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Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell Weighs In On Updates In Special Counsel's Investigation


We're continuing to look at the political fallout from two critical legal developments Friday, both linked to investigations into associates of President Trump. One - a court filing from special counsel Robert Mueller involving former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The other involves former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and a possible campaign finance crime. In that filing, federal prosecutors say Cohen paid hush money to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump and that he did it at Trump's direction.

Now, this is firing up some Democrats who will take control of the House in January and have the ability to start impeachment proceedings.

We're joined now by Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He's a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ERIC SWALWELL: Good evening, Audie. Thanks for having me back.

CORNISH: So you do have Democrats who have been talking about there being an impeachable offense here. At the same time, they will not go far as to say that they'd go forward with impeachment proceedings. Do you feel the same way?

SWALWELL: I do. I feel like, you know, this payment to Stormy Daniels and others is probably the least of the things that the president should be worried about. And I don't want to see us repeat some of the same mistakes that Republicans committed in the Clinton impeachment proceedings. But I do think...

CORNISH: What do you mean by that?

SWALWELL: Well, they went after, you know, conduct that I think most Americans did not believe was worthy of dragging the country through the most extraordinary remedy.

But what I think we can learn from this payoff is that the president and his attorney were shadowy operators, and it probably informs us a lot about more concerning conduct like and as it relates to the president's financial interests and how that's driving foreign and domestic policies.

CORNISH: Then what's your response to President Trump saying that Democrats are focusing on this essentially because there is nothing in the Mueller filing that implicates him in a conspiracy with Russians to interfere in the 2016 election?

SWALWELL: I would give him the number 16. That's the number of Trump family, business and political associates who were in contact with Russians as they were attacking our democracy. And that number keeps growing as we learn more about the investigation.

And so I'm not going to rush to judgment on what that investigation will find. But as long as Bob Mueller is able to pursue and follow all the evidence, and as long as witnesses aren't obstructing, lying and tampering, I'm confident that, you know, he will have a report soon. And then it'll be on Congress to decide, you know, whether the president should be held accountable.

CORNISH: So where should the focus be for Democrats come January?

SWALWELL: I think, first, collaborate where we can. The president has talked about wanting to spend money on infrastructure to improve our commutes and connect the disconnected.

CORNISH: Let me pause here. I meant in terms of investigations because we know there are a great many subpoenas and things that people had asked for. So where do you think they should focus on now?

SWALWELL: And, Audie, I only say collaborate where we can because I don't want this to be an investigation-driven Congress, and I know my colleagues don't. But investigate what the Republicans were not willing to investigate. Fill in the gaps on the Russia investigation.

We're not prosecutors in Congress - that's Bob Mueller's job - but we do have an upcoming presidential election with an adversary just as determined as they were in 2016 to interfere in our election. And General Mattis said just a week ago that they sought to interfere in 2018. So we should protect the country from that outside interference.

We should see the president's tax returns. That will allow us to take an MRI to his personal finances to understand whether his interests with Saudi Arabia, Russia, China or God knows what other countries he's done business with are driving foreign and domestic policy.

CORNISH: You know, when the president first took office, there were a lot of people who were talking about impeachment - right? - very loudly.

And now, most recently, I heard Representative Cohen from Tennessee, who actually introduced articles of impeachment last year, saying that, quote, "it's difficult to get people right now to even be on the record for being a sponsor for an impeachment resolution." What's changed?

SWALWELL: Well, no one is above the law. And the president, certainly, is not above the law. But I think now that we have the responsibility of governing and investigating, we want to give the president a fairer investigation than he probably deserves because if there is conduct we find that takes us into that impeachment category, we want to build an impenetrable case. We want to seek bipartisan buy-in. And we'd want the American people to know just what exactly it is that he did that would lead to this extraordinary remedy.

So we're not there yet. And I don't want to be as reckless with the truth as the president often is in how we deal with this.

CORNISH: Does Congress have an obligation to hold the president accountable, even if there are political consequences? I say that because you mentioned House Republicans and Clinton in the past as an example of a follow - an example you did not want to follow.

SWALWELL: Yes, and I would say for two reasons. One - what we do now, even though we're living in real time and watching these offenses occur in real time, it will set precedent for future presidents and their White House counsel. So they will look at what we do with President Trump as they give advice to future presidents and how future presidents conduct themselves.

Second, if the president has a very high degree of criminal exposure once he leaves office and the only reason he's not being prosecuted is because of a Department of Justice policy, that would fall on him once he left office. You don't want a president in a position who could, you know, act out or be erratic because he's fearful that losing an election would send him to jail. And so I think we have to be mindful of that.

I think there's an opportunity, though, to also look at extending the statute of limitations, you know, as they exist to just pause and not run until a president leaves office because right now, it looks like if President Trump is not re-elected, he could potentially go to jail. If he is re-elected, he could avoid going to jail. We don't want presidents to, you know, be making decisions based on their, you know, jail exposure.

CORNISH: That's California Congressman Eric Swalwell, member of the House Judiciary Committee and Democrat. Thank you for speaking with us.

SWALWELL: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.