Interviews

Sen. Rand Paul: Russia is neither all good nor all evil

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," January 11, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Continuing watching these Rex Tillerson confirmation hearings, he for secretary of state. It might be presumptuous to say that they're not laying a glove on him. They're certainly trying on both sides here, Marco Rubio, of course, with that effort as well.

And Kentucky Senator Rand Paul earlier wanting to get clarification on exactly what does the incoming administration means when it comes to regime change, supporting it, rejecting it, reassessing it. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KY.: What do you think of I guess Donald Trump's statements with regard to regime change?

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: What is in the best interest of our national security?

And I think this is where these priorities sometimes come into conflict of our values and the projection of our American values and our desire and out of our compassion for the mistreatment of people, the violation of human rights, oppressive regimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAVUTO: Senator Rand Paul joining me right now.

Senator, very good to have you.

You later on put this in a greater context. And it was I thought a very valid point, about all of the money we give to buy friends in that region of the World, particularly the billions given to Egypt, more to the point, and one, an apportion of it that really made the Mubarak family quite happy.

Did you get any answers?

PAUL: Yes.

One of the things you are trying to judge, I think, is temperament. And he's been through about five hours of testimony now. And you want to know, will he be a diplomat? Does he understand that war is the last resort, not the first resort?

And that has come through pretty clearly. I think it's also important that your head diplomat, the secretary of state, not believe that we live in a simple world where people are all good or all evil.

And this is the thing that has been lost on some, even some in my party, that when you discuss Russia, they are neither all good nor all evil. They are our adversary often. They have been acting in an aggressive way outside of international norms, aggressively moving in countries and crossing international borders.

And yet it doesn't mean that we shouldn't have a conversation or that we still don't have to have a conversation concerning nuclear arms and making sure that we don't have accidents happen in a large scale in our country and our world.

So, I think he does understand that more than some of the maybe knee-jerk neoconservatives that may be a little bit too, I guess, prone to thinking war is the first resort, not the last.

CAVUTO: Were you, by any chance, including Marco Rubio in that group and his pretty tough, sharp questioning?

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL: I don't want to characterize anybody.

But I do think that a diplomat probably will not be saying, the head of so and so country is a war criminal. I think that is probably not a good way to start off a new administration.

The secretary of state will need to talk to Russia, both about nuclear arms, about making sure accidents don't happen, that we don't shoot down one of their planes or vice versa. So, there are some very important things that even though we are adversaries with Russia, we can't close up shop and become isolated from them and not engage.

And I think this is one of the things that is misunderstood about sort of my position vs. the neoconservatives. I think the neoconservatives are actually isolationists, in the sense that they want to like -- they're ready to fight all the time, and they're sort of wanting to close up shop and say, oh, we're not going to engage with people who have bad human rights records or who have done bad things to Americans.

It doesn't mean we approve of what they do, but we still have to have a dialogue that goes on.

CAVUTO: Right now, Senator, your colleague Cory Booker from the state of New Jersey is questioning Rex Tillerson.

He broke precedent earlier today, as you know, testifying against Jeff Sessions. And the issue that essentially Jeff Sessions, I think what Cory Booker was getting at, was comes down to being very unsympathetic to minority causes, darn near a racist.

What do you think of that?

PAUL: Cory Booker and I have worked together on some criminal justice reforms. And I have actually been on the opposite side of that issue with Jeff Sessions.

But I don't think it is fair to attack Jeff Sessions for racial insensitivity or racism. Those are such terrible charges that they should only be leveled against people who truly are, because really, in our modern world, I have never met anybody who wants to be called a racist. We all strive very hard to say, you know what? The law needs to be colorblind.

And I think, if you want at Jeff Sessions as close as you can get to what he truly believes, one of the people that advanced through his office was an African-American who now is the only chief of staff for a Republican in the House side.

And people who actually worked with him, you might want to talk to, instead of saying, well, some African-Americans don't like Jeff Sessions. You might want to point out that some of ones who aren't happy with Jeff Sessions are also from an opposite party.

We can have differences of opinion without being called a racist. And I didn't look and I'm not characterizing Cory Booker's presentation of that because I didn't hear it actually.

But what I'm just saying is, is that I am a little defensive to people trying to characterize Jeff Sessions as something that I think is a terrible thing to be called and I have never seen any evidence of that from Jeff Sessions.

CAVUTO: Rex Tillerson in speaking today had mentioned that sanctions generally don't work. They end up hurting American interests more than the country to whom they're targeting.

And he had a sort of reassessing relationship, to your point, about how not only we give out aid, to one of your concerns, but how we approach dealing with countries.

But the one area I wanted to address with you is how he thought this administration bungled its response to Russia when it first invaded Crimea, and that he might have wished to send a stronger signal, either amassing troops on the border and getting NATO to do the same.

But if I understand, Senator, NATO was not willing to do that back then and hence we fell back on sanctions. How do you feel about that?

PAUL: Well, I was here at the time.

And I think the problem was Obama wanted to appear strong and so he drew this red line. Then he got cold feet and he said maybe I should obey the Constitution and ask Congress first.

I have always been of the opinion you ask Congress first. So, really, a president shouldn't for the most part be drawing red lines like that in the middle of a war for which he hasn't even asked approval for us to be there in the first place.

