I was joined Thursday morning by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-in-command of the United States Senate:
HH: Welcome to the Senator from Texas, John Cornyn, second in command in the United States Senator. Senator Cornyn, welcome back, always good to talk to you.
JC: Thanks, Hugh, look forward to it.
HH: I want to begin. I just had Director Clapper on for a long interview, and I want to pull one segment from the very end and get your reaction to it. Duane, can you play it, please?
HH: Let me go to the key question about the surveillance of Carter Page. Did you know, Mr. Halper, the academic at Cambridge? Do you know him at all?
JC: No, I do not. I didn’t know anything about that until it came out in the media.
HH: Oh, interesting.
JC: I didn’t know anything about it contemporaneously.
HH: Did his name every come up? Did it, you don’t even recall it when you and Director Brennan and Comey came together?
JC: No, no.
JC: None of these names, actually, when we left the scene in January of ’17, I never heard of George Papadopoulos. Carter Page, I may have known about mainly through media, but, and certainly the identity of the informant, I didn’t know. No.
HH: So Senator Cornyn, does that surprise you from the former Director of National Intelligence?
JC: Not really, Hugh, because of course, this is, the counterintelligence investigation would have been an FBI operation as opposed to the Director of National Intelligence being involved. So that in and of itself doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise me is that during our last presidential election, we had both major party political candidates, nominees, both under active FBI investigation. And in the case of the Trump campaign, it was a counterintelligence investigation. And Loretta Lynch has said that frequently, or it’s common that defensive briefings are given to people who are the targets of intelligence operations by foreign countries and basically told do you know what’s going on, do you know you’re being taken advantage of and knock it off. And that never happened to the Trump campaign.
HH: The reason I’m surprised is that the counterintelligence operation was conducted at least in part in Europe, in England, by Mr. Halper, maybe in other places as well. And so I would have expected the DNI to know about it, because it is indeed a foreign intelligence operation.
JC: Yeah, I mean, his portfolio is huge, but this was, this was, would have been primarily an FBI operation. There probably wouldn’t have been a need to know.
HH: And then after the election when he and Mr. Brennan and Mr. Comey decided to brief the President only about the salacious material, they didn’t tell James Clapper, that came out in the interview as well, the providence of the intelligence they were providing. Are you surprised that Mr. Comey held that back from him?
JC: I think that’s, that was a big mistake, because while the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian intervention in the election was important, this salacious addendum to that report, which is unverified, unsourced, had no place with that intelligence community assessment. It certainly didn’t meet the standards of the community when it comes to providing information to policy makers. And so I think unfortunately, this is part of an ongoing effort to try to muddy the waters and frankly damage the President.
HH: Now House Speaker Paul Ryan yesterday joined your colleague, Richard Burr in the Senate, in saying that Trey Gowdy was right that the FBI did exactly what it should have done in the handling of a confidential source, sometimes called a confidential informant, and sometimes called a spy. You and I have talked about this before on television. Do you agree with the Speaker and Trey Gowdy? I don’t know if you were in the meeting when they were briefed. I don’t think you were.
JC: I was not.
HH: But do you agree with…so what do you make of these assessments?
JC: Well, I think it was entirely proper for the FBI to investigate an intelligence threat by a foreign country who was trying to recruit agents against the United States. That’s entirely proper. What worries me is that they never briefed the Trump campaign and told them what was going on. And it’s clear to me that the Trump campaign, by and large, was populated with people who were new to the political process, the electoral process. And they may not have known, and I believe they did not know that they were targets of Russian intelligence officers. And they should know. They should have known.
HH: Do you believe that the President should direct Rod Rosenstein not to subpoena him, because Rod Rosenstein controls the Special Counsel. And we’re headed for a Constitutional crisis if 1600 gets a subpoena for the President.
JC: Yeah, I think Rod Rosenstein is a smart and professional deputy attorney general. I have confidence in Rod Rosenstein. I do think that this, the waters have gotten very muddied, because there is nowhere, and you know if there was evidence that it would be public. It would be leaked by somebody of any involvement by the President personally. I just don’t know what, in talking about subpoenas, talking about pardons, to me, is really besides the point, because there is no evidence, and thus no basis for any charge or any conviction. And so I just think, I think it’s a distraction.
HH: So do you hope that the President does that and that there is no subpoena?
JC: I just, I would hope that they, that Director Mueller would be wise enough not to try to subpoena the President, and because I honestly, he’s, Director Comey has said numerous times publicly that there’s no evidence of collusion. And so I don’t understand what the purpose of it would be. So I hope they are wise enough not to head down that path.
HH: Now Senator Cornyn, the President is using the pardon power, and he tweeted 33 minutes ago, Good luck to Alice Johnson, have a wonderful life. He pardoned her after Kim Kardashian. I raised with Director Clapper the possibility of pardoning David Petraeus, who is one of the great Americans of our time and who did commit a felony in sharing classified information. Do you think he ought to be high on the list of pardons?
