Senator Angus King, I-ME, joined me this morning:
HH: I am joined by Senator Angus King of Maine, independent of Maine, and lucky for us, he’s also a former governor, two term governor, good governor up in Maine. Let me reach back, Senator King, before we talk about other things, to your experience as a governor. What do you think Governor Abbott’s doing right now with a mad bomber running around Austin?
AK: Well, it’s a hell of a problem. I mean, it’s an all hands on deck situation. They’ve got some, obviously there’s, well, you never know whether this is one person or whether you’re having copycats. But the Governor, I’m sure, is working with the Texas Rangers, the State Police, the local police, the FBI. I mean, this is pretty scary stuff.
HH: Now you’re on Senate Intel, Senator King. Have you been briefed on this, yet?
AK: Not, yet. We have a meeting this afternoon, as a matter of fact, and I suspect that it will come up. We’ll get at least an up to date briefing on what we know at this point. But from press reports, I don’t think there are any clear answers on this.
HH: Now we will cover the story as it develops over the morning. Let’s turn to some of the stuff I wanted to cover with you. First of all, do you anticipate any difficulty in having CIA Director Pompeo confirmed as Secretary of State?
AK: I think it’s an open question, Hugh, because he, when he was going for CIA, the CIA Director and Secretary of State are entirely different jobs. And I remember talking to him offline when he was first nominated as CIA, and we started talking about policy. And he said you know, I’m not doing policy anymore. This is a technical job. This is information. I said you’re absolutely right. That’s the right attitude. But now, policy, it’s all about policy. And it’s about representing the country. And you heard Rand Paul is already expressed some pretty serious reservations about his attitude toward Iran, his attitude towards some of the problems around the world. So I don’t think it’s, I don’t think it’s a dunk by any means. And remember, if all the Democrats plus Rand Paul vote against him, and John McCain’s not there, he loses 50-49. So I think it’s going to depend a lot on his answer to the questions. I’m undecided myself. I like him personally. I think he’s an incredibly smart guy. But for example, I worry about the, he’ll encourage the President to tear up the Iran deal, which I think is a huge geopolitical mistake. There’s no upside to that decision. And that bothers me. So I’m going to, what I like to do, Hugh, is I go to hearings even when I’m not on the committee. And I’m planning to go to his confirmation hearings, sit out in the audience at the Foreign Relations Committee, and listen to his answers and make up my mind at that point.
HH: So you are open to voting for him, but you are not yet committed to doing so?
AK: That’s correct.
HH: All right.
AK: That’s exactly the way I would put it, and you know, I want to see, I want to see what his views and attitude is toward a number of issues.
HH: Now there is also word that a unanimous consent agreement is being hammered out to get some of our national security nominees, including Richard Grenell, who’s bound for Berlin, passed by Easter. Have you heard of this, Senator King?
AK: I haven’t heard of that specifically, but I know that, I’m of the view that we need to get these national security people in place. You know, one of the most important places that’s open, Hugh, is ambassador to South Korea. And we don’t even have a nominee for that, yet. So yeah, we’ve got to move these guys. And I use guys, by the way, Hugh, in a non-gender specific way.
HH: You bet.
HH: You bet. Yeah. Would you be willing to go to Chuck Schumer and say we’ve got to get this done, specifically Grenell, because they’ve got a new government, and they’re in, they’re the most powerful non-nuclear nation in the world. We’ve got to get people over there.
AK: Yeah, I mean, I don’t have any hesitation in talking about those kinds of nominees. And Berlin, but you know, I’ve got to tell you, South Korea’s pretty important, too, right now.
HH: We need a nominee for South Korea, but we also need the Secretary of State. I’m not debating you. I will listen and see, and then we’ll talk about it afterwards.
HH: It’s a conversation. Let me talk to you now about the Special Counsel investigation. And I’m going to ask this of Lindsey Graham next hour. If Mr. Mueller was fired, would you consider that to be an impeachable offense?
AK: No. I would consider it a crisis. I would want to think about it in terms of all the other material that we’ve seen. High crimes and misdemeanors is the standard for impeachment, and I have a high standard for impeachment. I don’t think impeachment should be used to change a government you don’t like. I think going back to Andrew Johnson in, you know, 1867, this is something we’ve got to be really careful with. We don’t want to change our form of government. But the problem is that if the President does this, I think it is a huge mistake. It adds weight to the argument that there’s been an ongoing obstruction of justice of trying to basically quash in investigation. I think it’s, I wouldn’t say it rises to the level of an impeachable offense, but I certainly think it’s going to create a real problem. And I think, I went down the list yesterday. There are 8 or 9 senators, including people like Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley and John Cornyn who have said this would be a huge mistake. Newt Gingrich said it would be a disaster. Lindsey said he thought it would be the beginning of the end of his presidency. So I think everybody’s concerned about this, and I think it would be a huge mistake from his point of view. If he’s really, if he’s innocent, which he keeps saying that he is, he ought to want this thing to go forward and be as thorough as possible so the American people can get the results, can be, have confidence and say yeah, look, this Mueller guy did a tough job and a thorough job, and there’s no evidence. That’s the result the President should want. If he cuts it off, half the country’s going to think hey, he’s trying to hide something.
HH: I agree with you. I think it would be a disaster to fire the Special Counsel, and I believe the reason he hired the people that he did is because they’re professionals, and at the end of the day, no one, even the most extreme critic of Donald Trump, will be able to argue with their conclusion that no collusion occurred, if that is in fact their conclusion.
