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Dr. Larry Arnn on the Comey Senate Hearings

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HH: Talking to you today with Dr. Larry Arnn in person from the Kirby Center, the last radio hour of the week. It is the time for the Hillsdale Dialogue, www.hillsdale.edu. All of these conversations are recorded at www.hughforhillsdale.com. It is always good to be with Dr. Arnn. We are going to talk, Dr. Arnn, about Theresa May’s victory returning as prime minister another time when the scope and scale of the victory is better known to us. So anyway, thank you for having me back to Kirby.

LA: Here we are together. We’re actually in the same room doing the show.

HH: I know. It’s odd.

LA: Yeah, isn’t it?

HH: It’s very odd.

LA: Yeah, who is this guy sitting here?

HH: I don’t know, and we don’t have a producer. That’s terrific. So Dr. Arnn, what I thought we would do, given the constitutional issues that have been raised, is begin by talking about those. Next week, we will begin the Articles of Confederation. But there are some very basic constitutional issues, and then I want to play our friend, Tom Cotton’s, testimony from yesterday. Constitutional issue number one, the president is in charge of the executive branch.

LA: Yeah, you’d think.

HH: (laughing)

LA: You’d think.

HH: What is lost upon people that he can talk to the FBI director? Now he cannot tell the FBI director, it goes too far to say don’t prosecute a criminal. But he can certainly say I hope you can find a way to let Mike Flynn go, which is a basic general, I think he’s a good guy, affirmation. I don’t think it’s obstruction of justice, and I don’t even know if, you can’t prosecute a president. All you can do is impeach. Do you think that anyone really thinks that that’s an impeachable statement?

LA: So the Comey hearings are going on four blocks from the Kirby Center, and the mass that it’s accumulated is sucking shingles off our roof.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) It’s a big nothingburger, right, because first of all, it’s not clear that the president of the United States can commit obstruction of justice, right?

HH: He can’t. He actually can’t.

LA: And it would be bad, so James Comey is a policeman. If the elected chief executive cannot tell him what to do, then it’s a police state, right? And James Comey seems oblivious to that fundamental problem.

HH: Yeah. Now he can be impeached. He can’t be prosecuted, so he can’t obstruct justice in a criminal sense. He can in a political sense. And in fact, the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon charged him with obstruction of justice as a political crime.

LA: Yeah, but that’s, and see, that’s, but think. It’s just a simple, it’s easy to understand this. The people elect an executive, and that’s an awesome power. And there’s just one of them, so we know who to hold accountable. But if you take a court, or a lawyer, or anybody, and say he can impeach or throw the president out, then all of a sudden, he’s really in charge of the executive branch.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And that means the people, the one the people elected is not anymore. So they did something simply brilliant, and that is they made the House of Representatives an elected political body, the body to bring charges, and they made the Senate the body to try the charges. And therefore, you have a political/legal process that protects all of the branches from being suborned by people who are not elected.

HH: That is so elegantly stated. And I just have to say if anyone out there wants to think that that’s an impeachable offense, a 30 second conversation about a guy you fired the day before that you think is a good guy, let them have at it. Let them go to the House floor and say I think we ought to impeach the president of the United States. Let them bring a resolution of impeachment on that basis. And if I were Paul Ryan, I would bring it up for a vote.

LA: Yeah.

HH: I would actually bring that up for a vote, and let’s talk about that right now.

LA: Sure. Sure.

HH: And get it out there, and you know, if you want to impeach the president on that basis, let’s put it out to a vote.

LA: Think of the meaning of Comey’s position in this thing, too, because it is very dangerous. So his idea is if he’s alone with his boss, and the boss makes a suggestion to him, he feels very uncomfortable, right? He’s working for the guy. And if he’s not working for the guy, then he is an arbitrary enforcer of the law, because nobody elected him.

HH: Yeah. He was confirmed by the Senate. He was nominated, but I must say, I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of taking notes from the first day, and James Comey saying I thought I had to, because I thought he was a liar. I mean, I, if you think someone is a liar, you tell everybody, and then you quit, or you just quit and you keep it to yourself. But you don’t tell your circle of five, write notes to the file, and then continue to try to entrap him?