JC: Well, I think General Petraeus is an incredible patriot, and helped guide our country during a very difficult time in Iraq and basically pulled a rabbit out of a hat there. But he made a terrible mistake. What I respect about General Petraeus is he admitted it candidly and publicly, and took responsibility for it. You don’t see that much in Washington. So I would be, I’d be happy to see the President put General Petraeus high on that list.
HH: Now let me turn to the, I do, too, and General Clapper wouldn’t comment on it, but I would love to see that happen. Let’s turn to the announcement yesterday that you’re working in August. You and Leader McConnell must have huddled up on this. How long in August are you going to be working?
JC: Well, we’ll be here, we’ll be here as, I mean, we’ll do what, we’ll be here essentially all of August. It’s true that during our usual rhythm that we sometimes will take a couple of days off here and there, but for example, weekends, typically, you know, we’ll work to Friday, come back on Monday. But we’ll be here as long as it takes, Hugh. I think when we talked last, I said you know, the President is very insistent, and Senator McConnell and I and other Republicans are determined to clear the decks when it comes to these important nominations, because Democrats have obstructed them, dragged their feet. Now, they find themselves in the ironic position of being very exposed by the electoral calendar on November the 6th, I mean, map, excuse me, and now screaming bloody murder. You mean you’re actually going to keep us here during August so we can’t campaign and raise money? And I just think it’s ironic.
HH: Now there are at least seven nominees pending for the Appeals Court, and another seven that have not yet been nominated, and three that have announced an intention. So we have ten more nominations coming. Are you, Senator Cornyn, confident that the White House is going to get you the nominees for the Appeals Court as quickly as, in time for you to get them confirmed this year?
JC: I am. I am. I am confident that Don McGahn, the White House Counsel, understands, and the President understands, what a priority this should be and is. And I know Senator McConnell well enough to tell you that he’s going to get every single nominee by the President processed through the Judiciary Committee, Senator Grassley is committed to that, and across the floor and confirmed before the end of the year.
HH: Now the headline today in the New York Times and the Washington Post is that Democrats can take solace from a new poll that shows the generic ballot is up to a ten point different for Democrats, and the results of the primaries on Tuesday. I don’t read it that way, but how do you read it, John Cornyn, as you look at the electoral landscape out there?
JC: Well, you’ve read polls as much as I have, and you can find a poll for almost anything. And we all know that polls are just a snapshot of a point in time. And I believe that Republicans have the wind at our back because the economy is booming. Consumer confidence is at a 17 year high. People have got money in their 401k because the stock market has come roaring back. They’ve got more disposable income. So I think, I think the Democrats are very afraid, and I think they’re really grasping at every straw they can find to try to make themselves feel better that somehow this blue wave is going to sweep across the country. I’m with, I think I saw Eric Holder, the former Attorney General under President Obama, say well, there’s going to be a blue wave, but it might not reach the shore.
HH: Interesting. Now Dianne Feinstein is your longtime colleague.
HH: And she is the ranking member on Judiciary. She did very well on Tuesday. And she faces a challenge from the hard left. Do you expect that perhaps she’ll moderate in the Judiciary Committee and help others like Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly who are facing wipeout in this red wave in the Senate to move nominees along?
JC: Well, I have great respect for Senator Feinstein. We’ve worked so closely together on everything from reauthorization of 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to the modernization of the committee on foreign investment in the United States to stop strategic investment in our sensitive dual purpose technology which China is targeting. So she’s a very responsible, very respected person across the aisle. We don’t agree on everything, but I think this takes a little bit of pressure off her. But honestly, she made this look easy in the Democratic primary. It wasn’t even close.
HH: It was a blowout. I hope she moderates. Last question, Director Clapper told me we need to have an FCC for social media, for Silicon Valley. And we’ve talked about all the abuses before. And we’ve talked about, and he said, you know, we can’t have our intelligence agencies be thought of as Stasi. I think Carter Page was surveilled without sufficient authority under FISA. I’ve got great concerns about the confidential informant. What do you think our people think about 702, which you just mentioned, and our intelligence agencies in the context of the Russia investigation?
JC: Well, I think Mr. Page was on the radar screen long before he became affiliated with the campaign. But I think this is an invaluable tool that’s just been called the crown jewels of the intelligence community. You know, we always have you, everybody wants to make sure that these authorities are used properly, but sometimes it’s hard to talk about the success stories that would give people more confidence in the importance of them, because so many of these things are classified, and necessarily so. But I do believe that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, these are folks who, judges who are very serious about reviewing these, assuming they’re given all the information. And of course, that was one question on the FISA in the Russia investigation, Carter Page, what the basis for that was. I expect we’ll hear more from the Inspector General on that topic, but I’m confident that people can sleep well at night knowing these authorities are being used properly, and that there’s appropriate oversight both at the, within the agencies themselves, but then Congress, and certainly by the courts.
HH: Senator John Cornyn, always a pleasure. Thank you for joining me this morning, Senator Cornyn.
End of interview.