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House Intel Republican Chris Stewart Responds To Sessions Testimony


Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he didn't have conversations about the U.S. election with any Russian officials, but he refused to tell a senate committee whether he has talked about the Russia investigation with President Trump. We're going to get some reaction to his testimony now.


The House intelligence committee has been conducting its own investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Representative Chris Stewart is a Republican from Utah and a committee member. He joins us now from his office on Capitol Hill. Thanks for coming on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CHRIS STEWART: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: Now, congressman, of the Comey hearing, you once called it overhyped, saying it provided little new information. With Attorney General Sessions refusing to answer many of the senators' questions today, do you think we learned anything of value?

STEWART: Well, I think we learned a little bit. But again, whether it's Mr. Sessions or Mr. Comey, we really are at the point in the process where we have had them before the committees in both closed and in open sessions. We've had a chance to ask them questions again and again and again. And I don't think it surprises most of us that we're not learning much new at this point.

Now, you're right. Mr. Sessions did, you know, kind of defer some of the questions. And I think that's probably appropriate in the sense that some of those were confidential and he felt probably appropriate to keep those conversations confidential. But again...

CORNISH: Even though he didn't formally cite executive privilege.

STEWART: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think that's right. I mean, I think there's a fine legal distinction there. And I don't think he wanted to cite legal privilege. But I do think there's also confidentiality that would have applied in this case.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, the questions raised by James Comey essentially were around the idea that - about whether Attorney General Sessions is managing the relationship between the White House and his agency properly. How did you feel he answered those questions?

STEWART: Well, again, in an appropriate manner, and I think fairly impassioned defense as well. I was, you know, taken a little bit by the way he responded to some of his colleagues in the sense that, you know, some of the innuendo, some of the whisperings. And you know, we've seen so much of that. We see leaks. We see, again, innuendo and assumptions that later turn out not to be true or not even related to the truth. And I think he felt that it was necessary for him to come out and defend himself and to do so in an impassioned way. And I was glad to see that. I was glad to see a little bit of an emotion in that sense.

CORNISH: So essentially, this idea of secret innuendo for you holds true. You're not looking at James Comey's open testimony.

STEWART: Yeah. And you know, that's why many of us on - whether it's in the House or the Senate intel committees, we both, I think, feel the same way. And that is much of this is best done behind closed doors. It's not best done in front of cameras. It doesn't lend itself to grandstanding. Both committees pride themselves on being bipartisan. I know we have in the past. We'd like to report to the American people. We'd like to tell them exactly what happened. I think we're better able to do that when we don't put it in a partisan or in a - such a public fashion. Let us go find out. Let us go ask these questions, then come back and tell people what it is that we've learned.

CORNISH: You can understand why people might disagree with you given that there are so many investigations. People want to know what's going on and that - think that transparency might be best.

STEWART: Well, absolutely. And I'm not arguing against transparency. I'm just arguing against partisanship. And I'm arguing against it in some cases. Look, there's no question there's been grandstanding in some cases. There's no question about that. And I just think it's better - we better serve the American people - this is a very, very important subject. I was in Russia last August. I came home and I said in a number of interviews, they're going to mess with our elections. There's no question that they were going to. This is an important issue. So I'm not arguing against transparency. I'm just arguing, again, that - the best way to get that information and to do it in a way where it's credible, where it's not partisan, and do it as quickly as we can so the American people can learn that information as quickly as we can.

CORNISH: Speaking of which, your committee has reportedly summoned President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as part of its probe into Russian election meddling. What do you most want to ask him?

STEWART: Well, you know, I hate to say. And I wouldn't want to foreshadow what our questions would be for any one of the witnesses. And you know, he's one of many that we'll be hoping to talk to. But I think it's probably best if I - if we have those opportunities to question them and maybe come back and report on that after the fact.

CORNISH: And finally, reports about the White House, about President Trump potentially wanting to fire Bob Mueller as the Justice Department special counsel. Would that be a wise move for this president?

STEWART: No. I think it'd be a terrible mistake. But honestly, I don't find much credibility in that. I don't see any real - other than this one individual. I mean, I think that it would cause all sorts of political concerns for him. But my take on that right now is that it's not actually being considered.

CORNISH: Representative Chris Stewart is a Republican from Utah. He's also a member of the House intelligence committee. Thank you for speaking with us.

STEWART: Oh, it's good to be with you. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RATATAT'S "BUSTELO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.