Jeff Flake Talks Impeachment and More
The last week while Washington was barreling forward with an impeachment inquiry. I flew to Texas. It seemed like a pretty awful time to be off the show but I wanted to go anyway because I had this interview to do a live show at the Texas Tribune Abune Festival. Hey everyone hey I'm Mary Harris. I host slates Daily News podcast what next and when I say it's Daily. I mean five days a week. Although right now I feel like I could use an hourly podcast giving me updates. I don't know if you feel the same right. I was there to speak to former Senator Jeff Flake. You remember him. The Republican who held up the cavenaugh hearings he retired last year but before doing that he'd made a name for himself as a reliable critic of president trump he even skipped the Republican convention in two thousand sixteen. He told The Washington Post I've got him. Oh my God come join me mow my lawn just to today on the show my full conversation with Jeff Flake about about impeachment about Red Cavanaugh and about why he didn't stay in Washington and keep fighting. I'm Mary her. You're listening to one next stick with us. Is there anything that's interfering sharing with your happiness or preventing you from achieving your goals better help online counseling. Is there for you. You can connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private private online environment. It's really convenient now. You can get help on your own time and at your own pace schedule secure video or phone sessions plus chat order tax with your therapist better help has licensed professional counselors who specialized in depression anxiety navigating family conflicts and so much more anything you share with a counselor is confidential and if you aren't happy for any reason you can request a new one at any time at no additional charge best of all. It's a he truly affordable option. What next listeners get ten percent off of your first month with Discount Code. What next so why not get started today? Go to better help dot com slash what next simply fill out a questionnaire to help them assess your needs and get matched with counselor. You'll love. That's better dot com slash wet next. I spoke to former Senator Jeff Flake as the impeachment news in Washington was boiling over the director of National Intelligence had just testified in Congress and earlier that morning the whistle blowers complaint had been released to the public so I have to tell you before this week I had a whole other set of questions for you understood but here we are Dr and so I feel like we have to start with impeachment knowing what we know today and frankly. I'm not sure everything we know today. It's coming out so quickly. Are you. In favor of the impeachment process moving forward. I've been on record for the longest time to step back. I'm not not a fan of the president. You're not going to say yes or no. She's good I would. I don't want to see the president impeached aged. I really don't because I don't want to get in a cycle of disqualifying public officials rather than beating at the polls. I've lived in countries where they do that whether they get in that cycle and it's tough to get out we may have already entered it so. I hope there's not but I I understand end and can appreciate what's facing the house right now saying we need to fill our constitutional duty and obviously not all the information in his in but what is in is extremely troubling and I can't imagine and I still look at some of my colleagues folks who are passing it off as nothing and say what are you looking at. What would you do if the previous president had done this so this is extremely serious. They need to take their job seriously. There's a lot more information. That will come out. I think in the coming days and I hope it doesn't go there. I really do you because I think that we don't WanNa get in that cycle. Okay well. Let me let me a pin you down here because impeachment inquiry because it seemed to me the second that Nancy Pelosi said those words out loud all of a sudden. It was like you pushed a little bit and all of a sudden documents are coming out and transcripts are coming out. You know we've been asking for those things in the court for a long long time but well a I mean there's nothing in the constitution that defines what an inquiry is as opposed to due period or or whatever else so that's just kind of manufactured nextstep but whatever gets more information out in and finally really pushes the White House to respond because they aren't responding. They haven't responded to subpoenas. I think it's going to be even more difficult to because the whistleblowers identifying individuals in the White House who the whistle blower ledges helped try to cover this up and so we're are likely going to face some real confrontation here going forward. It's hold onto your hats. It's going to be a turbulent ride. I think in the next couple of months down for Yes for inquiry. I didn't say that there is no way to look at that transcript partial transcript I mean it's not a full transcript and not say oh my goodness what is this and and even long before this you'd say with the Mullahs report. It may not say that the president should be impeached but it certainly says he shouldn't be reelected and that's what I wanted my colleagues to realize well so you have friends in Washington. All the attention now is on your former colleagues in the Senate because they would be the jury if there was an improvement the preceding so when you call your friends in DC I mean what are they saying about these new allegations are somebody mentioned yesterday yesterday that if there were a private vote that there'd be thirty. Republican votes. That's not true there'd be at least thirty five talk are maybe maybe more private vote but that's not possible and so they have to come out and many of them are up for reelection in tough seats and I know without feeling and I hope that even if my colleagues aren't willing to devote for