Transcript: Rep. Eric Swalwell's interview on 'The Investigation' podcast

A transcript of Eric Swalwell's interview as it appears in the latest episode.

ByABC News
April 23, 2019, 3:36 AM

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., sat down for an interview for the latest episode of “The Investigation," a new ABC News podcast. A transcript of Swalwell's interview as it appears in this episode of the podcast follows here:

ABC NEWS' CHRIS VLASTO: Welcome back to the Investigation. I’m Chris Vlasto, senior executive producer here at ABC News. And I’m here with the co-captains of our DC team John Santucci and Matt Mosk. Who have been leading the coverage of Donald Trump since he entered the race for President. And also we are joined by Katherine Faulders who covers the White House and has also covered Trump and is part of our investigative team. But let’s get started. And now joining us by phone is Congressman Eric Swalwell. He’s member of both the House Judiciary and House Intelligence Committee. But what also makes him different, he’s joined the ranks of the almost 20 presidential democratic candidates. So we’ll see how the Mueller report is going to play during the 2020 election. Welcome to the show Congressman. The Mueller report is out. What do you think Congressman? Are you going to have impeachment hearings?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL: Well, we're certainly having a conversation about how we hold this president accountable. I mean there's the contacts that he and his campaign had with the Russians which may not have amounted to criminal culpability, but certainly are concerning and are not going away. That the Russians will continue to interfere and if we don't set some boundaries around what is acceptable conduct for a campaign or a presidency - we could lose our democracy to, you know, future interference attacks and then on obstruction. He's a double digit obstructer. Bob Mueller laid that out. And one of the reasons he's not indicted -- it looks like is because Mueller believed that he couldn’t indict a sitting president. And so that puts that on Congress. And you know what we have to ask ourselves is this, if we do nothing, you know, what does that mean for future presidencies? What does that mean for, you know, the standard of conduct that we accept in our democracy? And so, the first step is to bring Bob Mueller in and we're going to do that in the next few weeks.

VLASTO: But what is there to do? Nancy Pelosi is saying we're not, you know, impeachment is off the table. I mean what is the purpose what would it solve to investigate? We kind of know all the facts. So --

SWALWELL: I wouldn’t say impeachment is off the table. And it's certainly not for me. I don't speak for the speaker, but the statement I read from her yesterday is that you know we're going to do our job. We're having a conversation on Monday as a caucus. And you know again I think it's easy to contrast a president who rushes to judgment and makes quick conclusions about everything without any evidence. And then you see responsibility in governing and wanting to have a rule of law and not just rushing to judgment and think well why aren't they doing that? Why aren't they treating Trump the way that he treats them? And that's just because we think he's wrong to do that. So we're not going to do that ourselves. But it doesn't mean he's not going to be held accountable.

VLASTO: But you know, I did a bunch of radio shows recently talking around the country and I noticed that this country is just truly polarized. When you go to the southern states and you talk to the radio stations there, they'll tell you, they'll say to people listen this was a president that was….the underlying charge wasn't a crime and he was protecting himself and he was fighting back. And he has every right to protect himself. If he's an innocent man, you know, and he can use his power to defend himself. You know, that's what a lot of the stations were saying. Do you think it's not going to, are you going to have any impact on those people?

SWALWELL: Well, what I would ask people to do is if you read the report and you see the 200 pages in Volume 1 of all the contacts and all the green lights that the Trump team gave to the Russians and the expectation that they had that Russia would help them. How can you say we want to see that again in a future election, even if it didn't amount to a crime? You know do we have a responsibility first and foremost to protect our democracy through our intelligence apparatus from this happening again? And should we now have the imagination to write laws that prohibit the contacts that occur - just because a prior Congress didn't imagine that someone would act in the way that we've seen. Doesn't mean that a future Congress shouldn't try and do this and that's why I've written legislation last year called duty to protect. And it would put a burden on any campaign, campaign family member, or candidate to tell the FBI if they're getting approaches like the Trump team we're getting from the Russians.

ABC NEWS' MATT MOSK: So if that's your objective, what is the right process for the Judiciary Committee, for the Intel Committee, both of which you sit on, to accomplish that? because it does seem like bringing Mueller in really may not produce that much. Isn't he just going to say to you I'll just refer you to what I wrote in the report?

