Sen. Amy Klobuchar On Investigating Trump And Russia
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Senate Democrats held an emergency meeting yesterday to figure out how best to investigate President Trump and possible ties to Russia, including these reports that people in his campaign were talking to Russian intelligence officials before the election. Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic senator from Minnesota was at that meeting. She is now in our studio. Senator, thanks for coming back in and visiting us. We appreciate it.
AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, thanks so much, David. It's great to be on again.
GREENE: So what happened at this meeting?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I never talk about details of meetings, but I'll just tell you in general.
GREENE: Talk about some of the details of the meeting.
KLOBUCHAR: Yeah, why else am I on? No, I'll just tell you in general. The Intelligence Committee of the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan basis had already embarked on this investigation, was already getting documents. So...
GREENE: This is even before these - this New York Times report?
KLOBUCHAR: Completely. And so - and that is headed up by Senator Burr and Senator Warner, who I have a lot of faith in, is the ranking Democrat on that committee. And so that committee's doing its work. And then also, there's a number of us who in early January had called for an independent commission, which by the way is different than a select committee which would be members of Congress.
KLOBUCHAR: An independent commission or committee would be like the 9/11 Commission, that is experts that are put on this committee to dig deep. And it's a more public affair, I would say.
GREENE: Right. And yesterday, I mean, it sounded like there was some - a lot of Democrats coalescing around the idea of keeping this just in the committee, including Mark Warner. You still want an independent commission?
KLOBUCHAR: Yeah. I can just - I promise you, Mark Warner is one of my best friends, and there was not some major dispute. I've seen disputes, this is not a major one. I think the issue is the Intelligence Committee is doing their work. We would like to see, a number of us, this commission started up. We think it'll take a while to do. Senator McConnell has said he's not for it anyway, so realistically we're not going to get it started. I think many of us hope the Intelligence Committee does its work and at some point we get this commission because...
GREENE: You said realistically it's not going to get started. Why even talk about it? Why not put your energy into the...
KLOBUCHAR: Oh, because how else do you get anything started? You've got to - you know, you've got Senator Graham and Senator McCain who have voiced some support for doing something like this out there, and you just get it started. We introduced a bill in early January. And I - my prediction is at some point we will have something like this happen, but right now the Intelligence Committee has a lot to gather. Obviously, some of this is classified. There's a reason it's in the Intelligence Committee. But that doesn't mean that other people aren't going to be doing their work and looking at other aspects of this.
I'm the ranking on rules. We have jurisdiction over elections and things like that. There is a lot to look at when you have, as I learned on my trip to the Baltics and Ukraine and Georgia with Senator McCain and Graham, Russia's been doing this for a long, long time. And there is no question, 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have told us they attempted to influence our election. So there are many things outside of the Flynn story.
GREENE: But let me - Michael Flynn, you're talking about the National Security Adviser who stepped down. Let me just clear this up. At a moment when clearly the country, you know, has gone through this very partisan campaign, if you're saying an independent commission which could take like a year to do its work, there could be a lot of partisan fighting, you know, is not going to happen anyway, why not stand there with all of your Democratic colleagues and say, you know what, let's stand together on this. Let's investigate this in the Intelligence Committee. Let's do it in a bipartisan way. Let's move forward and figure this out.
KLOBUCHAR: We have. We're all in favor of the Intelligence Committee going forward. All we are saying is at some point we may also want to have this commission because think of what the 9/11 Commission did. And they were widely praised for what they did. They looked back at what happened, but they also made public recommendations on how to change things so it doesn't happen again. It is a broader look at things.
And I think the bigger issue is that the administration has shown complete disdain for the balance of power in terms of the tweets that the president sends out every day, whether it's judges, whether it's the intelligence agencies. And Congress has to up its game and show its stuff and provide the kind of oversight that we are supposed to provide. And that means the Intelligence Committee, but it also means other people getting involved.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Senator, I got a question here regarding some things that some of your colleagues have said, some things that are in the media. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, was asking the other day, I want to know if Russia has something on President Trump. The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning - we haven't independently confirmed it, but reporting this morning - that U.S. intelligence agencies are reluctant to share information with the president of the United States. Some people have cast doubt on that story, but it is out there. What concern specifically do you have about the allegiances of the president of the United States?
KLOBUCHAR: I'm a former prosecutor, Steve, so I always want to see the evidence before I would make a claim like that. But I have concerns about what this administration, and before that this campaign, did in connection with Russia. We have had multiple reports that they have been dealing, that it wasn't just Flynn, that it was a number of other people that were talking to Russia. We know Manafort, the campaign chair, resigned...
INSKEEP: Paul Manafort.
KLOBUCHAR: ...over Russia. And so just based on what I've seen when I was working with Senator McCain and Graham, Russia has - does this. They find ways to influence elections. They find ways to get themselves into political parties to be able to influence what happens in another country. They shut off Estonia's web service, they tried to infiltrate Lithuania's.
And so this isn't a new game here. And that's why I think we need to look at it broader. And we know that there could be connections. The president wouldn't give up his tax returns. We don't know what's out there on that. We would like to know what are the connections because I think it influences our own democracy and security.
INSKEEP: And we should mention the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has denied this Wall Street Journal story about the intelligence agencies not sharing their sources and methods, although there is another question on the table here. Because Republicans, in particular your Republican colleagues in Congress, are at least as concerned, maybe more concerned about the leaks that are causing us to learn information about what is going on.
And it is a fair question, do we really want intelligence agencies putting out information in this way that destroys public officials, that knocks people out of government? Do we want, in a democracy, that to be happening?
KLOBUCHAR: We don't know how this came about. And I will say that President Obama was fairly focused on going after these leaks, you know that, although he ran, as Bob Corker said, a tight ship. We've seen other kinds of information come out from this administration. They have every right to go after these leaks. I don't dispute that. But the leaks, to me, and that issue pales in comparison, pales in comparison to an assault on our very democracy and our election. That is what we must pursue.
GREENE: In just a few seconds, do you know anything based on classified briefings or anything else that we don't know when it comes to these potential ties to Russia?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, now that's a great question because if I did know it, I wouldn't say it if it was classified.
GREENE: Sure, but, I mean, it would speak to why you might be motivated to have a larger commission study this.
KLOBUCHAR: Let's just say that based on my trip and what I learned which isn't that classified, the fact that you have hundreds of trolls that are employed by the Russian government trying to influence elections all the time, I grew very concerned before all of this came out in the fall and into January about this. And, yes, a lot of us were concerned before any of this came out.
GREENE: All right, Senator Amy Klobuchar, thanks so much for coming in.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF POPULOUS' "CANOE CANOA")
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.