impeachment I think this is not worth it and look at the long-term long term good of the Republican Party because that's what I think we ought to be concerned about. We've given ourselves for whatever reason to political parties in this country and we need to sane functioning parties to make this work and I think we're kind of moving away from that. So what was your question again now. Did you ever think about a third party like you. Don't have to stand there. All all the president said stuff. You have a voice third party. I don't think we're there were third parties. He's GonNa come about anytime soon but I do think particularly if the president were to win a second term if the president is defeated next year I think than Joe Biden has talked about and I've talked about for a long time this. This can be viewed as an aberration. You know our sojourn into unfamiliar territory. We'd get right back and say we that wasn't good if he is elected again reelected that becomes much more difficult but I think the manifestation of it is more likely to be that in certain states. It's probably like Arizona. You're like to see more independent candidates not aligning with a third party but in just about every state now you have a good chunk of the electorate in Arizona. It's about a third third third. Republican Democrat independent independence don't vote in that propensity some of simply registered that way because they don't don't really affiliate but that is growing and you have a growing number of Republicans who certainly don't want to affiliate with this kind of nativist protectionist actionist new party and I think there are a number of Democrats who think that the party may have shifted too far to the left and so I think thinking the center there there are more and if a few states elected independent senators they can still caucus with Republicans or the Democrats that said that's how the system works but it would be a much better body if we had a a group who are truly more independent than they are now because the Senate is just not working it is not the world's most deliberative body by by a long shot and and I think back I think you're more likely see that if the president is reelected for a second term which I hope does not happen but waiting doesn't it take some of the moral authority out of the action action like saying like okay now. It's too much so we should have reached that a while ago. I mean when if you haven't picked up pop new book American carnage by Tim Alberta it is about the best encapsulation of what has how the ground was was plowed and made fertile for a populist to come in and and that was a period I lived in Washington was in office released. Trump trump is not the causal problems he certainly has taken advantage of them in ways that others would not and I think that we we we should have realized that a while ago when he was elected I mean just go down. The line of what conservative conservatism used to mean limited government. That's kind of gone trillion dollar deficits in times of plenty rejection of authoritarianism. We've seen to embrace it now and so I mean ah I think we should have gone there but if people wake up in a year from now that's that's okay. It's better than not yes. I'm glad you brought up that book because that book doc goes into some detail a little bit about your relationship with Mike Pence and I thought you yesterday because I was watching the president give this speech at the UN and he started to throw pence under the bus a bit. He said if you're looking into me you should look into Mike Pence to yeah that was Mike and I go way back. We both ran kind of market based conservative think tanks in the nineties we elected at the same time we were best buddies in the House and that book actually mentions ends of that year or so ago or just before the election might came to Mesa Arizona where I live now and he was about a mile from my house and so I sent him a text I said come by. You can help me trim hedges. Thank lawn case yeah exactly he said only if I can cut trump pimps in the hedge. I said small hedge only room for pence. You never came but but anyway I feel badly for him. I really do you that. I've I remain a remained friends and he is loyal to a fault I there are virtue that and who's to say the path I've taken as as any more virtuous. He may have felt that he could change the direction or rain the president in It's tough to see how that is done but it's got to be uncomfortable for him. I think yeah when was the last time you texted him. I walked the impeachment desma forward. I mean if trump is booted a lot of if's there right. Does it solve the problem. It's not guaranteed itself the problem I think the party is going to change direction as long as he's at the helm but maybe him leaving will not change things either could be another populace that comes in and that's partly why I I hope we don't have to go down that road. If we must we must in if the evidence shows that he should than we should but I desperately hope that we don't because I do think that that that does emboldened him politically. I think Nancy Pelosi has been right politically to hold off. She has us but also I think it's easier for that a group of strong supporters now the president when he talks about having ninety four four thousand six percent of the Republican vote that's a little skewed because fewer people. I self identify as Republicans now so it's a smaller base but still it it is significant. This is his party no doubt but I think if he were to be impeached it'd be easier for a larger subset of that group to claim that it was it was done improperly and the and have a grievance and and be more likely to support somebody else. I think if he's defeated handily at the polls it's easier to say we need to move on. We were wrong to go. Oh that way so that's another reason. I hope that we don't have to go the impeachment route so neighbors convincing neighbors versus senators telling you this was wrong. I WanNa talk about something