CNN "The Situation Room"-Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: July 31, 2007
Location: Unknown


CNN "The Situation Room"-Transcript

BLITZER: Senator Lindsey Graham has called some of Gonzales' testimony before Congress a stretch. That was back in April.

The South Carolina Republican is joining us now to discuss Gonzales and the situation in Iraq, among other things.

Senator Graham, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Glad to be with you. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you want to react first, on the limited information you probably have, from this letter that was just released to Arlen Specter trying to clarify whether or not the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, committed perjury?

GRAHAM: Well, I think it would probably behoove me to talk to Senator Specter. You know, this whole idea of committing perjury and a special prosecutor I don't think is warranted based on the facts as I understand them.

And we will -- we will just see where this goes. But the attorney general has a credibility problem in general with the Congress, and I don't know if this helps or not with Senator Specter. I will leave that up to him.

BLITZER: You want him gone?

GRAHAM: Well, if the president chooses to keep him, I will work with him. But he's damaged himself up here. And I will leave that up to the president. But I will work with the attorney general where I can. But to say that he hasn't damaged himself would just -- would be denying the obvious.

BLITZER: And I just want to point out to our viewers, Lindsey Graham is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee as well.

I want to raise this other issue, because it's an important issue, especially in South Carolina, where you're up for reelection. It involves immigration reform. As all of our viewers and all of the people in South Carolina remember, you supported McCain, Senator McCain, Senator Kennedy, and the president when they wanted comprehensive immigration reform, including steps that would lead eventually towards citizenship for some of the 12 million -- or at least many of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States right now.

That's caused you a lot of political grief back home, especially as you seek reelection. Now you're supporting legislation that narrowly focuses in on the borders, trying to strengthen the borders to keep illegal immigrants out.

Is -- what is -- what is going on, Senator? Because, earlier, you had suggested often this has to be part of a bigger package.

GRAHAM: Well, I think, eventually, it will be part of a bigger package. But the one thing we learned from this debate is that there's a lot of skepticism in the country about a comprehensive solution, because the whole point is, if we do what you say, why won't there be 12 million the next time around?

You know, Ronald Reagan had amnesty for three million, and here we are 20 years later, 20 years later, dealing with 12 million. I thought the comprehensive approach was the right approach. But the idea of border security first was part of the underlying bill.

Under the actual bill that we proposed, you could not have any legalization process until the border was certified as being secure. So, what we did with this amendment of mine is, we took out the border security provisions and put $3 billion funding behind them to secure the border as a first step.

But it's just a first step. There's much more to be done. We're not safe just by securing the border. If you want immigration reform, you're going to have to do a lot more than just that.

BLITZER: Because the critics of McCain/Kennedy, what the president wanted, were saying from day one, focus in on the border issues first, the security issues first. Then, the other stuff, the guest-worker program, the pathway towards citizenship, making the 12 million or so illegal immigrants legal residents of the United States, that has to wait. First, secure the border.

So, here's the question. Were they right?

GRAHAM: Well, the actual bill, the Isakson amendment, said that you could not have permanent legal status, much less citizenship, until the border was certified as being secure.

So, the bill adopted that approach. So, let's start with where we find agreement, securing our border. But why do people come? Why do we have 12 million people? Not just because the border is broken, because they come here to get jobs. If you want to stop people from coming across our border, overstaying their visas to get jobs, deal with how you hire people. Control the employment process. Have tamper-proof cards.

That's yet to be done. So, until you deal with the employment part, securing the borders is a first step, but that's not going to stop illegal immigration by itself. Forty percent of the people never came across the border that are here illegally. You have got to control the visa problem. That's yet to be done.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, let's switch to Iraq.

As you know, the Iraqi government has not yet done anything to come up with an oil-sharing agreement...

GRAHAM: Right.

BLITZER: ... has done nothing to disarm all the various militias, has done nothing to hold local elections, to revise their Constitution. They went on vacation today until early September. Are you outraged by this?

GRAHAM: Well, in a way, I think the politicians in Baghdad are going to go back to their local constituencies and -- and get an earful.

There is reconciliation going on in Iraq. It's going on at the local level. Anbar Province is a success story from the surge of where people turned on al Qaeda, joined forces with us, and they're joining the police, and they're beginning to reconcile themselves within that province. That's not embracing democracy, but it's rejecting al Qaeda.

When I was in Iraq last time, I heard from every local official there that the politicians in Baghdad were really letting us all down. So, I'm hopeful, when they go back to their constituencies, they will get an earful of a disappointed public, and that may motivate them more than any American politician. I can't vote for people, the Maliki government, but the people in Iraq who can vote are pretty upset. Maybe they will learn that when they go home.

BLITZER: You believe there can be political reconciliation in Iraq? The military effort...

GRAHAM: Yes.

BLITZER: ... seems to be making progress. At least, that's what the U.S. military insists on a daily basis. But what about the long- term ability of the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds to actually live with each other on a day-to-day basis?

GRAHAM: I think there's some evidence from the surge at the local level that, at the local level, Sunnis and Shias are forming alliances in provinces, not at the -- the Baghdad level, to do exactly that.

The idea that local people have come together to reject al Qaeda and other extremist groups is probably one of the good-news stories of the surge. So, yes, I think that dynamic can repeat itself.

But let me say this as a supporter of the surge. I'm impressed tremendously with the success, militarily, against al Qaeda and other groups. It's exceeded my expectations. But the political part of this is stagnant. And I agree with you 100 percent and Admiral Mullen that all the military might in the world is not going to win in Iraq until the Iraqi political leaders reconcile their country.

But the gateway to reconciliation is security at the local level, and at the central government level. You got to have security to do political deals. You got to have security to have economic progress. And I think that's what was missing before.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, thanks for coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

GRAHAM: Thank you.