ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
We start with a major player in the Senate’s investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia is the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He has called his role in this investigation – and I’m quoting – “probably the most important thing I’ve done in public life.” And he joins us from Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program, Senator.
MARK WARNER: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: If it’s that important, is an investigation by a committee that operates behind closed doors an appropriate forum, or should there be a much more public airing as there was after 9/11 or as there was after Watergate, for that matter?
WARNER: I think it’s really, really important that we come up with a bipartisan report. I also think, to your point, there are certain things that will be done behind closed doors because it involves sources and methods of how our spy agencies work, and people’s lives and techniques could be put in jeopardy.
But it’s also really responsible that we hold public hearings – and I think we’re going to be holding our first public hearing within the next couple of weeks – that we have a report that is going to be public when we conclude this investigation. And my sense would be – the president continues to say he’s done nothing; his people have had no contacts that were inappropriate. Then he should welcome…
WARNER: …This investigation and help it because it would remove the cloud that’s over the administration.
SIEGEL: General Clapper, who until January was director of national intelligence, said that he had seen no evidence of collusion between Donald Trump and Russia. Is that still an open question for the Senate Intelligence Committee and for you?
WARNER: It is still an open question that we have to investigate any kind of contacts between either campaign and Russian operatives before the election. Oftentimes what happens is if one of our traditional agencies, say, like the CIA, will determine some kind of contact, they have to turn that over to the FBI. And that falls into the counter-espionage category. And generally speaking, the FBI doesn’t then make comments about ongoing investigations. So these are all things that we’re going to have to work through in an appropriate way.
SIEGEL: But when you say that’s still an open question, I mean is that because it hasn’t been disproved or because there’s so much smoke that you’re concerned there’s a fire there?
WARNER: No, Robert. I’m saying I’m not going to forejudge where this investigation is going to end up. We’re going to follow the intelligence wherever it leads. We’re going to get to the bottom of this. We’re going to run down all the appropriate leads. We’re going to interview people. And I think we’ll be able to reach our own conclusion. And my hope is, the sooner the better because at this point in time, with all these stories dribbling out on a daily basis, it is – I think it really has caught the attention of the American people.
SIEGEL: What about President Trump’s claim that his lines were tapped by President Obama? Is that an allegation that the Senate Intelligence Committee should investigate, or is it…
WARNER: I would say this, Robert. If we see any evidence and if the president has any evidence of that, we will follow it.
SIEGEL: Is it his obligation to present that evidence to Senate now?
WARNER: I sure as heck believe it is. I mean to accuse the former president of what would be a felony and then not put forward any information, any evidence – Chairman Burr and I’ve said we’ll follow any evidence wherever it leads. But you’ve got to have some evidence. You just can’t put out a morning tweet and then switch to Arnold Schwarzenegger…
WARNER: …And not expect folks to scratch their heads.
SIEGEL: Let’s say that there’s no evidence found of collusion between Americans and Russians – no Russian money entering the campaign, no Russian blackmail against any candidate. Is the fact that Russia tries to influence U.S. policy not in those criminal ways but more generally – if it tries to influence policy however it can, is that some kind of new danger or even a danger that’s unique to Russia?
WARNER: It is absolutely a new danger. I mean the Russians have almost created a new theory of war that says beyond fighting in the land, air and sea, cyber is a whole new domain. And they are experts at misinformation, disinformation. They’ve done this for a long time in Eastern European elections, sometimes much more obviously with old-fashioned payola and bribes. They’re doing it right now in the French presidential elections where they’ve actually put financial resources behind Marine Le Pen – the far-right candidate’s campaign.
So I think Americans – one of the things that disappointed me – I know there was lots going on – that there wasn’t more kind of general outrage with the Russian manipulation in our election regardless of whether there was any contact between candidates.
SIEGEL: And I guess I should ask you about one new thing that happened this week, which was that General Michael Flynn, who had been the national security adviser and is – who had to resign all about what he told Vice President Pence about his contact with the Russians – he has now registered retroactively as having been an agent for Turkey and having taken payments from a Turkish company but with interest that involved the extradition of a Turkish cleric in this country between August and November of last year. Is your committee interested in any conceivable relationship between General Flynn and Turkey?
WARNER: I’m not going to comment on individuals that we hope to question. Just on an individual basis, though, I found this morning’s reports about General Flynn very troubling.
SIEGEL: Senator Warner, thanks for talking with us.
WARNER: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: That’s Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, who is the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
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