SWALWELL: Well, we are subpoenaing -- and Chairman Nadler has just recently sent off subpoenas for the full report -- so the grand jury information, the personal, protected information, and the ongoing investigation information. And it's our belief that Congress should receive all of that and then we can release to the public and protect anything that's ongoing or has sources and methods…but we should have a full understanding of what occurred here. That's how we protect future elections. That's how we hold anyone accountable that may not have met criminal culpability, but the constitution still allows us to hold them accountable. And that's how we, you know, also get a view into that - especially in the intelligence committee, what the Russians are doing and may do in the future or what other countries with similar capabilities could do to us if we don't put in place reforms.

MOSK: So, that's your step one is to gather the material. What would be the logical step two in that process?

SWALWELL: You know, to hear from some of the pivotal witnesses. I still, you know, looking back at Watergate, the big value from Watergate was the public understood what was at stake and it wasn't because they read a report. It's because they listened to witnesses. And to your point, you know, to the point about radio show hosts in the south saying that would an innocent man have a right to protect himself from this? Well if you're just reading the text of this and the back and forth on both sides. That's one thing. But if you hear witnesses under oath talk about what the Russians were doing, what the Trump campaign was not doing in telling the FBI, and what the president was doing to lie and cover this up. I think it will make the country more aware about what our adversaries can do and also what level of conduct we would want out of a president.

VLASTO: You're running for president though, right? And aren't you worried -- I mean during the Clinton days, investigating Clinton backfired on the Republicans aren't you worried that --

SWALWELL: But did it backfire on the Republicans? I mean I'm just setting aside - we shouldn't do what they do. But the Republicans in 2000 they won the White House, they won the House, they won the Senate. I mean how can you say it backfired on the Republicans?

VLASTO: What I'm saying is when it became the investigative culture which you have the risk of doing -- of the Democrats becoming investigating like crazy the American people sometimes looked and say you guys don't get it. You know, we were worried about our jobs and not all these damn investigations. Aren't you worried about that as a candidate?

SWALWELL: Yeah, well, and again, I’m not endorsing what the Republicans did. I’m just saying it certainly did not politically backfire on them in 2000. I look at this as a responsibility to protect the country, to protect future elections. And also, look I can walk and chew gum - I can not only, you know walk, and chew gum in the Congress and do the investigations that are necessary and you know advocate for gun safety legislation, Democratic reforms, prescription drug reforms, but I'm also running for president and so and raising two kids under two. So if you want something done ask a busy person is what my mom would say. So I'm not worried and I’ll never apologize for believing that we have to make sure these elections belong to us and never again can we allow a campaign to bring itself so close to an adversary and not tell law enforcement as approaches are being made.

ABC NEWS' KATHERINE FAULDERS: But Congressman, how exactly do you do that on the on the campaign trail in your capacity as a 2020 contender dealing with the fact that Americans are, for example, far more concerned about losing their health care than this investigation down the line? Looking forward, I mean do you deemphasize in a sense the Mueller investigation on the trail?

SWALWELL: You know, on the trail I tell people the reason I care so much about what the Russians did is I believe they 1) of course wanted the transactional benefits from Donald Trump. They got reduced sanctions, they got us to pull out of Syria. He, you know, just trashes NATO left and right. But what they were really doing, their primary objective was to reduce our standing in the world by getting rid of or tearing down the idea of America -- that we are a country where if you work hard, no matter who you are, who you love, it can add up to you doing better and dreaming bigger. And if they can take that idea away from being true then Russians may not ask for that in Moscow and they may not say hey we want to have the opportunity you have an America, we don't want a top-floor, oligarchy economy where only the benefits of the economy go to top floor and everyone else gets crumbs. They wanted equivalents out of that. And that's why I care so much is because I benefited from a capitalist, economy where I was the first in the family to go to college. My parents hard work added up to something. I don't want to look more like Russia. I want this to be an America where there is more opportunity for more people. And so it's ironic that this president is the one who says that Democrats are for socialism, he’s actually for autocracy. I'm trying to stop us from looking like that.

FAULDERS: But how concerned are you about meddling in the 2020 election? Do you do find…do you think the U.S. is vulnerable in any way? You mentioned earlier, Chris was talking about how divided the country is you've said you've enacted legislation, duty to protect. But is Congress just too polarized to enact legislation to protect the country from Russia and China? And does that concern you for 2020 - the fact that there could be meddling in the election?

SWALWELL: Most importantly we just have to overwhelm the vote. That it can't be denied. But we can make sure that as we have a budget negotiation in the fall that the election security funds that were zeroed out by the Republicans in the last Congress are put back in place. So, states have elections security capabilities, but also just having a conversation with the country, you know using the power to hold hearings and make the country aware of the weaponization of social media - that will also allow people to be better aware as these interference campaigns are run. But at the end of the day, if you don't have a president directing the intelligence community to counter our adversaries, yes, there are still going to be vulnerabilities but I'm not going to overemphasize those vulnerabilities, because I don't want people to not go vote because they think there's vulnerabilities. I want everyone to go and vote and then elect the Congress, a Senate, and a president that will protect us in the future.

