GOP Rep. Jim Banks On Reports That Trump Asked Comey To Stop Flynn Probe

Originally published on May 16, 2017 11:43 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Here's the story developing this evening. Associates of former FBI Director James Comey tell NPR and other news organizations that President Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn and his ties with Russia. This apparently happened in February. Flynn had just stepped down as White House national security adviser.

Republican Congressman Jim Banks has just returned to Washington, D.C., from his home district in Indiana. I asked him about his reaction to this news.

JIM BANKS: The latest revelations are troubling if they are true. The President should never use his influence to try to disrupt an FBI investigation. So I'm pleased to read that the chairman of the House oversight committee, Chairman Chaffetz, plans to subpoena the memo that Director Comey had written if it exists. That's a good opportunity to try to bring more light. At the end of the day, the Congress and the public deserves to know more about what supposedly was said so that we can learn more about the direction and the way ahead.

SHAPIRO: The White House is denying this account of the conversation. Do you think they still have credibility?

BANKS: This is another allegation. The frenzy around this, just like the frenzy around many of the supposed activities of the president over the past several days, are not helpful for Republicans in the Congress. Many of us, myself included, ran on an agenda to cut taxes, repeal burdensome regulations, to support our American veterans, rebuild the military. And the - all of these activities add up over time to disrupt and distract. The president and the White House are taking away from us fulfilling the agenda that we've set out to fulfill.

SHAPIRO: The last time you were on this program, you said the president owes the American people an explanation on the timing of his dismissal of Jim Comey. That was just one week ago. Have your feelings changed now that there's this latest layer of the president's asking Comey to drop the investigation into his national security adviser?

BANKS: It's hard to keep up on a day-to-day basis. And a week ago, with the suspicious timing of the firing of Director Comey, which I also believe was entirely justified by the president - the timing left a lot to be desired and an explanation from the president. I don't think we have received that proper explanation yet, and I hope that the president can try to pull all of this together that's occurred over the past week or so and bring some clarity to the subject so, again, the Republicans can move forward on the agenda that we share. That's what we've set out to accomplish, and all of this is a distraction from us being able to do that.

SHAPIRO: And this latest report about the president asking Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn comes just one day after the report that the president disclosed highly classified information to senior Russian officials. Does that worry you?

BANKS: It worries me any time I see the administration attempt to cozy up with Russia. As someone who served in Afghanistan in the military, who handled classified information, I'm concerned about the allegations that the president might have provided classified information to Russian authorities. It is very concerning. It's not defensible if it's true. And of course the White House is denying much of those reports as well.

SHAPIRO: You've described these incidents as distracting from the Republican agenda and getting in the way of what you were elected to do. With allegations that the president may have obstructed justice, may have given highly classified information to Russian officials, at some point, does this become more than a distraction and an actual harm to American interests?

BANKS: Well, we have a lot more to learn in the days and weeks to come, and that's why I appreciate that Chairman Chaffetz will subpoena some of the documents related to the allegations. At this point, we're dealing with allegations. We're not dealing with concrete evidence of any type of activity that would warrant anything more than the ongoing FBI investigation, which is very serious and continues to move forward, as well as congressional investigations into a number of these activities as well.

This is a distraction from fulfilling the agenda that we set out as Republicans and conservatives to move our country forward, and that's what I ran for Congress to do. Much of the conversation that has occurred in recent days has been a significant distraction for being able to fulfill that agenda. I just got back to Washington hours ago, and I'm ready to get back to work. And much of this is preventing us from doing that.

SHAPIRO: Republican Congressman Jim Banks of Indiana, thank you for joining us once again.

BANKS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.