WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees, today joined Wolf Blitzer on CNN to discuss breaking news regarding former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and President Trump’s trip overseas.
“I think it's important for President Trump to show that the importance that the American people place on our unshakeable partner with Israel, has moved that forward in a good way. I'm frankly holding my breath this week to see whether or not President Trump can conduct himself in a constructive and positive way on the world stage. All of us as Americans have to hope that our president is successful. His next stop with the Holy Father, with Pope Francis in Vatican City, is one that I'm looking forward to. Pope Francis has been an advocate for refugees, of course, and President Trump in his campaign and in his early actions as president has taken a position on welcoming refugees to the United States that is in direct opposition to the position that Pope Francis has urged all countries to take.”
Full audio and video available below:
Excerpts from the interview:
Senator Coons on Flynn: Well, that may. There are lots of other areas for which General Flynn may face legal jeopardy. It's reported that had he received hundreds of thousands of dollars from someone very close to the Turkish government and failed to appropriately register or disclose that. It's also been reported that had he received tens of thousands of dollars from Russia today, and there are other allegations that he may have either falsified information or not been fully truthful with the Trump administration as they were doing background check work on him. You know, frankly, of all the missteps of the Trump administration so far, the one I have the hardest time understanding is why General Flynn was allowed not just into the White House but into The Situation Room, and I think there are other ways that both the Congressional investigations and the special counsel-led FBI investigation can get access to documents or testimony that would be relevant in the event that General Flynn is ultimately prosecuted.
Senator Coons on the letter to Congress from Flynn’s lawyers: We have to respect the First Amendment right against self-incrimination, and I respect that his defense counsel, his lawyer is making an argument that given the current environment and the range of allegations of missteps or misbehavior by General Flynn that he's at some real legal risks, so I think frankly any court would respect the argument being made by his counsel.
More on Flynn: I think I'll leave that to the relevant committees, but my hunch at this point, as Jeffrey Toobin just laid out, that we're very early on. We need to have coordination between Bob Mueller, the new special counsel who is leading the FBI investigation, which is both counterintelligence and potentially criminal. I don't think he should be held in contempt out of respect for the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but I think I'll leave the ultimate decision about that to the very capable bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation.
Senator Coons on granting Flynn immunity: That's a very delicate decision, and there we would have to weigh whether or not he may face prosecution or whether it would imperil the FBI investigation and whether he might say something that really is in the public interest. As you heard from Jeffrey Toobin in the Iran-contra investigation, there was a real distance or disconnect between what was done by the Congressional Investigating Committee and the then-independent counsel Lawrence Walsh. I think we have to coordinate between federal law enforcement, the FBI investigation, and the ongoing Congressional investigations to make sure we don't get cross-wise.
Senator Coons on Manafort and Stone: I think that’s quite significant. It means that the Senate Intelligence Committee is moving forward, is cooperating, and functioning well on a bipartisan basis and issuing subpoenas and getting documents and testimony back in response to that questions. It means that the Senate Intelligence Committee has moved to the phase of reviewing documentary evidence to where they are going out and securing documentary evidence, and I think that's encouraging because it means they are making real progress.
Senator Coons on Comey’s testimony: Well, that's going to be really critical testimony. I'm looking forward to hearing from the former FBI director why he believes he was fired and hearing his testimony directly about the meeting he allegedly had in the Oval Office with the president, where President Trump tried to press him both to pledge personal loyalty and to abandon the ongoing investigation against General Flynn. If that is supported by contemporaneous memo that the FBI director wrote to file as is reported in the press, if he testifies to that, that's really compelling striking testimony about misdeeds by the president and his administration.
Senator Coons on whether President Trump confirmed that Israel was the source of the classified information: I really struggle here with how much I think President Trump just doesn't understand the harm that he's done by talking recklessly with the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office about highly classified information. The press reports of that conversation and what was inappropriate about it didn't allege that President Trump specifically cited the country that was the source of this intelligence. Instead, it was a combination of factors, the city in which the information was developed, other key factors about how we knew certain things about ISIS that are alleged to have led -- would lead any competent intelligence service such as the Russians to conclude the nation of origin. The larger point here is that it's important that we have a strong security and intelligence partnership with Israel. It's important that our president, Donald Trump, has a constructive visit to Israel, and my hope is that he will get better briefings and pay more attention to them and be better prepared for the meetings that he takes. I still question why he hosted the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office given the very aggressive actions of Russia interfering in our 2016 election, invading and occupying a part of Ukraine, and being really in opposition to our key and vital allies across NATO.
Senator Coons on the president’s efforts to unite Israel and other Sunni Arab countries against Iran: I do think we need to hold Iran accountable for their reckless and aggressive behavior in the whole region. Their support for terrorism, their ballistic missile program, their human rights violations, so I would agree that it's important for us on a bipartisan basis to stand up to Iran's aggression. But I did support the Iran Nuclear Deal. I think it has frozen Iran's nuclear program and given us unprecedented access to inspect Iran's nuclear program. I suspect you'll end up seeing President Trump demonstrate that the Trump doctrine does include flexibility because I think he'll end up extending the Iran deal and working hopefully with Congress to try to find ways to contain Iran's aggression in non-nuclear fields as well.
Senator Coons on Trump’s visit to Israel: Well, we'll see how the visit to Bethlehem goes. I think it's important for President Trump to show that the importance that the American people place on our unshakeable partner with Israel, has moved that forward in a good way. I'm frankly holding my breath this week to see whether or not President Trump can conduct himself in a constructive and positive way on the world stage. All of us as Americans have to hope that our president is successful. His next stop with the Holy Father, with Pope Francis in Vatican City, is one that I'm looking forward to. Pope Francis has been an advocate for refugees, of course, and President Trump in his campaign and in his early actions as president has taken a position on welcoming refugees to the United States that is in direct opposition to the position that Pope Francis has urged all countries to take.