LA: Yeah, and see, think of this. It’s also true that these hearings, you know, which as I say, are actually damaging the Kirby Center by their gravitational pull…

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: We are. We can see the Capitol from here, so we are, we’re, in fact, the chairs are moving sideways as we speak.

LA: There’s a bar next door that’s giving a free drink to everybody in the bar every time Trump tweets.

HH: Oh, no kidding? (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: Don’t be there in the morning.

LA: This is really crazy. But the thing is, these hearings are the proof that Comey’s position is ridiculous, because the check on the president is the free press. You know, the Republicans control the Congress, both houses…

HH: Yeah.

LA: And they’re having these hearings.

HH: That’s right.

LA: That’s how the president is controlled. And now that Comey is a private citizen, he can call the president a liar all day long if he wants to, and there’s no crime in that.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And his opinion is not particularly interesting to me, but he can say it all he wants to, and he can say it under oath if he wants to.

HH: Let’s, you and I are friends with the senator from Arkansas, Tom Cotton. I think you may have had something to do with getting him introduced to his beautiful bride. I think that may be the case. So I want to talk a little bit about his line of questioning, because it was very unsenatorial in that it was productive. (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: And I’m amazed, because he went to Harvard Law School. I didn’t know he knew how to do this, because they don’t often teach that.

LA: (laughing)

HH: So I want to play this for you and get your commentary. Here’s Tom Cotton yesterday with Jim Comey.

TC: Mr. Comey, you encouraged the president to release the tapes. Will you encourage the Department of Justice or your friend at Columbia, or Mr. Mueller to release your memos?

JC: Sure.

TC: You said that you did not record your conversations with President Obama or President Bush in memos. Did you do so with Attorney General Sessions or any other senior member of the Trump Department of Justice?

JC: No.

TC: Did you…

JC: I think it, I’m sorry…

TC: Did you record conversations and memos with Attorney General Lynch or any other senior member of the Obama Department of Justice?

JC: No, not that I recall.

TC: In your statement for the record, you cite nine private conversations with the President, three meetings and two phone calls. There are four phone calls that are not discussed in your statement for the record. What happened in those phone calls?

JC: The President called me, I believe, shortly before he was inaugurated as a follow-up to our conversation, private conversation, on January 6th. He just wanted to reiterate his rejection of the allegation and talk about, he’d thought about it more and why he thought it wasn’t true, the verified, unverified and salacious parts. And during that call, he asked me again hope you’re going to say, you’re doing a great job. And I told him that I intended to. There was another phone call that I mentioned, I think it was, I could have the date wrong, March 1st, where he called just to check in with me as I was about to get on the helicopter. It was a secure call we had about an op, an operational matter that was not related to any of this, about something the FBI was working on. He wanted to make sure that I understood how important he thought it was. It was a totally appropriate call. And then the fourth call, probably forgetting, may have been, I may have meant the call when he called to invite me to dinner. I’ll think about it as I’m answering other questions, but I think I got that right.

HH: Okay, stop right there. Stop right there. So Larry Arnn, he’s actually getting facts on the record.

LA: Yeah, that’s right. He, Tom is, you know, he’s from Arkansas, and we’re real smart. (laughing)

HH: (laughing) He’s not wasting his time with a lot of hoo-hahing and statements and strutting, because nobody cares. He’s trying to get some facts out, and very damaging ones coming up. But he’s…

LA: Right. I’ll tell you a little thing about being around him. He’s, you know, I’ve known him a long time now. And he’s a really great guy. And some of the people who work for him in his office are people that he fought with in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so it’s like a military operation, right? They, when they talk about a thing, there’s an objective, and then there’s a conclusion quickly reached to go take it. And that’s how he is. So with this thing, he’s first of all just getting Comey to say a bunch of stuff.

HH: Yeah, that’s it. Let him, and now we know that there are no secret memos on the DOJ on Sessions or anyone else that they have to worry about, and by the way, Loretta Lynch can breathe easier, too, as can the former Sally Yates. Jim Comey kept memos on no one except Donald Trump. Nobody.

LA: Yeah, yeah, yeah, just his boss, nobody else.

HH: Nobody else, not, and only one of his bosses.

