Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham on the Trump administration's strategy to combat Iranian aggression and maintain relations with strategic allies like Saudi Arabia.
BRET BAIER, FNC ANCHOR: Let’s go in depth tonight about Iran, some other big topics -- Senator Lindsey Graham is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Senator, thank you very much.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Thank you.
BAIER: Let’s start internationally if we could, on Iran. Your assessment of the situation right now and how tense it is?
GRAHAM: Getting more dangerous by the day. So here’s what to watch for, if the Iranians follow through on their threat to start enriching again at higher levels to basically take their enrichment program to a -- kind of a nuclear level in terms of a weapons grade production, Israel’s in a world of hurt.
So the best thing the president can do is stop that, and how do you stop that? To make Iran understand you’re not going to let that happen. I think he should put their oil refiners on a target list, that he should look at sinking the Iranian Navy if they attack shipping again.
But what I worry the most about is the conflict between Israel and Iran, and we’re going to come to Israel’s aid if that happens.
BAIER: But you know, asked about the oil tanker attacks on Tuesday. “Time” magazine quotes the president as saying this, “so far it’s been very minor.” What you’re saying is that it’s not minor.
GRAHAM: Well, what I would tell the president is you’re right to withdraw from the Iranian Nuclear Deal, you were right to put sanctions on this state sponsor of terrorism. They’re the most murderous regime on the planet, and that’s saying a lot. Mr. President, the attacks on the oil tankers and the pipelines has to be dealt with.
But the big problem is if they go back to enriching in a manner that could lead to a bomb, you’re putting Israel in a world of hurt and the entire world should be worried about this.
BAIER: But if you’re a European ally looking at this, are you sticking with the U.S. or are you trying to find an escape valve, economically for Iran?
GRAHAM: See, why is Iran doing this? They’re trying to divide the Europeans and the Americans -- nobody wants a conflict with Iran, but nobody should want Iran to get a nuclear weapon, nobody should want Iran to sink ships and blow up pipelines.
Norway and Japan never said a word about their ships being blown up by the Iranians, so this aversion to a conflict with Iran is going to lead to a major war if somebody doesn’t reign them back in, and that somebody is the United States.
So if I were the president, I’d tell the Iranians if there’s an attack on a ship or a pipeline or anything like that we’re going to blow up your oil refinery and take you out of the oil business because they’re trying to drive up costs by creating chaos.
But the main thing is to tell the Iranians if you go back in to enriching the way you were before, that’s a direct provocation against the United States and Israel, and we will stop that. Israel cannot allow the Ayatollah to develop a nuclear bomb, nor should the United States.
BAIER: All right, so the Secretary of State says they’re going to deter aggression, the president does not want war. Where is your red line, are you saying if there’s another attack on an oil tanker, or a U.S. person is killed -- what’s the red line?
GRAHAM: My red line is if there’s any more disruption of shipping in the Straits of Hormuz linked to Iran, take out their Navy, bomb their refineries -- if there’s any more attack on American interest go after the Iranians so they’ll pay pain. They’ll feel pain. Now, I’m not talking about invading Iran, I’m talking (ph) about a land invasion.
If they go back in to the enrichment business at a level that will lead to a nuclear weapon, we need to sit down with Israel and other allies, and come up with a way to stop it.
BAIER: You talk to this president a lot now.
GRAHAM: Yeah, I do.
BAIER: You didn’t used to, but you do now.
GRAHAM: Yeah, I do now.
BAIER: And --
GRAHAM: Thank God.
BAIER: So, is this president ready to do that?
GRAHAM: He’s had it with Iran.
BAIER: So yes, he is?
GRAHAM: I think the president’s going to stop them from going to get a nuclear weapon -- I think he’s going to stop them from disrupting the flow of oil, and blowing up the pipelines of other nations. He doesn’t want a conflict but he’s about to run out of options here.
Remember this, if you remember nothing else about this interview, Israel is not going to allow the Ayatollah to enrich uranium in a fashion that will lead to a nuclear weapon to destroy the state of Israel, nor should they, that’s what’s about to happen in the next 10 days. We are headed to a conflict here, between the Ayatollah, who’s a murderous thug, Israel and maybe the United States and the rest of the world.
BAIER: Within 10 days?
GRAHAM: If they do what they say they are going to do. I know Bibi very well, He is not going to sit on the sidelines and let the second holocaust be set. It is not going to happen.
