OTR Interviews

Sen. Rand Paul: Filibuster was victory and blow for freedom

Uncut: Kentucky senator reflects on 13-hour stand on the Obama administration's use of drones, criticism from McCain and Graham and more


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 7, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight: Wow! Senator Rand Paul firing back after Senator John McCain takes to the Senate floor and calls Paul's filibuster a political stunt!


SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KY: When I asked the president, Can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer. I will speak today until the president responds and says, No, we won't kill Americans in cafes. Enough is enough, Mr. President, come clean, come forward and say you will not kill Americans on American soil!

Drone strike program is under the Department of Defense, so when the CIA says they're not going to kill you in America, they're not saying the Defense Department won't. So Eric Holder sent a response, the attorney general, and his response says, Haven't killed anyone yet. I don't intend to kill anyone, but I might.

In Eric Holder's response, the attorney general's response to me, they maintain they're not going to do this, just trust them. It's not really about them, though. It is about the law. So when we asked the president, Can you kill Americans on American soil with your drone strikes, which is part of the military, it should be an easy answer.

It's a pretty direct question. It's the question I've been asking all morning. It's the question I've been asking for a month and a half.


VAN SUSTEREN: And tonight, Senator Rand Paul declaring victory. Now, we spoke with him a short time ago.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

PAUL: Good to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, today the attorney general of the United States wrote you a letter and it says in part, "It has come to my attention that you've now asked an additional question, does the president have the authority to weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer to that question is no. Eric. H. Holder, Jr."

When did you get this letter?

PAUL: Well, we got it sometime this morning, probably a little bit after you got the letter. Apparently, it was sent to the media outlets and announced on TV, and we were calling my office, saying, Do we have a letter from the White House?; Because we've been waiting for this to try to determine whether or not to let the Brennan nomination go forward.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have a question about whether or not it was somewhat snarky or -- because it says "It has come to my attention" that you've now asked this. This was the day after you were on the floor, and I think it's quite evident you were asking that question on the floor multiple times.

PAUL: Well, not only were we asking it during a 13-hour filibuster, we've been asking it for about six weeks. And we think it's an important question, and I'm glad a lot of people are interested in it. It's a question of whether or not all American citizens get 5th Amendment, 6th Amendment protections, or whether you can be accused, either detained or even killed without a trial. And I think it's a pretty important question.

VAN SUSTEREN: It says an additional question in this letter. Was this an additional question that you were asking the attorney general?

PAUL: No, it's the same question. We've been asking, Can you with drone strikes kill an American on American soil not engaged in combat? And so we've been asking this over and over again. In fact, we got no answers for about six weeks, and then we got some members of the Intelligence Committee to help us, and then we did finally get an answer. But it was an answer that said, Well, we might, but we might not, and we don't intend to do that. And I didn't think saying, I don't intend to break the Constitution is enough, because you know, the presidential oath of office says, I will protect the Constitution, I will defend it. It doesn't say, I intend to defend it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, how do you interpret the tone of this letter from the attorney general? Is it just, you know, answering a question, and, Senator, we didn't know you knew this question -- had this question and here's the answer? Or I refer to it as I thought it was a little bit snarky when he says "It's come to our attention," and all the media outlets were covering the filibuster.

PAUL: I guess the way I look at it is it's a great victory because we've been asking a question of the president, and this is a question that limits the presidential power. Presidents, Republican and Democrat, they don't want to limit their power, so this was the body of the Senate saying to the president, Are you going to obey the Constitution?

And I think it's a blow for freedom that we got the president to admit that, Yes, I don't have this power. This is a power I do not have. It's a little sad that it came to this, that we had to get -- use pressure to get him to admit this, but I think it's still a big victory for the people that he says, You know what? In America, you do get a trial.

The main reason for asking this question was, we have drone strikes overseas where people are being killed who are not actively engaged in combat. Now, they may be bad people, but they're not actively engaged in combat. I don't think in America, if you're in a cafe, if you're e-mailing somebody, even if you're conspiring, that you should be summarily killed. You should be arrested if they think you're guilty of something. You should get a trial and an attorney and all the due process.

In America, we do have the Bill of Rights. In fact, that's what our soldiers are fighting for. So I don't think we should give that up to say, Oh, the whole world is a zone of war, and therefore, you can be named an enemy combatant and wafted off to prison somewhere.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you make of the fact that one of your colleagues in the Republican Party, Senator McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham, both -- they were actually -- you know, they -- they accused you of theatrics or a political stunt, I think is the term that Senator McCain used. Any thoughts about that? Is that -- is this a fair debate? And how do you respond to that?

