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Politics & Government

Alabama Republican Leader Jim Zeigler On Trump And Comey

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Can you stand any more politics? We're joined now by Jim Zeigler He's the state auditor of Alabama and considered a leader of the Republican Party in this state. Mr. Auditor - Mr. Zeigler thanks so much for being with us.

JIM ZEIGLER: Well, thanks for this opportunity. What a wonderful, beautiful Birmingham venue.

(APPLAUSE)

SIMON: It sure is. And wonderful people have made us feel very welcome.

Widely divergent views on Jim Comey's testimony this week and whether or not it did damage to President Trump - how did you see it from outside the news bubble?

ZEIGLER: Well, the people of Alabama that I have heard from since, actually, Wednesday afternoon when the written version of Mr. Comey's direct testimony was released and then on Thursday when the actual hearing was held, I'm going to use a Shakespearean term that was told to me by some of the people who heard it. In Alabama, we have a tremendous Shakespeare program. And...

SIMON: Alabama Shakespeare Festival is terrific, yes.

ZEIGLER: Oh, yes. And we have a replica of the Globe Theatre. Here's what two different Alabama citizens have told me about the Comey hearing - much ado about nothing, much ado about nothing. And that is generally the viewpoint. The people of Alabama basically see this as a sideshow, a distraction to moving forward with a...

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBERS: (Unintelligible).

SIMON: Please let Mr. Zeigler speak. He's been kind enough to come here, I suspect sensing that he wasn't necessarily walking into a welcomes crowd. Let's give him the respect that he's due.

Let me pick it up, however. Speaking of Shakespeare, what about the idea that when President Trump, according to Mr. Comey's testimony, said - I hope you can see your way clear to do this; Mike Flynn's a great guy, and - that he wasn't in a way saying - and when he asked for his loyalty, he wasn't saying, who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?

ZEIGLER: Absolutely not. My take from the hearing - well, No. 1, there was no evidence of obstruction of justice. It is not there. No prosecutor would go forward with an obstruction of justice. And secondly, no other federal offense was evidenced in that hearing. A third thing - as it turns out, the leaker was Jim Comey. The director of the FBI turned out to be the leaker. The fourth thing - when he...

SIMON: He was former director at that point.

ZEIGLER: At the time he did the leak...

SIMON: Yeah.

ZEIGLER: ...He was a former director, correct. The fourth thing is when he did the leak, he conveniently failed to leak the part that Donald Trump was not under investigation. Isn't that interesting? He leaked the adverse parts about Donald Trump but left out that Donald Trump was not under investigation. And that is the final point and perhaps the big thing that came out from the hearing.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you, though - follow up if I may, Mr. Zeigler. You've got a Republican president who's got a public approval rating that - only about a third of the American public supporting him now.

ZEIGLER: And they all live in Alabama, I think.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Well - we - and if that's the case, that's not good. That's not a broad-based party, is it? You have the former head of the FBI, who worked for three presidents, who just called him a liar. As you note, Alabama voted overwhelmingly for President Trump.

ZEIGLER: Yes.

SIMON: Is he good for the brand?

ZEIGLER: Yes, he is. His base is still with him. And those that were against him are still against him. They're a lot louder against him. But on Friday, the president proved that he is able to move forward with his agenda. He went into his infrastructure agenda and his plan to cut out some of the regulation and new projects going forward. And this can be huge for America, both businesswise and getting our infrastructure repaired. So the president's going forward and is not going to be distracted by this issue or any other.

SIMON: Afraid we just have a minute and a half left, but we want to take a question or two. Jayne Ness (ph), if you could address your question to the auditor.

JAYNE NESS: If Jeff Sessions is fired by Trump, do you think he will run for Senate again?

SIMON: If Jeff Sessions is fired by President Trump, do you think - do you want him to run for the Senate again?

ZEIGLER: First of all, I do not think he'll be fired by President Trump. But if, worst-case scenario, that happens, he has missed the qualifying deadline to run in the Republican primary August 15. It has passed. He could only get on the ballot - and this was discussed earlier...

SIMON: Yeah.

ZEIGLER: ...With John Archibald - as an independent by getting 35,000 signatures in the December 12 general election against the Democrat nominee and the Republican nominee. The chances of that happening are not good. It is feasible. He could also wait and run when this seat comes back up in 2020. He could also retire. So we just do not know. It would be speculative to try to project.

SIMON: I regret that we're not going to have time to take another question, but I want to thank all of you folks who wrote them out for us. And Mr. Auditor - Jim Zeigler, the state auditor of Alabama, I want to thank you very much for coming on...

ZEIGLER: Thank you.

SIMON: ...For coming on and speaking with us, sir.

ZEIGLER: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.