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Sen. Klobuchar wants to know why Trump administration is ‘eager’ for Russia connection

February 15, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for an independent investigation to address unanswered questions surrounding Michael Flynn's resignation and new reports of regular contact between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Judy Woodruff speaks with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., about what and how she would like to probe in the wake of Flynn’s departure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The swirl of questions surrounding General Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser, and the new reports of regular contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, has Democrats on Capitol Hill, as we heard, calling for an independent investigation.

One of them is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

I spoke to her a short time ago, and started by asking what questions she has.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, D-Minn.: Well, I believe this is much more than the resignation of one national security adviser.

You already had the Trump campaign chairman step aside because of contacts with Russia, and now this new report that there were multiple contacts between people in the campaign and Russian intelligence people. So, that’s why I think we have to get to the bottom of it.

This is about a fundamental concept, and that is a free democracy that should be free from foreign influences. And we already have had our 17 intelligence agencies tell us that there’s been an attempt to influence our election. And now we’re finding out that these contacts were ongoing.

So, we need to know, who did Flynn work with? Who did he talk to? What did he talk about to the Russian ambassador? And, also, why was this happening? I think that’s the biggest overriding question for our national security. Why was the Trump administration so eager to placate the Russians and make friends with them, when they have done so many horrific things, including invading countries that are our allies?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you have information beyond what’s been reported in the press about that?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, I will say, when I was out with Senator McCain and Graham in the Baltics and Ukraine and Georgia, I spent a significant amount of time with President Poroshenko in Ukraine.

I don’t have the classified information for you to share, but I do have just my experience of learning that 10,000 people were killed there, of seeing that these cyber-attacks have been happening for years, where it’s really the modus operandi of Russia, where they have infiltrated Estonia’s system, Lithuania’s system.

This is what they do. They try to bring down these democracies with cyber-attacks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you think this should be investigated? We know that the Senate Intelligence Committee, the bipartisan Intelligence Committee, is looking into this. Are you prepared to leave it at that, because some Democrats have said that it should be an outside, independent commission?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: I think we can do both at the same time.

The Intelligence Committee is important because they’re going to be able to get underneath the surface with classified information. Hopefully, they can declassify some of it. And then, secondly, this independent commission — I was one of the early sponsors of this bill and announced it with the leaders of the bill, because I think you need an 9/11-type commission to really look at what happened, so that you can also make recommendations so it doesn’t happen in the future.

I think we can do both things at once.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why do you need an outside commission? I mean, I talked yesterday with Senator Mark Warner, who, of course, is vice chairman of that Intelligence Committee. He said, at this point, he thinks that the Intelligence Committee itself can handle it.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, Senator Warner and I are very good friends. And I have full faith in his leadership and those of the other senators on the committee.

But the advantage of starting this up, which will, by the way, take a much longer period of time, is that you can put in place some experts that can look at this really from a different perspective. And that’s like the 9/11 Commission did. What happened, and what steps can be taken, so we can protect our democracy and others in the future?

JUDY WOODRUFF: You also were telling me, Senator Klobuchar, that you and other Democrats want to see the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recuse himself from any investigation going on inside the government. Why?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, there’s actually a specific rule on this, Judy.

And it says, no DOJ employee may participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution or would be directly affected by the outcome.

Senator Sessions, who have I worked with extensively on the Judiciary Committee, while I have had a good working relationship with him, he has made it clear that he’s not going to take on cases where there’s conflicts.

While he hasn’t said that about this case, I don’t know how you get around it. He was an early supporter of President Trump. He was involved in the campaign. Flynn was involved in the campaign. And I just think it’s better that he recuse himself, as does Senator Feinstein and many other members of the Judiciary Committee.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, one other thing. I’m sure you know President Trump is saying that so much of this is fabricated by the news media. He’s saying the news media is blowing this out of proportion, that the facts just are not there to bear this out.

And he’s more upset about the leaking on the part of the intelligence community than he is about what the leaks purportedly show.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: You know, he has every right to go after that leaking. As you know, President Obama did that as well, although, as Senator Corker said yesterday, President Obama ran a pretty tight ship.

And there are more leaks going on than we have during the — practically the entire Obama administration. So, the president has a right to look into that.

That is not the big story here, though. The big story here is that the national security adviser resigned after only 26 days, and that, in this sea of problems with Russia and the fact that we have got to stand tall with our allies, and that we have 17 intelligence agencies — no one is making that up.

Then you would have to discount the clear evidence from 17 intelligence agencies of the U.S. government that this had actually occurred.

It occurred. It’s a fact. And the only question now is how we respond to it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, we thank you very much.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Judy. It was great to be on.