tv Newsmakers with Senator Chuck Grassley CSPAN May 14, 2017 9:59am-10:31am EDT
>> next, newsmaker was senator chuck grassley. the acting director of the fbi and intelligence officials testify at a senate hearing on the global threats. steve scully: joining us on "newsmakers" is senator chuck grassley. thank you for joining us. and joining us with the questioning is erica werner who covers congress for the associated press and niels lesniewski for cq roll call. senator, let me ask you about the news from this past week. you have concerns about the meeting between director comey
and the deputy attorney general, where he was asking for additional resources to investigate russia was the same person that wrote the memo that led to his firing. sen. grassley: it is my understanding that within a few hours of this interview, somebody in the justice department cleared up that they were not asking for additional money. ms. werner: you accept that explanation from the justice department despite the reporting to the contrary that comey was seeking additional money? sen. grassley: i usually accept what i am told unless there is lingering suspicion. ms. werner: you have questions about the way the president handled the situation and the firing of director comey? sen. grassley: i would look at this more -- my relationship
with the fbi generally and i would look at a particularly with my relationship with comey. in my constitutional job of oversight, of having an opportunity to have a new fbi director. let us look at how he briefed us recently in secure areas on how he is investigating the russia-flynn connection. we asked for a briefing and we had a hard time getting the briefing. look at how it differs when we ask for a briefing on the investigation of the clinton emails. another example of the inconsistency. when i want information and documents -- a lot of times, i do not get them. and people making the same request through the freedom of
information act, get them. it is just inconceivable to me that citizen grassley could get some information through foia but senator grassley cannot get the same information and read about the information i want in the newspaper. i think i have plenty of reasons to question the need for a new fbi director beyond what the president thought was necessary. steve scully: niels lesniewski? mr. lesniewski: are you going to relay that message to anyone that becomes the nominee of president trump to become the fbi director? and if you do not get what you need in the confirmation process, is president trump going to have a difficulty getting a new fbi director confirmed? sen. grassley: the trouble is i will get the proper answers and proper documents prior to confirmation but then it is afterwards that you have the problem. and it is not just with the fbi.
i traditionally ask, both in my office when they come around for a prehearing interview, and then when they are in the formal interview so it is on the record -- i only say -- will you answer our phone calls? will you answer our letters? we you come and testify when we ask you? we always get a firm yes. not this secretary of hhs, but i did say to a recent secretary of hhs, that you really ought to answer the question, because you do not always deliver on the promises. last year, i wrote 550 letters, mostly to bureaucrats, in my investigation as chairman of the committee and as an individual senator. and in the bureaucracy, you tend to get nonanswers.
you keep trying and trying. and that is something that is because we are talking about the fbi, that is something i have had problems on with comey in previous fbi directors and quite frankly i'm sick of it. steve scully: what do you think the hearings will look like based on what we heard from chuck and others when he was fired this past week? sen. grassley: any question is legitimate. you will hear from most republicans and democrats --how will they handle this investigation? this will go on whether it is an interim or acting fbi director because the agents do their job. the committees of congress are investigating whether they will do their job. they will want to know if there is independence from the president. ms. werner: is it a possible
outcome that it would be a unanimous confirmation? sen. grassley: it will be more difficult but i believe that they can find someone that has some senate confirmation or a very independent approach to what they do like a former judge, like a former judge webster who went to be fbi director. someone that comes from the judicial branch of government. i think has some credibility just because that has been their working environment, you know. but everybody including the senators all want to make sure that they are independent. but i am going to be very concerned, on how they respond to our oversight. we can pass laws and appropriate money that we also have the constitutional responsibility to
make sure that these bureaucrats and agency heads and even the president of the united date do what the law requires. mr. lesniewski: would you be concerned if the nominee was someone who may have to recuse themselves from the russia investigation because they were advising donald trump on the campaign or were somehow otherwise involved in the transition? sen. grassley: i think the president and the people close to the president do not want to emphasize that anymore. they will get someone entirely away from that as far as i can tell. once in a while, journalists, meet me on capitol hill and this name has been suggested or another name and my usual response is to wait until we get a list of names and it is hopefully a short list and i would be happy to weigh in but i am not in the business of suggesting except for someone who is independent and have will
