FULL EPISODE: 12/12/21 Sen. Lindsey Graham and WH Correspondent Jon Decker on rising Russia-Ukraine tensions

Published: Dec. 12, 2021 at 2:01 PM EST
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Washington, D.C. –  Greta Van Susteren interviewed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about Russia, Ukraine, North Korea, and Iran for Gray TV’s “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” airing Sunday, December 12, 2021. The program will also feature a discussion with Gray TV White House Correspondent Jon Decker.

When asked whether he expected Russia to invade Ukraine, Sen. Graham answered: “I think this is a power play by Putin to try to back down Biden.”

Graham told Van Susteren he will work with Democrats “to introduce sanctions from hell against Russia for the buildup, not the invasion” to give President Biden some leverage. “Right now, we’re in a world of hurt because people don’t believe Biden has the stomach for these fights,” he said.

“Trump understood Putin pretty well. I think Biden doesn’t get it at all,” added the Senator.

On North Korea, Graham said: “They’re reinforcing their military capability. They’re going back into the nuke business and Biden pretty much doesn’t have them on the radar screen.”

On Iran: “I believe we’re months away, not years away, from them having the ability to make a bomb. I think it’s time for the United States to let the Iranian know that if diplomacy fails, here are the red lines regarding your nuclear program. And if you cross them, you do so at your own peril.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham interview excerpts are below.

Sen. Lindsey Graham Highlights

On Russia, Ukraine, and President Biden

Greta Van Susteren

Do you expect that Russia is going to invade Ukraine?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

I think more than anything else, they’re trying to get concessions from Biden. They might try to invade Ukraine. If they think they can get away with it, they will. But if the risk is too great, they won’t. But what they’re trying to do is rattle NATO. Ukraine would like to be in NATO. The Russians hate that idea.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

And I think this is a power play by Putin to try to back down Biden. But why does the Ukraine matter? In 1998, I think it was, the Ukrainians when the Soviet Union dissolved, had nuclear weapons. So there was a deal between, I think, the British, the United States, and the Russians at the time, if you give up your nuclear weapons to Ukrainians back to Russia, we will guarantee your territorial sovereignty.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Well, how does that deal look now? So if you allow Russia to take Ukrainian territory, they’ve already done it in Crimea, who in the hell, in the future, would do a deal like that? World order’s at stake here. If Taiwan is invaded by the Chinese, Hong Kong’s rights had been diminished. If Russia goes into the Ukraine, treaties and rules matter no more, then you live in a world of chaos, and you’ll have a lot of war.

Greta Van Susteren

So do you not expect Putin to invade Ukraine? You think it’s just a game of chicken to get concessions out of President Biden? So this is not a real threat?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Well, when it comes to Putin, assume the worst, not the best. So what will I be doing? I will be working with Democrats next week to introduce sanctions from hell against Russia for the buildup, not the invasion. They have built up forces along the Ukrainian border. That’s created provocation, unrest, and unease throughout the world.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

And I’d like to sanction them for doing that. And it would give Biden something to go to Putin with. He could tell Putin “It’s just not me upset with you. Look what Republicans and Democrats are willing to do to you.” Now, based on the military buildup to give president Biden some leverage, I hope president Biden would use it.

Greta Van Susteren

Doesn’t that push President Putin sort of in a position that he then has to up the ante? And looking at sort of the lineup is that Ukraine is greatly outdone by Russia. Both in terms of boots on the ground there, as well as hardware.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Well, don’t be mistaken about this. Yeah. The Ukrainians, they will fight. We need to provide them the arms and the equipment to fight. But we’ll annihilate the Russian economy. The Russian economy is the size of Italy. It’s a gas station parading as a country. Putin’s an autocratic thief.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Do you think the Russian people, given the misery they face inside of Russia, want a war with Ukraine? No, we’ll see what happens here. But if he did invade, the whole world should come together and annihilate his economy, isolate Russia from world order, and business, and banking, and just crush this out-of-control regime. And we have the power to do that. And he knows it. He doubts that we will use it. Well, he may doubt Biden, but he shouldn’t doubt me and most members of Congress.

Greta Van Susteren

Well, but you’re not the Commander In Chief. The members of Congress aren’t the Commander In Chief. So President Biden really is instrumental in this.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Yeah, he is. But Congress has the power to pass sanctions, and the President can sign them into law. We did this in Turkey. When Turkey went into Syria, we passed sanctions against Turkey. And when Vice President Pence went in to talk to Erdogan he had congressional sanctions in his hand.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

And that led to a result where they de-escalated, the Turks did in Syria, because they had leverage from Congress. I’d like to give President Biden that same tool, that he can go to the Russians and say, “If this continues, look what’s coming your way.”

