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Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell Responds To Reports Of Comey Memo


Elsewhere in the program, we'll hear from a House Republican who's urging calm while waiting for more of those details. Be sure to listen for that conversation with Congressman James Comer. Right now we're going to welcome California Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell. He serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and also the House judiciary committee. He joins us from his office on Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program.

ERIC SWALWELL: Thanks for having me on, Audie.

CORNISH: So as we just heard, Congressman Jason Chaffetz has called for the FBI to turn over notes, documents, records. We know that in the Senate, Comey has been invited to testify. What specifically will you be looking for?

SWALWELL: We want a fair investigation first. And so far, we have not been able to get that. Our investigation has been impeded by the administration at every step, you know, from the deceitful claim about President Obama wiretapping Trump Tower to the firing of Sally Yates and James Comey to now the recent revelations about asking James Comey to make the investigation into Michael Flynn go away. We just want a fair investigation that the FBI can conduct and also for an independent commission to do its work outside of Congress.

CORNISH: You mention that independent investigative commission. You drafted legislation to that effect. Does this mean you've effectively lost faith in the investigations already underway in the House, Senate and even the FBI?

SWALWELL: Certainly the most comprehensive approach to understand what happened with Russia's interference, to look at what our response was and whether any U.S. persons were responsible is through an independent commission. And we've seen in prior attacks in this country that having an outside commission of experts who are not attached to the politics of the day is the best way to get to the truth.

Also, we have a model on the September 11 commission, which was a bipartisan-appointed commission. It had - it worked for nearly 20 months, reviewing a complicated set of facts. And that's what we have here. And so the American people...

CORNISH: But you don't have bipartisan support in any way for just about anything. And that's what it would take for an independent commission, correct?

SWALWELL: That's right. And the September 11 commission was not created on September 12. It was actually November 2002. And so it took political pressure. And right now, there are a lot of outside voices who are amplifying the concerns that we have. And you know, I'm going to continue to press forward, try and work with as many Republicans as I can to get them on board because our constituents are counting on us.

CORNISH: But many House Republicans are - today were much more cautious. I mean - or they say they're not troubled at all by this latest twist. What do you think needs to happen to convince them to get on board with any of these demands?

SWALWELL: Well, they need to put our country and the integrity of our elections before any partisan concerns. And again, we have models in the past that hopefully can move them to do that. But it's really - there's nothing more persuasive than the voice of a constituent. And so hearing from their constituents - and I know that outside groups are calling on Congress today to do so. I'm convinced that the power of the people will always be the most effective way.

CORNISH: But candidate Trump survived many controversies and scandals. How do you see President Trump doing any different?

SWALWELL: You know, this week we really I believe have hit an inflection point where the different events surrounding Donald Trump and his ties to Russia are really taking a - are having a real toll on this country. And the cost is that our democracy is a mess. Our House is not able to deal with the everyday concerns of Americans, from how they're going to put food on the table, a roof over their head or provide opportunities for their kids. And so his - you know, these distractions caused by the president are starting to really paralyze this country. And that's I think the best reason to take this commission outside of Congress and allow it to do its work in that form.

CORNISH: Now, some of your colleagues have used the word impeachment. As we heard in our story earlier, many more dominos would have to fall before lawmakers might, if at all, consider something like that. Do you see it as premature?

SWALWELL: Right now we need to just follow the evidence. And again, every effort that has been taken...

CORNISH: But impeachment is a strong term.

SWALWELL: It is. It is. It's really the - it's a solution that, you know, should not even be, you know, considered until all of the evidence is followed and all of the facts are unearthed. And right now, every time we've tried to do that, whether it's the FBI or Congress, the president has tried to get in the way. So we need him to get out of the way. And that's why I think an independent commission for the long-term health of our country and an independent prosecutor for the urgent investigation that the FBI is conducting right now is the best approach.

CORNISH: Finally, the White House press secretary said that President Trump will meet four candidates to replace former FBI Director James Comey. They include Andrew McCabe, a former Oklahoma governor, Frank Keating, and others. Any comment on the candidates or how this hiring process is going?

SWALWELL: First, the individual should have a law enforcement background and be independent from the president. And I also do not believe that Attorney General Sessions should be a part of the decision making process. This person who's selected will be the chief investigator of the FBI and also overseeing what Andrew McCabe has described as a highly significant investigation. So if he is truly recused, he should not be involved whatsoever in deciding who's next.

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

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