MOSK: All right so, I want to play out -- because you raise an interesting point about the American public may be persuaded if they start to hear directly from witnesses. You're one of the few people in America who actually has gotten to speak with witnesses in person, who did you speak with in all the interviews you did on your committee work that you think if the American people just heard from him or from her, they might be persuaded that this is something they should take more seriously?

SWALWELL: Well, there were a number of witnesses. I think in the way that people lied also could be telling you know just be -- a witness doesn't necessarily have to you know tell the truth to be helpful. There were a number of witnesses who I thought went out of their way to protect the president and that is also telling and jarring. There are people -- and I'm not going to name names here because I'm or let Mr. Schiff release the transcripts and they will speak for themselves -- but there were also people very close to him who had very deep recall of events that occurred and they were very helpful to our investigation. So, I just think having witnesses front and center as we did with Michael Cohen you know on the Oversight Committee that was helpful for the country to understand who this person is as a businessman, as a candidate, as a president and there's a lot more witnesses like him who saw a lot of disturbing things.

MOSK: There's one person that the Mueller team did not hear from. And that's the president himself. I don't know if you've had time to look through what they wrote explaining why they didn't, but it's clear that they wanted to interview the president and concluded that they simply didn't have the time or legal breadth to make that happen. Was that a mistake? Do you think should they have talked to the president?

SWALWELL: You know I'm not going to second guess Bob Mueller. I think it would've been helpful and they acknowledge it would have been helpful for the president to testify considering the gaps that existed. I also don't think we should take that off the table for Congress. If you recall presidents have testified…

VLASTO: Good luck with that.

MOSK: We would all watch that –

VLASTO: Good luck with that.

SWALWELL: Well you know, George Bush came forward after September 11th and met with the independent commission. Gerald Ford after the pardons was interviewed by Congress. I mean again, I just come from this. If you have nothing to hide, if you did nothing wrong, then what is the damn reason that you wouldn't want to be open with the American people? He just acts guilty and --

VLASTO: But do you think people? But don't you think the American people want someone like that. I mean obviously, a colleague of ours, Terry Moran was kind of citing that people maybe like that side of his personality and that's why he got elected, that he's a bully, and he's crude and I mean -- he won. I mean and not one Republican, not one Republican, has come out, you know, championing this Mueller report.

MOSK: Chris Christie on our --

VLASTO: Chris Christie said it wasn't a hoax but he still said it was a good day for the president. So not really one Republican. And so do you think he's -- yes. Other people could say it's a portrait of lies and how terrible this is. It’s clear there’s lie after lie. What is it about him that people are staying lock, stock, and barrel right behind him? What do you think?

SWALWELL: He is, I think he has a vocal minority behind him. It puts people in fear of losing their job and to me that's what's so frustrating is I see people who tell me privately that they know what's going on is wrong. And one woman on the Intelligence Committee told me in the last Congress she wanted to support the independent commission legislation I had, but she just couldn't do it because she said, in her words, she’d have her head lopped off because of his supporters. And to me its people who are saying they're afraid of losing their job…

VLASTO: So, Mitch McConnell’s afraid of losing his job. Huh? Or no? I mean, I've been covering Washington politics for a long time and I'm actually really surprised that no one has broken ranks.

SWALWELL: I mean I don’t think you can project that on all of them. You know, I don't, I don't think it's so monolithic. I think a good majority of people who do know better are afraid of losing their job. And what's stunning to me is I would hope if you're in Congress, you're otherwise employable and this isn't the only job you could get and that maybe doing the right thing would be more important than keeping your job or that you would be rewarded for doing the right thing. But that's what I've concluded from the people who I think know better. I feel like I'm on the right side. So many of us are on the right side of just saying this is wrong. And you can't allow this to happen in our country or at least we should try and stop it. And if I lose my job for it, fine. I mean I understand it's unpopular with some people in my district, but I'm willing to lose my job to do what I think is right rather than to go along with this president and do something that's wrong.

MOSK: It's interesting to me that you don't take impeachment off the table just given what we've heard from the speaker. Do you see a scenario where through public hearings and other measures you could build support for that kind of action? Is there time for that?

