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Republican Sen. Rounds Weighs In On News Involving The White House


I'm Steve Inskeep with the story of two tantalizing remarks about the investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election. One comes from presidential friend Christopher Ruddy. The media executive told the "PBS NewsHour" yesterday that President Trump might fire the top investigator.


CHRISTOPHER RUDDY: Well, I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he's weighing that option. I think it's pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently. I personally think it would be a very significant mistake.

INSKEEP: That's one tantalizing statement. And by the way, the White House says Ruddy spoke only for himself. The other tantalizing statement came the other day from an investigator already fired by the president, former FBI Director James Comey, who testified before Congress and spoke of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.


JAMES COMEY: We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.

INSKEEP: So much to discuss, and Jeff Sessions himself may be asked to discuss it today as he testifies publicly. We're going to discuss it here with Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota. He's on the Armed Services Committee, which has its own investigation relating to the election. Senator, welcome to the program.

MIKE ROUNDS: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

INSKEEP: Should the special counsel, Robert Mueller, be fired?

ROUNDS: No, he should not be - straightforward. This is a special counsel. He has a job to do. Let him do his job.

INSKEEP: Do you think that Republicans would support President Trump if he did choose to...

ROUNDS: I can only speak for myself, but I wouldn't, and I don't believe that my colleagues would. But nonetheless, he would most certainly have to explain any action he would take.

INSKEEP: Do you have any idea why it would be that Trump allies would be urging his dismissal? Christopher Ruddy...

ROUNDS: You know, I...

INSKEEP: ...Hasn't specifically said that, but others have.

ROUNDS: I don't have a clue. This is a case of where you have a special counsel. He needs to do the job. He needs to have the confidence of not only the institutions here in Washington. But we've got to be able to share with the American public that if we have a special counsel, that we have confidence in him. And I think that should move not only on the Hill but to the White House as well.

INSKEEP: What do you think of Robert Mueller then? Do you have confidence in him?

ROUNDS: I do, and I think he'll do a good job. I'm - and I'm prepared to have him put together his report, deliver it. And then we can dissect it. But until then, we've got to give him the opportunity.

INSKEEP: And then there's Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States who has public testimony today, as we said, before the Senate intelligence committee. Do you have equal confidence in Attorney General Sessions?

ROUNDS: You know, I've known Jeff now for two years, and I do have confidence in him. I believe he has integrity. I've worked with him. I think he tries his best to do the right thing. We can all make mistakes. And most certainly Jeff Sessions could make mistakes. But if he does, he's one of these kind of guys who will own up to it. So I think he's the right guy for the job right now in this administration. I think he's one of the people that we look to for confidence in this administration. And I think he'll come before Congress, and he'll lay things on the line and answer questions and...

INSKEEP: He said he did make a mistake. He acknowledged making a mistake in leaving out a couple of meetings with the Russian ambassador when asked about his contacts with the foreign...

ROUNDS: Yeah, look. The - Jeff Sessions is not the kind of a guy that's going to try to mislead anybody. And as I say, in the discussions that we had in private and in the times that I've seen him in public activity, he is sincere in what he does. He's the kind of guy that you want trying to get answers. He's the kind of person that you want in a position that you need - where we have to have trust.

INSKEEP: At the same time, he said he would recuse himself from the Russia investigation but then appeared to be involved in some way in the firing of Jim Comey, the FBI director.

ROUNDS: Yeah, I - look. This is one of those cases where if you say, all right, how far does the Russia investigation go, and is this part of the Russian investigation, some people are going to say that if you have anything to do with the budget, it's part of the Russian investigation. If you have nothing to do with any activity within the FBI, it's part of the Russian investigation.

I think this is one of those things where Jeff will come in, and as the attorney general, he'll answer the questions. I think the Senate is going to be straightforward with him. They're going to ask him a lot of tough questions. And it'll be up to the attorney general to answer the questions. And I think we'll get to the bottom of it.

INSKEEP: Senator, I want to remind people that the Armed Services Committee hasn't got much attention, but you guys have a piece of this. You're supposed to be looking into this.

ROUNDS: We do. Look. I chair the subcommittee on cyber. And one of the areas and one of the reasons why we had this in the first place is because of what Russia was doing during the last election cycle. And it became an item of interest. Before that, though, we were talking about the need for public policy regarding cybersecurity.

INSKEEP: But here's why I ask about this. President Trump, it was noted, in his conversations with Jim Comey seemed mainly to be asking about himself and the investigation of his associates, not asking about Russian interference. Is anybody seriously focusing on Russian interference and the possibility of that in a future election?

ROUNDS: You know, sometimes I think it went right past because there was no misunderstanding in the reports that came out. Both the classified and the unclassified versions clearly identified Russia as being an actor trying to influence the election processes. Part of the reason why it probably didn't make a whole lot of news is because they've been trying to do it in the past.

INSKEEP: But I want to know if...

ROUNDS: The difference this time...

INSKEEP: ...People are seriously focusing now.

ROUNDS: Yes. And as a matter of fact, you'll see coming out today a proposal to enhance sanctions against Russia for their activities in the 2016 election process. They tried to influence the election process. They were actively involved.

INSKEEP: Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.