Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee joined me this morning to discuss President-elect Donald Trump as well as the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State and the possible nomination of John Bolton to be his deputy or Director of National Intelligence as well as possible role for General Stanley McCrystal in a Trump Administration:
HH: People are still working, including United States Senator Bob Corker. He’s the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of course, hails from the great state of Tennessee where the Titans won yesterday, which I’m upset about, because the Browns have their second round draft choice. Nevertheless, Senator Corker, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you on.
BC: Hugh, it’s great to be with you. Thank you, sir.
HH: Let me begin by asking you, you’re the only developer I know in the Senate. I have represented developers as a lawyer since 1989. I think the key to understanding President-Elect Trump is to understand how developers go about their business, which is focus and execute, focus and execute. How much of Donald Trump is wrapped up in understanding how developers think and act, Senator Corker?
BC: I don’t think there’s any question that you’re dead on. When I talked with him about various world issues when we were talking about one of the positions that Tillerson is filling, and by the way, I think he’s a very, very good candidate for this. But there’s no question his thinking is oriented towards results, beginning with the end in mind, and then moving in that direction. And I think it does, it does color everything that it does. He wants to see us move ahead quickly. He wants to see results.
HH: See, every developer I’ve worked for, whether it’s Kaufman and Broad, Pardee, the biggest ones, it’s always been what’s the critical path, get the diversions out of my way, and focus on the critical path. I know you did a lot of that before you joined mayor of Chattanooga and going to the Senate. It doesn’t really leave you, does it? It’s in your genes.
BC: Absolutely, and I think what you just mentioned, the critical path, is helpful. I mean, being the mayor, being a governor, being a Senator, being able to envision how you’re going to get to a place, but certainly, as a president. And I think, again, that’s why you’ve seen such quick actions taken place. That’s why he really is shaking up the entire Washington establishment now, bringing on people that both never would have envisioned being in many of these positions, and candidly, I think he’s done a superb job of putting people in place that have released the animal spirit here in our country. And that’s why there’s so much excitement at present.
HH: Senator Corker, I had dinner last night with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Dan Poneman, who’s a Democrat, former deputy secretary of Energy, and a senior member of the diplomatic core and our spouses. All the Democrats I know, and all the non-partisan people I know, are very excited about Rex Tillerson, because they consider him to be extremely competent. And this order of friendship nonsense is dismissed by them. What’s your assessment of the attacks on Tillerson, who I do now know, never heard him interviewed, don’t know a thing. But I know if you’ve got Dick Cheney, Bob Gates, Condoleezza Rice, Jim Baker, and Dan Poneman and diplomats for you, you’ve got to be a pretty serious character.
BC: I don’t think there’s any question. I mean, you look at the lineup of people, including President Bush, who called me Thursday about him, people who know him have a high regard. He’s been at Exxon for 43 years. He was an Eagle Scout. He’s been involved all over the world and knows these people very personal. You know, one of the places that Trump has not has as much experience, obviously, is foreign policy. And I think having someone like a CEO of a global enterprise that knows these people, as I mentioned, gives Trump added confidence, I think, in much of what he’ll do with foreign policy. He obviously, it’s up to him during these hearings, I talked with him at length on Thursday, and I think the concerns that people have about Russia, his relationships, will subside in the hearings. And again, it’s up to him to make sure to allay those fears. But I think he’s going to do very well, based on the conversation I had with him.
HH: Has President Bush ever, President George W. Bush, number 43, has he ever called you about a nominee before, Senator Corker?
BC: Never has, and was just over the top with his praise, I mean, could not have been more supportive. So I’ve talked to him about other things briefly, but never a nominee, and it bodes very well for Mr. Tillerson. And again, you know, even with me, Hugh, I want to know more details about these relationships. But I do believe that by the end of the day, he’s not only going to receive Republican support, again, based on the conversation I had with him, but also, I think he’s going to receive a lot of Democratic support. I do.
HH: Now Senator Corker, I’m an old Reaganaut, so I’m hopeful that John Bolton turns up in this administration as deputy secretary of Defense or DNI or something, because Reaganauts want, he’s not a neocon. He’s an old Reaganaut. But one of your colleagues, Rand Paul, said he’ll do whatever he can to stop him. If John Bolton is nominated by President-Elect Trump, do you think he gets through the United States Senate?
