March 29, 2019

Angus King

Senator Angus King (I-ME) discusses the Mueller Report, why Attorney General Barr’s summary is not enough and how we can protect ourselves from the Russians in the 2020 election.

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He’s the independent senator who says the American people need all of the facts when it comes to the Mueller Report, this week on ‘Firing Line.’
Angus King is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, known for his combative style…
I’ll ask both of you the same question.
Why are you not answering these questions?

And I don’t mean that in a contentious way.

Well, I do mean it in a contentious way.

…and his probing manner.

When a president of the United States in the Oval Office says something like ‘I hope’ or ‘I suggest’ or ‘would you,’ do you take that as a directive?

Yes.

Now Senator King says that after 22 months of this…
Robert Mueller…
…Mueller investigation…
The Mueller Report…
The Mueller Report…
…the Attorney General’s summary leaves him with ‘lingering questions.’
With many on the Right saying the case is closed…
No collusion, no obstruction.

Mr. Mueller definitively answered the question.

…and others on the Left calling for Mueller to testify…
At the end of the day, yes, I think both the Congress and the American people are gonna want to hear from Bob Mueller.

Oh, we have to get the report.
Oh, they, to their peril, will keep that report.

…what does Senator Angus King say now?

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Welcome to ‘Firing Line,’ Senator Angus King.

Glad to be here, Margaret.

So, you are the senator, an independent senator, from Maine.
You are a two-term governor from the state of Maine…
That’s right.

…an independent governor elected twice, an extraordinary thing, and also a senator on this Senate Select Committee for Intelligence.

And Armed Services, which they sort of fit together.

And Armed Services.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is investigating, among other things, the Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.
And Special Counsel Robert Mueller has just finished his investigation, a 22-month-long investigation, and in summarizing that investigation, Attorney General Barr has written a letter to Congress, which has been shared with the American people.
Do you accept that conclusion of no collusion?

I’m not prepared to because we’re not finished with our investigation.
And you have to understand there are two very different missions of these two investigations.
Robert Mueller’s investigation was a criminal.
He was looking for breaches of criminal law — conspiracy, obstruction of justice.
That’s his focus as a prosecutor.
Our investigation is, ‘What happened?’
We’re after the facts and the circumstances, not necessarily, ‘Was a crime committed?’ or ‘Can you prove it beyond a reasonable doubt?’
We’re trying to get the information.
That’s the difference between the two.
And we’re still in, I’d say, the final stages of the final piece, which is the collusion, cooperation, and we’re not done yet.
What I will say and what I think has been lost in all of this excitement of the last few days about the Mueller Report is — everybody, including Mueller and including Barr, in his letter, accepts the fact that the Russians intruded, grossly, in our election in 2016.
That’s sort of been lost amongst all the exciting, you know, ‘Did the president or his campaign collude?’
The really important story, long term, is, ‘What did the Russians do, how did they do it, and how do we prevent it from happening again?’

Can you share with us anything about the investigations that are happening in the Senate Select Intelligence Committee?

I can’t, except to tell you it’s ongoing.
We still have witnesses to come before us.
We’ve got document requests out.
We’ve reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents.
We didn’t have all the resources that the Mueller investigation had, but we’ve done, I think, a creditable, thorough job.
And, basically, our investigation had a series of pieces, and the first piece was, ‘Did the Russians do it?
Were they trying to assist the Trump campaign?’
And the answer to that is ‘yes.’
And that’s just — That’s been established by the intelligence community, now by Mueller, endorsed by Barr in his letter, implicitly.
So, that’s one piece of it.
The other piece is interference in our state election systems.
And that’s been not attended to.
The Russians were into 21 states in 2016.
They didn’t change votes, they didn’t change vote totals, but the way I put it was — they weren’t doing it for fun.

Right.

And, so, that was a piece of it.
The other piece that I think our committee — I wouldn’t say we discovered it, but we brought it more to the fore was the whole social-media piece, the disinformation piece.
And they’re still at it, by the way, and they want — The whole deal is to divide us.
They take a little crack in our society and they want to turn it — Perfect example — they were promoting ‘take a knee’ and they were also promoting ‘boycott the NFL.’

