Lawmakers Call For Probe Into Flynn's Russian Communications
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One Republican in Congress is asking just how much he really wants to know about the activities of the Trump White House. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky spoke frankly about this on Fox News.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
RAND PAUL: I just don't think it's useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party. We'll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we're spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.
INSKEEP: The admission from a Republican senator, that he would rather not investigate Republicans, comes at a dramatic moment. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned this week after saying he gave incomplete information about his contacts with Russia's ambassador. And last night, The New York Times reported that Trump campaign figures spoke with Russian intelligence officials during the presidential campaign. This was in the campaign that Russia worked to influence, according to the United States. So much to discuss here. And we've called back Republican Mike Johnson, member of the House, from Louisiana. He's been supportive of President Trump.
Congressman, welcome back. Thanks for coming.
MIKE JOHNSON: Hi, Steve. Great to be with you.
INSKEEP: Is Senator Paul correct that Republicans should avoid investigating Republicans?
JOHNSON: Well, listen, I agree with him to the extent that I don't think we need an independent investigation here. I think we need to let the intelligence and the judiciary committees do their work. This is clearly within their jurisdiction. And, you know, I serve on the House Judiciary Committee, and our chairman, Chairman Goodlatte, has requested a classified briefing on this issue from our intelligence.
So I think we need to do that work which is customary in a situation like this. It is important. I don't think we need to whitewash it in any way. But I don't think we need to politicize the issue as it seems some Democrats are trying to do.
INSKEEP: I can understand the charge of politicization here, but let's just think about this for a moment. Democrats have, for years, accused Republicans of putting their party over their country. I've spoken with many Republicans who find that really stinging, really unfair. But Rand Paul just said it out loud, that he should put the party in front of the country.
JOHNSON: Well, look, I interpret his comments to be a discussion about mechanics and procedure. It's not party over country at all. I don't think that's a fair interpretation of what he said. Look, there are some serious legal implications here. But it has nothing to do with partisan politics. I mean, the leak of highly classified information by, what is apparent here, a number of individuals inside our intelligence community, is the illegal act that I think we need to review.
It does merit further inquiry because we've got to find out if we have a problem internally. That could be a serious threat to the country going forward. And these are very serious implications. I mean, it's illegal for the CIA, for example, to spy, even incidentally, on Americans unless strict parameters are met. And it just simply doesn't appear that that happened in this case.
INSKEEP: Well, now, this is really interesting because there's two different questions here. One is, what contacts did the Trump administration or the Trump campaign - people around the president - have with Russia? Were they colluding in some way? But there's this other question of, why are we finding out about it - the leaks of apparently classified information? You're saying you're more concerned about the leaks, is that right?
JOHNSON: Well, I am. I don't think that there's anything extraordinary at all about persons in an incoming administration or during a campaign talking with officials from other countries. I mean, there are limitations upon that as well. I mean, there are some laws in effect that say, for example, that private citizens can't conduct U.S. diplomacy and all of the rest...
INSKEEP: Yeah, the Logan Act, which makes it illegal, sure. Never been a prosecution, but it's been in the books a long time.
JOHNSON: Well, that's right. And I mean, let's be frank. There's some question about whether that would even survive a constitutional test. But we could get in the weeds on it. But the point is that we've got highly sensitive, classified information that's in the hands of our intelligence officials on a daily basis. And if that information is being handled carelessly, then that's of great concern to everyone in this country. I mean, everyone recognizes that Russia is flexing its muscle. Putin is doing things, I think, to be provocative. And we've got to look at that very seriously and handle the intelligence as carefully as we ever have.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about that, though, Congressman. I understand the concern about leaks, and this is not the first administration to be concerned about leaks. They are all concerned. The Obama administration went after leakers. But don't people commonly leak information like this when they fear that the normal investigative channels, like the FBI or Congress, are not going to do their jobs?
JOHNSON: Well, listen - look, people can justify and rationalize this in a number of ways. But the law is very clear. And, you know, as a member of the Judiciary Committee in the House, I mean, this is ultimately what we have to look to. When the intelligence community captures phone calls of an America inside the U.S., even if the discussion involves a foreign national, like an ambassador, as what happened here, they have to take steps to protect the identity of the American caller. There's a myriad number of reasons why that's important. And it looks as though those protocols and those legal protections were traversed here. And we've got to take that very seriously.
INSKEEP: You're correct. They're supposed to minimize the presence of the American in the call, unless, of course, there's been a foreign intelligence surveillance warrant. And we don't know the details there. I want to play a piece of tape, Congressman. This is Elijah Cummings. He's a Democrat, one of your fellow House members. And he's the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. And he sounds a little bit unhappy.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Do you hear that? Do you hear the silence? This is the sound of House Republicans conducting no oversight of President Trump.
INSKEEP: Is that fair, Congressman?
JOHNSON: No, I don't think it's fair at all. I mean, we've seen a host of members of the House of Representatives, Republican leaders come out in the last 24, 48 hours to speak directly to it. I mean, the House intelligence chairman, Devin Nunes, stated he wants the FBI to conduct an assessment of the leaks. We've got...
INSKEEP: But wait. But that's an assessment of the leaks. That's going after people who are concerned about the president. That's not actually oversight of the president, is it?
JOHNSON: Well, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Richard Burr, said his panel plans to continue to do aggressive oversight on the committee privately. And that is the standard procedure for this. We don't do these things in public for obvious reasons because it's highly classified, sensitive information.
But I think it's unfair for anyone to politicize this and say that - or imply that these committees are not willing to do what is their typical job, their typical scope of jurisdiction because they've all said exactly the opposite. And I think a lot of that important work's going to be done here in the coming days.
INSKEEP: Just about 30 seconds here, Congressman. A House committee had the power to request the president's tax returns and voted not to do it. I understand why they say that, that they don't want to get into people's private businesses. But is there any circumstance under which it would be right to request the president's tax returns?
JOHNSON: Well, sure. If there's an allegation that, I think, that a law has been broken, then we need to treat that with the same level of scrutiny that we treat all these other issues. Look, the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans are doing the job that the American people sent them here to do. And I think we've got to allow this system to play out. Listen, the president's only been on the job for less than a month. We're going to get through this.
INSKEEP: Congressman Mike Johnson of Louisiana, thanks very much. It's always a pleasure.
JOHNSON: Thanks, Steve.
(SOUNDBITE OF FAKEAR'S, "SONG FOR JO")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.