Transcript of Pelosi, Ranking Democrats Press Conference Reacting to Resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn
Contact: Drew Hammill/Caroline Behringer, 202-226-7616
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Ranking Democrats held a press conference today on the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and to call for the FBI to accelerate their investigation into Russian influence on the Trump administration. Below is a transcript of the press conference.
NOTE: In the first paragraph of the Leader’s opening, Pelosi references a tweet, which we now know is from a Twitter account that is not operated by General Flynn. Ranking Member Cummings referenced the tweet in his opening statement beforehand. We regret this error.
Leader Pelosi. I thank my colleagues for their leadership and presentation on this important issue - the national security of the United States. It’s really their presentation, I’m really here to answer questions if you have any, but I will say this – I didn’t know until I heard from our colleague that the tweet today of General Flynn was “Scapegoat.” Scapegoat… scapegoat… Do you know what a scapegoat is? That means in a community where people want to absolve themselves of guilt they get a goat and heap all of the ills on to the goat and then they run the goat out of town. So the inference to be drawn from his statement is that other people had blame that should be shared in all of this. The good news is that General Flynn is gone, because he was totally inappropriate and wrong for the job. But the questions that arise are even bigger.
I have a tweet I’m going to make, I’m telling my staff right now, it’s not “scapegoat,” it’s “stonewall,” and that’s exactly what the Republicans in Congress are doing. The Intelligence Committee has said they’re not pursuing this, the Judiciary Committee has said they’re not pursuing this, we don’t know what’s happening in the Senate, I’m just talking about the House. And again Mr. Neil, whose importance in this meeting is that we need to see the truth of President Trump’s investments. His committee has the authority, the chairman of the committee in the House or the chairman of the committee in the Senate, Chairman Brady or Chairman Hatch and in addition to the Finance Committee, and Ways and Means Committee – the Joint Committee on Taxation, the chairman on that committee, Mr. Brady, again, have the authority to ask the Secretary of the Treasury for the tax returns of anyone in our country if there’s reason to know that.
They can ask for the president’s tax returns, and then by a vote in their committee, they can decide where they should be released to the public, so there’s another stonewalling because they said they can’t be caught up in rummaging. This isn’t rummaging, this is truth and consequences. The American people have a right to know the truth. We see the consequences which can be dangerous to our national security. We want to know, by what authority did General Flynn have these conversations with and who did he report to after. That among the other questions that our colleagues have posed. I’m sure they’d be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.
Q: So a couple of questions – Mr. Cummings’s chairman said today that it’s not within the committee’s purview but then the chairman of your committee said that all these conversations between Mr. Flynn and the President are probably covered under executive privilege anyway so there’s nothing to know. So two questions:
Why do you think, at least right now Republicans leaders don’t want to investigate and what’s the biggest unanswered question you have right now?
Congressman Cummings. I don’t know why they don’t want to investigate. I don’t know why, but let me tell you something – I agree with ranking membership. It’s fine for the Intelligence Committee in the House and in the Senate to look at this. One of my concerns has always been, having headed up the Select Committee, and Schiff was on that committee too, on Benghazi.
We saw what happened there; it got to be a partisan problem, big problems. So my position was it’s fine for them to do that, the Intelligence Committees, but we need to have this commission based on the 9/11 Commission so they could figure out exactly what happened, have subpoena power, no Senators or no Congressmen or women on that commission, but reputable citizens just like we 9/11 Commission. Find out what happened, get recommendations, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I think that’s the best way to handle this.
But as far as why we won’t do it, I think you have to ask him. One of the things I’ve said in my committee is if you’re going to operate with Hillary Clinton and do what they did to her. I mean if a rumor, they heard a rumor about Hillary Clinton, there was a major investigation. And all I’m saying is the things that we are looking at here, the Russians, the hacking of election systems. I don’t think you can get any bigger than that.
But you have to ask them, he may have something more (referring to Rep. Schiff) – I think he talks to the Republicans more, maybe he can tell you a better answer.
Congressman Schiff. Our investigation on the Intelligence Committee, bipartisan agreement is going to look at contacts the Russians had with U.S. persons during the course of the Presidential campaign. The question that’s been raised within the last 48 hours is will the scope of that now include contacts after the campaign between people like Flynn and the Russian Ambassador. I haven’t had a chance to discuss that with the Chairman. I think it ought to be a natural extension of what we do. If we’re going to be looking back at Flynn’s contacts with the Russian’s during the campaign, we ought to be looking at the continuation of those contacts after the campaign.
