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Senator Lindsey Graham On The Response To Assad’s Use Of Chemical Weapons

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Senator Lindsey Graham joined me this morning:




HH: Senator Lindsey Graham, good morning. It’s great to have you, Senator.

LG: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

HH: I want to assume that the President orders a massive military strike of some sort today, because if he doesn’t, it’ll be a disaster. So I’m just going to assume that. My first question, should we warn the Russians where we will hit, or when they need to withdraw their people to their bases?

LG: No, not really. I think every Russian pilot and every Russian air crew member is a conspirator to a conspiracy to a chemical attack, a war violation. I wouldn’t worry about the Russians anymore. As a matter of fact, I think Assad has signed his own death warrant. He should be a legitimate military target.

HH: Because he’s a war criminal?

LG: Yeah. I mean, he’s a war criminal several times over. But now, after the last episode with Trump, he did it again. And people say why is he doing it? Well, he sees the resolve breaking on the West. Trump’s talking about getting out. He thinks we’ll hit back, but it would be a one and done, and he’s telling all of his enemies I can do anything I want to you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Your friends are all talk. And that’s what he expects to happen. Now Trump needs to change that equation for him and everybody else. He should absolutely destroy his air force, go after him personally, let the Russians and the Iranians know you stay in Syria at your own peril. And when he goes to North Korea in May, if he does that, I mean, he’ll have a better chance of getting peace.

HH: Do you expect coordination with our French allies in strikes on Syria?

LG: I hope so, because out of Syria, a lot of French citizens were killed from attacks planned in Raqqa. But you know, Trump is frustrated with Arab participation. He should be. He’s frustrated with the amount of money the Arabs have contributed to reconstructing Syria. But there’s no substitute for the American military. We should be working with our Arab allies. We should be working with the French and the Germans. But nobody can do it better than us. But I hope the French will participate. It’s in their interest to do so.

HH: Do you expect cruise missiles or fighter pilots or both?

LG: Overwhelming response from air and sea. I don’t expect a ground invasion, but I do expect that there’ll be nothing left of his air capability, that this should be the last barrel bomb he’s dropped, that there are fixed points on Earth, air bases that now should be utterly destroyed. And honest to God, we should put him, Assad, and his inner circle, on the target list, because the world is watching. And if you want to get a deal with the North Koreans, now is the chance to get a better deal by taking Assad out.

HH: Is it in accordance with American law to target Assad?

LG: Yeah, it is now. I think so. I mean, I’ll gladly do a resolution in the Senate saying that the activity of this regime violates every norm of civilized waging of war, that he is a war criminal by any definition. He’s used chemical weapons on multiple occasions in violation of international law. And he’s intentionally targeting civilians. And he runs torture chambers for prisons, and the evidence is overwhelming. You know, he needs to go. And he’s put himself, I hope he signed his own death warrant. And if I were Trump, I would consider this guy a legitimate military target.

HH: All right, now I want to go back, because you were breaking up a little bit. You would not warn the Russians, though?

LG: No, I’d say, well, if they’re listening to your show, if you’re a Russian on a Syrian airbase, leave.

HH: (laughing)

LG: There you go. I just warned them.

HH: Okay. That’s right.

LG: Make sure they watch your show, yeah.

HH: Now what about…

LG: Okay, they can’t say they haven’t been warned.

HH: They can’t. What…

LG: And they not, they refuse to listen to your show at their own peril, okay?

HH: Oh, there you go. Do you think Iran is in the same position? Are you worried about Iranians being caught up in this counterstrike on Assad?

LG: As a matter of fact, I would actually look at some Iranian infrastructure and target it, because the Iranians have been launching attacks against Israel’s interest. You know these militia groups that were used, a Russian militia, about 200 of them that attacked our troops? Clearly, the Russians put forces on the ground to come after American troops. The Iranians are all over Syria aiding Assad in his genocide, and they’re setting up bases inside of Syria to attack…

HH: He’s dropped on us again.

LG: Can you hear me?

HH: Yeah, you’re back. You’ve got to stop wandering around, Senator.