LA: Yeah, yeah.

HH: When we come back from break, I’m going to play the next thing. How long until the break we got here, Generalissimo? About a minute. So all told, we come back, we’ll play more of the Cotton thing. I don’t think this thing has legs beyond another month or so, the exoneration of the President, nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do with Russia. Do you?

LA: I don’t, but I think that the Republicans should give it legs, because the story here, in my opinion, is the thing that we’re referring to is the deep state. You, Hugh, rightly caution us about that. And they seem to be in rebellion against their political bosses. And these leaks should be investigated.

HH: As we will discuss when we come right back on the Hillsdale Dialogue. It is not often that the Constitution is actually on the front page, but it is today, and I am talking with one of its expert interpreters, Dr. Larry Arnn, on the Hillsdale Dialogue. Stay tuned, America.

— — – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn, we’re playing the testimony from yesterday of James Comey in response to Senator Tom Cotton’s line of questioning. I want to pick up where we left off and get a chunk in, and then talk about it. Go ahead and play it, Duane.

TC: The underlying activity at issue here, Russia’s hacking into those emails and releasing them, and the allegations of collusion, do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?

JC: That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting. As I said, we didn’t, when I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump. But that’s a question that’ll be answered by the investigation, I think.

TC: Let me turn to a couple of statements by one of my colleagues, Senator Feinstein. She was the ranking member on this committee until January, which means she had access to information that only she and Chairman Burr did. She’s now the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, meaning she has access to the FBI that most of us don’t. On May 3rd on CNN’s wolf Blitzer show, she was asked do you believe, do you have evidence there was in fact collusion between Trump associates and Russia during the campaign, and she answered not at this time. On May 18th, same show, Mr. Blitzer said the last time we spoke, Senator, I asked if you had actually seen any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and you said to me, and I’m quoting you now, you said not at this time. Has anything changed since we last spoke? And Senator Feinstein said well, no, no, it hasn’t. Do you have any reason to doubt those statements?

JC: I don’t doubt that Senator Feinstein was saying what she understood. I just don’t want to go down that path first of all, because I’m not in the government anymore, and answering in the negative, I just worry, leads me deeper and deeper into talking about the investigation in an open setting. I want to be, I always try to be fair. I don’t want to be unfair to President Trump. I’m not trying to suggest by my answer something nefarious, but I don’t want to get into the business of saying not as to this person, not as to that person.

HH: What do you make of that, Larry Arnn?

LA: Slippery little dickens, isn’t he?

HH: Yeah, yeah.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And it’s just, there is no evidence of collusion. He three times in private told the President you’re not the subject of the investigation. When Senator Cotton wants him to confirm that the senior Democrat who’s sitting down the aisle from them has reached the same conclusion, he declines to do so by rephrasing the question.

LA: Yeah, yeah.

HH: It is not a confidence-building exercise.

LA: Do you have any reason to doubt that statement that Senator Feinstein said I know of, no, he said, he said, this is like sophomores in a bad college.

HH: (laughing)

LA: He said I have no reason to doubt that she believed that. (laughing)

HH: It’s sophistry.

LA: Isn’t it, though?

HH: That’s right. It is sophomore. And so, well, I want to go back and get one more exchange in before the break. Here’s a little more Cotton.

TC: February 14th, the New York Times published a story, the headline of which was Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence. You were asked earlier if that was an inaccurate story, and you said in the main. Would it be fair to characterize that story as almost entirely wrong?

JC: Yes, yes.

HH: Stop. Killer. Killer right there.

LA: Yeah, yeah.

HH: And that means that the fake news in that story, I’m not going to call it the fake news New York Times, but that story was wrong, and it drove media cycles for weeks in the United States.

LA: Yeah. See, one of the things that’s going on here is that I’m going to make a criticism of the pace of work in the House and the Senate, which if they would pick up the pace would be a relief to some of this stuff, because why are we focused on all this? The president of the United States, the only evidence we have, is that he suggested that Mike Flynn was a good guy to an employee of his, right? If he ordered the employee to stop the investigation, the employee could resign and tell the story that’s being told here, right? But I think his real sin as regards to James Comey is he fired the guy.