else which is one of the moments stringer public service. When you really stepped into the spotlight the hearings I supreme impor- Justice Brad Kavanagh There's this picture of you that went viral. You must have seen it. David Simon tweeted it out. He called it the temptation the flake a Time magazine as one of their photos of the year they they call it the man in in the middle but yeah that was that was the time and that was actually one year her or go tomorrow yeah but that was a defining moment yeah. I mean there's a moment where you're deciding whether to push judge cavanaugh through through or whether to hold back and have an FBI investigation and eventually you did decide to hold back and have an FBI investigation but it was only week long. They wonder if now a year later you feel like that work was adequate. I would have liked to have had the. FBI start investigating earlier earlier and have done more thoroughly that was my preference having said that the investigation that they did was not insignificant significant and those who pass it off as insignificant or wrong and I what I felt when I got to the committee that day and it was just just a food fight between Republicans and Democrats. I thought that the country is not settled. I had already indicated that I would vote to to advance him to the floor because I knew I couldn't have stopped him there anyway. If I had I not voted they still could've moved to the floor without recommendation and probably would have but but but then Chris coons gave a speech on the other side which was a very sober measured the speech saying. Why can't we do this for a week. It can be limited in time and the reason it needed to be limited in time this the way. I feel about the the entire cabinet thing some Democrats not all some wanted to just run out the clock. There weren't many who supported and cavenaugh before the allegations who all of a sudden found a reason not to there are a lot of them who just wanted any reason to stop on the reverse side on the Republicans Republicans. I there were many Republicans not all but who didn't if there was a problem it was an issue that would have been disqualified. Some of them didn't want to know about it. and some justified it in terms of well. The Democrats are doing it too but for whatever reason that's not good and it wasn't good for the country and I felt that if cavenaugh did end up on the court then we shouldn't have him under such a cloud that there ought to be something that that amounted to more due diligence on the Senate's part and like I said it would have been my preference to start to earlier but in the end the way I looked at it so I I asked for the investigation instigation. We got it. It was not insignificant and and I felt in the end. We cannot be be at standard and accept the standard where the mirror allegation is enough to disqualify well. What did you see in that investigation. That changed your mind because you've talked about how before that moment so. Many women have come forward to you told you their own stories. You're feeling quite torn. Horn and so I'm wondering what it was about that investigation that changed your mind now and I'm not gonNA investigation. Only that what has been reported publicly as there was nothing to corroborate. They interviewed anybody who had primary knowledge. They didn't go the second step to say that that would have taken a lot longer time to but it was there wasn't anything to cooperate it and and I felt that we can't eh standard when some people would come back and say well even if you put the allegations aside his behavior before the committee should have been disqualified twenty. I think twenty four hundred and there is there something to be said for that. I didn't like his performance formats at all but I tried to put myself in his position too. Had I just been accused. Not just the the Ford Allegations Abso- Ramirez you remember it was Michael Avenue and others coming for with he's participated in gang rape and there were just ugly awful all unsubstantiated just horrible things being said I tried to think of how I would feel if that were the case if that had all been leveled against me and I felt felt that it was unjust and then in a situation like that you look at at his record and his record on the circuit court we we could not find one clerk one plaintiff one colleague anybody who said that he'd been anything but but fair and just west and there'd been any breach of decorum during that time so that and then I mean for me that was that was important -portant because as I said on the Senate floor as well for those who expressed certainty on either side that he didn't do anything or he did. I never had that certitude and I will never have and I would suggest that none of us ever will if you're talking about allegations that are hold made between people on both sides who had been drinking more than thirty years ago. I would submit that nobody you. Nobody not perhaps even those in involved completely will ever remember or know exactly what happened and so for somebody to be so certain about what happened just. I never got there but I want to say one more thing here. which is you mentioned? Chris coons. WHO's your friend. I'll be with him tomorrow. Oh and he had a very different take on the FBI investigation. There's reporting now first of all that the sky Max tire came to him and said there's another allegation Gatien of something that went wrong deal and that he tried to get that to the FBI the FBI ignored it that he had a call with the White House he said I thought we were going to do this by the book and the Don mcgann. Dan said there is no book so for someone like you who defends decorum and institutions the book seems important Jordan what we had agreed to and the the agreement was between myself and Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and a few others on the judiciary committee and and leader McConnell was that it would be limited in time we'd already agreed to that one week no more