JUDY WOODRUFF: We get reaction now from Capitol Hill to General Flynn’s resignation from two senators who sit on the Intelligence Committee.
We start with James Risch from Idaho. I spoke with him a short time ago.
And I started by asking if the Senate Intelligence Committee, with its Republican majority, will investigate General Flynn.
SEN. JAMES RISCH, R-Idaho: Well, Judy, on the Senate Intelligence Committee, our jurisdiction is and our charge is to oversee all intelligence and counterintelligence activities.
As such, there’s already been an investigation started on the Russian situation. And, obviously, with what’s happened, that net, I think, is wide enough — not I think — that net is wide enough that it will include the most recent events of the last 48 hours or so.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, that means that investigation will definitely be expanded to include specifically what General Flynn talked to the Russian ambassador about?
SEN. JAMES RISCH: You know, I don’t know where it will lead. Obviously, we’re going to lead it — we’re going to take it as far as we can take it. It’s important for national security that we know.
Those of us that are in the first branch of government that actually fund these operations and oversee these operations, it’s really important that these kinds of matters be on the table before us when we make the policy decisions that we have to make.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Can you say whether or not the investigation is going to also look in — or that part of it will be looking into the president’s handling of this, the fact that he was informed about General Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador weeks before he asked General Flynn to step down?
SEN. JAMES RISCH: You know, that’s a fact that I have seen reported today. I don’t have any independent knowledge that that actually occurred.
One thing I will tell you is, the White House and the second branch of government is an independent branch of government, and there are certain areas we don’t go into. This is a person that’s very close to the president. He’s not subject to Senate confirmation.
And when the president is getting information, when he’s being advised by these people, it’s important that all those parties that are acting in the White House have an understanding of confidentiality.
My point is, I don’t know where this will go in that regard. I know what our sideboards are, and we will stay within those sideboards.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the White House press secretary said today that the president was informed. It has now been announced that the president was informed weeks before Mr. Flynn, General Flynn, was asked to step down.
SEN. JAMES RISCH: Well, if that fact has been confirmed, then it is a fact.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But the — it sounds like you’re not saying whether or not the committee is going to look into the president’s handling of this.
SEN. JAMES RISCH: Well, the president’s handling of this, I think, is a matter that is a very delicate situation between two branches of government. And I guess what you’re asking is, what was — how was he motivated?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
SEN. JAMES RISCH: Why was this done and what have you?
Boy, that’s an area that I think you would have a very difficult time getting that information to begin with. Certainly, the president wouldn’t be asked about that. And, as a result of that, it would be very difficult to dig into that.
I think, if we know the facts, that’s what’s going to help us as we do our job and move forward.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the reason I’m asking is because, as you know, there are serious questions about whether President Trump at the time before he was president knew about what General Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador about and whether he condoned those conversations.
SEN. JAMES RISCH: Well, I think that’s a different inquiry, as to whether conversations were condoned, depending upon what the content of the conversation was.
I’m very reluctant to talk about a collision between the two branches of government on something like this.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator, you started out by pointing out the committee is already looking into the Russian government’s involvement in the elections last year.
Can you tell us anything about the state of that investigation?
SEN. JAMES RISCH: I can. It’s just starting.
We have identified a number of things that we do want to look at. We have done the things that you do as you prepare and start into an investigation. And I have been involved in lots of these on the committee, whether it was Benghazi, whether it was the torture investigation, others that we have done that have not become public.
And we’re good at what we do. We do have excellent cooperation from the intelligence community generally, from the 16 intelligence agencies. They give us good information and particularly when you know exactly what you’re after. And so we feel comfortable about moving forward with these.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Just finally, quickly, Senator, the White House, the president and his spokesmen are saying what’s most important right now are the leaks that are coming out about discussions, leaks to the news media, and that that’s more important than anything the national security adviser did.
Do you agree with that?
SEN. JAMES RISCH: Well, it depends on the actual leak that you’re talking about.
When leaks are political, they probably don’t do much harm. When they are involved with national security, it is a big problem. For the many years I have been on the Intelligence Committee, I have been concerned about leaks. So have other people.
I can tell you that, with the great body of intelligence information that is out there, not much of it has leaked out, but even a little bit of it being leaked out is way too much. It is very dangerous. It is un-American to leak. It puts people’s lives in jeopardy, and it really endangers the United States.
Anyone who would leak national security issues should be ashamed of themselves, and they are not a credit to America.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as you pointed out, very little of it is leaked.
SEN. JAMES RISCH: Very little of it is leaked, but any can be important and can put people’s lives at risk.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator James Risch with the Senate Intelligence Committee, thank you very much, Senator.
