NBC's Guthrie to Romney: Would You Have Made Bergdahl Swap if You Were President?

In an exclusive interview with Mitt Romney on Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie wondered if the 2012 presidential contender would have traded five Taliban terrorists for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl if commander-in-chief: "It was controversial. The President presumably knew the circumstance of Bowe Bergdahl's leaving his post. He said, though, leave no soldier on the battlefield. If that had been you in the Oval Office, would you have made that same call?"

Romney responded: "Well, there are two conflicting principles, American principles, at play here. One is leave no one behind and the other is don't negotiate with terrorists....the real question for me is, do the people being released represent a threat to American lives in the future? In this case I believe they do. And as a result, I was critical at the time of the exchange and continue to be critical."

Guthrie followed up: "It sounds like you would not have made the trade." Romney replied: "I don't think I would have made the trade."

At the top of the exchange, Guthrie wondered if Romney agreed with Bergdahl being charged with desertion:

GUTHRIE: First of all, you've seen the news that he may be court-martialed. Do you agree with that? Do you think he should be?

ROMNEY: Well, if he deserted his post, which is what the investigation suggests, then that's appropriate for military justice.

GUTHRIE: If a court-martial goes forward and he were convicted, do you think this is someone who should spend time in prison, in a military brig?

ROMNEY: Well, that'll be a decision made by the people who hear the absolute facts. But if it were a severe setting, where he abandoned his post and put other members of the military at risk, then, of course, a prison term is something that has to be contemplated.

Turning to the 2016 campaign minutes later, Guthrie brought up Ted Cruz announcing his candidacy:

Ted Cruz is the first in, in the Republican race this year. He is someone you have praised for his oratorical skills, which I might add, he's used to zing you a couple of times. His theory of the case is the reason Republicans lost the two times – round last time is because they weren't conservative enough. Do you believe that's true?...you don't take personal offense that he's basically suggesting the reason Republicans didn't win, you didn't win in 2012, was because you were, to use his word, "mushy"?

Romney explained:

Well, I would take exception. I made lot of mistakes, there's no question about that. I'm a big target. I'm happy to have people express their views about why I lost, but that's a decision that'll be made by Republican voters as to who our nominee ought to be. And Ted's a legitimate contender, obviously, a very skilled orator. But we've got a lot of other very legitimate contenders in the race and I want to see how it works out.

Here is a full transcript of the March 26 interview:

7:00 AM ET TEASE:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: One-on-one. Mitt Romney in Studio 1A exclusively, opening up about the next presidential race, if he would have traded Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners, and facing off in the ring against a heavyweight champ.

7:15 AM ET SEGMENT:

GUTHRIE: That [Bowe Bergdahl being charged with desertion] is just one story that has the attention of Mitt Romney. The former Republican presidential candidate briefly entertained a third White House run earlier this year. He joins us now, having decided not to. Governor Romney, good morning to you.

MITT ROMNEY: Good morning, Savannah.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Mitt Romney One-on-One; Fmr. GOP Candidate on Bergdahl Charges]

GUTHRIE: Let's start with this Bowe Bergdahl case. First of all, you've seen the news that he may be court-martialed. Do you agree with that? Do you think he should be?

ROMNEY: Well, if he deserted his post, which is what the investigation suggests, then that's appropriate for military justice.

GUTHRIE: If a court-martial goes forward and he were convicted, do you think this is someone who should spend time in prison, in a military brig?

ROMNEY: Well, that'll be a decision made by the people who hear the absolute facts. But if it were a severe setting, where he abandoned his post and put other members of the military at risk, then, of course, a prison term is something that has to be contemplated.

GUTHRIE: Let me ask you about the decision that the President made to trade five Taliban prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl. It was controversial. The President presumably knew the circumstance of Bowe Bergdahl's leaving his post. He said, though, leave no soldier on the battlefield. If that had been you in the Oval Office, would you have made that same call?