Greta Van Susteren

President Biden said, there won’t be boots on the ground. We do have military advisors in Ukraine. But do you agree there will be no boots on the ground? And was it smart to tell Putin that we weren’t going to do that?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

I don’t think it’s smart to tell your enemies what you won’t do. Ukraine’s not a member of NATO. So we have no legal obligation, but we do have an obligation to help. We’ve enticed the Ukraine to break away from Russia and come west. It’s a corrupt country, but they are a democracy.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

We’ve been training their military. I’ve been there recently. They’re willing to fight for their freedom. And if you let Putin get away with this, where does he stop? And after Afghanistan, people think we’re weak. So Putin’s being provocative in the Ukraine. And if Putin gets away with the Ukraine, what the hell do you think the Chinese are going to do to Taiwan?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

What do you think Iran’s going to do when it comes to breaking out to obtain a nuclear weapon? So getting Ukraine, right, I think will reset the table. If we get it wrong, then you’re going to have conflict everywhere.

Greta Van Susteren

Do you think President Biden agrees with your thinking on this as the strategy?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

I don’t know what his thinking is. I think he is perceived by our enemies to be weak, and by our allies as being unreliable. He’s been wrong about everything for 40 years. But having said that, you’re right. He is the Commander In Chief, not me.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

I’d like to work with Democrats to give President Biden some tools to deal with Putin and others. Starting with hard-hitting correctional sanctions based on the military buildup, not an invasion, to give President Biden some leverage. But right now, we’re in a world to hurt because people don’t believe Biden has the stomach for these fights.

On the National Defense Authorization Act

Greta Van Susteren

The National Defense Authorization Act passed in the House; bipartisan. It’s now going over the Senate. Number one, do you expect to be passed? And number two, it has 300 million in it for aid to Ukraine. Is that enough, or too much, or just right?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Well, that’s consistent with what we did last time, but I’m willing to increase it. And if we had a sanctions bill we’d want to do two things in the bill. We’d want to sanction Russia, but also increase assistance to the Ukrainian military and their intelligence community.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Give them intelligence capability they don’t have today, provide them sophisticated drones, up the cost to the Russians. You got to realize that Russia’s not a democracy, but public opinion still matters in Russia. Russia’s economy is not very strong.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Putin’s stolen the country blind. And you got to understand Putin’s not 10 feet tall. So Congress could do two things that could help; impose sanctions on Russia with a national security waiver, giving leverage to President Biden. And we can up the assistance to the Ukraine to show our commitment to the Ukrainian people.

Greta Van Susteren

In terms of the assistance though, I mean, the thought is if Putin’s going to invade Ukraine it’s probably going to be in January or February. I mean, is this money going to come fast enough to make a difference in the Ukraine?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Yeah, I think so. I think the willingness to do more would be a helpful signal. The Russians are going to make a calculation here. They will take what they can, unless the price is too high. Well, how do you make the price too high? You got a weakened Russian economy. They depend on oil and gas for all their revenue.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Go after Nord Stream 2 harder. Isolate the Russian autocrats who live like kings from Western banks and Western travel, and hit their energy sector hard; annihilate their economy. At the end of the day, they’re not a diverse economy. They’re dependent upon fossil fuels and the money’s in the hands of a handful of people. So we could do a lot of damage to them. And we just got to show them that we would.

On Putin’s motivations

Greta Van Susteren

What’s Putin get out of this? Why does he want this?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

I think he gets prestige at home. I’m going to rebuild the former Soviet Union. I’m going to make the West bend to my demands. I’m going to let the Ukrainians and the neighbors know that if you go through the democracy route and hook up with the West, you run afoul of me.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

He’s trying to basically be the strong man of his backyard. He’s trying to stand up to the West and increase his stature at home and abroad. And he’s a paper tiger in many ways. They’ve got nuclear weapons. Yes. But, they understand if there’s ever a nuclear exchange, they’re going to get annihilated very quickly.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

So the point is that he’s got a pair of twos, and he’s acting like he’s got a full house. Trump understood Putin pretty well. I think Biden doesn’t get it at all.