do the job and who will have the respect of the people who are the fbi agents. steve scully: anything more to your statement on fox this past wednesday? sen. grassley: i think that from that standpoint, i think that question prefaced something that the democrats were saying. there is nothing wrong with the democrats taking a position but we cannot dwell just on the news of the moment. we have plenty of work to do and that is why i said we need to suck it up and move on. i could say i said the same thing to a lot of conservatives three or four years ago when there was an issue of conservatives being not content with the presidential candidates. i told the conservatives -- this is our candidate, suck it up and move on unless you want more of the same. mr. lesniewski: how much are you
aware of what is going on in terms of the senate intelligence committees work? senator feinstein has been on the intelligence committee for a long time and used to be the chairwoman. she clearly knows what is going on there. how much involvement are you having with that or how much are you kept in the loop on what they are doing? sen. grassley: i have conversations with her, what she can tell. there are some things that intelligence committee members know that other senators should not know because it is highly secret. but i am mostly attune to what i get from the news. you can say that is not a very good place to get it. i talked to some of my colleague on the committee. but most often, the thing that i would have directly that they have would be the one secure briefing that senator feinstein and i have had. that is the same thing that they
would get. and we have her quest from both republicans and democrats to move forward with all of the stuff that comey told us that he cannot tell us in an open setting. we will have a secure briefing on that but we would know -- we will dovetail that in with the white house and graham subcommittee with gates and clapper there. things they could not tell them. at that point, i will get a lot more information and probably the same thing that the intelligence committee gets. mr. lesniewski: how active have you been and how active has your staff been with senator graham and the white house? sen. grassley: we have made a request for a totally independent group of people to help them. we did not have the resources to do that. so our regular staff is working with them. i emphasize what i just told you. one of the democratic senators,
i suppose was indirectly criticizing me because i did not have been an independent group to work with them. we just did not have the resources to do that. but they are doing a good job and we will encourage them to continue to move forward. ms. werner: based on everything that you have heard and seen so far, what is your personal level of concern, if any, about russia's ties with the trump campaign or even ongoing with members of the administration? sen. grassley: well, first of all, it is very important that we get all of the information. i can answer your question more fully. i think three or four committees of congress are investigating it. i am looking for them to do that early including the subcommittee of my committee. i am looking for -- we will not know what the fbi is finding out
in their respect to it but we need to get to the bottom of it. so that people are not cynical about our election process. but i think, you know, not only in the united states, we know there was an attempt to influence things. what has not been shown, and maybe it will not because there is no evidence of it, whether or not they manipulated any votes -- there is no indication of that. at this point, there are accusations but no proof. you have with the president said in his letter to comey that comey told him three times that he was not a target or being investigated i should say that that does not mean that someone else in the campaign could not have been involved. we also have evidence of their involvement of hacking the dnc.
way back in 2015. in the fbi or someone offered help to the dnc and they turned it down. as i brought out in my committee meeting recently, the dnc should have taken the advice of the people who wanted to help them eight or nine months beforehand and may be things would not have gotten as bad as they did. but no, they wanted to handle everything by themselves. ms. werner: you referenced what the president said that comey told him three times he was not under investigation. a number of former prosecutors and fbi officials have said it is highly unlikely that comey would actually have said that to the president. would you like comey to be asked about that when he is on the hill next week? you have questions about that? sen. grassley: as i said in my committee meeting on thursday, i
can tell you that senator feinstein and i did not hear in our briefing by comey anything that departed from what was said in that letter. that is all i can tell you because everything else was secure. steve scully: senator, with all of these investigations, the president ran on the promise of making america great again hope this thing on tree, jobs, the economy and health care. do you worry that that will all be sidelined? that the agenda that they ran on in 2016 will be distracted by this? sen. grassley: i think it is but not as much as the democratic obstruction in the united states senate of having to have a filibuster on almost every nominee for the cabinet and i have even heard now that we will have to file -- on the governor of iowa being the ambassador to china.