HH: And the former director is mad.

LA: Yeah, that’s right.

HH: But upon learning that he was keeping notes of every conversation, I am glad that he did.

LA: Oh, yeah.

HH: Because that is not, if you’re vice president, or your provost was keeping notes of every conversation he or she had with you, what would your conclusion be about that individual?

LA: Give me the notes, you know, because the other thing is, they’re not, I mean, you made a point when we walked in this room, Hugh, that lack of trust with senior and confidential employees who have very sensitive duties, and that’s, there’s a, on CNN, there’s some retired FBI agent, and he’s saying that it makes him want to take a shower when he sees pressure being put on the FBI. It’s like J. Edgar Hoover. J. Edgar Hoover was not the president of the United States.

HH: And he abused his power.

LA: Didn’t he?

HH: And we’ll come back to that after the break. Don’t go anywhere, America.

— – — – –

HH: Dr. Arnn, the day after James Comey’s explosive testimony, so much to cover, but I want to focus in on, we were talking about J. Edgar Hoover before the break. And he became a state within a state, and that is why the FBI was reformed and given a ten year time limit so you couldn’t go beyond it, not to give you ten years, but to make sure you couldn’t go longer.

LA: Right.

HH: That was what that statute was about. He began, Mr. Comey, began the testimony today by saying I asked for a private meeting with the President to assure him that we had this Steele Dossier, which is just garbage and very sinister, alleging terrible things, salacious and terrible things, and that we didn’t believe him, and that he wasn’t under investigation. And so he does that. There is a school of thought out there that they ought never to have given this, because it allowed it to enter into the mainstream, and that it was orchestrated by political people in the outgoing Obama administration to in fact inject the Steele Dossier into the body politic, which it has effectively done. And it soured from the first day, the relations between the FBI director, and he said he left immediately, and he concluded, and this is what gets me, first time he’s met him, that this man is a liar, and I have to, Comey about Trump, he’s a liar, so I have to write down everything he says, because he’ll misrepresent it later. I just find that stunning that he would continue to work for him.

LA: And see, he goes there to talk about a breach of propriety. So this Steele guy from England, who has got a really great office in Belgravia. He apparently used to be in MI5, and this Steele guy, the week he delivers this thing to, this report about this stuff in the Moscow hotel that Trump and his wife are supposed to have done, the same way he gives it to the FBI, he delivers it to a media outlet. And guess which one he picks? Mother Jones, right? Now why Mother Jones, right? The New York Times is bad enough, but Mother Jones Magazine, this obviously has the trappings of a plot. So he goes and tells Trump all this, and says in a way it’s a thing to be apologetic about that the FBI is wrapped up in such a thing. And it’s that conversation that he, as you say, that he concludes Trump is a liar.

HH: And then walks about and begins to, if Donald Trump knew that he had walked out and on a classified laptop had begun to write a memo, he would have fired him that moment.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Because then you have no trust.

LA: That’s right.

HH: And you can’t have a conversation with a guy. And it goes back to the old, the moment someone in a conversation with you says you know, I’m uncomfortable, you know you’ve got a problem. And then you have to decide whether you can rebuild trust or not. If they’re accusing you of breaking the law or you’re being a liar, it’s just such a difficult, Comey’s self-regard is so immense that he thinks he’s the guardian of the state. I’m not saying he’s not virtuous. He just doesn’t understand the Constitution very well.

LA: Yeah, and the point I’m making is, is there not a sense all over the political system that the people who are not elected to public office have an independence from the ones who are?

HH: Yeah, and that bothers me, and it bothers a lot of Americans.

LA: It’s written all over this city. It’s everywhere, right? I mean, a friend of mine who’s working in the administration now said to me, I see the weight of the problem. And I said what do you mean by that, and he said if we get everybody appointed, there’s going to be six or eight thousand of us. There are more than 2 million of them, you see? And so this thing going on week after week with the media, and what is there to it? And meanwhile, a Congress and a president have been elected on the promise of making fundamental changes that are by and large not welcome to the people who are leading this kind of thing.

HH: And it is not a deep state in that you will not be arrested, but it is a permanent state in that it does not wish to be disturbed in its perks. Here’s some more Senator Cotton with James Comey.