LG: Yeah, I’m sorry. Bad signal. …too. I’m sure the Israelis are.

HH: Now let me ask you about the President and what he inherited. I think this is the culmination of President Obama saying ISIS were the jayvees, the erasing of the redline, the JCPOA with Iran, and of course the withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. So Trump inherited this. What do you make of the past statements of the Obama officials about the efficacy of the deal with Russia that they touted as their biggest accomplishment?

LG: You mean with the Iranians?

HH: Yeah, and with the Russians, no, to get the chemical weapons out of Syria.

LG: Oh, yeah, well, there are two things they tout – that they put the Iranian nuclear program under control for the first time, and they gave Russia and Iran Syria as a prize. They also said working with the Russians, we took all the chemical capability out of Syria. Clearly, that did not work. John Kerry has to be the most surprised guy in town that the Russians lied to him. The bottom line is what does Trump do now? Now Trump took on Assad, a one and done attack. That was a lot better than Obama. But clearly from Assad’s point of view, he’s not afraid of Trump. If he really thought Trump was going to do something more than he did last time, I doubt if he would have done this. He sized Trump up, and the Western world, and saying to himself and his friends, these guys don’t have the stomach for the fight. We’ll get hit, but they’ll move on pretty quickly. And every enemy of Assad’s going to understand that everything’s on the table. So the only way you change that equation is for Assad to be surprised, that the response is so overwhelming that it surprises Assad and all of his allies – the Russians, the Iranians, North Koreans, and Turkey.

HH: Do you worry about a Russian counterstrike against American forces?

LG: No, because they don’t have the capability to do anything substantial. They have about 30 planes. Half of them can’t fly. They’re a nuclear power, but when it comes to conventional forces in Syria, they don’t have much. I am worried by the fact that the Russians recruit militia. They send them to Syria, and they actually, in large numbers, attacked American interest. And so if the Russians want to come to Assad’s aid, they do so at their own peril. It won’t be much of a fight.

HH: Have you spoken with the President since the Syrian chemical attack, Senator Graham?

LG: No, but I spoke to him a couple, literally the day before about Syria, and I said this notion of leaving Syria and working on America’s problems is a false choice, Mr. President. Syria is an American problem. There is no Arab regional army that can destroy ISIL without our help in a permanent fashion. It is in our national security interest to keep ISIL destroyed, to hold the territory. And it’s in our national security interest to make sure the Iranians don’t dominate the Mid-East. And if you leave Syria, Turkey’s going to slaughter the Kurds. All of our allies will look at us differently. And Iran will be the biggest winner. So I’m hoping after this attack that the President, John Bolton, and his national security team of Pompeo and Mattis will sit down and deliver a decisive blow to Assad and reset the Mid-East.

HH: Will the Senate get Secretary of State-Designate Pompeo and CIA Director Haspel designate confirmed quickly?

LG: I hope so for the good of the country. She, Gina, has a lot of bipartisan support. I think every CIA director, Republican and Democrat appointee, supports her. She’ll have to answer for her time in Thailand. I had a good discussion with her. I feel good about what she said. And the sooner she can get confirmed, the better. As to Pompeo, he is, really enjoys the President’s confidence. He will be a great Secretary of State. He and John Bolton will be a really good team with General Mattis. And the sooner they get on their job, in their day jobs, the better.

HH: Let me turn briefly to the President and the Special Counsel. The Special Counsel wants to sit down with the President. I have posted a long letter from an assistant United States Attorney for more than a quarter century, retired now, saying he should only do that if it’s the President, Robert Mueller himself, the President’s lawyer and a stenographer. I’m not in favor of it at all. What does Lindsey Graham think?

LG: Well, Lindsey Graham used to be a lawyer before he got in this job. I would be very reluctant to put my client in that situation. I don’t know exactly what the offer is from Mueller to talk to the President. If there is no collusion between the President and Russian intelligence services, Wikileaks, during the campaign, I think most of this falls by the wayside. The obstruction charges are going to be very difficult to prove. You could fire Comey because you don’t like the way he looks. So if there’s no underlying coordination collusion with the Russians, then I think the obstruction thing just falls by the wayside. So I’d be real reluctant to put the President in that environment until I knew more and had some real firm commitments by Mueller as to where you would go.

