Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner On His Lunch With Trump
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn was fired for lying about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions is under pressure for something similar. In his confirmation hearing, Sessions said he had not met with Russian government officials during the campaign. But The Washington Post is reporting and NPR has confirmed that Sessions met with the Russian ambassador twice in the run-up to the election.
Sessions says he did nothing wrong and those conversations had nothing to do with the U.S. presidential election. Many Democrats are calling for the attorney general to resign. Here's Democrat Elijah Cummings, ranking member on the House Oversight Committee. Here he is speaking on MSNBC last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE 11TH HOUR")
ELIJAH CUMMINGS: It was shocking to the conscience that the No. 1 law enforcement person in our country - the one who is over the FBI, the one who sets the tone for U.S. attorneys all over the entire country - would sit in a hearing and not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
MARTIN: For more on this, we are joined by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado.
Thanks so much for being with us.
CORY GARDNER: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Does it concern you that Jeff Sessions had these meetings but didn't acknowledge them in his confirmation hearing?
GARDNER: Well, I think we have to understand what exactly happened. And I hope that Senator Sessions - Attorney General Sessions will come forward and outline exactly what the conversation was, talk about the substance of the meeting and help us understand why it wasn't brought up before the committee. There could be a reason that this was not connected to the campaign. But there are questions on whether it was, so let's just have full and open transparency and get to the bottom of it.
MARTIN: How is it different than the situation with Mike Flynn, the former national security adviser?
GARDNER: I think there was further investigation. I think there is further information on that meeting. I think this is just - you know, a number of senators meet with ambassadors, and we need to know. And so there's a lot more detailed information on Mike Flynn, and I believe that we need more information in this case.
MARTIN: Jeff Sessions runs the Justice Department, which is in charge at this moment of investigating Russia's interference in the U.S. election. Some of your Republican colleagues are calling for Sessions to at the very least recuse himself from that investigation. Do you think he should?
GARDNER: Well, I think we need to understand exactly what role, if any, he will have in the investigation. I have full confidence in the FBI carrying out an independent investigation, a full and independent investigation. But I think this does rise to the level of making sure that we understand how exactly that's going to be carried out.
MARTIN: But how do you get to the bottom of those questions of it's Jeff Sessions who is essentially investigating an issue in which he is now embroiled?
GARDNER: Well, again, I think the FBI has done and - proved themselves over the years doing a good job of making sure they can find an independent investigation and the grounds for it. If we have more information that changes that, then of course I think there will be a call to do something different. But, you know, when you go to a judge, a judge doesn't issue the verdict before the trial. Let's figure out the facts here before the next call for action.
MARTIN: Do you think a special prosecutor should be appointed to take the investigation over?
GARDNER: Again, I think - let's get the facts here. Let's start and finish the FBI investigation. The intel committee continues to work on a Russian probe. Let's get the information before we start taking other steps.
MARTIN: But - so you would support the committee finishing its investigation?
GARDNER: Well, I think the committee should finish the investigation. But if something comes up in the meantime that changes the facts as we know them, then we can always make a determination to do something different in this investigation.
MARTIN: Sean Spicer, White House spokesman, has insisted that there's nothing to see here, folks - essentially that there's no need to continue an investigation. Would you disagree on that?
GARDNER: Well, again, I think the investigation will show us that. So if that's the direction that the investigation concludes with, then we'll know that Sean Spicer was right. If there's different information or a different conclusion from the FBI or the intel committee, then clearly he was wrong.
MARTIN: You held a call-in town hall back home in Colorado last week. Did your constituents bring up Russia's interference in the U.S. election?
GARDNER: You know, I hear about Russia issues and interference in the election regularly from people in town halls - certainly yesterday - to people I meet with personally back in Colorado, very concerned.
We know that Russia attempted to interfere with the election. I don't think there's any doubt about that. And it's something that I take very seriously - have called for additional sanctions on Russia, sponsored legislation to add additional sanctions on Russia and have even called for a creation of a select cybercommittee to investigate the Russian cyberhacks along with other cyber-intrusions.
MARTIN: You met with President Trump yesterday, I believe. Did you talk about this? I mean, you've you've suggested the U.S. needs to come down with harder sanctions. Is that something the president supports?
GARDNER: This conversation yesterday with the president was focused primarily on tax relief and health care - repealing and replacing Obamacare, so I did not get a chance to visit with the president about issues other than the two that were on the agenda.
MARTIN: Did you get clarity on what the president's position is, on what he wants to see in a replacement for the Affordable Care Act?
GARDNER: I think we had very good conversations on making sure that we move forward with the reconciliation, to do as much as we can to create a better system under the Affordable Care Act, moving forward with executive action. And the president is very engaged in terms of assuring Congress that he will be there to work with the executive actions necessary.
MARTIN: I'm sorry to interrupt you. You said to ensure a system - under a new system under the Affordable Care Act. That means not repealing? That means just fixing the current ACA?
GARDNER: Well, I - no. No, I misspoke if I said under the Affordable Care Act - instead of the Affordable Care Act. Excuse me.
MARTIN: At one point last year, Donald Trump said he wanted to make sure all Americans have health care. Here's his back-and-forth with Scott Pelley on "60 Minutes."
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SCOTT PELLEY: Universal health care?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am going to take care of everybody. I don't care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody is going to be taken care of much better than they're taken care of now.
PELLEY: The uninsured person...
PELLEY: ...Is going to be taken care of how?
TRUMP: They're going to be taken care of.
TRUMP: I would make a deal with existing hospitals to take care of people. And - you know what? - this is probably...
PELLEY: Make a deal? Who pays for it?
TRUMP: The government's going to pay for it. But we're going to...
MARTIN: That has not been the Republican line on health care. Do you understand, at this point, exactly what the president wants in a replacement plan? Are you sure he knows what he wants in a replacement?
GARDNER: Well, I think we all know what we want, and that is something better than what we have today, something that works better than Affordable Care Act that, as the CEO of Aetna has said, is in a death spiral. And as President Bill Clinton stated during the campaign, the results of the Affordable Care Act are crazy.
And so what we need is something that goes beyond just a conversation about coverage because people can have coverage without actually having access to care because their insurance premiums or deductibles are too high. The president understands that. We understand that. And we've got to make sure that we have a system in place that lowers costs, increases the quality of care and does so in a way that people can actually access and utilize their insurance instead of just having it, paying for it and then wishing they could go to the doctor.
MARTIN: We'll have to leave it there. Cory Gardner is a senator from Colorado. He's also the National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman. Thank you so much for making time with us this morning.
GARDNER: Thank you. Thank you.
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