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Sen. Warner: ‘Legitimate questions’ need to be answered about Trump and Russia

The New York Times reports that the FBI launched a counterintelligence investigation into whether President Trump was working on behalf of Russia after Trump fired FBI director James Comey. Today, the president denied being under Russia's influence. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., tells Judy Woodruff whether he believes Trump and what we still don’t know about Trump’s meetings with Vladimir Putin.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And a short time ago, I spoke with Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. He's vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

    I started by asking him if he takes the president at his word that he hasn't worked for Russian interests.

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    One of the questions that I still have is — the president has a right to meet with any world leader one-on-one, but after that, what I thought a pathetic performance where the president kowtowed to Vladimir Putin in that Helsinki meeting, why did the president want the notes of that meeting that were kept by the interpreter?

    Why wouldn't he at least want to share those notes with his top people, so that he could give them at least a readout? I still think the vast majority of the — all of the American people and, for that matter, my understanding, even the top folks in the Trump administration don't know what took place at that meeting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, how do you get to the bottom of that? How do you find out what actually happened in those meetings? Or is it even possible to do that?

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    I know there may be committees in the House that are going to try to subpoena that. I have some hesitancy about that, because interpreters should be able to do their job without — they owe an allegiance to whoever they are interpreting for.

    But I think there are legitimate questions that have to be answered here. My hope is that the Mueller investigation, when it concludes — and I hope it concludes as soon as possible — that we will get some of those answers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just very quickly, so am I hearing you correctly that right now you don't know whether or not President Trump worked for Russian government interests?

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    Donald Trump, I'm going to give him the — I'm going to take his word for his statements today.

    But there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered. And for an individual that constantly says there's no there there, then he should let the Mueller investigation finish.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And when he says that nobody's been tougher on Russia than he is, than he has, through sanctions, through other measures, how do you respond?

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    I would say that is not factually accurate on any basis.

    The sanctions that were imposed in many cases against his administration's will, at the will of Congress. And we have got right now, real time, in the next 24 hours, his administration is trying to remove sanctions on one of the Russian companies, and indirectly one of Putin's favorite oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska.

    We're trying in a bipartisan way to stop that from happening.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me turn you now to the government shutdown, now in its 24th day.

    Senator, you represent, obviously, the Washington suburbs in Virginia, the state of Virginia, which has so many government employees.

    My colleague Lisa Desjardins, who covers the Capitol for us, says she's learned that your Democratic colleague Senator Joe Manchin is having a small private, bipartisan meeting with other members of Congress now to try to find some sort of compromise, some way to break through this.

    Do anything about that or any other effort to break through?

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    Well, Judy, I'm not going to talk about any specific meetings.

    I know there's a number of us in both parties talking about how we get the government reopened.

    The kind of stories that I'm hearing from federal employees, even if they get their back pay, if you have taken out your money from your IRA, you have still got to pay a tax penalty. If you're taking an advance against your credit card, you have still got to pay fees.

    We had one family last week that brought in their seven-week-old baby. And they had tried to get their baby on their health insurance, and the person to fulfill the form was furloughed. So when the doctor gave them a prescription, luckily, the insurance company finally put that baby on the insurance form.

    But there are stories like that where people shouldn't have to go through this kind of — this kind of stress. And I think, actually — and I was a business guy. I was a governor where I had a 2-1 Republican legislature.

    I think, when history looks back at Trump's actions, I think business schools will write case studies about how not to negotiate based on Donald Trump, the dealmaker's approach.

    If you look business rules 101, try to make sure both sides can claim there's a win-win. If you are empowering people, try to make sure they can negotiate on your behalf. If you're going to have a work force, try to bring them on your side. If you're going to do these things, have advisers that will tell you the truth.

    On every one of those, Donald Trump has broken all of the traditional rules of how you negotiate for successful — and I think — and, again, I think it's pretty remarkable that a guy that said he was a dealmaker seems to have fumbled this and has hurt so many people in so many ways.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Senator, is there no way for Democrats to say, look, yes, we believe the president's responsible here, but we're going to swallow our pride because there's so much at stake, we're going to go ahead and put something on the table in order to get through this, in order to try to get to some solution beyond?

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    Judy, I'm all for additional border security, but it ought to be done and spent in a smart way with modern technology, not with, frankly, fifth century technology like a wall.

    But what we don't know — and I — we have seen the vice president make offers, and those offers get rejected by Trump. We have seen the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, pass something that passed 96-2 and Trump reject that. And we have seen Lindsey Graham, Trump's whisperer, try a variety of things.

    The challenge we have got here is, nobody knows what Donald Trump will take, other than trying to get 100 percent of a solution set that no border expert says is the right way to actually secure our border.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sounds like we're no closer, at least that we know of, this evening.

    Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    Thank you, Judy.

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