Right. Right.

You know, they don’t care.
They just want to split us apart.
And, unfortunately, it plays into the way our politics are going anyway.

You said a moment ago, Senator, that you are not yet prepared to accept the conclusion of Attorney General Barr, that there was no collusion between the Russians and the president.
Why do you say that?

Well, I’m not necessarily prepared or not prepared.
I just don’t know enough.
Call me, you know, a guy from — a small-town lawyer from Maine, but I don’t want a four-page summary.
I want to see the data myself, and I think the American people ought to have that information, too.

But is it also because of what you know because of your work on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, that there’s enough information out there that the four-page-summary letter from Attorney General Barr doesn’t square with what you know?

I can’t answer that question, because of my work on the committee is classified, and I’ve honored that.
And I think it’s worth noting that the work on our committee has been — thus far, anyway — entirely bipartisan, which is pretty amazing in this situation.
I don’t know if we can carry that all the way through to the end, but, generally, our conclusions right along in our report have been pretty much unanimous.
When will we see your report?

Hopefully in the next couple of months.
We’re still interviewing witnesses.
We’re still looking at documents.
We’re still writing some sections of the report.
And now that Mr. Mueller’s finished — Because there were some intersections of his investigation and ours, and now that he’s finished, we have a little more of a free rein to talk to people.

Do you think Mueller will come to Congress and testify before Congress?

I don’t know the answer to that.
I suspect he will.

Would you like him to?

Well, again, I don’t necessarily need to see him.
I just want to see the report.
And I just don’t think that’s unreasonable.

There were two parts of the Special Counsel’s investigation, as reported by Attorney General Barr’s letter to Congress and to the American people.
One was this question of Russian collusion and a criminal charge, whether the president and his colleagues were involved in colluding with Russians to influence the election.
The other was the obstruction of justice.
And on the issue of whether the president actually obstructed justice, Attorney General Barr’s letter reads… Given that the Special Counsel spent 22 months investigating this, were you surprised that Mueller essentially punted?

Punted. Yeah, I was.
I was surprised, ’cause he’s a prosecutor.
And I don’t know — That’s why, I think, the American people need to see much more of that report.
I was just reading, before I came over here today — Somebody said, ‘What if Kenneth Starr’s report,’ which was 343 pages long, ‘had been given to Janet Reno, and Janet Reno then sent a letter to Congress saying, ‘Well, the Starr Report concluded that Bill Clinton didn’t commit any crimes?’ I mean, we need to see what’s in that report.

Do you think Mueller refusing to prosecute, which was essentially what he was tasked for — investigating and prosecuting — does this mean that Mueller potentially didn’t fulfill his duties?

That’s a really good question.
And, again, without seeing what Mueller actually said, all we have is Barr’s characterization of it.
And, by the way, one of the things Mueller’s report did say was, ‘We found evidence on both sides of the obstruction.
We decided there wasn’t enough to prosecute, but the president is not exonerated.’
He used that word — ‘not exonerated.’
And, of course, everybody in the last 2 or 3 days has been saying, ‘The president’s fully exonerated.’
Mueller didn’t say that.
He expressly said he wasn’t.
But I think Mueller should have reached a conclusion, but, again, I don’t know why he didn’t.
He may have said, ‘There’s plenty of evidence here, but a sitting president can’t be indicted, and, therefore, we’re not gonna do it.’
I just don’t know.
And I think that’s why we need to see the underlying facts.
And I like Barr.
I’ve met him.
He’s a very smart guy.
He was Attorney General under the Bush administration.
But he has a view of executive power that’s pretty far out there and wrote a 19-page memo out of the blue last year saying the president can’t be guilty of obstruction.
This is the same guy that wrote the letter this time, saying, ‘There’s no obstruction.’
So it’s sort of unfortunate that he has this taint, if you will, of a pre-existing thinking on this very issue.

Do you think that Mueller’s investigation was more narrow than you expected it would be?
You haven’t seen it, so you don’t know.

