Thursday in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), dismissed the seriousness of a Washington Post report from a day earlier that alleged Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to disclose meeting with Russian officials in his AG confirmation hearing as “political theater.”
Cruz, Sessions’ former colleague on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the underlying meeting a “nothing burger” and argued against an investigation into the matter.
Transcript as follows:
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST: Joining us now from Capitol Hill, member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees, Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
Senator, thank you for being on.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: Senator, great to have you here.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Good morning.
SCARBOROUGH: Great to have you here. You are an attorney and certainly can read testimony. I was saying this morning that the Leahy question and answer wasn’t as troubling because, of course, it was about the campaign.
Are you concerned, though, about the Al Franken questioning and answering, where Sessions seemed to volunteer that he had never spoken with any Russian officials?
CRUZ: You know, Joe, I’m not concerned about that. I think what we are seeing is a lot of political theater.
Could Jeff have been more clear in what he said?
Yes. I think it — that was unfortunate. But I think context matters a lot. Jeff was being asked about the Trump campaign communicating with the Russians. I think he understood that he was answering in that capacity. And that is perfectly understandable.
And the reason I say it’s political theater is the underlying meeting, you know, this morning, everyone is in high dungeon about the meeting. The underlying meeting is a nothing burger. It’s what senators do every day, meeting with foreign ambassadors; that’s part of the job.
And Jeff is a — was a very hard-working senator; he will be a hard-working attorney general. And so I think everyone is getting all worked up because it’s a chance to beat up the attorney general and beat up the president. But I think the underlying meeting is simply doing his job.
WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC HOST: Senator Cruz, it’s Willie Geist. It’s good to see you. You also are — sit on the Armed Services Committee with Senator Sessions.
Did you meet with the Russian ambassador last summer?
CRUZ: You know, I didn’t.
But it’s interesting, when this story broke last night, I asked my team to just pull up the calendar for January and February of this year. And I met with six different ambassadors in the last two months. That’s part of being a senator.
And you know, a minute ago, Joe was asking, well, gosh, when Al Franken was questioning Jeff Sessions and he — and Jeff Sessions was saying, that, as the Trump campaign, as a surrogate, he didn’t meet with Russia, you know, I’m willing to bet Al Franken has met with a great number of ambassadors.
I’m also willing to bet that when Al Franken meets with foreign ambassadors, he didn’t consider it the Hillary campaign meeting with them.
Al Franken was supporting Hillary Clinton, he was a surrogate for Hillary Clinton. But when he’s doing his job as a senator, he’s not a representative of the campaign. I think the same was exactly true for Jeff Sessions when he was doing his job as a senator.
GEIST: But, Senator, we are talking about the Russian ambassador in the middle of all these questions surrounding links between the Trump campaign and the government of Russia.
Why, specifically, did you and, according to all the reporting, no other member of the Armed Service Committee not seek a meeting with the Russian ambassador?
CRUZ: Well, listen, by and large, I haven’t sought meetings with ambassadors. Typically, they call the office and want to talk with me. And you know, if the Russian ambassador had called and asked for a meeting, I imagine I probably would have taken the meeting. And that’s part of the job. But it’s — I can’t recall an instance where I’ve reached out to an ambassador and said, let’s do a meeting.
But different countries want to come by. They want to discuss different issues. They’re concerned about — that’s part of doing your job when you are on the Armed Services Committee. I’m on the Armed Services Committee. I served with Jeff. I’m on the Judiciary Committee. I served with Jeff.
And you know, one of the things that’s important, you know, you see Democratic politicians this morning coming out and blasting Jeff and saying things like that this was misleading. You know, many of — many of us have served with Jeff for years, sometimes decades in the Senate. Jeff Sessions is a man of integrity, he’s a man of candor.
I don’t know any senator who served with Jeff Sessions, Democrat or Republican, who would say that Jeff has been anything less than totally honest. Now they don’t like that he’s a conservative. You know, the Democrats don’t like Jeff as a conservative. But he is very open and honest about his views.
And, by the way, Jeff has been a serious critic of Russia. He’s not been shy calling out Putin. So the notion that there was something somehow wrong with a senior senator on the Armed Services Committee meeting with a foreign ambassador, I think that’s a nothing burger.
And the testimony Jeff should have been more clear. I think he said that he wished he was more clear. But, at the end of the day, I don’t think that there’s any there there.
GEIST: So do you — you’ve said repeatedly now that the meeting that Senator Sessions had with the Russian ambassador is a, quote, “nothing burger.”
Do you have information, Senator, about what they talked about in that meeting?
How do you know it’s a nothing burger?
CRUZ: I know that meeting with a foreign ambassador is part of the routine responsibilities of serving in the Senate. I have no idea what was talked about in that meeting or any other meeting that — you know, my understanding is Jeff met with 25 different ambassadors last year. And I don’t know what was discussed in those meetings.
I don’t know what was discussed —
GEIST: But not the Russian ambassador, right, Senator?
CRUZ: Well, among the 25 that Sessions met with last year was the Russian ambassador.
GEIST: But you haven’t met nor have any of the other members of Armed Services with the Russian ambassador?
CRUZ: Well, my understanding of “The Washington Post” reporting is they asked — six didn’t respond. So we don’t know that none have. Of those that responded, they said they hadn’t met last year.
But you know, I was watching on another show, Mike Rogers, who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he said, sure he’d met with the Russian ambassador. If you are doing your job, you meet with ambassadors and foreign leaders. And that’s part of the job.
HALPERIN: Senator, it’s been reported, I don’t have it confirmed myself, that this meeting is being investigated by federal investigators.
There’s clearly now an appearance issue, even if, as you’ve suggested, that thing’s a nothing burger.
Stipulating all you said about your former colleague, is it still possible that recusal is the right thing in your mind?
CRUZ: Well, I think earlier on the show, you played Jeff Sessions this morning, saying that he would recuse himself where appropriate. I mean, obviously, if there were an investigation into himself, recusal would be appropriate.
I don’t have any indication that there would be an investigation because I don’t think there’s any credible allegation that Jeff did anything wrong in meeting with the Russian ambassador. He was — he didn’t speak as clearly as he should.
Although I will note, Jeff had an all-day marathon hearing, where he was getting hammered. And Jeff is — was answering as candidly, as directly as possible. And I think in context, he was answering no as part of the Trump campaign he wasn’t meeting with the Russians. And my understanding is he wasn’t thinking about his role as a senator.
But I don’t see anything for there to be an investigation. But of course there, if there was into him directly, any official would recuse themselves from an investigation into their own conduct.
BRZEZINSKI: Senator Ted Cruz, thank you for your perspective this morning.
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