Mike Rogers, Former House Intel Committee Chairman, On Trump-Putin

Jul 17, 2018
Originally published on July 17, 2018 9:15 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump stunned and angered both his critics and his allies yesterday while giving a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Trump cast doubt on the findings of several U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Now, that is despite the special counsel's indictment of 12 Russians who are accused of hacking emails from the DNC during the presidential campaign. Trump may not have gone very hard on Putin, but Putin later sat down with Chris Wallace of Fox News, and Wallace grilled him.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

CHRIS WALLACE: Why do you think Robert Mueller issued this indictment three days before you and President Trump met here at the summit?

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) I'm not interested in this issue a single bit. It's the internal political games of the United States.

KING: That was Vladimir Putin. Congressional leaders from both parties say they have serious concerns about whether Trump is defending American interests from Russia. We're here now with Representative Mike Rogers. He's a Republican from Michigan who once chaired the House Intelligence Committee. He's also a retired FBI agent. Good morning, sir.

MIKE ROGERS: Good morning, Noel. It's good to hear your voice.

KING: Good to hear yours. Let me pull back 3,000 feet here and ask you, why does yesterday's press conference between Presidents Trump and Putin matter?

ROGERS: Well, from an old Cold Warrior like myself, both in my military service and my FBI service, it is very, very concerning. He stood on an international stage and basically said he didn't have the faith and confidence in his intelligence services, which, by the way, would also include the FBI agents who did the investigation for the Russia probe. That is a serious condemnation on a world stage, let alone what would have been serious back here in the United States.

KING: Why does it matter that it was on a world stage?

ROGERS: Well, you know, there's, you know, the old saying that politics should stop at the water's edge. It used to be practiced in politics. That certainly has changed. But there was also the next level of that on military matters and intelligence matters and matters of security around the world. So we could have our spats with Europe, we could be upset that NATO wasn't stepping up to the plate in certain areas, but in front of our adversaries, we would never acknowledge that we were having kind of a family fight, right? Family fights are always best left behind closed doors. This opened that up, and it said that the president had a different position both from our NATO allies and most of Americans, by the way.

KING: The president suggested that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is responsible for the bad relationship between the United States and Russia. What do you think about that?

ROGERS: Now, this is outrageous. I mean, it is completely outrageous. And if you think about Russian bad behavior, which happened long before Trump got here, by the way, it just continued through the Trump administration. They have been interested in a different place in the world. Now, remember, Putin is angry that the Soviet Union collapsed in the way it did and has given speeches about the fact that he believed that they gave too much, other Russian leaders gave away too much of the Soviet Union - Eastern Bloc, specifically - and diminished the power of what was the empire of the Soviet Union. And he wants to get it back, and he has slowly and steadily over time been engaged in exactly that. He has given speeches to that effect, and he has taken actions to that effect. So when the president the United States says, well, it's maybe the United States' fault, that is - well, it's offensive to those of us who have been in the Cold War fight, and it's certainly offensive, I think, to our allies in NATO who have stood guard and are now trying to worry about trying to keep Russian forces out of the Baltic states, in places like Georgia and, by the way, in places like Ukraine. It is confusing, it's offensive and I think very, very damaging to our future relationship.

KING: All right. So concerns about Russian overreach in the region continue. Let me ask you about an offer that President Putin made yesterday. The Department of Justice, of course, has announced these charges against 12 Russian intelligence agents for trying to influence the U.S. election. On Monday, Putin invited Robert Mueller to question them in Russia, provided that Russian officials could also travel to the U.S. President Trump calls that an incredible offer. What did you think when you heard that?

ROGERS: Yeah. It's an incredibly stupid offer if we take it.

KING: OK.

ROGERS: Of course, this is Putin's way of trying to get GRU agents, the hardened intelligence agents or FSB agents, meeting with, face to face, U.S. intelligence agents. And they always say in the business that access is half the key to recruiting. And so he would love to be in that position by asking those agents embarrassing questions and have that get out about intelligence activities that they may or may not be engaged in. So this is just a crazy notion. The very fact that the investigation indicted GRU agents - these are active intelligence agents working on behalf of the country Russia, the Russian Federation - is really shocking. And it's a powerful point of how far we believe that the Russians went, and certainly the investigators on that special investigation believe it. And that is a serious matter. So Putin basically is diminishing that by saying, yeah, sure. You can come talk to our intelligence agents, but we want to go and meet your intelligence agents. It is the Pee-wee Herman of international relations here, and we shouldn't take the bait.

KING: We shouldn't take the bait, you say. Mike Rogers is a former member of the House, where he chaired the Intelligence Committee. Thank you for your time, sir.

ROGERS: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.