TC: Did you have, at the time that story was published, any indication of any contact between Trump people and Russians, intelligence officers, other government officials or close associates of the Russian government?

JC: That’s one I can’t answer sitting here.

TC: We can discuss that in a classified setting, then. I want to turn attention now to Mr. Flynn and the allegations of his underlying conduct, to be specific, his alleged interactions with the Russian ambassador on the telephone, and then what he said to senior Trump administration officials and Department of Justice officials. I understand there are other issues with Mr. Flynn related to his receipt of foreign moneys or disclosure of potential advocacy activity on behalf of foreign governments. Those are serious and credible allegations that I’m sure will be pursued. But I want to speak specifically about his interactions with the Russian ambassador. There was a story on January 23rd in the Washington Post that says, entitled, FBI Reviewed Flynn’s Calls With Russian Ambassador, But Found Nothing Illicit. Is this story accurate?

JC: I don’t want to comment on that, Senator, because I’m pretty sure the Bureau has not confirmed any interception of communications. And so I don’t want to talk about that in an open setting.

TC: Would it be improper for an incoming national security advisor to have a conversation with a foreign ambassador?

JC: In my experience, no.

TC: But you can’t confirm or deny that the conversation happened, and we would need to know the contents of that conversation to know if it was in fact improper?

JC: Yeah, I don’t think I can talk about that in open setting. And again, I’ve been out of government now a month, so I also don’t want to talk about things when it’s now somebody else’s responsibility. But maybe in a classified setting, we can talk more about that.

HH: Okay, pause it right there. Senator Cotton has just confirmed that it’s perfectly appropriate for an incoming administration to conduct conversations with the countries with which they will be doing business.

LA: It, this effort to hamstring the Trump administration is really advanced and amazing. So you know, Trump revealed intelligence to the Russians in the Oval Office, right? And he breached the classified nature of the stuff, is the claim, one of the, that’s a different episode, not connected to Comey.

HH: Yeah, unconnected to this, yeah.

LA: And so the first thing that popped into my mind is a letter that Winston Churchill telegraphed to Josef Stalin, who was at that moment an ally of Adolf Hitler in the summer of 1941 that said that we have the most sensitive intelligence that actually came, he didn’t tell Stalin this, from the Enigma machine, one of the greatest intelligence breakthroughs in history, that the Germans are getting ready to attack you. Now Stalin didn’t listen to that, right, but Churchill disclosed the most sensitive kind of information. And he did that, because he needed Russia to become his ally, which eventually they did. And so the president can’t violate the classifying of information.

HH: No, he can’t.

LA: He is the chief classifier. And this is the same kind of thing, right?

HH: Yeah, but you know what’s going on, Dr. Arnn, by the way, everything Hillsdale available at www.hillsdale.edu, and it becomes increasingly important. There are two narratives – that Trump is a bumbler who is ignorant and can’t do anything, and that Trump is a sinister master of all, and is deeply enmeshed in collusion with Russia. They are incompatible, but the left moves between them as needs be in order to advance the paralysis of the reform.

LA: Right.

HH: And I don’t know that they’re going to be successful, and I don’t think this story has got legs, and there isn’t an impeachment here. But it does take away from the fact that Obamacare is falling apart across the country, and the Senate hasn’t moved. And I want to go back to the point you made earlier. The Republicans in the House and Senate have to get to work.

LA: They do. If they would get on with the business of doing what they were elected to do, then that would be the news. And that would be very intense and very hotly debated, and there would be very powerful allegations, and they would be about issues policy. That is what’s supposed to be going on in Washington, D.C.

HH: Yeah, let’s play a little more of the Cotton stuff.

TC: That there was an open investigation of Mr. Flynn and the FBI, did you or any FBI agent ever sense that Mr. Flynn attempted to deceive you or make false statements to an FBI agent?

JC: I don’t want to go too far. That was the subject of the criminal inquiry.

TC: Did you ever come close to closing the investigation on Mr. Flynn?

JC: I don’t think I can talk about that in an open setting, either.

TC: We can discuss these more in closed setting then.

