Saturday on Hugh Hewitt’s MSNBC program, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) discussed memos written by former FBI Director James Comey about his meeting with Donald Trump. Those memos were leaked to the press through an intermediary but may have included classified information and are something DeSantis said he would support a congressional committee issuing subpoenas to obtain.
Also during the segment, DeSantis hinted at a possible investigation or call to appear before a congressional committee of former Obama National Security Deputy Advisor Ben Rhodes for some the leaks appearing in the media.
Transcript as follows:
HEWITT: All week, we have heard about Donald Trump, Jr.’s emails, and rightly so. It’s a big story. But lost in that volcano of breaking news was a very important statement by a key congressman from Florida’s 6th Congressional District. Before joining Congress, Ron DeSantis went to Yale, then Harvard Law School, and then he joined the Navy JAG corps. In 2007, DeSantis reported to the Naval Special Warfare Command Group in Coronado, California, where he was assigned to SEAL Team 1 and deployed to Iraq with the troop surge as the legal advisor to the SEAL commander of Special Operations Task Force West in Fallujah. He received the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq, and he remains a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserves. Congressman Ron DeSantis is now a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, where he chairs the subcommittee on National Security, which critically has oversight on all matters concerning national security and homeland defense, including the Justice Department’s role in those matters. And in that capacity, he made statements this week not about Donald Trump Jr.’s emails, but about former FBI Director Comey’s record of his conversations with President Trump, some of which the former FBI Director has admitted to leaking to the press. Welcome, Congressman DeSantis, good to have you this morning.
DESANTIS: Good morning, Hugh, thanks for having me.
HEWITT: Well, that was an extraordinary interview you gave to Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon. And in it, you said a few things, that former FBI Director Comey has to be investigated by the Department of Justice, that they have to subpoena his memos of his conversations with President Trump, that former National Security Deputy Advisor Ben Rhodes needs to be investigated, and that every remaining holdover from the Obama years at the NSC should be fired. That’s a lot for one interview, Congressman. What triggered that?
DESANTIS: Well, the reports of Comey’s memos potentially containing classified information were very concerning to me. I don’t know if they did. I think we need to find that out. But Comey himself under oath, incredibly, he admitted he leaked these memos in order to trigger a special counsel against the President. So it was really weaponized leaking, and if he was willing to disclose, or was careless with classified information, I think that’s something that’s very, very important. But I thought it got to a broader issue not just with Comey, but with some of the other leaking we’ve seen since this president’s taking office. It’s not just people are leaking because they think something was wrong with the government and they want some sunlight. I still don’t agree with that, because I don’t think you’re a law unto yourself. But this is concerted leaks designed to attack the sitting president. So I think the character of the leaks are different, and I think Comey’s leaks are part of that bushel.
HEWITT: Is Attorney General Sessions, in your opinion, doing enough? Or is the Russia recusal that he entered into handcuffing him as he does this investigation of leaks?
DESANTIS: We don’t know that he’s doing enough. So I’ve prepared a letter. We’re going to be sending that next week, I imagine I’ll have a number of my colleagues joining it, asking the Justice Department to look into all these things, but then report back to us whether they are doing it or not, because Hugh, you know, you’re very knowledgeable in national security. We have certain intelligence authorities that are coming up for review this year. And if you don’t have anyone, say, being prosecuted for the Michael Flynn leaks, that was FISA material, then you’re not going to be able to do things like reauthorize 702 of the FISA statute, which is due by the end of the year. So I think if there’s no action being taken, I think it actually has a big effect on what we’re able to do in Congress. And I’m somebody, I want to empower our intelligence agencies. I think it’s very important. But it’s very difficult to make that case to the American people if that information is then being used for domestic political warfare.
HEWITT: Very true point, Congressman. Are you pushing Chairman Gowdy, who has independent subpoena authority, to subpoena the Comey memos?
RD: We’re working on it. So I think you remember Jason Chaffetz, when he was chairman, he immediately talked to Comey after being fired once the memos were leaked, and he really wanted to pursue the memos. And he has said publicly that Comey was very standoffish about the memos. He did not want to talk about those memos. And so I don’t think Jason was successful in doing it. I would absolutely support that if Trey was willing to issue a subpoena for the memos.
