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Republican Rep. Tom Cole On Russia Investigations And Trump Budget


There are investigations in both the House and the Senate into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, says that he'll testify, but he wants immunity. Meanwhile, Democrats want the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, to recuse himself from his investigation. This after Mr. Nunes viewed intelligence reports at the White House and briefed President Trump and reporters before he shared that information with his own committee. We're joined now by Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma. Mr. Cole, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM COLE: Hey, my pleasure to join you.

SIMON: It's not just Democrats who've been questioning Representative Nunes' judgment and actions. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, arguably the two top national security members of your party, have questioned his conduct. This is an investigation the American people have to trust. Whether you think he acted properly or not, does he have the trust of enough people and the American people?

COLE: I think he does. His - I certainly can't speak for the American people. I can speak for his colleagues. I think those of us that know Devin - and - full disclosure - I certainly do, you know, have a high degree of confidence in him. Obviously, he's talked to the speaker and detailed things, frankly, that I'm not aware of. But I know the speaker knows all the facts involved, and he's standing behind him 100 percent. So personally that gives me the reassurance I need. On top of that, it's worth noting there is a Senate investigation, and there is an FBI investigation. So I think we're coming at this with enough angles that we will get at the truth.

SIMON: Yeah. But would you - would you admit there's a marked difference right now between the level of trust in the House and Senate investigations in behalf of the Democrats?

COLE: I would, and I - and I regret that. Look, I've known Richard Burr for a long time and had the opportunity to work with Governor Warner on occasion. And I have a high degree of confidence in both of them. And, you know, frankly, they've set the standard, and it's something we should try to emulate if we can.

SIMON: Let me turn to the budget. Congress has until the end of the month to agree on funding to keep the government running. Do you have any reason to believe that the divisions in your own party that made it impossible to pass the Republican health care bill are going to be any different on the budget?

COLE: Well, in some ways, I do because I think the budget - we've negotiated most of the bills. There's 12 separate bills. One's already law. One - the defense bill - has passed the House and is in the Senate. The others have been reported out of the Appropriations Committees of both houses. And then, literally, the negotiations have been very bipartisan. So if we move and put this on the floor, either in the Senate or the House - and there's a debate as to which one to go - the product will have been a bipartisan product.

In other words, we're not trying to pass this with Republican votes only. Democrats have signed off. We're at last year's spending levels. And so if that's the vehicle that goes, it should pass. On the other hand, if we try to add something that Democrats would consider a poison pill - and that might be the supplemental or the border wall - then I think you will have a problem because you'll lose Democratic support. And those divisions that exist on the Republican side could become decisive again.

SIMON: Yeah. So would you, for example, oppose putting any spending for the border wall into the budget bill coming up?

COLE: I would. Now, I support the border wall, and I support the supplemental. And I think there'll be a time to do both of those things, but I don't think you risk funding the full government. And this literally is a bill of over a trillion dollars that would fund - roughly a trillion dollars - that would fund every agency of government other than veterans and military construction. They're already taken care of. So this is defense. This is National Institute of Health. This is everything. So you don't gamble, you know, with the family jewels, so to speak. Let's make sure the government functions. Let's not get right up against the limit and risk something going wrong or something partisan erupting.

SIMON: Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, thanks so much for being with us.

COLE: Hey, my privilege. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.