The following is a transcript of an interview with Senate intelligence committee chair Sen. Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, that aired on “Face the Nation” on Sept. 17, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Virginia Democrat Mark Warner. He is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Great to have you here. I have to pick up where your Republican colleague just left off. Are the Trump and Biden classified documents that were in their personal possession and not in controlled areas equally egregious?
SEN. MARK WARNER: Margaret, three things quickly. One, the administration took way too long to get us these documents. Two, Mike and I have a great working relationship. I believe, based on the documents I’ve seen, that there is a difference in terms of the potential abuse that came from the Trump documents. And third, it’s one of the reasons why I’ve got bipartisan legislation that would reform the whole classification process. We way over classify, we frankly, should have a process in place so that no president or vice president ever takes documents after they leave office. That is kind of lowest common fruit. We got to get that passed. We’ve got part of that in the Intel Authorization bill. I hope it becomes law of the land so we can prevent this from happening going forward.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You said based on documents you’ve seen, but you want to see more documents.
SEN. WARNER: We have, actually I’m about at 98% satisfaction at this point.
MARGARET BRENNAN: 98% satisfaction. There’s a lot more on the national security front that we’re tracking right now, including this potential prisoner swap with Iran to bring five Americans home. Are you comfortable with the trade?
SEN. WARNER: I’ve not gotten the brief. The Senate Intel Committee has not gotten the brief. We will be getting it shortly.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Wasn’t the staff briefed?
SEN. WARNER: I could say- I have not been personally briefed.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You weren’t. Okay.
SEN. WARNER: I think we need to start with the premise, it’s always the policy of our country to try to bring back Americans who- held hostage. That was not only under Biden, it was Trump, it was Obama, Bush. I want to hear what kind of constraints are being put on, in this exchange in terms of what has been reported, the $6 billion that was South Korean payments to Iran, that would be released. I want to hear that and get those details before I weigh in further.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Because you have concern that money is fungible and it could be used–
SEN. WARNER: Obviously, money is fungible. The administration have said there are guardrails, I want to get a better description of those guardrails first.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You have been very active on artificial intelligence and we talked about this back in January, Microsoft just announced a few days ago that China has a new capability to automatically generate images for use in influence operations to mimic American voters across the political spectrum and create controversy along racial, economic and ideological lines. How much of a risk is this to our upcoming election?
SEN. WARNER: It’s an enormous risk. And artificial intelligence. I’ve spent as much time on this, I think, as any member of the Senate. And I never spent something where the more time I spend in certain ways, the more confused I get the whole economics around these large language models, which used to be who had the most data who had the most compute power would win. That fundamentally changed after Facebook released its so called ‘LLaMA model’ into the wild in the spring. We just had a major session Leader Schumer put together had the- kind of the who’s who in the room. And what- what I’m concerned about is even the- the AI leaders who say they want rules, guardrails. I’m concerned that when you actually put words on paper, will those major tech companies support that? Because you’ve seen we in social media have done zero. Now in terms of China, China is a major player in AI, and where I think we ought to start, where AI tools, whether it comes from China or domestically, could have the most immediate effect, would be the public’s faith in our elections, which Microsoft decided–
MARGARET BRENNAN: And if you’re gonna legislate in the elections–
SEN. WARNER: Hear me out on this. But the other area beyond elections is faith in our public markets, these same tools could completely disrupt the confidence in our public markets by using these same deepfake tools. So I believe we ought to start, if we can put together an alliance between the capitalist and the small d Democrats, we might at least get guardrails coming in next year with the elections and with the concern about our markets.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re concerned not just about spooking, you know, the stock market, we’re talking about misleading people going into an election, Congress isn’t going to legislate ahead of the election, Leader Schumer said this is the most difficult thing we’ve ever undertaken.
SEN. WARNER: Why the notion of trying to solve it all, the bias questions, the whole question around deep fakes, the questions around what’s called hallucination, where you get answers that have no relationship to what the question was asked. But we ought to at least start with some guardrails around trust in our public elections and trust in our public markets. There I think we can move before our elections. I think it’ll be bipartisan. Let’s start on that framing point. I think we can all agree there could be huge disruption in both of those areas. And that’s where I’m focused my time.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You may have heard our CBS polling there at the top of the program. And one of the data points I want to show you here says when people compare their finances now to how they were before the pandemic, by two to one, they say they’re worse, not better. And when they feel worse, they tell us they’re voting for Donald Trump. How can President Biden win over those voters?
SEN. WARNER: Well, I think we’ve seen from President Biden’s actual record, record amounts of job growth coming again, after COVID. We’ve seen major legislation, there’s now law in infrastructure in the so-called CHIPS bill, and transition in our energy economy. And most of that has only been about 10 cents on every dollar spent out. So I think the positive effects of that will really continue to penetrate.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do people in Virginia feel that that you talk to?
SEN. WARNER: Listen, I think there is a general feeling, oh, my gosh, everybody seems to be at each other’s throats here in Washington, when you know, the notion that we’re going to potentially go into a government shutdown. Mike Turner and I work very closely together. But I do think, I wish the House leadership would be spending a little more time on what would happen with a government shutdown, which makes us look bad around the world. And frankly, in a state like mine in Virginia, where we have so many government workers, government contractors, it will be a disaster. And yet, the attention coming out of the House leadership is on impeachment, and putting forward things they know will not ever pass the Senate, in any kind of bipartisan fashion. And I think that is part of the underlying unease that voters feel.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you believe we are headed for a government shutdown?
SEN. WARNER: I would like to say no, but we’re eight or nine days away. And we’ve not even been able to see the House pass the most basic defense appropriations bills. I hope and pray that Speaker McCarthy will say, hey, I’m going to throw over the far right. And I’m going to put together a bipartisan effort with the Democrats and mainstream Republicans to keep the government funded. I think that would get, again, 350-400 votes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, good to have you here in person. We’ll be back in a moment.