HEWITT: Now let’s talk about the fact that the former FBI director made these memos. The nominee to replace him, Christopher Wray, testified about memo making, about presidential conversations this week in the Senate. Let’s listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DURBIN: We’re dealing with an extraordinary situation here where a man you respected was fired, called a nut job, and the President said to Russian visitors we’re putting an end to this investigation. This is not an ordinary course of business for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This is highest elected official in the United States of America trying to stop an investigation by putting Jim Comey out of business. I think it’s a little different than the routine requirements of the office. Do you?
WRAY: Well certainly, I would distinguish, Senator, if this is what you’re driving at, between a sort of routine conversation and a very significant, important conversation. And ones that fall in the latter category, I would think it would behoove me to make sure there’s an appropriate record of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HEWITT: Ron DeSantis, you’re a prosecutor. Prosecutors take notes of things. But the deliberative process with the president is very difficult to maintain if the president is thinking everyone is taking notes on it. What do you make of the practice of taking notes on presidential conversations?
DESANTIS: Yeah, I don’t think that’s probably the best way to facilitate honest and frank discussion, particularly now that we know that those memos could be put out for public consumption. Hugh, could you imagine if a run of the mill FBI agent is taking notes with what they’re doing, and they just decide to start leaking notes about investigations to the press? There is no way the FBI would ever tolerate their line agents doing that. So I do have a problem with it. It seems that Comey was doing that, though, not to facilitate better government. It seems that he was doing it for political insurance.
HEWITT: Do you think there’s a crime involved in the leaking of those memos?
DESANTIS: I don’t know, yet. I think that it was certainly improper to do it if it’s a government record. I don’t know that it violates a federal statute. If there was classified information contained within that, then I think that probably is a violation of federal law.
HEWITT: All right, let’s turn to the second part, your target of Ben Rhodes, former national security deputy advisor to President Obama. He is a very controversial figure. Paul Farhi in The Washington Post said this about him. “One of President Obama’s top national security advisors led journalists to believe a misleading timeline of U.S. negotiations with Iran over a nuclear agreement, and relied on inexperience reporters to create an echo chamber that helped sway public opinion to seal the deal, according to a lengthy magazine profile.” That was Paul Farhi in the Washington Post, May 6th, 2016. Congressman DeSantis, when you were talking to Adam Kredo about Ben Rhodes, is Ben Rhodes still playing the media in Washington, D.C. and New York to follow his rabbit holes down to whatever trail they want, he wants them to go on?
DESANTIS: Well, a lot of the people we talked to think that if you look at some of the leaks that have come out, for example, when the president’s having a conversation with a foreign leader, there may be a memo that’s created, distributed to the National Security Council. The next thing you know, it’s on the front page of the paper. And so we’ve gotten lot of information saying look, there’s only so many places that would come from. And the Obama holdover working with Rhodes, that’s a place we’ve been encouraged to look. So I want to look at that, because I think that it’s distorted the president’s ability to simply conduct foreign relations if there’s going to be selective leaking of his conversations with foreign leaders in ways that are damaging to him or at least purporting to damage him. That’s not the way we want our government to function.
HEWITT: Are you going to call Ben Rhodes to testify? You seemed to imply that in your piece with the Free Beacon.
DESANTIS: So I’ve talked to Chairman Gowdy about it, and remember, they are doing things on the Intelligence Committee, and they’re doing a lot more than what the press knows in terms of some of the people that they have brought in. And they’ve brought in some pretty big names that I’m not authorized to say. So I want to defer to his judgment about whether that would be more appropriate in terms of the leak investigation that they’re doing on the Intelligence Committee. But I would like to bring him in to talk to him about it, because I want to figure out how all this information was getting out from the FISA intercept on…
HEWITT: Quick exit question, Congressman. Using your prosecutorial chops, if you had to guess who was going to get indicted, if anyone – Donald Trump Jr., James Comey or Ben Rhodes, what would your guess be?
DESANTIS: I want to know what are in those Comey memos and see whether there’s classified information. I mean, I don’t think Donald Trump Jr. is going to get indicted. I think he had a meeting. I don’t think a criminal offense was committed. In terms of the political judgment, I think that’s fair to criticize. But I don’t think that there was a crime committed there.
HEWITT: Thank you, Congressman Ron DeSantis.
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