On Nord Stream 2

Greta Van Susteren

Where do you see Nord Stream 2 going? I mean, which direction are we going to go? Is it going to open with free-flowing natural gas to Western Europe? Which you say empowers Putin and weakens Western Europe against Putin, or what’s going to happen?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Well, I don’t know. Biden had an opportunity here to stop its completion. And for some reason, wanted to reward Putin. I don’t know what he’s done to be rewarded. The Ukrainians are really upset at us for letting this pipeline be built through Germany that empowers Russia and hurts the Ukrainian energy supplies.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

So I think it was a big mistake, but there’s legislation pending dealing with Nord Stream 2 that I think could pass in light of this provocation. So that’s just one lever you have. That’s just one thing you could do. There are other things we could do.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Again, Russia’s money is in the hands of a small group of people. We can make life pretty miserable for them in terms of how they bank, how they travel. And we can do a number on Putin’s economy if we choose to. And I’m willing to do that. I’d rather not do it, but if they’re going to keep doing what they’re doing, we’ll do it.

On Russian cyber warfare

Greta Van Susteren

We’ve talked about the Russian buildup on the border of Ukraine, but there’s also Russian cyber warfare. What is Congress prepared to do to protect American people and American industry?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

I’ve been working with Senator Whitehouse to increase our offensive capability. You can harden your infrastructure so much, but remember the pipeline here that got shut down? The main pipeline to the East Coast was hacked into from people coming from Russian soil.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

So it’s one thing to harden your infrastructure. It’s another thing to have an offensive capability. Under NATO’s agreement, an attack on one country is an attack against all. Well, what is a cyber attack under Article Five? We need to define the rules of engagement, where our country has the ability to go after bad actors when attacked through cyberspace.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

So I’m working with Senator Whitehouse and others, not only to increase the defenses we have, hardening our sites, but to create an offensive capability; that’s what’s missing here, is when you attack the United States through the cyber prism, there’s really no sharp response. There needs to be a sharper response.

On North Korea and Iran

Greta Van Susteren

Whatever happened to North Korea? That was what we all discussed about where they’re building a nuclear program. And we just talked about cyber warfare. They’ve hacked into the U.S. industry. I mean, what happened in North Korea?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

I think they’re building their nuclear capability larger. They’re reinforcing their military capability. They’re going back into the nuke business and Biden pretty much doesn’t have them on their radar screen. Trump had a relationship that I think froze them out. That gave them an option for life being better. It could be worse.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

I don’t know what our policy toward North Korea is, but I need to end with this one thought. We’ve talked about the Ukraine. We’ve talked about Taiwan. We’ve talked about cyber attacks. We haven’t talked about the Iranians acquiring a nuclear weapon. I believe we’re months away, not years away, from them having the ability to make a bomb.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

The Arabs are not going to tolerate the Iranians with a nuclear capability. They will want one of their own. There’ll be a nuclear arms race soon in the Mideast if something doesn’t change. And Israel’s not going to sit on the sidelines and watch the Ayatollah acquire a bomb that could lead to the second Holocaust.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

So I think we’re in a very dangerous spot with the Iranian nuclear program. Nobody’s talking much about it. I’ll be going to Israel pretty soon. And I can tell you, our Israeli allies, and our Arab allies, are very worried about what’s going on with the Iranians.

Greta Van Susteren

So what would you do about Iran’s race to get a nuclear weapon?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

I would try to find a diplomatic solution. I’m working with Bob Menendez, Senator from New Jersey. Tell the Iranians, you can have all the nuclear power you want, but you’re not going to be allowed to enrich uranium. We’ll create an international fuel bank to supply you with fuel rods to run a peaceful nuclear reactor program. And we’ll do the same for the Arabs so that everybody’s in the same boat.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

That’s a good solution. But the Iranians, they don’t want fuel rods they want a bomb. So I’m going to engage in the idea of setting red lines. We need to tell the Iranian’s what red lines exist regarding the nuclear program. If you don’t tell them what’s unacceptable, they’re going to race to a bomb.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

And when you draw a red line, you better be willing to enforce it. I promise you the Israelis have red lines regarding the Iranian nuclear program. I think it’s time for the United States to let the Iranian know that if diplomacy fails, here are the red lines regarding your nuclear program. And if you cross them, you do so at your own peril.

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About Greta Van Susteren:

Greta Van Susteren is the Chief Political Analyst for Gray Media and host of Full Court Press. Ms. Van Susteren is a veteran of Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. Her prime-time Fox News Channel Show, “On the Record,” was number 1 in its time slot for 14 1⁄2 years. Before joining Fox News, she hosted CNN’s prime-time news and analysis program, “The Point with Greta Van Susteren,” and co-hosted the network’s daily legal analysis show, “Burden of Proof.” Her legal analysis for CNN’s coverage of Election 2000 earned her the American Bar Association’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Journalism. She continues to host the weekly 30-minute program “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” on Voice of America, which broadcasts exclusively outside of the United States.

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