Rep. Swalwell Comments On Democrats Releasing Russia Countermemo
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
First there was the Republican memo from the House Intelligence Committee authored by the GOP chair of that committee, Devin Nunes. That memo alleged bias within the FBI in its handling of the early stages of the Russia investigation. Now the Democrats have had their say. Their memo rebutting the Republican memo was released over the weekend. President Trump went on Fox News Saturday, and he said the memo was a whole lot of nothing and blamed Democrats for what he called really fraudulent behavior. We have got Congressman Eric Swalwell with us now. He is a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for being with us this morning.
ERIC SWALWELL: Good morning. Thanks for having me on.
MARTIN: So the major thesis of the Republican memo is this allegation that the FBI and the Department of Justice are infected with political bias that affected how they conducted the Russia investigation. What did Democrats find, to the contrary?
SWALWELL: Well, at first, we wanted to show that the true objective was to undermine an ongoing investigation, and to do that, they omitted and failed to disclose a number of critical pieces of evidence that went into an application to surveil Carter Page. But, putting...
MARTIN: Carter Page, the former Trump campaign aide.
SWALWELL: That's right. And to put that into context, we showed that the investigation had actually begun not in October when the court received a FISA application, but actually much earlier, when concerns were raised about another senior foreign policy aide, George Papadopoulos, who had been previewed the dirt that Russians had on Hillary Clinton which would later be anonymously disseminated.
MARTIN: But part of what the Republicans are arguing is that this entire process of applying for a visa warrant - we should explain, that's what you need from the secret court in order to do this kind of surveillance - that the FISA Court relied too heavily on this now infamous Steele dossier - right? - put together by Christopher Steele, this Brit who put together a lot of unsubstantiated information. So what did the Democrats say to rebut that allegation that the entire thing was undercut by fraudulent information, or, at least, unsubstantiated information?
SWALWELL: Sure. We provided the arsenal of evidence that the court had about Carter Page - his prior contacts with Russian agents in the United States, his travel during the campaign over to Russia, his own writings about views and contacts with the Kremlin. But also this was all being done, his travels, contemporaneously with Russia interfering in our campaign. And also, as I said, also not to be lost in this was that George Papadopoulos, who was on the same foreign policy team as Carter Page, was receiving approaches by the Russians. So even without the Steele dossier, you have very concerning evidence about members of the Trump team and contacts with Russia.
MARTIN: Although - this just demonstrates how partisan this is - Devin Nunes has actually put out a rebuttal to your rebuttal. And, on that point, he has written here - the House Republicans have written here - that the dossier was, and now I'm quoting, "the FBI's only source for the allegations in the initial application that Page met with particular Russians in July 2016." So is he wrong?
SWALWELL: He is wrong. And I think it's time to put this behind us and start interviewing witnesses again. We've not had a substantive witness interview in over a month now because we've seen these attacks on process and this effort to put the government on trial. And the real loss here is our effort to put in place any reforms for the November election because intelligence chiefs have said that Russia actually has never left our democracy. They're still working every day to try and undermine it and will be back when we go to the ballot box in November.
MARTIN: Do you think that the investigation that the House Intelligence Committee is still conducting is serving the public good - I mean, when you think about how partisan this has all become?
SWALWELL: It's needlessly partisan because, you know, our duty is not to conduct a criminal investigation. That's Bob Mueller's job. He should have all the runway in the world to do that. But our job is to understand whether the government response was adequate when the Russians were attacking us and put in place what reforms are necessary, whether it's federal resources to the states or having duties to report for social media companies or individuals who see foreign agents trying to influence our election. There's so much we could do, and I'm still hopeful that we can do that. And each indictment that Bob Mueller brings I hope escalates the need for us to finally get our act together, find some unity and give America a better shield at the ballot box.
MARTIN: California Democrat Eric Swalwell - he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Congressman, thank you very much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.
SWALWELL: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.