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Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell On Special Counsel In Russia Inquiry


Next we're going to hear from California Democrat Eric Swalwell. He serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and also the House judiciary committee. Welcome to the program.

ERIC SWALWELL: Thanks for having me back.

CORNISH: So leading Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer says, quote, I now have significantly greater confidence that the FBI investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead. Does this move by the FBI to name a special counsel, specifically Robert Mueller, do the same for you?

SWALWELL: It's a very welcome move considering that the investigation was disrupted last week when the president fired the chief investigator. But it's half the solution. The other solution is the long-term health of our Democracy. And the only way to make sure that a future interference campaign does not occur is for Congress to step up, assert our jurisdiction to put reforms into place to secure future elections. And that means an independent commission.

CORNISH: At the same time, your leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, said in a statement that Director Mueller will still be in the chain of command under the Trump-appointed leadership of the Justice Department. Is that a concern for you going forward?

SWALWELL: You know, well, an independent prosecutor under prior statutes would have that person report to a panel - would be picked by a panel of judges and, you know, could only be fired for a cause. And so this is a little bit different, but it's certainly better than having Attorney General Sessions oversee the hiring of the person. And I do believe that this is - this - right now, we are back on track to find out what happened, whether any U.S. persons were responsible and, if they were, you know, make sure that they're brought to account.

CORNISH: We should note that you've drafted legislation to create an independent investigative commission to look into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia - Russian meddling in last year's election. Does this mean you've effectively lost faith in the investigations underway in the House, in the Senate?

SWALWELL: No, it means that the most comprehensive way to understand how we were so vulnerable after the election, whether any U.S. persons were involved and what reforms need to be made so it doesn't happen again can only come through a commission that is independent. There should be a parallel Congressional investigation, but like the September 11 commission, because of the complexity of this interference campaign, from the number of foreign witnesses to the complex financial transaction to the sophisticated electronic communications that may have been used, it will take full-time members and full-time staff to look at this, just as the September 11 commission took about 20 months and had over a hundred members on their staff. That's the type of devotion you need to really get to the bottom of such a complicated, sophisticated attack that Russia ran against our country.

CORNISH: Coming up with such a body would require bipartisan support. We've had many Republicans over the last few days ask people to kind of pump the breaks and take a deep breath, not to get into overheated rhetoric. Do you think that there's the political will in Congress to pursue this further?

SWALWELL: Well, if members are listening to their constituents, they will react by chartering this commission because 78 percent of the American people in a recent poll said that they want an independent commission. But I hope people are actually moved by it's the right thing to do for the sake of our country, for people to be able to go to the ballot box knowing that they were able to consider their options without outside meddling. That's really our duty as lawmakers - is to ensure that occurs. And I hope that's why people do it, not for, you know, political convenience.

CORNISH: In the meantime, we know the White House is still pursuing a new FBI director after the firing of James Comey. Do you have any comments on how that process is going? What would you like to see?

SWALWELL: I hope the individual selected has a law enforcement background and is independent of this president, has no prior connection to the president or the 2016 presidential campaign. I also hope that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not involved in the decision. I believe that full recusal from the Russia investigation, an investigation that Andrew McCabe, the acting director, has described as highly significant, is one that Attorney General Sessions would not touched or go near. I was concerned that he was a part of the firing of James Comey, and I do not believe he should be a part of the hiring of James Comey's replacement.

CORNISH: Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, thank you so much for speaking with us.

SWALWELL: My pleasure, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.