It’s impossible to know.

Right.

I don’t know if his report was 5 pages or 500 pages.

Right. And we only have a four-page summary.

Correct.

But it seems, in that four-page summary, that there are many questions that were not investigated.
For example, questions about the president’s financial dealings with Russians.

Again, they may have been.
We know that they subpoenaed the Trump Organization, and there was a lot of investigation.
We don’t know what the conclusions were.
The Starr investigation of Clinton was under a different statute.
It was under a special-prosecutor statute that said the report had to be produced.
That statute expired.
This investigation was different.
It’s regulations of the Justice Department.
And it just says, ‘The Special Counsel shall report a confidential report to the Attorney General.’

It does seem ironic or maybe it’s just hindsight is 20/20, but this notion that we’re looking back at the Starr Report with rose-colored glasses — right? — and the process of the Starr Report with rose-colored glasses is very interesting.

Well, at the time, everybody hated it because it was so detailed and salacious.

Well, and to be fair, Senator, it did fall out of favor, in a bipartisan way, because of the Iran-Contra affair investigations that were also brought to bear because of the same statute for independent counsel and the Whitewater investigation and the Clinton investigations.
And so I think there’s a real reflection that’s happening now about which process is a better process to ensure that we have an independent check on the executive.
Is it your view now that the Starr Report or the independent counsel is a better mechanism for transparency on the executive branch?

I don’t think it’s an either/or.
I don’t think it’s either Starr or Mueller.
I think there may be some place in between, where more information is conveyed, but not the whole kitchen sink.
And, of course, if you aren’t conveying all the information, then somebody’s filtering it.
Somebody’s making decisions about what’s put into the report.
But, clearly, a couple of pages of summary…
Is insufficient.

…by an Attorney General appointed two months ago by the president who’s the subject of the investigation just doesn’t, I don’t think, satisfy the public’s right to have the results of something they spent $20 million on.

He said, though, in his letter that he was going through the process, right now, of preparing the information in order to share it.
Do you suspect that all of the information that can be shared will be?

We’ll see. I don’t know.

One of the things we do on this show, every episode, is that we show a clip from a previous Buckley episode, because in the 33 years that Buckley actually aired, he basically covered every topic, and so you will not be surprised to realize that he actually dealt with this question of an independent prosecutor in 1973, when he had, on this program, William Ruckelshaus, who was the Deputy Attorney General.

Right. Who was one of the ones who resigned.

Well, he resigned because he refused to fire the special prosecutor during the Saturday Night Massacre.
I want to take a look at a clip from that program.
And what Buckley is getting at is — there’s an argument that Conservatives made for a long time — I mean, Justice Scalia made it.
William F. Buckley Jr. made it right there.
The question is — who and what is the right check on executive overreach and executive power?

You know, this is not a new question.
The Romans put it this way — ‘Quis custodiet est custodes,’ ‘Who will guard the guardians?’
You create a government, which you empower to do things — to protect you, to protect your safety.
How do you protect yourself from the government itself?
How do we protect our democracy if one branch or the other overreaches?
And a special prosecutor is the solution or a special counsel or something, and it’s because of the reality that the president controls the executive branch, including the Justice Department.
The president appoints the Attorney General.

But then why is the check not the people?
Why is the check not the Congress and the people acting through the Congress?

I think the check is the people.
The special counsel or whatever you want to call them is doing research to present to the people, and then they can make their own decision.
Our whole democracy is based on information.
If you don’t have the information, you can’t make decisions.
And that’s the system that I think we have to establish to be sure the voters have the information that they need.

