get ahead of this problem. And given China's record of dishonesty when it comes to these public health emergencies, we truly do- do need to use an ounce of prevention here rather than having to use a pound of a cure in a few months.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about politics here at home. Mitt Romney, one of your Republican colleagues, says he is likely to vote to call witnesses in the impeachment trial. How many other Republicans do you expect to vote to approve witnesses and evidence?

SEN. COTTON: I don't know, MARGARET. I'm not going to vote to approve witnesses because the House Democrats have had lots of witnesses. We heard from them over and over and over again this week. We don't need to prolong what's already taken five months of the American people's time. The House Democrats have not proven their case against Donald Trump. We don't need to prolong this matter. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do-- 

SEN. COTTON: What we saw last--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you have a sense though that there is a chance there could be witnesses?

SEN. COTTON: Well I- I don't--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Will there be those four Republicans crossing over?

SEN. COTTON: Well, I don't want to forecast the way other senators may vote, but I would say the last five days have kind of been a microcosm of the last five months. We listen to Adam Schiff drone on for three days and then the president's lawyers in just two hours demolish the case that he had made. It demolished by looking--  

MARGARET BRENNAN: They also had 24 hours over three days if they want-- 

SEN. COTTON: --and I don't think they're going to use them. The House Democrats have presented using selective misrepresented quotes from tape, using transcripts that were out of context or just generally fulminating about how enraged they are that Donald Trump is still the president.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You were scribbling notes during the trial. Some of our reporters in the room saw you doing that. And I wonder, since you say we should be getting this over with, if you actually do have questions, because senators do get to submit them and have them responded to in the next week. Do- do you want anything-- 

SEN. COTTON: Well, I think-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --answered?

SEN. COTTON: Well, we'll have 16 hours of questions.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

SEN. COTTON: So we'll have plenty of time for questions, and-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you have any?

SEN. COTTON: Well, I think given the House Democrats presentation, there are now real questions about Joe Biden and Hunter Biden's conduct. I mean, they spent hours trying to explain away what Hunter Biden did going to work for a corrupt Ukrainian oligarch and Joe Biden intervening to get that oligarch fired just days after his house was raided by investigators. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But, so--

SEN. COTTON: I think those are serious and legitimate questions.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you would need to vote to approve witnesses to hear--

SEN. COTTON: Well--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --from the Bidens, which you just said you're--

SEN. COTTON: Well, I'd like--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --not going to do. 

SEN. COTTON: --I'd like to hear what Adam Schiff has to say about those facts that he, again, glossed over that I know the White House counsel is going to present. I don't think that--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're not going to vote--

SEN. COTTON: I don't think we need to see--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --to approve witnesses?

SEN. COTTON:  I- I do not think that we need more witnesses or documents. The House had 17 different witnesses. We saw hours of their testimony this last week. They have twenty eight thousand pages of documents. They're not upset that they haven't had witnesses. They're upset that their witnesses haven't said what they want them to say.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And I- I want to just, on the- the Biden front, I know the president's lawyers do- we do anticipate that they will talk about that in length, at length. Let's talk about what they did already present on. Do you think it was a misstep for one of the president's lawyers, Jay Sekulow, to stand on the floor of the Senate and repeat the conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election? 

SEN. COTTON: MARGARET, that's not a conspiracy theory. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator John Thune, one of your Republican colleagues, said he would-- 

SEN. COTTON: It's--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --prefer that the lawyers not do that--

SEN. COTTON: But-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --because this intelligence community concluded that it was Russia that meddled.

SEN. COTTON: So, MARGARET, that's a Democratic talking point. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is what John Thune, one of the Republican leaders said.

SEN. COTTON: It's the Democratic talking point that the president and his lawyers have argued that it was Ukraine who interfered in our elections, not Russia. You can read the president's brief. They make it very clear that, yes, you can accept that Russia interfered in a systematic, organized top-down fashion in our election. I say that. I've been part of the Intelligence Committee that's been investigating it for years. You can also say that it's clear some Ukrainian officials tried to influence the outcome of the election in 2016.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're being-- 

SEN. COTTON: Both of those things can be true. 

MARGARET BRENNEN: --precise in your words there. And that was not what the president's--

SEN. COTTON: That's exactly--

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- lawyers said-- 

SEN. COTTON: I'm- I'm saying exactly what--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --on the floor of the Senate.

SEN. COTTON: --the president's brief says. You can also say that countries like China and Iran and North Korea try to influence our election as well. Both of those things can be true.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you do know that the Trump appointed elections czar at the Director of National Intelligence said we do not assess that any other country influenced the United States election in 2016 on the scale of what the Russians did. That's an exact quote from Shelby Pierson.

SEN. COTTON: And that's- but that- that's consistent with my point. I said on a scale of Russia was top down, organize, systematic. I mean that's-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So would you caution the president's lawyers--

SEN. COTTON: --the Ukrainian--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --to be more precise--

SEN. COTTON: --the Ukrainian- the Ukrainian Ambassador--

MARGARET BRENNEN: --in their language, then? 