HH: So you see what Senator Cotton is doing here is he’s trying to destroy the obstruction charge by putting forward that you obviously hadn’t closed the investigation. There was no effectiveness to closing the investigation. He’s trying very hard to get, Mr. Comey’s trying very hard not to answer, to admit that Donald Trump had no intent nor effective collision with the actual inquiry into General Flynn. And did you note at the beginning, Senator Cotton said there are serious and credible accusations about which I’m not going to talk. So he knows there’s a criminal investigation. He knows it hasn’t been impeded.

LA: Yeah.

HH: So he’s using this, it’s kind of, it’s a duel that is going on here between Director Comey, and I just, I’m not, forget the specifics, how could the FBI have gotten there in four months to be oppositional to the President who just won this Earth-shattering victory?

LA: Yeah, I’m worried about that, right? The right spirit, you should read the handsome things that Winston Churchill wrote about the civil service in Britain. He did say not some handsome things. For example, the really great line, no longer civil, no longer servant, right?

HH: (laughing)

LA: But he feared that, but on the other hand, you need an impartial administration of law and policy. And you need that, right? But are these guys on a side? And you know, it’s, I heard today from somebody who knows that the ethics investigations of Trump nominees are going really slow. And it’s very hard for him to get anybody in. And the White House is pretty far along, I’m told, but lots of the agencies, they hardly have anybody.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And so what about that? You know, I mean, the civil servants of the United States of America are supposed to cooperate with the people who are appointed by the, elected by the American people to run the government.

HH: Yeah. You know, earlier this week, President Trump made 11 more nominations to the federal courts, three to the Appeals Courts. They’re three excellent judges. That makes a total of 21 of 125 vacancies, and one-third of one-fourth of his term, he’s named less than one-tenth of the availabilities to him. This pace will not succeed. It has to pick up.

LA: Yeah.

HH: By everybody. Do you think they have the capacity in the Trump White House to do that?

LA: Well, the House and the Senate, I recommend, should get a sense of urgency. And there are things happening this week that make one think they don’t have a very big sense of urgency.

HH: Like going home.

LA: Yeah, well, they’re going home two days early, and they, you know, they’re, it, we have a decision about some things. And what’s supposed to follow on the decision is action. And so, and you know, the action won’t be exactly the way anybody forecast. The legislative process is like making sausage, and things get all mixed up. But they can go in a direction, and they should be about that work.

HH: Senator McConnell has promised a vote on an Obamacare repeal and replace bill by the July recess. That is good. But I saw the calendar, and they are staying away all of August as the health care system collapsed around the year. For example in Ohio yesterday, Anthem Blue Shield/Blue Cross withdrew from 18 rural counties leaving no insurers, zero. It’s now forget about if you like your plan, you can keep it. If you liked any plan, you can keep it. And we’ll come back next week and talk a little bit more about this. But how do you get a sense of urgency? They shouldn’t take a break in August if the health care system is falling apart.

LA: Yeah. And the Republicans should, they should understand this. They are the ones trying to change things. The status quo is not so bad for the other side, and so they have every reason to delay. They have every reason to make a lot out of this Comey thing, right, even if there’s not a lot there. And so they should think about that, and they should move.

HH: Yeah, when we come back next week, we’re going to talk about people who didn’t know how to govern. We’re going to actually go back to the Articles of Confederation and begin our conversation about how after the war was concluded and the Revolution had succeeded and independence was won, the first Congress, before there was an executive branch, well, I guess concurrent with the original executive branch, how they governed the 13 states unified under the Articles of Confederation with Dr. Larry Arnn. All of these conversations collected at www.hughforhillsdale.com. www.hillsdale.edu, is that Constitution course still up there? People still like that?

LA: Oh, yeah.

HH: The new one?

LA: It seems to be popular.

HH: It seems to be popular. You would like it. It’s Dr. Arnn teaching his undergraduates and cajoling them and cudgeling them, not physically, of course.

LA: The kids are pretty, and I’m a smart aleck.

HH: You’re a smart aleck, and it’s funny. But you’ll have to trust me on that, because he hasn’t been thus far in four and a half years, but you’ll have to trust me on that.

LA: (laughing)

HH: Don’t go anywhere, America. I will be back.

End of interview.

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