STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here is the latest defense offered by President Trump's team of a meeting with Russians offering campaign dirt. The presidential legal team still faces questions about a 2016 meeting that included the president's oldest son, Don Jr., the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his campaign chairman. Over the weekend, presidential lawyer Jay Sekulow told CNN the meeting was not illegal. And on ABC, he asked why the Secret Service allowed the Russians into Trump Tower if they were so bad. The Secret Service has responded that it wasn't protecting Donald Trump Jr. at that time.
That is our starting point for a talk with Republican congressman Will Hurd of Texas, who is on the House intelligence committee, which is looking into all this. Congressman, welcome back to the program.
WILL HURD: Hey, Steve, thanks for having me on.
INSKEEP: Let me begin by playing a comment by Senator Mark Warner, who is the top Democrat investigating this same matter. Let's listen.
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MARK WARNER: Clearly, this administration has not been forthcoming about what they know and when they knew it in terms of Russian involvement in the elections.
INSKEEP: Mark Warner on CBS. Is that accurate? The administration has not been forthcoming?
HURD: Well, information keeps coming out in dribs and drabs, and that's a distraction. And it's frustrating. One of the things that I would say - it's going to be Robert Mueller - is going to be responsible for figuring out whether some violation of the law took place. And we know that he's going to be doing everything he can to understand what's happening there. And both the Senate intelligence committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that I sit on will be reviewing these facts, as well.
INSKEEP: But when you say information coming out in dribs and drabs, do you agree that that's because the administration has been hiding information?
HURD: I don't know if it's been hiding - I - you know, to the public. I want to get everybody together that was involved in the campaign and say, hey, here's every single contact that we've had with the Russians, just to get it out there because it becomes a distraction. And Mueller is going to get to the bottom of who met - who, when and why. What was the outcome of the meeting? What happened at the meeting? I trust that his criminal investigation will do that.
This also is preventing us from being able to talk about things. How do we prepare for the next election? The Russians are going to continue to use disinformation campaign. This is something they've been doing for a couple of decades in Europe. We saw what they did in our elections in '16. We don't have a counter-covert influence or a counter-disinformation strategy within the federal government. And we need to include civil society in this, as well. These are some of the conversations we should be having.
INSKEEP: Well, Congressman, I'm glad you raised 2018. It's been on my mind because of President Trump's recent account of his meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Of course, we don't know every word that was said, but we know the president's version of this. He told reporters on Air Force One about his meeting with Putin. And, according to the president's account, he didn't say, I know that you interfered in the 2016 election. He didn't say, there will be consequences if you do it again. He just said, did you interfere? And Putin said no. So Trump asked again, did you interfere? Were you involved in the meddling? And Putin said, no, absolutely not. Do you think that the president has sufficiently sent a message to Russia that there will be a price to pay if they interfere in U.S. elections?
HURD: Well, I think the U.S. government is sending a message with the sanctions that happened under the last administration that are continuing now with - there are a number of pieces of legislation to put additional sanctions on the Russians. So I think with a whole of government response, we are responding to them. I think there's more that can be done. You know, but the Russians have learned when they do things, they don't always get their hands smacked.
You know, they're in Eastern Ukraine, and they're saying that it's a separatist movement. It's not a separatist movement. There's 920 Russian tanks in Eastern Ukraine. You know, Ukraine is an ally and a partner within the broader EU and with us. There should always be a response. We should have red lines on, you know, if X is done, then Y is going to be the response.
INSKEEP: You mentioned these sanctions. There's been a Senate bill that would make these sanctions tougher against Russia. And it's reported that the White House is trying to get the House to weaken those sanctions, your body. Will the House weaken those sanctions before they're passed?
HURD: No, the House is not going to weaken the sanctions. But the House is also going to make sure we're reviewing this to ensure that it actually doesn't benefit some Russian companies. So that is where the negotiations are. And the House is committed to standing up - standing tall against the Russian activity in our country.
INSKEEP: Congressman Will Hurd of South Texas, always a pleasure talking with you. Thanks very much.
HURD: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.