AK: That’s right.
HH: And therefore, he ought to leave him alone and just hurry it up. But let me turn to the other half of this. I agree completely with your comments on Face the Nation concerning Mr. McCabe. I’m going to wait to read the inspector general’s report until I weigh on whether or not he ought to have been fired. That was made by career professionals to the Attorney General with a very short timeline. I don’t envy him the position that he is in, in having to make that, and I will wait to read that. But I am concerned about the FISA process, Senator King. I used to do those warrants for two Attorneys General. I would review them, and the last thing, the last guy to review them before they went to their desk. They’re very, very complete. The FISA warrant on Carter Page appears to me to be deeply problematic. Do you share my concern?
AK: Well, I haven’t seen the whole finding, I mean, the whole background, so I really can’t comment on that. Again, you’ve got a series of FISA judges. Carter Page, I think, the warrant was renewed three or four times, and I’m pretty sure it was a different judge every time.
HH: You’re correct.
AK: And they had to show, as you know, after the initial warrant, they then had to show that usable intelligence was being achieved to, in order to renew it. So that, to me, substantiates the fact that the original warrant had some substance to it, and then it was renewed three times based upon intelligence that was coming from the warrant. So I wouldn’t call it tainted or any, I think that’s going a little far. I think it was a, you know, I think you’re, well, you know, I think you’re underestimating the judge. If he thinks it’s politically tainted, you know now, we know from, that the FBI did reveal that the material from Christopher Steele came from a political opposition operation. It was pretty clear about that. So I don’t agree with you. I think there was enough there. And remember, it’s probable cause. It’s not guilt. And that’s the standard, is you have to show probable cause. And that’s, I believe that’s what they showed.
HH: Yeah, and they need to show credible evidence of probable cause, and I do not believe that was there in the initial warrant. Now if they produced it subsequent to that, that doesn’t change the flaw in the first warrant. But we will see. I’m just, are you open to finding that that process was abused, Senator King?
AK: Sure. Well, I’ve been concerned. John Cornyn and I authored an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act on, or not, I’m sorry, on the FISA renewal that just went through a few months ago because of our concern about the process and being sure that it wasn’t being used improperly under 702, and also FISA. I mean, it’s a very powerful tool of the government, and I, you know, I think anybody wants to be sure that somebody’s guarding the guardians. That’s the whole heart of our whole system, Hugh, as you know. But I think again, you don’t have to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a situation like this. The intent is to find evidence. And you and I can argue about it, but the ultimate decision was made by a judge whose job it is to make these kind of calls.
HH: Yeah, it does seem to me, it’s going to be fascinating for your committee to go through and actually investigate those FISA warrants, because I have always had 100% confidence, because I used to see the FBI’s work product, because there wasn’t a division of national security in the days that I was at Justice in the 80s. And they always had great work product. And it was never in doubt. We never had one warrant kicked back, not one.
AK: Was that, was that the 1880s, Hugh?
HH: (laughing) Yes. Look, you and George are the same age. I’m younger than George.
AK: They were tapping telegraph lines in those days, right?
HH: Let me conclude by asking you about this omnibus and whether or not it’s going to get done, and why we cannot get a DACA deal in this bill. Why can we not get $26 billion for the border and permanent status leading to citizenship for the DACA dreamers? What is the problem, Senator King?
AK: Well, we had that. That’s the bill we had three weeks ago. That’s exactly the bill. It was $26 billion for the wall, or for the border security, and the extension of DACA and a path to citizenship for the Dreamers, not for their parents. I mean, that’s exactly the deal, and in the middle of the night, we reached agreement. It was one of my most, it was my best day in the Senate and my worst day in the Senate. On Wednesday, we had the deal. It was bipartisan. We had 8 Republican cosponsors and a line on half a dozen more. And then in the middle of the night, the Department of Homeland Security issued what I call a scurrilous press release that said this was going to lead to amnesty for 10 million illegal aliens, including criminals, and they just went, you know, they went nuts on this thing. And then the White House issued a veto threat. And the Republicans in the Senate basically got spooked and said, you know, we can’t vote for this. The President isn’t going to bless it, and we can’t do it. And we got, we ended up getting 54 votes. 3 Democrats didn’t go for it, because they were concerned about the wall. And then the Republicans were concerned, the 8 Republicans who cosponsored it stayed with it, I must say. But they couldn’t get the other votes. Okay, so bring us forward to today. I’ve got to tell you, Hugh, I think the bill three weeks ago was the high water mark for the wall. I don’t think, as a person who helped bring this together, I don’t think I could get 46 votes out of the Democratic Caucus today for the wall, for that deal, because since that time, it sort of deteriorated. And I think a lot of, a lot of the Democrats really had to suck it up to cast that vote.
HH: I’m disappointed to hear that. I hope you go back and try one more time, and that the $26 billion is trusted, not a promise of $1.6 now and the other later, but $26 billion put into a trust fund, because that is just unfair to these kids. And it’s unfair to border security. As we see, security matters in Texas a lot. Senator King, I’m out of time. It’s always a joy to talk to you. Thank you for coming on. I appreciate you being open with me on all this, and please talk to Chuck Schumer about getting unanimous consent for Grenell and the rest of those people. We’ve got to get serious on national security. Thank you, Senator.
End of interview.