SEN. JAMES RISCH: Thank you, Judy. Good to be with you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now for a Democrat’s perspective, and for that, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia.
I began by asking what he thought the Senate should be doing about General Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador.
SEN. MARK WARNER, D-Va.: Well, these discussions are very troubling.
And the first thing we need to do is get to the facts. We have heard reports that he may have been making certain statements that were inappropriate to the Russian ambassador. We have not yet seen those transcripts.
Once we see the transcripts, then, if they prove as the media has indicated, they would fall into part of the area that the investigation that we are putting forward by the Senate Intelligence Committee that’s looking at contacts between former campaign officials and the Russian government, looking at Russian interference into the election in terms of spreading fake news, and obviously the selective hacking and leaking of information that favored Mr. Trump over Hillary Clinton.
This — General Flynn’s actions would fall within this investigation. And we would need to get to the bottom of it. If the facts are as reported, then I think the committee needs to interview him.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you determine if the facts are as reported?
SEN. MARK WARNER: Well, we understand basic tradecraft.
And I would — this is one of the things that just amazes me, that someone with General Flynn’s security clearances should know that, if he’s talking to a Russian ambassador, chances are those conversations are monitored. And if they had been monitored, at some point, we need to see the transcript.
Obviously, something has happened so that — because General Flynn relayed one set of facts, and then, as it became evident that it appeared that there were transcripts, he changed and changed his story and then ended up resigning.
If the transcripts reveal what the press has said, this raises very, very serious concerns about potentially an American who was not part of an administration at that point actually trying to undermine then President Obama’s sanctions against Russia, those very sanctions which were caused by the Russian interference in our electoral process.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There are also questions, Senator Warner, being raised, as you know, about whether the president knew about the conversations that General Flynn was having at that time, whether he condoned them. How do you find the answer to that?
SEN. MARK WARNER: Well, that’s further down the path.
And we have to start with what Flynn said to the Russian ambassador. And it would be extraordinarily troubling — and I hope and pray that it’s not the case that the president was somehow aware of these conversations, the president-elect at that point, because what you, in effect, would be happening would be, you would have someone that wasn’t at that point actually the president trying to undermine the policies of then President Obama, who had put these sanctions in place because, quite honestly, it was the unprecedented action of Russians interfering in our elections.
I still will always remember the head of the NSA, the head of the CIA, the head of the FBI, the head — the director of national intelligence, all four those individuals testifying in public and private that they’d never seen a foreign government, an adversary, in the case of Russia, try to interfere in such a major way in our elections.
And if somehow someone was trying to undermine then President Obama’s sanctions against that nation, that would be extraordinarily troubling.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I just talked to Senator James Risch, who is a Republican member of the Intelligence Committee. He said he’s confident that this investigation can be carried out by the Senate Intelligence Committee, that you don’t need an outside independent body, a commission of some sort.
Are you equally confident?
SEN. MARK WARNER: Well, that’s my hope.
And, again, I believe that this — the Intelligence Committee, which has jurisdiction — we’re doing this bipartisan. I think the American public expect us to work on this kind of activity in a bipartisan fashion. We have access. We will get access to most this intelligence.
And I have said — and the chairman, Richard Burr, has said the same — we’re going to follow this to where the intelligence leads. We are going to follow the facts, no matter where they lead.
If at any moment in time, though, that there is an effort to try to suppress facts or suppress intelligence, then I and I believe other members of the committee will call for a different kind of investigation, and we might go the route of an independent commission.
But right at this moment in time, I believe the Senate Intelligence Committee, bipartisan, going after the facts is the right venue.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you satisfied right now, Senator, with the progress being made on the rest of this investigation looking overall at Russian influence on the election?
SEN. MARK WARNER: Remember, we’re looking at three big areas.
We’re looking at contacts between campaigns and the Russians, both prior to and after the fact, as the case with Mr. Flynn.
We’re looking at the unprecedented amount of fake news that flooded our news coverage during the election cycle. I don’t think most Americans realize there were literally 1,000 Russian Internet trolls working in a single location in Russia trying to interfere in our elections. And they, I think, had major interference.
And we’re looking at the selective hacking of the DNC and John Podesta’s e-mails and the leaking of that information. We have contacted all our major intelligence agencies and said, we need to see all the raw intelligence. We’re starting that process to look through that intelligence. I wish it could move faster.
I think, the sooner we get to the bottom of this, the better. And I would even think the administration, if it removes the cloud that is hanging over this administration, I think they would want us to do our job as expeditiously as possible also.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, thank you very much.
SEN. MARK WARNER: Thank you so much.
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