and he was reported out of committee unanimously. i am more worried about the historical amount of obstruction than what you have brought out. but what you have said is some detraction. probably more for the white house than it is for the congress. we can move ahead on all of these things. in fact, you will hear the word "trumpcare." the weekend after he was sworn in, he was going to have a plan to present to congress within a few days. we never got such a plan. the house and the senate are moving ahead on health, on text revision and eventually we will be moving ahead on the third most important thing that we have to do, infrastructure. mr. lesniewski: getting to the obstruction point for a minute, makes me ask the question about the blue slip process for
judicial nominees. there has already been some talk that some of these nominations being sent out may not have the approval of democratic senators from their home states. how are you going to be approaching that if it falls in with a pattern that you are talking about? sen. grassley: i believe the blue slip process goes back almost 100 years. pretty much consistently until the 1960's. it was pretty much that the blue slip was a factor but it may not -- it would not keep a person from getting out of committee and if the person objected they would have to go to the floor. there have always been some exceptions. chairman leahy, said he was
going to make sure the blue slip process was not abused. that is pretty much my position as well. i think it is very important that the white house work very closely with senators, both republican and democrat, but particularly those states where they have two democratic senators. and i think a big factor for me is the extent to which those democratic senators make sure that they have adequate communication with the white house. and then, there is another division. i think the blue slip is more respected for district or judges than it has been for circuit. in the case of circuit, going way back to ronald reagan, i can tell you that senator grassley and then senator jepson
suggested someone for the eighth circuit. we got a phone call that said they decided to go with somebody else. it is much more a white house decision on circuit judges than the district court judges. so, then, that would lead me to say -- this is going to be an individual case-by-case decision, but it leads me to say that there is going to have to be a less strict use or obligation to the blue slip policy for circuit. because that has been the way it has been. ms. werner: back on the issue of the fbi director. just to be clear, do you have any names in mind you would like to recommend for that post or that you have already recommended to the white house?
sen. grassley: no. i have been asked that question and given the same answer. if you want a show of independence, then maybe someone from the judicial branch may be a good place to start. i have been asked about two different individuals. i have declined comment because i want to see a list. ms. werner: would you declined comment on your colleague mike lee's suggestion of merrick garland? sen. grassley: i thought we ought to file the biden will and let people have a voice in the final analysis. i think garlin is an outstanding individual. i know his reputation as a judge. i do not know anything else about his reputation but there is not anything about garland himself that i could say no to. steve scully: you first came to the house in 1975 immediately after watergate.
seven terms in the senate. where would you put the political divide in this town between the two parties based on your tenure in congress? sen. grassley: i get this question asked at my town meetings. it goes like this -- why can't you guys in washington, d.c. get along with each other? i say it is worse than it has ever been but it is not as bad -- i know you are a journalist so you know this, but it is not as bad as my constituency. you folks in journalism like controversy and controversy gets attention. if grassley is fighting with the senator it gets in the news but if grassley was getting along with leahy and we voted unanimously and 18 bills got to the white house, you don't read about that because we are not fighting. i think it is worse and i help people in journalism will make sure that people know it is not
quite as bad because all you read in the newspaper is controversy. steve scully: why do you say it is worse? sen. grassley: well, i guess i gave you the judges as an example. since 2001. and the shubert rule went into effect and we could filibuster judges and we have been able to filibuster judges ever since. that is a pretty good example of it. but that is only one example. i think a filibuster on more than half of the supreme court -- i mean on within half of the cabinet this year. the senators said this is the slowest a cabinet has been approved since george washington. another example, the first day of the obama administration, we approved half of the cabinet. ms. werner: you indicated that you have problems with director comey and you welcomed a fresh start.