PAUL: Well, I think it's a good debate. I think they're on the wrong side of history.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you mind that they call it a stunt?

PAUL: Well, I don't particularly, you know, admire that kind of ad hominem, but what I would say is, is that they've been arguing that you can indefinitely detain a U.S. citizen. In fact, I asked Senator McCain directly, Can you send a U.S. citizen to Guantanamo Bay without a trial forever? And his answer was, Yes, if I deem them to be a safety risk.

The problem is, is that's an accusation. If the government or a politician calls you an enemy combatant, is that enough to whisk you off to Guantanamo Bay, or is that enough to have a drone strike on you? And see, both of these senators argue that America is part of the battlefield so the laws of war apply.

Well, the laws of war sometimes don't involve due process, and I acknowledge that. If soldiers -- if the enemy is shooting at our soldiers, there is no due process involved with that, we shoot back to kill. There are no judges and juries. But America is different.

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess, you know, that it's one thing that has sort of a political debate, you know, and have -- on these very important issues. Another is -- I mean, frankly, The Wall Street Journal went after you, as well. I mean, it -- it wasn't just, We don't agree with Senator Rand Paul, it seemed to be much more of an aggressive coming back at you.

PAUL: Yes, I think the question becomes and the question needs to go back to people who argue this, is that if you're going to name people as enemy combatants, that's an accusation or a charge. So if we have an Arab- American who lives in Dearborn, Michigan, and they're e-mailing some people who live in the Middle East who are cousins of theirs, and then you say, all of a sudden, their cousins are terrorists or associated with Hamas or Hezbollah.

Do you now drop drones on the person here, or would you accuse them of something and they would get a trial and they would get to present, Well, that's not me. I'm not associated with terrorism. Or would you say, Oh, no, you're an enemy combatant, and you go to Guantanamo Bay?

That's what they're arguing for. They're arguing to no ability to defend yourself if the government names you to be an enemy combatant. And I think we shouldn't give up on the Bill of Rights.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I think -- I think, certainly, you have put the issues in debate. People are certainly talking about them (INAUDIBLE) I'm curious a couple things -- is one thing you said -- Reince Priebus, chair of the RNC, about 10:47 PM last night, which is about 10 hours into your filibuster, he had a sort of a call to arms, told GOP senators, Get on the floor. What do you think of that?

PAUL: Well, I appreciate the support. I know Reince and I appreciate him getting actively involved in this, and I appreciate all the support that I got from the senators.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about Senator Wyden, Democrat from Oregon? Were you surprised by that?

PAUL: No. He and I have worked together on a lot of issues. And I think one of the neat things about this is if you look to the support we got on this issue, some on the left, some on the right. There are people who believe in civil liberties who are liberals. I think Ron Wyden is a good liberal. I really do. I think he's honest, he's consistent and he believes in his position. And some of his position overlaps with my position, and so I've worked with him on many issues.

Four or five Democrat senators, which is, to me, a great compliment, came up afterwards and said they agreed with what I was saying and they appreciated the spirit, they appreciated the zeal. And so you know, it was a great compliment to me that people felt like I was fighting for some higher cause than simply partisanship.

VAN SUSTEREN: How are your feet?

PAUL: Tired still! I need a rest.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's funny, Senator Rubio gave you advice on having water nearby, and I guess the next filibuster (INAUDIBLE) advice on footwear?

PAUL: Well, yes, but you know, I didn't take his advice because you know what? You don't want too much water because the water eventually has to go somewhere. And you can't leave the floor. You can't sit down and you're not allowed to go anywhere. So I actually was very minimal on my water intake.

VAN SUSTEREN: What made you decide to end when you did?

PAUL: You know, it was hard to pick an ending time because you want to have a victory. And ultimately, today, we had a victory because the White House finally conceded that we had a point and they answered our question. So that to me was a huge victory, but last night at midnight, I didn't know it.

We went to midnight because that also -- because if we went into the next day, would have pushed the voting until Saturday. And you know, you have a little leverage if people have to work on the weekend. And so our leverage today if the White House wouldn't have responded would have been, We'll see you on Saturday for the vote.

That sometimes speeds up the process of trying to get what we consider to be something very admirable, and that's that the president will obey the Constitution and there will be no drone strikes on Americans in America.

VAN SUSTEREN: One last question. How much longer do you think you had?

PAUL: You know, I could have gone maybe an hour or two. And see, I was getting energized because Senator Cruz and Senator Lee had come and they -- you know, they're young and full of energy. They were all of a sudden debating back and forth the white paper, and my eyes were a little bleary by then, but so I was energized by having their support and others on the floor.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you very much. Nice to talk to you, sir.

PAUL: Thank you.