What are your lingering questions?
You said that in your statement, that you have lingering questions about —
Well, there’s some lingering questions — You raised some of them.
There were investigations of financial connections to the Russians.
For example, we now know, to a reasonable degree of certainty, that the president was negotiating for a major real-estate deal in Russia during the 2016 campaign.
And you don’t do anything in Moscow without Vladimir Putin’s approval.
And, you know, how did that affect his views toward Putin and toward Russia policy?
So, you know, I think there needs to be more about that.
One of my lingering questions is — we know that Paul Manafort supplied some polling data to a Russian.
Why? Was it just, ‘Hey, our guy’s gonna win’ or was it ‘Here are the states where we could use some help’? I don’t know.
And I haven’t heard anybody else point this out, but if you read the Barr letter, it says, ‘There was no collusion or –‘ It didn’t use collusion, because that’s not really a crime.
I think it said ‘conspiring’ or ‘cooperating with the Russian That leaves open the question, ‘What if it wasn’t the Russian government but some oligarchs?’
And maybe I’m being a little overly suspicious, but that was a rather precise use of the term ‘the Russian government.’
It didn’t say ‘the Russians.’
And then, of course, the whole issue of obstruction of justice — of course, he made it clear that there was substantial evidence on both sides.
What if — And here’s where I’m sort of conflicted.
What if the report comes out, and there’s negative things about obstruction of justice or other things?
What’s the solution?
I think the solution is the election of 2020.
I’m a Conservative when it comes to impeachment.
I think impeachment is a very — should be used in the most exceptional circumstances.
You know, we’re less than two years away from an election.
Let’s get the information out and let the people of America decide, not — And if we did an impeachment process, 1/3 of the country would think it was a coup.

So, do you think impeachment’s off the table?

I think it ought to be.
I don’t always agree with Nancy Pelosi, but I think, this time, she got it right.

Well, and also the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff says he’s not willing to accept the conclusions that Attorney General Barr wrote in his letter, that there is no collusion, that he’s gonna continue to look at the collusion question, which means —
Well, Nancy Pelosi left a little opening — and I will, too — that if there’s some bombshell, if there’s some — You know, if there’s an e-mail, ‘Hey, Vlad, if you let me build my building, I’ll remove the sanctions from the Ukraine,’ I mean, you know, something just — But you’ve got to leave that as an option, but my feeling is, again, if — You’ve got to realize impeachment is the Congress overturning an election.
And if there’s an election coming in 20 months, let’s let the people of America decide.

Let me ask you a question about politics seeping into the normal functioning of the Justice Department and the FBI.
Are you concerned that there is a seep, maybe unintentionally or maybe intentionally, of political ideology seeping into the functioning of the department?
The reason I ask that question is — you know, we’re calling for and asking for and hoping for the release of key parts of the Mueller Report so that you can answer your lingering questions, so the American people can see how the determination was made by Attorney General Barr not to charge on obstruction of justice.
But in this reckoning of transparency, should there also be transparency and light shed on the FISA warrant process, for example, and whether political documents that were paid for by a political party influenced the FISA, warrant process, for example?

No, I think so.
And I don’t think anything startling will be found, because I looked into a lot of that.

Let’s listen to some of the reactions of Washington’s public figures to Attorney General Barr’s letter this week.

I think a great many people have skepticism about the bias, the evident bias, of Bill Barr.

It’s not premature for the president to say he’s exonerated and vindicated.

The American people have a right to know whether their president is a crook.

This is as strong a statement as you can see.
This is good for the president.
More importantly, it’s good for the country.

I have a lot of suspicion about Barr, who’s already spoken to these issues before he even saw the report.

To those that are happy that your president has been cleared of working with a foreign power, I think you’re a good American.

Senator, lost in all the politics is the fact that a foreign adversary interfered in the 2016 presidential elections.
And I want to know, from you, how do you get your colleagues and the public to focus on what the real threat to our democracy is?

Bless you for saying that.
That’s what I’ve been saying for two years.
This was an attack on our country.
And it’s serious, and they’re gonna keep doing it.
And the only way I can think of to do it is to try to keep making that point.
Now, the President of the United States has the best megaphone of all.
And a week after the election, after he had been briefed by the intelligence community about what happened, he should have made this speech, in my opinion.
‘I’m convinced, by my intelligence community and all the data, that the Russians attacked our country in the prior election, and it was improper and it can’t be tolerated.
And we’re not gonna put up with it.
We’re gonna find a way to respond forcefully.
Also, it’s been alleged that my campaign had some cooperation with them.
That’s not the case.
And if anyone in my campaign did such a thing, they should be punished to the full extent of the law.’
That’s the speech I wish the president had made.