ROMNEY: Well, there are two conflicting principles, American principles, at play here. One is leave no one behind and the other is don't negotiate with terrorists. In a setting like this, Congress has said under the law you must have the President go to Congress. He didn't do that, he violated, again, the law. But number two, the real question for me is, do the people being released represent a threat to American lives in the future? In this case I believe they do. And as a result, I was critical at the time of the exchange and continue to be critical.

GUTHRIE: It sounds like you would not have made the trade.

ROMNEY: I don't think I would have made the trade.

GUTHRIE: Okay. Let's talk politics. Ted Cruz is the first in, in the Republican race this year. He is someone you have praised for his oratorical skills, which I might add, he's used to zing you a couple of times. His theory of the case is the reason Republicans lost the two times – round last time is because they weren't conservative enough. Do you believe that's true?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Mitt Romney One-on-One; Fmr. GOP Candidate on 2016 Race]

ROMNEY: Well, that's the case he's gonna take. I think everybody expresses their own views on issues and people decide which is the view that they align with and they choose that person to be the nominee. So, Ted's gonna make his case. We'll have, I think, ten or twelve other people on the stage making their cases. We're going to have exciting debates. I think the Democrat debates are going to be pretty quiet with Hillary Clinton and a couple of people who want to be her VP. But I think Ted Cruz, among a whole group of folks, represents an interesting thought within the Republican Party. We'll see who gets the prize.

GUTHRIE: So you don't take personal offense that he's basically suggesting the reason Republicans didn't win, you didn't win in 2012, was because you were, to use his word, "mushy"?

ROMNEY: Well, I would take exception. I made lot of mistakes, there's no question about that. I'm a big target. I'm happy to have people express their views about why I lost, but that's a decision that'll be made by Republican voters as to who our nominee ought to be. And Ted's a legitimate contender, obviously, a very skilled orator. But we've got a lot of other very legitimate contenders in the race and I want to see how it works out.

GUTHRIE: When you decided that you were not going to join the race this year, you said, "It's time for a next-generation Republican leader," quote, "not as well known," as you are, "who is just getting started and had not yet had the opportunity to take their message across the country." I have to say, Governor, that does not sound like Governor Jeb Bush. Is that what you meant?

ROMNEY: No, no, I'm talking about the next political generation. And you know, I, along with a few other people, ran in the last contest and I was not successful and my thought was, we need a new face, someone not yet defined in the public's mind. Jeb Bush is one of those new faces and I want to hear what he has to say, and what Marco [Rubio] has to say, and Chris Christie, and others. And as we do, I think we're going to decide who's the person who's best able to communicate why it is that Republican principles, conservative principles, are the best at helping middle class and poor people do better in this country.

GUTHRIE: A couple quick things, would you consider being one of these nominee's vice presidents?

ROMNEY: Oh, I don't think anyone wants to be VP.

GUTHRIE: Not a good job?

ROMNEY: I won't say all the things that have been said about the job, but I'm looking to try and support one of these folks and help them become our next president.

GUTHRIE: That sounds like a no to me. Let's talk about your next career as a boxing champion. You are taking on former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield in the ring, this is for charity. What on Earth are you thinking?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Mitt Romney One-on-One; Fmr. GOP Candidate on Bout With Holyfield]

ROMNEY: Well, all I'm thinking is don't get him angry. Because we just have to go very soft on each other and have a little fun in the arena. And you're right, we're raising money for something called Charity Vision, which provides surgeries to the very poor people in the world. And he's very kind to be willing to get in the ring with me and not hurt me too bad.

GUTHRIE: And if Evander's "The Real Deal" Rocky was the "Itallian Stallion," are you thinking of a boxing nickname for yourself?

ROMNEY: Just the fastest runner ever seen inside a boxing arena.

GUTHRIE: Governor Romney, thank you so much, we'll look for that. I appreciate your time.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Savannah.

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