HH: Now Senator, will you be asking Mark Zuckerberg questions in hearings this week?

LG: Yeah.

HH: Okay, I want to know a couple of things. They have a messenger service, which people use like direct messages. They expect it to be private. Are you going to ask him to assure us that no messages from Messenger were ever scraped or sold?

LG: Sure. Now I will, that you’ve given me the question to ask. Why don’t you just send me a couple of questions, and I’ll ask them.

HH: Oh, I’ve got a bunch of them. You know, his terms of service, do you think anyone reads that? And do you think he’s targeting people when they don’t know he’s listening?

LG: This is really an interesting concept. It’s a way to communicate your inner thoughts to the world at large.

HH: Yeah.

LG: But there’s also some expectation of privacy. The question is what expectation of privacy is left in the Facebook world? And I think people have some. What’s reasonable? What’s unreasonable? And we, they take our data, they take our inner thoughts, they take all of our chatter, and they monetize it. And people send us ads based on who we are and what we like. And the only way they know who we are and what we like is basically to monitor our Facebook pages.

HH: Do you have a Facebook page, Senator, that you actually use personally?

LG: Yeah. No.

HH: Okay.

LG: I’ve got a Facebook page for the, you know, I’m in the carrier pigeon business.

HH: Yeah.

LG: If it were up to me, we would, I’m a hard guy to hack.

HH: You’re a hard guy to…now in terms of this messenger service, though, there’s clearly an expectation of privacy when you send a message one to one.

LG: Right.

HH: You don’t expect Facebook to scrape that, right?

LG: No. I mean, that’s the point from a legal point of view. Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy? You know, if you’re talking on the phone outside in a phone booth, you really don’t have an expectation of privacy, because somebody can overhear you. But when you’re on the phone in your home, you expect the phone company’s not monitoring your calls. So if you’re a message delivery service like Western Union, I don’t expect them to read my messages. And I don’t expect Facebook to read my messages, because they’re basically a message delivery service.

HH: Well, good luck with that. I think he’s taken everything. Last question, we have nine vacancies on the 9th Circuit with two nominees. That’s because we’re deferring to Senators Feinstein and Harris. That rule’s got to change, Senator. Have you talked to Senator Grassley about this?

LG: Yeah, I think, yeah, I think he has changed that rule. I think we’re going to move forward and no longer allow blue slips to be issued on circuit court nominations.

HH: Are we going to change the 30 hour rule so that people like Rick Grenell and other nominees have been waiting for a year and a half get a vote?

LG: I’m ready to do it. I’m ready to follow Lankford’s lead, because this is ridiculous. And Trump won, he deserves his team. And I’d play right by the Democrats. I expect the same here. So yeah, it’s being abused.

HH: Well, last question, last question, will the Senate start to work the way an ordinary American does, 24/7, you know, 70 hours a week? Or are you guys going to keep working the Tuesday through Thursday week?

LG: I hope we’ll stay in on weekends to break the impasse on nominations. It wouldn’t take but one weekend for everybody to kind of cry uncle.

HH: Amen. And the White House Counsel’s got to start sending some nominees up.

LG: Yeah, yeah.

HH: They’re just not…

LG: No, that’s true. It’s a two-pronged problem. One, we’re, they’re slow-walking all the nominees, and there’s about half the government we don’t have any nominee at all.

HH: And should Trey Gowdy go on the 4th Circuit?

LG: Yeah, if he wants to. But I don’t think he wants to. I think he wants to go out and get in your business and make money and live a good life. Bastard.

HH: Oh, tell him that’s not the case.

LG: (laughing)

HH: Warn him. Senator Lindsey Graham, good to talk to you.

LG: He’s a wonderful man. Take care.

HH: Thank you much, Senator.

End of interview.


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