SEN. COTTON: MARGARET, the Ukrainian ambassador published an Op-Ed saying that- or criticizing Donald Trump--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sure. 

SEN. COTTON: --and defending Hillary Clinton. These are not disputed facts--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Policy difference.

SEN. COTTON: These are not disputed facts.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. But that's not what the president's lawyer said on the floor. Putting that aside for a moment, what can we expect from the committee you sit on, Senate Intelligence, in terms of further reports on what Russia, as you just said, did do in the 2016 election? 

SEN. COTTON: We're- we're going through the declassification process on many of these reports. I- I think we'll be releasing more information soon. I expect one- one more set of reports to come out later this year. But one thing I think you'll see, too, is that when you look back at the 2016 election, there's a lot that the Obama administration could have done at an earlier stage to prevent Russia from interfering to the extent that it did.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There is now this 90 minute long recording that CBS and other networks have where President Trump speaks at length with two of Rudy Giuliani's business associates who were involved in that pressure campaign in Ukraine. We played some of it at the top of the show. When the president says get rid of, take her out, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Given that the president previously said he didn't even know these men, doesn't it trouble you that we now have recordings of him discussing this issue in Ukraine with them?

SEN. COTTON: No, MARGARET. An- and this reminds me a lot of what happened in the Brett Kavanaugh case when the Democrats kept releasing supposed bombshells. And I think all we're missing here is Michael Avenatti to come out and defend someone as well. Let's--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You don't think--

SEN. COTTON: Let's look at--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --this reporting is damaging in any way?

SEN. COTTON: --let's look at the context of this report. That video was more than a year before he asked Maria Ya- Yovanovitch to be removed. And he was told in that video, we just heard, that she's running around Kyiv bad-mouthing you and saying that you're going to be impeached. The president has the right to remove any ambassador for any reason or no reason--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes, he does.

SEN. COTTON: --whatsoever. An ambassador bad-mouthing the president is a pretty sound reason to remove an ambassador. And I would point out--

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president absolutely has the right to do that, but--

SEN. COTTON: But I would point out. MARGARET, --

MARGARET BRENNAN: --I think the question is why these business associates who have a financial and political interest in the matter were advising the president--

SEN. COTTON: I would- but--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And he responded, and said, "OK. Take her out."

SEN COTTON: I would point out, though, that that video occurred more than a year after she was removed--

MARGARET BRENNAN Right--

SEN. COTTON: So it goes to show--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --and she was standing in the way--

SEN. COTTON: But it goes to show--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --of that pressure campaign, is what she has testified to.

SEN COTTON: But it goes to show the president- he was not hasty. He was not precipitous. He didn't just act on the word of these people. He waited more than a year and got more information as well. So I- I think the video, again, it reminds me a lot of what we saw in the Kavanaugh controversy, and I don't think it influences the votes of any senators that I've heard.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I want to ask you on another matter, Iran. We now know from the Pentagon that the number is 34 Americans who were injured when Iran filed- fired those ballistic missiles into a- a base and injured these Americans. The Pentagon now says half of them are receiving treatment. What is their status? How serious are the--

SEN.COTTON: So--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --injuries? 

SEN. COTTON: So the military does a lot better job than it did 15 or 20 years ago when it comes to brain injuries. You know, when I was in Iraq, if your truck got blown up, you went and got your eyes checked out, were probably sent on your way, do a much better job today than they did then. But there's also a huge spec--

MARGARET BRRENNAN: I- I want to play though, here's how the president described it when he was asked about these injuries.

(BEGIN CLIP)

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things, but I would say- and I can report it is not very serious.

(END CLIP) 

SEN. COTTON: So I-I thi--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Veterans groups are calling for the president to apologize. Should he apologize for calling it nothing serious? 

SEN. COTTON: No I thi- he's just descr- he's not dismissing their injuries. He's describing their injuries.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He said they're headaches and not very serious.

SEN. COTTON: I think he's describing their injuries. He's not dismissing their injuries. Head injuries can be on anywhere--

MARGARET BRENNAN: He said headaches, I don't consider them very serious.

SEN. COTTON: Well, that's like saying that having a flesh wound is not very serious than having a-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, veterans groups and I know you're a veteran and I know you--

SEN. COTTON: And veterans--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --know people who have suffered from TBI--

SEN. COTTON: --veterans can have a different point of view. 

MARGARET BRENNAN:As do I. Don't you think it's serious that the president may need to apologize?

SEN. COTTON: No I mean, if it isn't- if they are in fact, all these injuries are not serious, if they're on the less serious side of the scale than the severe traumatic side of the scale, the president is just describing what happened. And I'm not dismissing them. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you consider TBI serious injury? 

SEN. COTTON: Yes. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. 

SEN. COTTON: But it's- again, it's there's a big scale of that that can be, you know, returned to duty in one day—

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. 

SEN. COTTON: --or have severe traumatic lasting injury.

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. 

SEN. COTTON: --and I think he's describing, thankfully, what end of the scale that lies on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Cotton, thank you for your time today.

SEN. COTTON: Thank you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back with one of the Democrats arguing the case, Colorado Congressman Jason Crow.