Senator Tom Cotton was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday discussing Russia.
Willie Giest: Joining us now from Capitol Hill – member of the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Armed Services Committee – Republican senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Senator, good morning, good to see you. Last night as well Donald Trump tweeting about the intelligence community, putting that in quotes. He has been very critical of our intelligence services. How do you feel Donald Trump has handled this allegation of Russian hacking?
Senator Cotton: Well, I think it’s reasonable for us to wait to see what comes out in the report in the next couple of days. President Obama ordered that report last month, and the intelligence agencies have been working very diligently to complete it. They will report to President Obama and then Donald Trump and then the intelligence committees on Capitol Hill, and then we can examine their conclusions. I don’t see much need to jump to conclusions before that, though, until we see what their conclusions are in the intelligence committees and the sources and methods they used to gather the evidence to support those conclusions.
Willie Geist: Do you think it’s dangerous for Donald Trump to attack the intelligence community before he knows what they are going to say?
Senator Cotton: I have a lot more faith in our intelligence officers serving around the world and the very smart and experienced analysts that we have here in the nation’s capital than I do in people like Julian Assange, I can tell you that much. Look, I don’t dispute the intelligence community’s assessment from October 7th that Russia or Russian associates were behind the attack on the DNC. I simply think that is to be expected from Russia, that is what they do And one reason they felt emboldened that they could do that for the last eight years is because Barack Obama has not just been weak on Russia, but he has even tried to stop people like me and other Members of Congress from drawing a firmer line on them. That’s what we need to do with Russia: we need to draw a firmer line, we need to impose costs when they step over the line doing things like hacking into the DNC.
Mike Barnicle: Senator, does it concern you at all that the president-elect of the United States of America, to be president in 17 days, 16 days, continually and has continuously demeaned the intelligence gathering and the people who do this dangerous work around the world, does it concern you at all?
Senator Cotton: Well, I think intelligence officers are like military personnel. They just don’t work in public. They don’t wear uniforms when they go through airports. Andnd therefore, they don’t get as much of the credit, respect, and honor that they deserve. I would encourage the president-elect to listen with an open mind, but also with a probing mind. It’s right to probe our intelligence agencies as civilian elected leaders of our government. But, also there are real questions, too, about why there have been so many leaks over the last seven or eight weeks from the administration about the motivations or the intentions of Vladimir Putin or other foreign leaders. That is not something that came out in that October 7th published and official assessment. Something our intelligence agencies and the administration ought not be doing is leaking intelligence for political or purposes or putting it in the media without any kind of official basis.
Joe Scarborough: So, Senator, Elise Jordan earlier this morning talked about concern in the Intel community about some of the evidence, but also concern that if this was such a devastating hack, then why, many are asking, didn’t this administration do more earlier? I actually read a Politico article saying that you had pressed them —I guess in the spring— to take a far more aggressive stand against Russia on this issue. Can you tell us about that?
Senator Cotton: I would say, first, the hack of the DNC is something that Russia ought not to have done and they ought to pay a price for it. But, if you want to make a list of all the crimes and transgressions that Russia has committed against U.S. interests in the last decade, that would be pretty far down the list. It’s true that I and many others on Capitol Hill have tried to push the administration to take a firmer line. Just a couple of examples of that: in the Intelligence Bill last year, I promoted a measure that would have created an interagency working group at the highest level to counteract Russian covert operations, influence campaigns, and propaganda. I was told that already existed, and it would be duplicative, and they threatened a veto over it. Well, it must not be working well. Second, Russian diplomats, by which I mean mostly Russian spies, are not allowed to travel a certain distance outside of their embassy or consulate. I proposed measures in the Intelligence Bill that would force the administration to enforce existing rules on those Russian spies. I got a call just a couple of weeks ago, after the election, after the announcement of the hacking, asking me to pull that bill and threatening to veto the legislation if it was included in the legislation. This is just one small example of what I mean when I say President Obama hasn’t just been weak on Russia, he has actively blocked measures to take a firmer line on Russia.
Joe Scarborough: Why?
Senator Cotton: I think from the very beginning he thought that he was going to be able to reset relationships with Russia and that he was going to be able to use Russia to achieve other goals, like reaching the nuclear deal in Iran or maybe having some kind of peace settlement in Syria. I think we have seen, though, the number of times that Russia has played Lucy to Charlie Brown, President Obama trying to kick the football, that that is simply not the case. That is simply not how Vladimir Putin views our relationship and the president now regrets that. I bet he regrets making fun of Mitt Romney for saying that Russia was our number one geopolitical adversary or telling the President of Russia that he needed more flexibility and to wait until after the election. I just wish he would have come to this recognition several years ago.
Mark Halperin: Senator, quickly on healthcare, how many Arkansans have gotten health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and what is your message to them if they are concerned that Republicans are going to change it, and they are going to lose their coverage?
Senator Cotton: We don’t want anyone to lose their coverage. When we replace Obamacare we want to fix the problems that Obamacare made worse from the preexisting system. Arkansas has something of unique system under Obamacare. Our state government didn’t just expand Medicaid like most states. It used that money to help people buy private insurance. That may be something like we look at when we replace Obamacare, whether it is a tax deduction or tax credit, we provide every American with the ability to go out and find affordable health insurance that fits their needs, not the needs dictated by politicians in Washington.