We are involved with this war with ISIS. And there is a valid debate we should have over how it should be conducted, where it should be conducted, the extent of what we do. We haven't had that yet.

So, we have done things completely backwards. And this is not a good way to have foreign policy. Going to war is the most important debate we will ever have. Nothing is probably more profound than sending our young men and women into harm's way.

I have seen the devastation that happens for our young people in war. When we have to go to war, we should vote on it. It is our obligation to vote before we send our soldiers.

CAVUTO: So, when Mr. Tillerson then takes that tougher approach, sir -- and I think it is my interpretation -- to send a strong signal to Russia that this will not be tolerated, he said that had we done that back then, and again whether it's troops, building on the border or providing munitions and help or whatever the Ukrainians need, that would be going too far for you?

PAUL: I would probably take a different approach, in the sense that I am not sure anything would have kept Russia out of Crimea, short of actually amassing 100,000 troops in Ukraine.

And we were not going to do that, nor do I advise that. Same with Syria.  Russia had a base in Syria for 50-some-odd years and they have relationship, a longstanding relationship with Assad. They were never leaving easily.

And you would have to decide beforehand, are you willing to confront another nuclear power over Syria? Is there a clear-cut side that is in America's interest?

And really it's a very complicated situation. There are two million Christians in Syria. They generally like Assad. They don't like the people we have supported. Many of the people we have supported are hard- line extremists with regards to radical Islam.

We have supported many people and given them weapons who have said, when they are done with Assad, not ISIS, but when they are done with Assad, they will attack Israel. So I question the wisdom of actually giving weapons to many of the people we have given to.

And I think actually some of our weapons have wound up in the hands of ISIS. I don't know that there has been a good or is a good solution in Syria, other than I think Tillerson is right. We should address what is in our best interest, not thinking of, oh, we are going to make the world safe for democracy, some sort of Wilsonian utopia.

We need to say, what is in United States' best interest?

CAVUTO: Senator Paul, Donald Trump also said today and acknowledged today in his press conference that Russia was probably behind cyber-attacks in the past election.

But he also struck back at allegations at an intelligence dossier that he said were not fairly vetted or even right, but that this almost sounded like a cabal on the part of intelligence officials.

What do you make of that?

PAUL: What I would say is that if there is private information that someone is blackmailing a public figure, and the public figure or someone takes it to the intelligence agencies, you would think it would be private.

And really this is so important that I think who ever leaked it should be prosecuted. Someone should go to jail. If this was an intelligence agency head that talked to the media, they should go to jail.

If this was part of the Obama administration, they should go to jail. The reason is, you don't want your public figures succumbing to blackmail.  Now, he is saying the information is false. And I have to rely on his word on that.

But the thing is, is let's say any public official is being blackmailed.  What do they tell you to do? You're supposed to go to the FBI and give them the information.

But if you can't trust the FBI to keep it secret, and the FBI is going to tell the press what someone is blackmailing you about, what will happen is, it will lead to a situation where public figures may be more liable to be extorted or to be blackmailed. So, this is a very serious thing.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But that is exactly what your colleague Senator John McCain did with this, as per what you outlined, that someone gave this or got wind of this, sent it and went to the FBI with this information, and let them pursue it. What do you think of the approach he took?

PAUL: Well, I don't know what all happened.

All I can say is, when the information is given to the FBI, particularly information that people are using to blackmail somebody, it has to be kept private. And no one will want to give information to the FBI if the FBI is going to release blackmail information to the public.

This is essentially what happened. Somebody is releasing information that was trying to be used to blackmail. And it turns out the president-elect says it is true. But what is more important than any of that is that you can't let the intelligence agencies release blackmail information to the public.

It had to either be them or I'm not sure if the Obama administration was in this meeting. I'm not sure how the information got out. But this should not be released to the public. That's crazy. These are allegations. I have no way of ascertaining whether they are true or false.

But it is absolutely inappropriate for someone to be putting this out in the public.

CAVUTO: Now, I know you have to get back to this hearing, so if you will indulge one last question on health care. And of course you started this firestorm here where you said, look, if we're going to repeal this thing, which you want to do, let's have a replacement in place.

Presumably, you have that now or close to it. Donald Trump has given mixed signals, though, and maybe I'm misreading it, where he at first was agreeing with you, simultaneous, but now repeal right away and in short order get the replacement going.

Where does this stand?

PAUL: I am getting the same signals from president-elect Trump that I got when I talked to him on the phone, that it should be at the same time.

See, it is not exactly certain which actual day that we're going to have the repeal vote. It's coming sometime in the next several weeks. It is being pulled together.

But the replacement vote should be on the same day. And why I think this is so important is, one, Republicans do have a replacement plan. We have got a bunch of ideas, some that have been out there for decades, but the Democrats have never let us have them.

These involve legalizing the sale of inexpensive insurance, savings accounts, so you can save for your insurance and letting individuals band together so they can get cheaper prices.

These are great reforms. They need to be enacted. And they need to be enacted so we can soften the blow of getting away from this terrible federal government boondoggle called Obamacare.

CAVUTO: Senator Rand Paul, thank you very much. Very good seeing you again.

PAUL: Thank you.

CAVUTO: All right.

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