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Senate Intel Democrat Martin Heinrich Reacts To Comey Testimony

NPR's Robert Siegel talks to to Sen. Martin Heinrich, Democrat of New Mexico and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, about former FBI Director James Comey's testimony on Thursday.


Well, now we turn to New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich. Senator Heinrich is a member of the intelligence committee and was one of the senators who questioned James Comey this morning.


MARTIN HEINRICH: A lot of this comes down to who should we believe. Do you want to say anything as to why we should believe you?

JAMES COMEY: My mother raised me not to say things like this about myself, so I'm not going to. I think people should look at the whole body of my testimony because, as I used to say to juries when I talked about a witness, you can't cherry-pick it. You can't say I like these things he said, but on this, he's a dirty, rotten liar.


COMEY: You've got to take it all together. And I've tried to be open and fair and transparent and accurate.

SIEGEL: Senator Heinrich joins us now from Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program, Senator.

HEINRICH: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: Was James Comey the kind of credible witness he described in that answer?

HEINRICH: You know, looking at James Comey over the course of his career, there have been times when I've agreed with his decisions and I've disagreed with his decisions, but I've never found him to mislead the committee or mislead Congress. And so he has a track record of speaking the truth, and I think that that put him in good stead today.

SIEGEL: Did you learn anything new from his testimony today?

HEINRICH: I think the most interesting thing we learned was just the pressure that one feels when you're alone with the president of the United States, whether it's in the green room or someplace else in the White House. I think getting that perspective was important. We also learned that the president never took the opportunity to say I'm concerned about what the Russians did in the election; what do you recommend we do to make sure this never happens again? So there was lots of concern about his exposure and about Michael Flynn and about the administration, but there was literally no concern about what the Russians did in our election and how we could prevent that from ever happening again.

SIEGEL: Of course, a question that everybody wants answered is did what the president do amount to obstruction of justice? And did what - from what the former director of the FBI told the committee today, would you say in your opinion that what the president did rose to the level of obstruction of justice?

HEINRICH: Well, first, I'm going to tell you I'm an engineer and not an attorney. I'm certainly not a prosecutor. I think what the president did was incredibly inappropriate and deeply concerning. But I will leave it to Bob Mueller, who is a professional, to determine whether it meets the legal standard for obstruction of justice. I think it was very clear that the president was attempting to influence the outcome of those investigations...

SIEGEL: Of course, the case was made, or at least it was - they tried to make it, some Republicans on the committee today, that what the president was doing was, they said, with a fairly light touch. He said what he hoped. Comey went out and continued with the investigation and that if the president had really wanted it stopped, he would have said something stronger than that.

HEINRICH: Well, I think it wasn't a light touch when the director of the FBI was fired.

SIEGEL: The president has said that Director Comey's testimony vindicates him, that he was in fact told three times you're not under investigation, and he's not under - or wasn't under investigation. Is he right to say as much?

HEINRICH: Well, when Comey - when Director Comey made those statements, the president was not under investigation. That was certainly accurate at the time. That is a very separate matter from whether or not he sought to influence that investigation. And what we really learned today were the details of how he sought to get Director Comey to back off, particularly of his investigation of Michael Flynn. And we all know the many things that Michael Flynn has proven to be involved with since that time and to lift the cloud of the larger issue as well.

SIEGEL: There was something that Republican Marco Rubio said in his question. He said that the top congressional leadership, leaders of both chambers and also the heads of the intelligence committees, were told that Donald Trump was not a target of an FBI investigation, not the subject of one. And he said that's the only piece of information that hasn't leaked out to this day. Do you think that's a fair criticism, that of all the leaks that we've seen we haven't seen that one, that the FBI says Trump was never under investigation?

HEINRICH: Well, I'm not a fan of leaks, first and foremost, let me say that, but I think all of this involves some selectivity. And even the president himself, I would argue, the information that he gave to the Russian foreign minister could quite easily be characterized as a leak. So it's easy to get into a back and forth about leaks that doesn't look at the central issue. The central issue here is was the president's conduct appropriate? Did he try to prevent an investigation? And I think what we learned today certainly suggests that's the case.

SIEGEL: Senator Heinrich, thanks for talking with us.

HEINRICH: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: That's Martin Heinrich, Democrat of New Mexico and member of the Senate intelligence committee.