But in terms of the executive privilege, that privilege, number one, is not usually something that the Congress involves. That’s involved by the executive – something that Congress usually challenges. But beyond that, that privilege doesn’t apply to the time before Flynn became National Security Advisor and before the president became sworn in. So it has complete inapplicability to this conversation with the Russian Ambassador. Moreover, even after he became National Security Advisor, if we look at the Benghazi Select Committee, we did interview Susan Rice during the course of that investigation while she was National Security Advisor.
So, there may or may not be things that the Administration asked to be walled off, in terms of privilege, but that’s not something we should be asserting for them and it wouldn’t at all cover any kind of the communications before he took office.
Q: Leader Pelosi, in light of all this – in light of the last three weeks – you guys are out of power, you really can’t do anything but complain. How has your strategy evolved for how to combat this Administration and how ultimately to win back power?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I don’t associate myself with your characterization – ‘all we do it complain.’ They have given plenty grist to the mill for undermining the democracy of our country, the national security of our country, and I commend my colleagues on their respective committees for their leadership in putting forth this.
But I will make a distinction. When President Obama was sworn in on January 20th, on the steps of the Capitol, he called for ‘swift, bold action now’ for jobs and education and all for the 21st Century and more. One week and one day after that, the House passed the Recovery Act – one week later, the Senate passed it – and on February 17th, that would be Friday of this week, the Administration and Congress worked together for a bill, for legislation that created or saved around four million jobs.
Where is their jobs bill? Where is their jobs bill? They’re making a mess on the national security side – but where is what they talked about during the campaign? They were going to ‘create jobs.’ Where is their jobs bill? Where is their infrastructure bill? We have not seen hide nor hair of any of that. Where is their – they were supposed to notify Congress to begin the process of renegotiating NAFTA – not a word. Not a whimper. And they’ll never be able to complete that in the first 100 days because they haven’t started the process.
So, the fact is: we’re not here to complain. We’re here to make a distinction. I told President Trump that I worked very closely with President Bush on many things, even though I disagreed with him with the war in Iraq. What could be worse than that? As well as – I disagreed with his privatizing of Social Security. But we worked on many things, and I can go into them if you want.
But, the fact is is that they have offered nothing. They have put forward nothing to work with them on. And we want to make that distinction. I heard someone in the press yesterday say, ‘Well, what do you expect? They’ve only been in office three weeks.’ Well four weeks [after] President Obama was sworn in, we had job creating to the tune of millions, jobs out there – he had already signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, ESOP legislation and other legislation, as well.
So, this is not about complaining. This is about calling for action. And again, on this issue about our national security, which we take an oath of office for – and if Hillary Clinton had won the election, we still need to know what the involvement of the Russians was in disrupting our election.
So, the question is: why is the FBI not fully investigating the political, personal and financial ties of Donald Trump to the Russians? Show us your tax returns so we can see what some of that connection might be. And stop flirting with lifting sanctions and condemning the [new] START Treaty and the rest of that because you’re flirting with Russia – which has a direct impact on the safety of the American people.
Any of my colleagues wish to respond to that? Anyone else? Yes, ma’am.
Q: This question is for you, Leader Pelosi and also Ranking Member Schiff. You both are Members of the Gang of Eight – so I was wondering: if you all were briefed at all with regards to Flynn’s call to the Ambassador, the Justice Department’s recommendation and the way White House Counsel conducted this?
Congressman Schiff. We have not yet been briefed on that subject. And we do get periodic briefings if, for example, there are counter-intelligence investigations involving U.S. persons, if that comes to the attention of the Intelligence Community. We do get periodic briefings – I would expect this falls very much in that category, so I would expect that we will get briefed on it. We are going to be requesting that we get any transcripts, any tape recordings of conversations between Flynn and the Russian Ambassador. I hope those will be provided to us. Those are not only going to be a necessary part of the investigation, but those are things, that I think, we ought to get as part of the Gang of Eight.
Leader Pelosi. Before they destroy them.
Q: Do you think that this investigation of Flynn and the fallout from it could lead to Trump’s impeachment down the road?
Leader Pelosi. We’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about accountability to the American people. We’re talking about truth and consequences and the concern about lies and danger to the American people. Does anyone want to…
Congressman Cummings. I agree. I agree.
