WASHINGTON – As the Senate Intelligence Committee probes Russia’s attempts to influence the last U.S. election, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told Chuck Todd on “Meet The Press” on Sunday that he felt they would be getting “way, way getting ahead of ourselves” to say a special prosecutor was necessary.
“There’s no allegations of any crime occurring,” said Cotton, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “There’s not even an indication that there’s criminal investigations underway by the FBI as opposed to counter-intelligence investigations.”
“If we get down that road, that’s a decision that Attorney General Sessions can make at the time,” Cotton added.
Cotton previously called for a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS while running for election against former Sen. Mark Pryor in 2014.
Democrats, meanwhile, have called for Sessions to recuse himself from inquiries involving Russia because he was one of the president’s most visible political supporters and campaigners — and is now a political appointee.
Cotton’s view, which echoes the White House’s assessment, puts him at odds with prominent Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who said Friday that he was open to a special prosecutor investigating Russian interference in the election.
“You’re right that you cannot have somebody, a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions who was on the campaign and who is an appointee,” Issa, a Trump supporter, told HBO’s Bill Maher. “You’re going to need to use the special prosecutor’s statute and office.”
On Feb. 17th, before Congress left for a brief recess, FBI Director James Comey met with senators for a closed-door meeting. Cotton acknowledged on “Meet the Press” that this meeting was about issues related to Russia.
“We had a long, hours-long hearing on the intelligence committee. It was on these very topics,” Cotton told Todd.
“Every time we meet, I call it a hearing,” he said.
Responding to a report in the Washington Post that the Trump administration reached out to intelligence officials and major lawmakers to help combat Russia stories, Cotton said that the White House never contacted him on this issue.
“I was not” contacted, Cotton said.
But he felt this was an instance where “the White House was trying to ensure that the media had more access to information.”
Senator Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement that he has “grave concerns” about the Washington Post story and that he will work with the committee to determine what kind of course of action to take, and that if there is concern the committee cannot properly conduct the investigation, he “will support empowering whoever can do it right.”
Cotton did not express concern about the integrity of the investigation, insisting that he had “no doubt that this would be a fair inquiry.”
“Vladimir Putin is KGB. Always will be. The Senate Intelligence Committee, for as long as I’ve been on it, has been examining Russia’s attempts to undermine faith in our electoral process and undermine our interests around the world,” Cotton said.
“If that leads to potential contacts between Trump associates and the Russian government, then we will explore those as well,” he added.
Cotton also said he thought it was “a perfectly reasonable response” for White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to ask the FBI to publicly discredit a New York Times story on Russia after the FBI told him it was overblown.
“The FBI and other intelligence agencies have reasons they don’t go out and call balls and strikes on these stories because we don’t want to let our adversaries know what we do know or what we don’t know or how we know it,” he continued. “But again, if you just take everything in that story on face value, I don’t think there’s that much alarming in it.”
Cotton on “Meet The Press” also held firm on Republican plans to “repeal” the Affordable Care Act because he said the party made so many campaign promises to do so. On Thursday, former House Speaker Boehner claimed the idea of a full repeal “not what’s going to happen. They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it.”
Cotton responded, “Republicans won big victories because we promised to repeal Obamacare and to fix our healthcare system once and for all. That’s what we’re going to do. It would not be keeping faith with the American people if we did not keep our word from those last elections.”