And, also, ‘Russia, I don’t need your help.’

That’s right. That’s right.

If he has so much bravado about knowing that he won the election fair and square.

But, see, he always read this, in my view, as a threat to his mandate, that it sort of sullied his mandate.

But do you think it’s just that he interpreted this as a threat to his mandate or do you suspect or think there’s still an open question as to whether he is potentially, in some way, compromised or that the Russians or some foreign adversary may have leverage over him?

That’s a really hard question, and I don’t have an answer to that.
And, to be honest with you, I really hope that’s not the case.
I don’t want to believe that, just because it’s so far into our democracy.

But isn’t that what your committee is looking into right now?

Well, that is one of the things that we’re concerned about.
You’ve got to remember, Donald Trump and his son and his son-in-law and the people — except for Manafort, they weren’t experienced political people.
You know, Donald Jr. gets an e-mail that says, ‘The Russians want to come and give you dirt on Hillary,’ and he says, ‘I love it.’
He was — That was sort of naive, I think.
You see what I mean?
An experienced political person would have said, ‘Oh, wow!
Let’s be careful with this.’

‘Get the lawyers.’

‘Call the FBI or at least call the lawyers.’
I think they were just winging it at that point.
And, so, I don’t know how to respond to your underlying question about a compromised president.
I deeply hope that’s not the case.

As much as 1/3 of the country say that blaming the Russians is just sour grapes.
You know, how do you convince them that there is a real and serious threat by a foreign adversary to influence our elections?

People have to be willing to receive the information.
You know, one of the problems we have in our society today is — everybody gets information from a source they agree with.
Confirmation bias.
You know, if you’re a Conservative, you watch Fox News.
You know, if you’re a Liberal, you watch MSNBC.
That’s where the president could have helped — you see? — by distinguishing — There are two issues.
What did the Russians do?
And was the Trump campaign involved?
You can totally deny the Trump campaign being involved — and Mueller seems to have confirmed that — but that doesn’t change what the Russians did.
And if he would make this speech, it would be very beneficial to the country.
I think it would elevate his status.
And it would help us going forward.

So, what does a policy-maker like yourself do to prevent foreign intervention in the election in 2020?

Well, one of the things that I’m working on — I’m very deeply involved in the whole issue of cyber-intrusions and the kind of things that the Russians did.
I believe we have to have a deterrent capacity.

What does that mean?

That means if they do something like this, they’re gonna get hit back.
It may not be cyber.
It may not be a bomb.
It may be sanctions.
It may be something.
But the problem is now — we’re a free lunch.

In other words, we’re not discouraging them from doing it.
There’s no consequence if they do it.

Putin attacked our country and hasn’t paid a price at all.
Why shouldn’t he do it again?

But given the president’s reluctance to acknowledge Russia’s role in influencing the election, if we even have a deterrent capability, do you have confidence that the chief executive would use it?

Well, I have to tell you that our intelligence agencies did a pretty good job in 2018.
I can’t go much further than that, except to say that —
Except for that one of Robert Mueller’s indictments was actually against Russians trying to interfere in Georgia’s election infrastructure.

Yeah. Well, that and we’ve got to — It wasn’t perfect, but I’m saying that I think the government itself is starting to realize that we have — We have to have a cyber doctrine.
We have to have a strategy, and it has to be public and our adversaries have to know that if they come after us, they’re gonna pay a price.

Are we ready for 2020?

Close, but not there.
No, I don’t think we are.
I really don’t.
I’m afraid — And, as I said earlier, we’re producing a lot of the fodder ourselves, and the Russians are just boosting it, promoting it.

Senator Angus King, independent from Maine, thank you for your words of wisdom and for joining us here at ‘Firing Line.’

I don’t know about the wisdom part, but I sure did enjoy being with you.
Thank you so much for having me.

Thanks for being here.

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