and that it would be limited in scope that they would interview primary witnesses and if those primary witnesses mentioned things that would lead the FBI to go further to the second step then they ought to take that step but not to enter into the FBI investigation sane. We're going to go look at new allegations because you have to remember there. There were people simply trying to delay it and that was not fair to the process certainly not fair to to judge Cavanaugh and so I I I hope we came out in a better place. I I think we did but this whole nominating process and advise and consent ever since two thousand three when we stopped allowing you know the president's executive calendar particular judges to come to the floor for an upper upper down vote. It's been polarized and increasingly so what we republicans did with Merrick Garland only put that in hyper drive and it's going to be difficult moving ahead. Did you know about that. Max Dire allegation in real time no. I've I've been I've talked to a number of people in the last couple of weeks about an. I don't recall after remember there. Were there were avenue was calling with other things and there were a a lot of different things and that may have been in there but I don't recall it. I don't remember it not even called some of my legal folks on the committee and ask them if they remembered it and they didn't leaving aside those allegations. Does it matter if he lied under oath because people didn't come forward and say. He said he didn't really drink that much and we know all all sorts of other allegations about him not being one hundred percent honest. I mean it does matter obviously and some things you know. If you look back at your high school record I'd probably say I scored more touchdowns than I really did find football and and I've never drinker but I'm sure people minimize or maximize dependent on what's what's preferable those things all the time. I don't know that that should be positive but a the big lie. I did this or that or whatever then yeah that that should be disqualified but but I didn't see that. Would you vote for him again. If if I had the same situation yeah I mean I keep in mind. This was for me. It would have been far easier at that time to to vote to vote no. It's always easier to say no to somebody like this but I felt it was extremely important not to set a precedent where a an allegation uncorroborated alone is disqualified because the trying to get people to put themselves forward as nominees for what not if that is the case. I just don't think we can have that standard and some people say well. This is advise and consent. It's different different than you know court of law but it's what we've got. It's the process we have for putting nominees on the court and so it was it was a tough thing to do that. I felt I did the right thing and I still feel that it didn't mean for it to be a Laflin guys. You left the Senate. Last year. You gave a couple of emotional speeches over the year where you talked about Washington and how did changed ashed and it seems to me like since you left more and more people are making a similar decision there was was an article in the Washington Post just this week reporting on the growing list of House Republicans who are retiring it had this quote from representative Paul Mitchell from Michigan and he said we're here for a purpose and it's not this petty childish. Bullshit struck me as kind of like what you were saying just saltier sure thank you for I guess I see differently and I want you to help me understand your point point of view. which is I feel like when we elect people to Washington where asking them to go there and fix the petty bullshit and I don't want you the two seed to it? See and leave yeah yeah. It's I understand that you for me to stay in Washington. would have required given the politics today and where my party is it would have required. Pardon me to adopt the president's positions and condone his behavior. That's the reality it's not what I wanted. I would have liked to have stayed in another journal. It's tough to get to the Senate and in it's a significant thing as well to to ask of your family and your family had death threats. Oh Yeah my wife marks a time out of office in the weeks and now months without death threats and it's I mean just two or three weeks ago to individuals were sentenced for death threats against me and my family and my wife received many text messages over a period of a week with links to beheading videos at with the addresses of all of our kids. That's part of the mix as well. You think you know the fever to cool just a bit. I know I have one more question because I know that we're running overtime. You haven't ruled out running for office again right my wife it. I haven't ruled it out. I didn't leave because pox on the institution of the Senate of the House. It's a good system. We have and and good people involved and what would you do differently. I don't know I mean it's a different world so I'd be entering kind of where I left. I think if I went and now I'm hopeful that the the fever will cool. I can tell you right now. There's no place for me and my party. I don't think that will always be the case but right now. There just isn't to going through the primary process so until things change. I think eighteen years is a good one. Thank you so much for joining me. Former Senator Jeff Flake is now a fellow at Harvard's Institute of Politics. This show was recorded as part of the Texas Tribune Festival. We are super grateful for the Tribune's help in getting it all done what next is produced by Mary Wilson Jason Leone Own Mar Silvers and Daniel Hewitt. Thank you to everyone Dalia liquid and Allison Benedikt and Jeremy Stall who held on the Fort While I was away and thank you to Katya Raeford who let me record this whole show in her hotel room closet under a blanket. If you want to see pictures of live show me on twitter. I'm at Mary's desk. I am Mary Harris Chris. I will talk to you tomorrow.