BC: Well, I know he was controversial as the ambassador to the United Nations through the confirmation process, okay? So I don’t know. Obviously, he’s got tremendous knowledge. He’s not a neocon, as you mentioned. I’ve talked with people about the way he served before. But I just don’t know. Again, a lot of that is up to him if he’s nominated. And typically, I don’t make comments about folks that aren’t. But obviously, he’s got tremendous strengths. When I was coming on as the lead Republican on foreign policy, I sat down and talked with him some then just to prepare. And again, a wealth of experience on the ground, knows the issues, and we’ll just see if he’s nominated to a position how he fares. Again, a lot of this, as you know, Hugh, so much of it is how they comport themselves, how they relate to issues. And again, these myths can be created just like in the beginning with Tillerson, much of that, I think, is subsiding at present. But in the very beginning, myths are created about people, their service, their views. And typically, when they get in front of people one on one, that can change.
HH: You know, I know Attorney General Pruitt pretty well. I know Andy Puzder pretty well. And myths were created about both of them at the beginning of this, as I’m struggling against, because it’s just what the media gloms onto narratives and they’re not true. Let me ask you about one more name. It’s not out there, and I know you don’t like to speculate, but I’m hopeful. It’s been said that since Mike Flynn worked with former General Stanley McChrystal, he might be successful in making the appeal on behalf of President-Elect Trump and President-Elect Trump himself to bring Stanley McChrystal back in, you know, acknowledged as one of the preeminent commanders of our time to do the national intelligence directorate. If that were to happen, would the fact that President Obama let him go color the confirmation negatively? Or would that be something that would not stop him from being confirmed?
BC: I don’t think so. It’s just like General Petraeus. I know he was being considered. Look, he’s a national treasure. McChrystal, one of the more impressive people I’ve met in the ten years I’ve been in Washington.
BC: I saw he and Admiral Mullen together on a panel out on the West Coast just talking about the future of our military, and someone who just exudes leadership, exudes success, exudes just a deep understanding of what needs to happen around the world. I would hope McChrystal, at some point in time, would be able to provide service. He’s an outstanding individual and someone I respect greatly.
HH: Last subject, Senator Corker, yesterday Bob Gates, the quintessential bipartisan public servant was on with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press and was asked about Syria. He’s what he said, cut number 17.
BG: Do I agree with the way he approached ISIL and how long it took him to get to where he is today? I think that was a mistake. Where we are today, we should have been two years ago in terms of helping the anti-ISIS people. But I think that, and I’m frankly think he’s made several big mistakes on Syria, beginning with the crossing of the red line, first of all, putting down a red line, and then allowing it to be crossed.
HH: That is, I think, the defining moment of the Obama presidency, Senator Corker, not responding to the red line. Secretary Gates evidently agrees with me on that. What do you think about that?
BC: I think it’s the lowest point I’ve seen, personally, in foreign policy for the United States. Hugh, traveling the region after we did not take those steps, just the betrayal that people felt, Saudi Arabia, I think you know, was ready to go with us. And this was going to be a ten hour operation, from our standpoint, mostly off of the Mediterranean. They never received a call. They watched the operation be called off by CNN press conference, or CNN. And you know, it just was, it let the air out of the sails of the moderate opposition, which as you remember at that time, had momentum.
BC: I mean, they were moving ahead. They were making the case. And when we didn’t, when we didn’t do that, it just totally let their spirits down, let their operation down. In addition to that, we did not provide them with the equipment we said we would. I don’t know if you remember a gentleman named General Idris.
HH: Oh, yes.
BC: We couldn’t even get him trucks. So we let them down at every step, and if you remember, Hugh, our ambassador was cheering the rebels on in the very beginning, and yet we held their coats. That’s all we did. I would go to the refugee camps and tell them in the beginning that help was on the way. We’re going to get arms to your brothers, to your uncles, to your sons. But again, never at the levels we said we would, and this was, this is going to be part of his legacy. 500,000 people murdered. People have been tortured. I don’t know if you’ve seen the holocaust exhibit by Caesar. I know the time is running out. But listen, absolutely a low point in U.S. foreign policy.
HH: Senator Corker, I look forward to talking to you early and often in the next Congress as foreign affairs matters so much, and the new president will have so much to do and say. Thank you and a Merry Christmas, Bob Corker.
End of interview.