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Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton on the Washington Post Intelligence Leak Story

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The audio:


The transcript:

HH: Joined now by Senator Tom Cotton, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Cotton, your reaction to the story that began unfolding last night?

TC: It’s huge news, Hugh, that Daniel Silva has finally optioned off the rights to his Gabriel Alon novels. I assume that’s what you’re talking about?

HH: No, I’m actually talking about the President’s meeting with Lavrov and McMaster’s denial, and the refusal to accept the denial and to parse the denial. My question, Senator Cotton, would be to General McMaster, I hope he comes out, General, is there anything the President said that you wish he hadn’t said? It’s a simple question. How would you, what do you know about this? And how are you reacting to it?

TC: Hugh, I’m not going to have much comment on what may or may not be a classified matter. I would simply say that I know H.R. McMaster and Dina Powell pretty well, and I trust their word and judgment to a greater extent than I trust anonymous sources in the news media. I would expect the administration will be briefing Congress more fully on exactly what transpired, and that’s appropriate. But until then, I don’t have further comment.

HH: Let me play for the audience the McMaster statement last night in its entirety, and then let’s talk about it. Here’s the statement.

HRM: There’s nothing that the President takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight as reported is false. The President and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation. At no time, at no time, were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the President did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. Two other senior officials who were present, including the Secretary of State, remembered the meeting the same way and have said so. Their on the record account should outweigh those of anonymous sources. And I was in the room. It didn’t happen.

HH: So Senator Cotton, he’s the author of Dereliction of Duty. He’s a truth-teller. General McMaster, I take him at his word, just like you do. I don’t know him the way you do, but I just, I just take him at his word given his reputation and people like you. But the media’s saying he contradicted himself. I don’t see, I don’t read it that way. He said the story is false. He went on to refute specific allegations that he compromised methods and sources, and he concluded by saying it didn’t happen. That’s a complete denial, isn’t it?

TC: Hugh, he said I was in the room, it did not happen. You’re right that H.R. McMaster truly made his name about truth-telling. His dissertation, which became a top-selling book, and to this day, as far as I know, remains on the recommended reading list for junior officers in the military as it was when I was a junior officer 12 years ago, is about the need for military commanders to speak truth to power in an administration, and how they failed to do so in Vietnam. So I don’t, I don’t see exactly what people are critiquing General McMaster for. Again, I suspect the administration will brief the Congress more fully on exactly what transpired, but I have much greater confidence in the word of H.R. McMaster on the record, in front of cameras, than I do on anonymous sources in the media. And this is not just as a matter of, you know, we don’t know who the anonymous sources are. We don’t know what their motives are. But further, I mean, they were not in the room the way H.R. McMaster and Dina Powell and Rex Tillerson was. So you have the typical problems of you know, second-hand and third-hand information and hearsay information that we just can’t evaluate. So…

HH: I have to get your reaction, Senator. Earlier today, I wrote crucial we get assurances that POTUS gets the risk of carelessness with SCI, Sensitive Comparted Information. Ben Rhodes just tweeted at me, Ben Rhodes, at this point, assurances that Trump gets risks being careless with intel are worth absolutely nothing. I’m astonished that Ben Rhodes would write this. I’m astonished that he would write this, given the Iran story.

TC: Yeah, Hugh, I’ll let you come up with a witty repartee on Twitter for Mr. Rhodes.

HH: It’s just astonishing that they were so indifferent to the handling of sensitive material for so long on Secretary Clinton’s server, and they’re up in arms today. That’s what my callers are most upset about. They want the President to be careful, obviously, but they’re also just sort of overwhelmed by the hypocrisy of it.

TC: Well, you know, Ben Rhodes was the point person for the Obama administration on the Cuba negotiations, so it’s not surprising, for instance, when you have a failed novelist negotiating with trained intelligence officers that Cuba got the much better deal in those negotiations.

HH: Do you believe we will get an FBI director nominated before the President leaves for Saudi Arabia, Israel and Italy?

TC: I know, Hugh, that the President has said that that, that his goal is to move quickly and to nominate someone of unquestioned integrity and judgment. And if he can make that decision before he leaves later this week for his overseas trip, I think that would be good, but…and I think it would, it’s most important that he make the right choice, someone who deserves to attract bipartisan support in the Senate, and who will be a good leader for the men and women of the FBI. In the meantime, as the acting director testified in front of my committee last week, the FBI continues to do its work. There’s no slowing down or stopping the FBI.

HH: Quick question, if in fact the Democrats all unify and say we’re not going to appoint, confirm an FBI director unless there’s a special prosecutor, and there isn’t going to be a special prosecutor, can the Republicans still get the FBI director confirmed?

TC: We can with 52 votes, but I hope the Democrats will support what I hope will be an excellent nomination.

HH: Senator Cotton, thank you for joining me.

End of interview.


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