Q: That’s not a possible consequence though?
Congressman Schiff. That’s speculation.
Leader Pelosi. No, this is in calling for an investigation, for calling for an outside, non-partisan, independent commission, as Eric Swalwell has done, to, to, and others have joined him, to call for a, Mr. Cummings, of course, leading the way on that, to call for an outside independent commission to investigate the Russian connection. Impeachment’s about another subject. It’s about whether the President has broken the law. That’s not what we’re talking about here.
Congressman Cummings. And the other thing that, and one of my colleagues said it a little bit earlier, we have a duty under the Constitution. Every two years, we raise our hands and swear that we’re going to uphold the Constitution. And part of our duty is check and balance. And so we’re just trying to do our job, and again, I don’t want you all to miss this. Don’t miss this. This is a fight for the soul of our democracy. I mean if you really think about it, it is a fight for it. That’s what it’s about.
Leader Pelosi. The, you know, I don’t know if this was said before I came in, but this is the third administration person to be, to resign. Carter Page, I don’t even know what [Paul] Manafort’s first name is, Manafort, and umm, and now Flynn. So, if we were not looking into it you would wonder. You have a heightened responsibility now because this is about transparency. Openness is a characteristic of a democracy, secrecy is a tool of an authoritarian regime, and they are engaging in secrecy at the expense of our national security. One more question.
Q. What’s your general reaction to the fact that this is a high profile member of the administration resigning, with a lot of questions, less than a month into the administration, just the timing of all of this?
Leader Pelosi. Does anyone want to speak to that? I mean, I will in closing, I want to yield to my colleagues…
Congressman Schiff. Well, it’s profoundly concerning, I think, at a couple levels. One, for what it says about the administration itself, its disorganization, and as I mentioned earlier, its tolerance for the fact that they had propagated this lie to the American people and until it was exposed they weren’t willing to set the public straight. But it’s also concerning because, you know, we just had the North Koreans launch a missile into the sea. There may be a crisis with Iran tomorrow. We need a National Security Council, and infrastructure, that works, that’s not dysfunctional, that’s not at each other’s throat, that’s not worried about whether they’re going to have a job tomorrow, and we don’t have a functional National Security Council, we don’t have a particularly functional White House when it comes to National Security. And that’s terribly concerning, just in terms of the paramount responsibility of government, that is, protecting the country.
Leader Pelosi. Any of our colleagues? Mr. Johnson, did you – well, let me just, I want to, oh, please.
Congressman Engel. I just want to reiterate, um, we have had our election, our democracy, potentially compromised by things that Russia has done. I mean, that would be bad enough, just in itself, but when you then add that there may very well have been collusion between high-ranking officials in this administration with the Russians, I mean, that’s just a double whammy. That’s something that should scare all of us as Americans who really love our democracy and cherish it. This, to our knowledge, has never happened before. And you know, my Republican colleagues, who I know many are wary of Russia and Putin and what he stands for, it’s just unbelievable to me that they are not leading the charge to demand the bottom line, the truth, from this administration in terms of Russia, in terms of hacking our election, in terms of trying to undermine the democratic process. I cannot remember in my lifetime, another crisis, and that includes Watergate, that’s more serious than this one is right now.
Leader Pelosi. The, uh, I think it’s important to note because most people don’t know what the National Security Council is and how important it is. The person who is the Chairman of the Nat— who is the President’s National Security Advisor is the person who manages all of the, um, say for example all of the committees that we were talking about, the Department of State, we’re talking about the Department of Homeland Security, we’re talking about Defense, we’re talking about Foreign Affairs, all of the aspects of our national security. So, clearly, the President exercised very poor judgement in putting in somebody there who couldn’t even manage himself. Thank god he is gone. But again, it raises so many questions about the judgement of the President.
And I will take it one step further, and my colleagues don’t have to associate themselves with this, but my fear is we will have now as a shadow National Security Advisor, Bannon, and his national security vision influencing all of the agencies of government that I mentioned as well as advising the President. So this is deadly, deadly serious, what’s happening now, and there’s a chance to right the course, to right the course, there’s a great deal of respect for the Secretary of Defense, for the Secretary of Homeland Security, so there’s some people there who may be able to right the ship, but right now this is a raging example of a President who is incompetent, reckless, and strategically incoherent. Thank you all. Oh, we’ve been joined by our colleague [Congresswoman] Sheila Jackson-Lee from Texas.
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