what are your thoughts that there is at least a perception problem with the president ousting the person at the head of the investigation of the president? sen. grassley: well, the only thing i can go back to is the one document that was put together by rosenstein. and more importantly, the personality of rosenstein -- and i do not know him well except when he came to my office for an interview and then he was before our committee. i do not know him. and president bush appoints him and a president obama keeps him on and he wins 94-6 for confirmation. he is second in charge. the fbi reports to him. he feels there is a lack of confidence in him so i have to take the judgment of a guy that has broad bipartisan support. mr. lesniewski: some of your colleagues on the judiciary
committee, on the democratic side, blumenthal and durban come to mind -- they are drafting legislation to revive the old independent counsel statute or to allow for some other congressional method of getting a special prosecutor if rosenstein does not go the way they would like him to go, i believe in appointing a special prosecutor through the justice department. will there be any appetite among republicans, yourself or others, for bringing back that law or some variant of it? sen. grassley: not as a general proposition when the justice department can do it on its own. that would be the basis for a change in law. on an isolated instance like
this, i do not see it happening now but that would be the only way it would be considered, i am sure. what you mentioned rosenstein. and the only reason i think people have legitimacy, and at this point, i do not think they have legitimacy for talking about passing a bill, they probably all supported rosenstein in the first place. maybe blumenthal didn't but most of them did. why would they be questioning his judgment if they thought he was good enough to get a 94-6 vote for the united states senate? i think there is a bigger reason here. that is -- what have we been talking about since early january -- about getting to the bottom of the russia-flynn connection or the russia-presumably trump connection? we want transparency. you know how special counsel's work. if there is not an indictment, there is no report done.
we have the intelligence committees of both houses, a house oversight committee, my committee investigating it. and we are going to report so people are going to know everything that we know when it is all said and done. steve scully: what are your thoughts on the tweets of the president? sen. grassley: he gives us a lot of reasons to have to explain. and clarify. steve scully: do they bother you? sen. grassley: um --the answer is, from the standpoint of may be not running them by other people before they go out. now, maybe they do, but it is like sometimes when i tweet something that i should not tweet. steve scully: he says that they are all his. sen. grassley: without a doubt. i think that he has made a case
for continuing to do it because he gets his message out and he gets people concentrating on what he wants to talk about instead of what the media wants to talk about. steve scully: do they become a distraction for you and others in the house and the senate? sen. grassley: no. ms. werner: you just spoke about transparency. that is apparently very important to you and you have pursued that goal in various ways throughout your career. what do you think of the transparency or lack thereof of this administration? they have taken steps like closing the white house visitor log. perhaps asking agencies not to make congressional requests public. other things of that ilk. sen. grassley: i think i made that clear in the letter that
congressman chavis and i wrote to the hhs secretary. he put something out about not talking to congress about -- without letting us know what was said. violation of the constitutional right of freedom of speech. it's a violation of the whistleblower protection laws. we ought to be an executive branch that once more transparency, not less. the federal government appears so obscure to so many people at the grassroots of america and from the president on down, we should be doing everything we can to acquaint more people with the working of government. when you have anything skiers that, i think it's bad. your question implies trump. days, i don't want to
draw a judgment yet. you heard me draw this judgment about president obama. he said he was going to be the most transparent administration in the history of the country. benchmark, he turned out to be the most stonewalling of any president in the history of our country. i'm going to do what i can to make sure this president doesn't do that. >> i will last about another item on the agenda going forward. thedo you expect given that white house did not send over the health care proposal in the first few weeks of the administration and now you have to do the hard work, you used to be the finance committee chairman.
how long is going to take everyone to get a health care bill written that can withstand reconciliation and pass? sen. grassley: you kind of answered your own question. this may sound like a facetious answer. we are not going to go through the public relations problems at the house of representatives had for a week. the answer to your question is when we get 51 votes. prepared for a vacancy on the supreme court? sen. grassley: i am expecting one based on the rumors that you hear during may and june, every year you get these rumors. everybody is looking. have they hired their clerks? are they sick? i don't know what it's going to be. i think we will have one this year.
i'm just hearing rumors that we are going to have a vacancy, no name attached to it. grassley, thank you for being with us. to all of you, thank you. >> tonight on q&a, the comparisons between donald trump and andrew jackson. , "andrew has a book jackson: seven or." >> he represents some of the negative values jackson represented. i would tell president trump that if he wants to be like andrew jackson, he has to put the nation in front of his own
personhood, in front of his own family, in front of his own interests. that's what jackson did for most of his presidency. >> tonight on q&a. c-span's q&a. >> join washington journal on monday as we visit the offices organization start up and hear from their editors and reporters on the news of the day. joining us will be the cofounder jonathan swann, national political reporter, and kate linda owens, health care reporter. and mike allen, caps on -- cofounder of axios and executive editor. live, monday morning, starting at 8 a.m. eastern on c-span. >> now, a senate intelligence committee hearing on global