BAIER: All right, there is a U.N. report out about the Saudis and the crown prince that says “Every expert consultant finds it inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the crown prince being aware, at a minimum.” Talking about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Is the administration ready to take this evidence or will the administration back MBS regardless?
GRAHAM: On this -- In this area, they’ve got it wrong. MBS did it, this man was killed at the direction of MBS, couldn’t have happen without him knowing about it, and he is doing things like that all over the place. He’s bringing people back into Saudi Arabia. God knows what happens to them. Put the Lebanese prime minister in prison for a while.
The bottom line is I’ve been briefed by the intelligence community. There’s zero doubt in my mind this was orchestrated by MBS himself. That’s not the way to treat a strategic partner like the United States, and I’m not going to accept business as usual with Saudi Arabia.
BAIER: But, the administration doesn't seem to care about what you want to do?
GRAHAM: Congress (ph) does and I can tell you this, when you look weak in the face of things like this, it hurts you everywhere. This is absolute disrespect to the President of The United States and myself.
I introduced MBS three years ago -- two years ago in town, hailing him as the new vision and as the new voice of the mid-east, embracing his agenda, reforming Saudi Arabia, only to be played like a fiddle. So if you really want to make America respected again throughout the world, deal with abuses by allies, not just enemies.
BAIER: So when you hear Secretary of State Pompeo say our strategic alliance is more important in the big picture, what do you say?
GRAHAM: He is wrong. They would be speaking Farsi (ph) in Saudi Arabia, if it wasn’t for us; they’re not protecting America from Iran. There’s no amount of oil they can produce. There’s no threat from Iran that will allow me to justify this behavior.
A strategic ally has to act in accordance with the relationship meaning something. How do you murder somebody and chop them up in a consulate, in a foreign country and expect the United States to give you a pass because you produce oil? That would be a huge mistake.
BAIER: You are on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Did you know Patrick Shanahan's past and this stuff about domestic violence?
GRAHAM: I’ve heard about it, I didn’t know the details.
BAIER: Does the administration have a vetting issue after this, or before this?
GRAHAM: You need to ask them. All I can say is that we need a new secretary of defense. The secretary of army, Esper, he’s a great guy, he’d be a good secretary of defense, but we’re having a conflict with Iran, were going into budget negotiations with the Congress.
We need leadership at the department of defense. I like President Trump's foreign policy, but we need a secretary of defense that has his confidence that can get confirmed in a permanent fashion.
BAIER: Obviously he was deputy secretary; he was approved in your committee.
GRAHAM: Yes, I think there a pathway forward. Let's just use it.
BAIER: A couple more things, you heard the story about Joe Biden, getting heat from Democrats about -- talking about his time in the Senate. Your thoughts about that?
GRAHAM: If you want to give me a list of why I can't deal with you because I disagree with you, I could make a long list for everybody running for president on the Democratic side. If that becomes the norm, that we can't work with somebody because of whatever position they take we don't like. Then it's over.
Joe Biden did nothing wrong by working with a duly elected Senator from the state from a past that we try now to move on. What he was trying to say is that I worked with people that I didn't agree with for the good of the country. He spoke at Strom Thurmond’s funeral. Now, does that mean that he agreed with Strom Thurmond, the Dixiecrat (ph) candidate? No, that means that over a 30 year period, they got to know each other, had definite differences but they found a way to do business.
So if you can't do business with the other side, where does this country go? And to my Democratic friends, I can find a lot of things you said I don't like.
BAIER: Right. Well, last thing, you got a standing ovation last night at this rally. And you were there; you are obviously supporting the president for reelection. Is he most concerned about Joe Biden as you talked to him?
GRAHAM: He said something that makes a lot of sense, no matter who they nominate, they’re going to move the country toward a socialist agenda. Look at what Joe is going through by talking about being bipartisan. I don’t know if Joe can make it through this primary without becoming a socialist embracing impeachment. Here’s the president’s ace in the hole, he’s done a damn good job and what the other people are offering will take the country backward, not forward.
Stay on message, Mr. President you’ve got a good story to tell -- tell it. But to have 25,000 people show up for an hour and a half, there’s some magic there. And if the rest of us in this business don’t appreciate that magic, we’re making a mistake.
BAIER: Senator, we appreciate it always, welcome back any time.
GRAHAM: Thank you.