SWALWELL: Oh sure, there’s certainly time. It's just a matter of you know what is the will of the Congress. I mean to do it and you know it can run in the recess weeks, run into the August recess. There's certainly time, but again first things first. I think hearing from Mueller is going to really ratchet up the public's awareness. And you know for people who, you know, rightfully I think - say even if you impeach him, you'll never be able to remove him. The Republicans won't do the right thing. I think the first way-point here. Let Mueller lay it out. Let's hear his voice describe the conduct and see where that leaves Republicans and where that leaves the public. If people are worried about, you know, the political fallout of this. For me the test is can we allow this to happen and do nothing and then set a precedent for a future president that we would be willing to live with? That's the hardest question for me to struggle with. I really don't give much thought to what the political consequences are.

FAULDERS: Congressman, I know you're not taking impeachment off the table in any way but what do you say to your Democratic colleagues who say this is the only answer? That impeachment is the only answer to this?

SWALWELL: They may be right. I mean Donald Trump has to be removed from office, it’s just a matter of does the Congress do it or do the voters do it? I have more faith in the voters doing it, but they may be right that that is the only answer. Again, I'm just saying I want to hear from Bob Mueller because I think that's going to really help the public understand what this report was about. And you know, I - you know, I've got two kids under two as I said, I’m running around the country. It took me hours to read through the report. Most Americans aren't going to have time to read through the report. I think they will watch Bob Mueller and seeing is believing in many senses.

MOSK: Were you satisfied with the report? Do you feel like it was a success?

SWALWELL: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

VLASTO: So, do you think Bill Barr deserves credit for putting it out, making it public? He didn't have to.

SWALWELL: No, I think Bill Barr should resign. I think he can either be the president's lawyer or America's lawyer. He's chosen to mischaracterize the report he's made. He said there was no evidence collusion which is false. It did not meet that beyond a reasonable doubt standard. But there was 200 pages of evidence collusion. He also said that the Attorney General Office of Legal Counsel opinion about not indicting a sitting president had nothing to do with Mueller’s decision to not indict for obstruction and Mueller’s report says that had a lot to do with his decision. And that's why he thinks Congress should have a role to play and Barr and that he did not believe that The Mueller’s finding was that Congress had a role to play. And again he started the press conference by saying as the president declared, there was no collusion -- again he's not the president's lawyer. He’s supposed to be an independent lawyer who is just impartially presenting the facts. I don't think anyone got the sense that that what that's what he was saying --

VLASTO: But he could have kept the whole report secret though. He could have just gone away and you wouldn’t have gotten this report until 2020.

SWALWELL: Twelve percent of it is secret. If you count, if you add it up about 12 percent of the report is secret. You know about an eighth of the report is been kept from the public.

FAULDERS: Shouldn’t the White House get any credit for it no executive privilege claims at all?

SWALWELL: Well, they didn't need executive privilege. They had Bill Barr blacking out --

FAULDERS: They could have, they would have cited privilege over some of it and it could have been more redacted than it was.

SWALWELL: I don't really give him much credit for anything. I mean you see just a den of liars from that report. And no. I give them zero credit.

MOSK: All right. So big takeaways. You sat down you read the report. If you are now out in let's say Iowa to name a state and you were going to sit down with somebody and they said Congressman what - explain to me what it is in the report that bothers you so much? Is there, are there specific things in there that really rubbed you wrong?

SWALWELL: And as I'm standing here, there's an MSNBC reporter interviewing someone in Council Bluffs about the Mueller report and the person is upset about what the president did. And I hear and someone told me in New Hampshire earlier in the week she said you tell the Washington press corps that people here care about the Mueller report. It's just that, but you know what you're told in Washington is that no one outside Washington cares about what happened and they do. And what I would tell a person in Iowa what you should care about the most is that this should be a country where your hard work adds up to something. And right now there are already too many people working paycheck to paycheck. Too many people who are just sitting on the top floors benefiting while everyone else works hard doesn't get by and we don't -- we want to change that and the last way to change that is to have a president who embraces an oligarch economy, who embraces an autocrat in Vladimir Putin, and who would allow them to continue to try and influence our elections and our way of life. And the way that he attacks the press, the way that he goes above the law. That doesn't help your hard work add up to something. And I think that's how you tie the two together in a in a sincere way that's rooted in the facts.

MOSK: Well, Congressman it’s been great talking to you about this. Thank you so much for taking the time.

SWALWELL: Thank you, I’m fired up when I talk about this.

VLASTO: Thank you very much, Congressman.

FAULDERS: Thank you.

SWALWELL: Alright, thank you guys.

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