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The Senate Intelligence Committee met behind closed doors this week with three key figures in their expanding Russia investigation, including special counsel Robert Mueller. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice-chair of the committee, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the distinctions between the Senate’s investigation and the probe led by Mueller, as well as his wish for more help from the White House.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence met behind closed doors this week with three key figures in their expanding Russia investigation, National Security Director Mike Rogers, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and special counsel Robert Mueller.
And with us now, the committee's top Democrat, its vice chairman, Virginia Senator Mark Warner.
Senator, first off, you — we have been hearing, been discussing with NPR's Carrie Johnson the fact that the special counsel has expanded his investigation to include potential obstruction of justice.
Is that something your committee is doing as well?
SEN. MARK WARNER, D-Va.:
Well, Judy, I'm not going to comment on the expanse of special counselor Mueller's investigation.
I do think it's an indication of how serious it is that he is obviously recruiting some of the top talent from around the country to assist him in this effort. It shows how seriously he's taking this effort, and, frankly, how seriously the vast majority of elected officials, Democrats and Republicans, who realize that the Russian intervention was massive in our elections. We have got to get to the bottom of it. We have got to make sure it doesn't happen again.
It really appears that the only elected official maybe in Washington that doesn't accept the potential dangerousness of the Russian intervention is actually the president of the United States.
Well, that's what I wanted to ask you about. The president has been actively tweeting today. Among other things, he said they went after a — he said they made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, they found zero proof, and now, he said, they're going after obstruction of justice because they found nothing.
SEN. MARK WARNER:
That's, you know, just factually not appropriate.
You know, we are still early on into particularly some of the individuals that were affiliated with the Trump campaign and their potential contacts or communications with Russians. We thought we would be further along, but for the fact that the president, in an unprecedented way, fired the FBI director, Jim Comey.
We have had obviously a pattern here where there are at least reports of other individuals that were at least contacted by the president. I'm not going to comment on the specifics of the individuals we saw. And that's — we need to keep confidential.
But we do have the former National Security Adviser General Flynn who was fired because he didn't come forward with his contacts with the Russians. We have had the attorney general recuse himself because he didn't fully disclose his contacts with the Russians.
If the president's rendition is true, you know, that there's no there there, why wouldn't he collaborate with the investigation to get this cleared up, as opposed to his constant tweetage saying that this is a witch-hunt and fake news?
I don't think there's any member of the Senate that believes this is fake news that the Russians interfered, just as they interfered in France, just as they will probably interfere in the German elections coming up later this year. And it's a national security threat.
Well, while we're talking about the question of whether there is obstruction or not, I know your committee met this week, as we have just reported, with Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and also with the National Security Agency director, Mike Rogers, in both cases, presumably asking questions that they wouldn't — they were not willing the answer in open session.
Were they able to shed any more light on this question of whether they — go ahead, yes.
I'm not going to get into the content of their testimony.
I will say that it's very important that sources and methods in terms of how we discovered Russian intervention, that that is maintained and preserved, and there's an appropriate classified portion. I do think there are questions that still need to be explored about, if a president was calling on these subjects, how much of that is classified.
I'm not going to comment again on any specifics, but these are all — and what I worry about is, is there a pattern emerging? And that's something, again, that time will tell and, obviously, the special counsel, Mueller, will continue to look into.
You met with the special counsel, as we said, yesterday, you and Chairman Richard Burr.
Can you explain for us the difference between the mission of what you're doing, your committee, and the House Intelligence Committee, vs. what Mr. Mueller is doing?
Well, special counsel Mueller has got a criminal standard. In many cases, that criminal standard is quite high. He will have to — if he chooses to bring charges against anyone, they will have to meet those legal standards.
We're leading a counterintelligence investigation that started with looking at Russian interference in our election, was broadened to include any potential communication or collaboration between officials in part of either campaign, and the focus is generally on folks affiliated with the Trump campaign, and the Russians.
We have actually not had a chance to get to many of the witnesses that have been at least bandied about because, again, this — we have been superseded in a way by the firing of Director Comey, then President Trump disparages Director Comey in front of the Russians, saying on national television that he fired him because of the Russia investigation, all things that, at least for this senator, raise a lot of questions that I'm still trying to sort through.
So, no concern you're going to get in each other's way, that what your committee…
I think that's something that we have to make sure there's appropriate deconfliction.
At the end of the day, you know, the criminal investigation, we can't do anything that would interfere with that criminal investigation. And, you know, I'm not going to, again, comment about our conversations with special counsel Mueller, but I think it was a good first step, and I think we will have to have ongoing communications.
Just one final quick question.
Vice President Mike Pence, it was announced today, has hired his own private counsel to address any issues arising out of the Russia investigation. Do you have a comment on that?
No, I don't have a comment, but I just — other than the fact that it would be helpful if the administration actually collaborated and cooperated with all of us.
What the Russians did in 2016 in the United States, the Russians have also done in the French elections, they will do in the German elections. And, as a state that has statewide elections this year, I'm concerned about their ongoing efforts to try to, frankly, sow chaos in our democratic process.
And let me be clear. This is not about relitigating 2016.
It's not about the Russians being for Republicans or Democrats. The Russians are for their own interests. And we have to be careful about this new form of conflict.
But just very quickly, Senator, so I understand, you're saying the administration is not collaborating right now with you?
I wish there was closer cooperation.
There are a number of members of the administration who volunteered to come forward. There are a number of individuals that work on the Trump campaign. But I don't see what value is added by the president's constant dismissal of the seriousness of this threat.
Senator Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, we thank you.
Thank you, Judy.
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