Texas Senator John Cornyn joined me on my MSNBC Show Saturday morning:
HH: Senator John Cornyn is the senior senator from the state of Texas and the second in command of the most unwieldy institution that sprang from the framers’ mind, the United State Senate. Senator Cornyn took office in 2002. He is the Senate whip working alongside Mitch McConnell to make these past 17 months among the most productive of the body’s recent history with the passage of the massive tax cut and tax reform bill, the repeal of the sequestration of the Defense Department, the partial repeal of Dodd-Frank this week, a baker’s dozen of Congressional Review Act repeals of Obama’s era regulations, and reform of the VA, and near and dear to any originalist’s heart, the confirmation not just of Neil Gorsuch, but also of 21 Appeals Court judges to the federal Courts of Appeal of the United States, with another perhaps 20 lined up behind them in a landing pattern, which has already set a record for a new president, and which is already one-eighth of the sitting federal Appeals judges on its way soon to be one-quarter. Senator Cornyn, welcome, a good Memorial Day weekend to you.
JC: Thanks, Hugh. That’s a great summary of the last 17 months.
HH: It’s been busy. Before we go to that and the courts in particular, though, I want to look back to just the last few days. President Trump has begun to use the term Spygate, #Spygate, to refer to the use of the individual in Great Britain with regards to his campaign. Is it appropriate for the President to use that term, Senator?
JC: Well, I know the President’s using this generically to talk about an FBI informant that was investigating, part of this investigation. You know, I don’t remember circumstances under which both presidential candidates of the major political parties were the subject of FBI investigations up to and including Election Day. And it’s very troubling what we’ve seen at the top echelon at the Department of Justice and the FBI under the Obama administration. And it’s going to take a long time to recover. So we need to find out exactly what happened, make sure that the FBI didn’t use its awesome power for inappropriate political purposes, and just was conducting what should be orthodox counterintelligence investigations.
HH: Now Senator, you’ve been a trial judge, you’ve been a Texas Supreme Court justice. You’ve been the Texas Attorney General. Can you explain for us the difference between a “confidential informant” and a spy?
JC: Well, it’s, you really can’t. I mean, a spy is typically, I think of in terms of foreign powers. But here, the FBI was involved in a counterintelligence investigation, I presume, and used somebody who had contacted various subjects of their investigation to communicate back to the FBI what they found out. I guess for all practical purposes, for most people, it wouldn’t be any different.
HH: All right, now it’s a time of great controversy for the FBI, which I’ve always held in the highest esteem. I worked with them when I was at DOJ. And you’ve got Director Comey, his reputation’s in tatters in the eyes of many people. You’ve got Andrew McCabe referred to the DOJ for prosecution. He’s got his admirers as well. You’ve got Page and Strzok and their texts. You’ve got Bruce Ohr over at the DOJ. You will remember, you’re my age, so you will remember just reading about the dark days of COINTELPRO and J. Edgar Hoover. Are we back in those dark days?
JC: Right. Well, unfortunately, I think Director Comey helped create a culture at the FBI that they were accountable to no one. And unfortunately, that created, I believe, this situation we find ourselves with. Director Wray, I have to tell you, I think is doing an outstanding job. But it’s going to be a long time before the reputation of the FBI regains its reputation as a law enforcement organization that has integrity and is above politics.
HH: Now you have been a prosecutor. You’ve done all these different things in the law. Any message from you to Special Counsel Mueller?
JC: Well, I think Director Mueller is an honorable man, but I think he needs to get his work done and keep focused on what Rod Rosenstein asked him to do, which is to look at Russian meddling with the election. It’s very clear to me that Russia did attempt to meddle in the election. It’s also clear that no one has found any evidence of collusion. But as we know, independent counsels, special counsels can get off the rails and go down paths that nobody ever contemplated. I think he needs to get this wrapped up well before the midterm elections to help maintain the Department of Justice’s reputation, and particularly his reputation as a professional and independent law enforcement officer.
HH: Now Senator Cornyn, let’s turn to judges. I wrote in the Washington Post this week about the amazing record that you and Leader McConnell and Chairman Grassley and the other members of the Republican caucus have achieved on the Appeals Courts. But you know, the Supreme Court took up gambling this week, and that opened the door to national gambling. If you were a betting man, what would you put the odds at of there being a vacancy to fill on the Supreme Court this summer?
JC: Well, I don’t have any inside knowledge, Hugh, but you know, I think I couldn’t go any better than 50/50. But if Justice Kennedy does decide to hang it up this summer, that of course will occupy most of Washington, D.C. up through and including the election, because obviously, this is a pivotal seat on the Supreme Court. This will be the first one that will actually tip the balance of the Court. Obviously, Neil Gorsuch for Justice Scalia basically maintained the status quo in terms of the ideological leanings of the members. So this will be a big one.
HH: Now White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short was on my radio show on Thursday, and he said they will be expanding the list that President Trump has put out of people being eligible. Have you heard about any other new people being added to that list, Senator Cornyn?
JC: I have not. I have not. But I have to say looking at the Circuit Court nominees, looking at the district court nominees, and of course Neil Gorsuch, I think the White House Counsel and the President have done a terrific job identifying very good judicial nominees. And this is going to have a long-lasting impact far beyond President Trump’s term of office or my term of office.
HH: Senator, in terms of, it will be a very contentious proceeding if there is a Supreme Court vacancy, I mean, extremely contentious.
HH: You might be one of the only few people who could sail through the Senate. Would you be willing to be considered if the President called?
JC: I think there are other good people who could serve. I love my job, believe it or not. Maybe I need to have my head examined. But I love my job, and I think the President can come up with other people in the model of Neil Gorsuch who will be handily confirmed.
HH: Now if you were a judge, you wouldn’t let that go by, Senator. If he called, would you say yes?
JC: I would not. I would tell the President that you have better choices, Mr. President.
HH: All right. Now let me go to the question of the August recess. I’m a little stunned by that, and I don’t know that Donald Trump would actually care if you said no. He’d probably try again. But are you going to have to say there in August to get the judicial nominees for these federal Appeals Court judges done?
JC: I think we have to get the work done, and that’s job number one. We’ve experienced this unprecedented foot-dragging and obstruction when it comes to non-controversial nominees, burning the time on the clock on the floor, as you know, which is a scarce resource on non-controversial nominees that get confirmed almost 100-0. So I think we need to put the pressure on Democrats, Senator Schumer, because they’re the ones, frankly, who are most exposed, as you know, in the midterm elections. They’ve got a lot of incumbents running in states that President Trump carried, and who are very worried that they need to get home and tend to their business there so they can get reelected. So I think we’re in a good position to use this leverage to get these nominees cleared.
HH: If they don’t, will you stay all summer long, if need be, to get those 20 more Appeals Court judges nominated, confirmed and put on the bench, Senator Cornyn, even if it’s all through the long, hot days of August here inside the Beltway?
JC: We will stay as long as it takes, including the month of August.
HH: That is what I hoped to hear. Senator John Cornyn, I appreciate very much you taking the time to be with me this weekend, and I’ll be right back with my thoughts on this Memorial Day weekend. Stay with us.
End of interview.
The panel before him, with Francesca Chambers, Courtney Kube and Josh Krashaur: