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Special Counsel Would Have To Probe Obstruction Questions, Sen. Cardin Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some of the debate about President Trump now turns on what the meaning of the word hope is. Former FBI Director James Comey testified that the president said he hoped Comey would let go of a probe of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES COMEY: I took it as a direction. I mean, this is the president of the United States with me alone saying, I hope this. I took it as this is what he wants me to do. Now, I didn't obey that, but that's the way I took it.

INSKEEP: Some Republicans emphasize it wasn't an order, literally speaking, and that Comey did not protest at the time. Here to talk about the hearing is Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's on Skype. Senator, welcome back to the program.

BEN CARDIN: Oh, Steve, it's good to be with you. Thank you.

INSKEEP: So much testimony. Was this, in your view, obstruction of justice by the president of the United States?

CARDIN: Well, we're going to let Mr. Mueller make those types of judgments...

INSKEEP: Oh, Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

CARDIN: Yeah, he's the special counsel. He should be the one who makes that type of judgment. It's clear that Mr. Comey interpreted it as the president asking him to resolve the Flynn investigation quickly. So it was clear that he was trying to influence the investigation.

INSKEEP: Now, one reason we know about this is because James Comey leaked it. Well before his testimony, he arranged - he now says in his testimony he arranged for a memo of this conversation with the president to be leaked to the media. That actually prompted the appointment of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, which is exactly what Comey wanted. Was Comey right to leak this information?

CARDIN: Well, we will have to judge that, and I'm sure that's one of the things that Mr. Mueller will take a look at. But these are his own personal notes. These are not anything that is classified or confidential. These are his own notes of conversations he had with the president. So I don't think we're talking about classified information. What we are talking about are personal notes. And his - the way that he handled this is a matter I'm sure Mr. Mueller will also look at.

INSKEEP: What conclusions are you feeling you're able to draw after watching all that testimony yesterday?

CARDIN: Well, the former Director Comey clearly said that what the president said was not accurate, was not true. He clearly indicated that the president wanted him to stop the investigation of Mr. Flynn. And he clearly felt that it was inappropriate the way that the president asked to meet with him alone and the conversation that they had, so much so he decided to make contemporary notes. This is extremely troubling.

INSKEEP: Is it inappropriate what the president did?

CARDIN: Oh, yes, I think it is inappropriate. You don't meet one-on-one with a person doing an investigation of people in your campaign. That - to me, it was totally inappropriate.

INSKEEP: One other thing, though. Comey did not bring forth evidence necessarily of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, which is, of course, what's being investigated here. Is it possible - is it on your mind, senator, that what we have here is a lot of disturbing conduct to cover up not really very much in the end?

CARDIN: Well, clearly Russia had a design to influence our election and they were using every tool they could. We need to know exactly what they did and what impact - what influence Americans had in that result. We need to do that to see if any American was involved - and that would be a criminal matter - but secondly, to protect us from these types of attacks in the future. So the Mueller investigation's very important from a criminal aspect, but it's also important from the point of view of protecting us from future attacks from Russia.

INSKEEP: Do you feel Congress is properly focused on that future threat?

CARDIN: I - not yet. I think the investigation that's being done by the intelligence committee is extremely important, but I think Congress should be setting up a special commission like we did after the attack on 9/11 to make sure that we have a comprehensive, independent, nonpartisan investigation as to Russia's intentions to influence our country.

INSKEEP: Senator, thanks very much.

CARDIN: Good to be with you. Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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