The following is a transcript of an interview with South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham that aired Sunday, February 7, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to Senator Lindsey Graham in Clemson, South Carolina. Good morning to you, Senator.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Iran has threatened to kick out U.N. inspectors within the next three weeks if sanctions are not lifted. You heard the president. Where do you think the stalemate goes from here?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, the Trump administration put Iran in a box. As a result, you’ve got four or five Arab nations doing peace agreements with Israel. I think Iran is weaker today than they’ve been since the regime was started about 40 years ago. So if I were President Biden, I would keep the sanctions on until Iran changed its behavior. I would not want to go into an old deal with Iran because they’ve been up to no good for too long. So he’s going to have three problems here: what to do with Iran differently than Trump, what to do with China different than Trump and how to change Trump immigration policies without creating a run on the border. I would caution President Biden because Trump did it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. So I would slow down if I were President Biden and re-evaluate some of these Trump policies and keep them in place if they make sense.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’ve known the Biden family for years. Have you spoken to the president since inauguration?
SEN. GRAHAM: No, I haven’t. Congratulations to- to him. He’s the legitimate president. I talked to Secretary Blinken two days ago. I’m very pleased with what the Biden administration is proposing for Afghanistan. We’re going to keep troops there on a conditions-based approach. The Afghan study group–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Past May?
SEN. GRAHAM: –came out with a good- say again?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Past May, which is when the Trump deal would call for conditions-based drawdown?
SEN. GRAHAM: I think it’s- I think it was, yeah, I think we’re not going to leave in May. We’re going to leave when the conditions are right. The- the Taliban have been cheating. They haven’t been complying. And so I like what Tony Blinken and the Bush administration is doing. They’re reevaluating our presence in Afghanistan to keep the footprint low, but not to walk away and lose all the gains we’ve achieved. If we leave too soon without a conditions-based withdrawal, ISIS and al-Qaeda will come roaring back. Women will suffer greatly. So they’re in a good spot, I think, on Afghanistan. When it comes to Iran, I would caution the Biden administration to go back into the Iranian deal. There’s a proposal by myself and Senator Menendez that the Iranians can have all the nuclear power they want. They just can’t enrich. And I think Arabs would sign up for that deal, which would be a good deal for the world.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we’ll stay tuned for- for what the policy is. I want to ask you about what’s happening here at home with the scheduled trial that is supposed to begin on Tuesday of former President Donald Trump. You voted against holding that trial, but you said this on the morning after the siege of the Capitol.
SEN. GRAHAM: When it comes to accountability, the president needs to understand that his actions were the problem, not the solution, that the rally yesterday was unseemly. It got out of hand. It breaks my heart that my friend, a president of a consequence would allow yesterday to happen. And it will be a major part of his presidency. It was a self-inflicted wound. It was going too far.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What changed?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, it’s not a crime. I mean, the House is impeaching him under the theory that his speech created a riot. When you look at the facts, many people had already planned the- to attack the Capitol before he ever spoke.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the trial memorandum from the–
SEN. GRAHAM: The president said at the rally I think was–
MARGARET BRENNAN: The trial memorandum from the House impeachment managers actually lays out a pattern of behavior. They say it wasn’t just the speech. They say this was cultivated over time.
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, well, here’s what I would say, that if you believe you committed a crime, he can be prosecuted like any other citizen. Impeachment is a political process. We’ve never impeached a president once they’re out of office. I think this is a very bad idea. Forty-five plus Republicans are going to vote early on that it’s unconstitutional. It’s not a question of how the trial ends. It’s a question of when it ends. Republicans are going to view this as an unconstitutional exercise. And the only question is, will they call witnesses? How long does the trial take? But the outcome is really not in doubt. That doesn’t mean what happened on January the 6th was okay. It means this impeachment, in the eyes of most Republicans, is an unconstitutional exercise.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
SEN. GRAHAM: The president’s behavior, in my view, is not a crime, but he can be charged with one if people think he committed it because he’s now a private citizen.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, some Republicans, your colleague, Pat Toomey, a Republican, believe that this is constitutional since the president was impeached while he was still in office. But, you know, people can look at this and say, look, when you can’t argue a case on its merits, you argue on process. And that’s what Republicans are doing right now. Because I want to ask you to clarify this. You said on January 7th, this about Mike Pence.
SEN. GRAHAM: The things he were- he was asked to do in the name of loyalty were over-the-top, unconstitutional, illegal, and would have been wrong for the country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Unconstitutional and illegal sounds a lot like high crimes and misdemeanors.
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, well, he wasn’t charged with that. The bottom line is the impeachment articles, I think, are unconstitutional because the president is in Florida. He’s not in office. Impeachment for a president requires the chief justice to preside over the trial. He’s not at the trial because President Trump is not the president. So this is not process. The Constitution, I think, is being flagrantly violated because, when it comes to Trump, there seems to be no end to all of this. So, the trial is going to result in an acquittal. Most Republicans, I don’t know what Senator Toomey is going to do, is going to view this as unconstitutional and the president’s behavior is not incitement under the law. And the longer it takes, the worse off for the country, I believe.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You said if the president committed a crime, he should be charged. Do you think any of the president’s actions, the tweets calling for the rally, the language leading up to the rally, the lying to the public about the ability to overturn the election, what you described he said about Mike Pence, does any of that deserve a reprimand?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I mean, he’s going to have a place in history for all this, but the point of the matter is that we’re in Congress. We’re not prosecutors. Impeachment is never meant to be a prosecution.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, but you have oversight of the Justice Department.
SEN. GRAHAM: We don’t do bill of attainders.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you think?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, I think I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to end the impeachment trial because I think it is blatantly unconstitutional. I’m ready to get on with trying to solve the nation’s problems. And as to Donald Trump, he is the most popular figure in the Republican Party. He had a consequential presidency. January the 6th was a very bad day for America, and he’ll get his share of blame in history. But I do believe that in 2022, the Republican Party is going to come roaring back because our friends on the Democratic Party- on the Democratic side are going to change immigration policy to have caravan after caravan hit our borders.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you still believe he is the head of the Republican Party?
SEN. GRAHAM: They’re going to raise our taxes, and they are going to weaken us across the board. Excuse me again? I’m sorry.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You still believe President Trump is the best face for the Republican Party? Yes or no?
SEN. GRAHAM: I think he’s- I think he’s the- yeah, I think, yeah. I think- I think Donald Trump’s policies served the country well. I think Donald Trump has to rehabilitate–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
SEN. GRAHAM: –himself as a politician. But here’s what I think. I think–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Wait–
SEN. GRAHAM: –most Americans are going to look–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator–
SEN. GRAHAM: –at the Biden Administration and–
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m- I’m sorry we are- we are out of time.
SEN. GRAHAM: I’m sorry go ahead.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m sorry here to–
SEN. GRAHAM: Okay.
MARGARET BRENNAN: –cut you off, I have to take us to a commercial break. Thank you for your time this morning. Stay with us.