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Sen. Mazie Hirono Weighs In On Latest Updates In Mueller Investigation


Now let's turn to Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono. She's a Democrat and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Welcome.

MAZIE HIRONO: Good to talk to you, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what are the details you found most striking in the filings today about Cohen and Manafort?

HIRONO: The interesting thing about the Mueller investigation with regard to Cohen is that they described how Cohen is assisting in a number of areas and references to various discrete Russian-related matters that involved company executives - and those company executives have to be Trump executives - and references to various discussions that occurred after the election with persons connected to the White House.

CHANG: Was there anything in the documents that gave you reason to believe that President Trump may have broken the law? I mean, how much do you think these documents implicate the president?

HIRONO: I think there are enough references in the Mueller-Cohen short memo that indicates probably obstruction of justice.

CHANG: In what way?

HIRONO: Well, it's - describes circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries in which he lied to Congress. So who did he have these discussions with? I think it raises the possibility that he had these discussions with people in the White House.

CHANG: Now, the White House says the government's filings in Cohen's case tell us nothing of value. If anything, it just affirms that Cohen's a liar.

HIRONO: Well, no, they consider the entire Mueller investigation a witch hunt in spite of all the numerous indictments and in spite of the guilty pleas and in spite of the reality of what's going on with the Mueller investigation. And the president clearly continues to call this a witch hunt. And he must be living in an alternative universe.

CHANG: Well, to be more specific, I mean, the White House said tonight that Manafort's case says nothing about President Trump, even less about collusion, that Paul Manafort's case is really about Manafort's prior lobbying. It has nothing to do with Trump individually. Do you have any thoughts on that statement?

HIRONO: Yeah, well, that is the expectation from the Trump team, that they deny everything. And this is why the Mueller investigation has got to complete its course, because there's a lot going on. And if you read the Southern District of New York's submittal, there's a lot. I haven't even finished reading this multi - it's almost 40 pages. I have read the Mueller submittal with regard to Cohen, and I just got the Mueller submittal. And so it's about supporting the - Mueller's reached determination with regard to Manafort. So this document doesn't even get into the specifics of what kind of lies - in fact, this particular document is very heavily redacted.

CHANG: Let me turn to this committee that you sit on, the Judiciary Committee. Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is going to be presiding over the committee next year. Do you see him - you know, given that he is such a supporter of President Trump now, do you see him exercising real oversight on the Senate Judiciary Committee?

HIRONO: Well, I hope so. But if we don't do it on the Senate side, it'll certainly happen on the House side. And when the House Judiciary Committee...

CHANG: You mean because Democrats will be taking over...


CHANG: ...The House.

HIRONO: And when the House Judiciary Committee goes over some of the investigations and that all becomes public, it makes it mighty tough, I would say, for the Senate to just say - you know, head in the sand, nothing's - nothing to see here. I think it puts a - it puts pressure on the Senate to respond in a proper way with regard to our oversight functions.

CHANG: OK. I also want to turn to President Trump's choice to become the next attorney general, William Barr.


CHANG: He's someone who has publicly questioned the impartiality of members of Mueller's team. He's also someone who's known to have expressed sweeping views of presidential power in the past. Are you worried...

HIRONO: Of course I am.

CHANG: ...That he might try to narrow or shut down the Mueller investigation? Tell me about your concerns.

HIRONO: Barr has spent the last few years really gaining the attention of President Trump by saying that Hillary Clinton should be investigated. That's music to Trump's ears. And then to question the Mueller investigation, yet more music to the president's ear, and talking about expansive powers for the president. So Barr has signaled various positions to Trump that would very much gain the president's attention and support. I think that's why he's being nominated for the position.

CHANG: Do you expect the confirmation fight over Barr's nomination to be a rough one?

HIRONO: I don't know if it'll be rough, but I'll certainly have my questions as to how independent he's going to be as an attorney general when he's made all these kinds of comments. And clearly what the president cares about is appointing people who will do his bidding, who will not be independent because as far as the president is concerned, the Justice Department exists for him, to protect him. And the loyalty aspect flows to the president, not the - you know, it doesn't flow from the president to anybody else.

So the president cares about retaining - protecting himself and making money. Those are really clear motives on the president's part for just about everything that he does. So I very much question Barr's nomination. And it doesn't matter that he happened to be the attorney general way back when. That was then. We are not living in normal times. We are living in a time when the president expects all of his nominees to do his bidding. And that is certainly troubling.

CHANG: That's Democratic senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

HIRONO: Sure, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.