JUDY WOODRUFF: We return now to the investigations into Russia’s role in last year’s election and the relationship, any relationship with the Trump campaign.
Senator Angus King of Maine attended this afternoon’s closed briefing with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. Senator King sits on the Select Committee on Intelligence. And he joins us now from Capitol Hill.
Senator King, thank you very much for joining us.
A lot of people have many questions for the deputy attorney general. What did you learn from today’s briefing?
SEN. ANGUS KING, I-Maine: Well, I think there were a couple things that we learned.
One that came out actually in his opening statement, which I think caught everybody a little bit by surprise, he said that he learned that President Trump had intended to fire Director Comey before he wrote the memo, which, of course, was then used later on by the White House and by President Trump in his letter to Director Comey as the justification for the firing.
And I — he was asked about it two or three times, as I mentioned. As I say, he mentioned it in his opening statement. And that was a little bit surprising. I mean, we knew that the White House changed the justification for the firing. President Trump changed it himself two or three days later, but, at the time, the whole argument was the firing was based upon the memo.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
SEN. ANGUS KING: Now we learn that the firing decision had been made before the memo was written.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Did he then explain, did the deputy attorney general go on to explain why he did so, why he wrote the memo?
SEN. ANGUS KING: Well, he didn’t. He wouldn’t answer questions about any details about why he wrote it, who wrote it, who contributed to it, whether there were edits.
And this was sort of second thing that came out of the meeting, because he said this may be part of Robert Mueller’s investigation. This whole — the whole firing of Comey may be part of that investigation, so, therefore, I can’t talk about it, which I think that was also somewhat surprising, that he views the scope of Robert Mueller’s investigation as pretty broad, which now apparently includes the circumstances surrounding the firing of James Comey.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, this is a subjective question, but did you get the sense from Mr. Rosenstein that he — he feels he may have done something wrong here?
SEN. ANGUS KING: No, I didn’t.
He was — he wasn’t apologetic. He was quite assertive, actually. And he stood by his memo. But then, when he was pressed about, why did you write it and how did it actually come about and who talked about it, that’s when he said, I can’t answer that question, and he said that probably 10 times, because this may be part of Robert Mueller’s FBI investigation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What does that tell you, though, Senator, about what — how much the Senate Intelligence Committee, any of these investigative committees, are going to be able to find out, if that’s going to be the answer you get as you try to get to the bottom of some of these hard questions?
SEN. ANGUS KING: Well, I don’t think that’s necessarily the answer that we’re going to get, particularly in a closed session.
By the way, I’m not sure why this session today was closed. I don’t think there was anything said that was classified. At least I didn’t hear it. And he stated himself that the opening statement that I cited wasn’t classified.
But we will be having sessions. In fact, one of the things — I talked with one of the members of the committee right after the meeting this afternoon. Our committee has to sit down with Robert Mueller and talk about how we will coordinate the two investigations. We don’t want to get in each other’s way. We don’t want to offer immunity or have them offer immunity that would compromise either one of our investigations.
But, basically, you have two investigations running in parallel. Their — the FBI is a law enforcement agency, and they’re looking at whether laws were broken in this country. We’re a fact-finding agency, and — or committee, and we will — the — as I say, the two investigations are running in the same direction, and we’re going to try to deconflict and be in touch as we move forward. And I think that’s certainly possible to do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that’s my question. How concerned are you that you’re going to able to do that, given what you’re already discovering today from Mr. Rosenstein?
SEN. ANGUS KING: Well, he was reluctant — I mean, he wasn’t answering questions because he said this may be part of this investigation.
We’re going to be talking to Director Mueller about the investigation. So I think we’re going to be able to get the information that we need. We have gotten good cooperation thus far from the FBI, from the CIA, from the NSA, from the other intelligence agencies. I don’t think this is going to be a problem.
But it’s one that it’s going to take some discussion and some work in order to be sure that we’re — we are not stepping on each other’s toes, because we’re all headed in the same direction. And, remember, this investigation, all the attention is to the Trump campaign.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
SEN. ANGUS KING: This is about a foreign government interfering in our democratic process. And let’s always remember that that’s what it is, and that’s why it’s so important.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But is it also about a potential obstruction of justice or a potential effort to stop an investigation that might be harming the president?
SEN. ANGUS KING: Well, I’m not going to — I mean, that’s going to be part of the investigation. That’s certainly what the deputy attorney general indicated today, was that the investigation at the FBI is going to undertake — or is undertaking.
It’s been going on for some time. It’s going to be very broad in scope. So, all the facts are going to be on the table. And whenever you begin an investigation, you never know exactly where it’s going to lead or what the facts are going to be.
But my goal is to get the information so that, ultimately, we can report to the American people — and hopefully a lot of our hearings will be in public, so the American people will travel this road with us — what happened, why it happened, how it happened, and, most importantly, how do we keep it from happening again?
Judy, this is not a one-off for the Russians. This is what they do. And they are going to try to continue to be involved in our democratic process here, whether it’s state election processes or national elections. And we have got to figure out how to defend ourselves.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, so just finally, Senator, today, President Trump said again that he has no business dealings with Russia, no connections with Russia. Is that in any sense reassuring to you?
SEN. ANGUS KING: Well, if that were the end of the matter, we would all have to say we’re not going to do these investigations.
But, clearly, there are — there’s information that we need to get to the bottom of. And so I’m delighted that he takes that position, and hope that he’s proven correct. In fact, if that’s true, if he is correct, then they should be falling all over themselves to help with us this investigation in order to clear the air on this.
But we have got to follow the facts in order to reassure the American people as to what went on here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as I’m sure you know, the president today called it all a witch-hunt, said that people are after information that he said is a big waste of time.
SEN. ANGUS KING: I wouldn’t participate in a witch-hunt, Judy, nor would I participate in a whitewash.
This is a very serious matter. And it deserves serious work and consideration. And that’s what we’re going to do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator, thank you.
SEN. ANGUS KING: Thank you, Judy.