Sen. Ron Wyden has more questions.
For 16 years, Wyden has used his seat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to ask probing questions of the nation's security state. Since November, the senior senator from Oregon has been digging for answers about the scope of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race, and what kind of conversations the Trump campaign had with Moscow.
Trump's attempt to reshape the FBI, even as its director asked for more resources to investigate the president's ties to the Kremlin, has given Wyden the opportunity to once again make carefully worded queries of the nation's intelligence agencies—this time, with an eye on the possibility of impeachment.
"You guys are gluttons for punishment," Wyden began his May 15 conversation with WW. "You want more on this. Ay yi yi."
WW: Do you believe the president's remarks last week are grounds for impeachment?
Sen. Ron Wyden: Let's put it this way: There is a lot that Congress and the country need to learn. If you look at Donald Trump's own words, his literal word-for-word sentence, he fired James Comey to end the Russia investigation. And it seems to me that when you have that, you've got to crack open the law book and see if the president's admitted actions constitute crimes. And you know I feel very strongly about Jim Comey testifying in an open session as soon as possible. Of course, I'm going to ask him questions with respect to these purported conversations. I want to know: Did the president ask James Comey for a pledge of loyalty?
How urgent is the need for a special prosecutor?
A special counsel is very much necessary. The American people want to know that you can move forward aggressively and get the facts this way. The firing of Director Comey and the timing of it was so inappropriate. The timing alone raises questions to me that should occur to anyone with a semblance of ethics. I'm exploring the idea of not going forward with a nominee to head the FBI, the new FBI director, until you get a special counsel.
How much power do you and other Democrats really have to block anything at this point?
I can count. I know who's got a majority in the United States Congress. But I also know that people understand the unprecedented nature of this. The president urged the Russians to hack his opponent, said he loved WikiLeaks. The question isn't whether Donald Trump actively encouraged the Russians to attack our democracy. He did that. That was an established fact. The real question here is whether he, or someone associated with him, also did that in private. And I think that is very much on the minds of the American people. I've had people at town hall meetings say, "I remember Donald Trump urged the Russians to hack his opponent." When people come up to you at town hall meetings, including in counties Donald Trump won, it's an indication people are following this. And I think sometimes people in D.C. forget that.
What's your level of confidence in Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr?
We obviously have had some strong differences of opinions on issues. I've made it clear that we've got to pick up the pace, that the American people can't get their information from leaks and false tweets and the story of the day. I never talk about deliberations, and I think, with respect to the chairman, I'll leave it at that.
What should an investigation look for?
I have felt for a long time that right at the heart of this were "follow the money" issues, because there were so many reports about connections between the Russians and Trump associates. You have the first president in decades that won't release his tax returns, and [he's] saying in 2008, a time when it was hard for people to get money, that much of [his] portfolio consisted of Russian money.
Where we are now: I am pushing very hard to get a U.S. Treasury agency that is accountable both to the Finance Committee and the Intelligence Committee, surrounding financial documents that we need. I'm interested in potential money laundering, matters relating to shell corporations, and matters related to property transfers. I put a hold on the key person who's been nominated to head the Treasury, and I am not going to release the hold until we get all of the documents.
What do you believe those documents may contain?
I can't get into anything with respect to committee business and what I think the documents may contain. What I can tell you is that I'm especially interested in matters relating to money laundering, illicit transfers, property transfers, shell corporations. I can't get into what I think the documents might say. That's not allowed under the committee rules.
Are there other moments in American history that remind you of this one?
I've never seen anything like this. And the reason why is that presidents historically used communication to build trust as a political bully pulpit around issues. This president, with the way he tweets in the middle of the night, you have no idea what's motivating him.
Do you find that your confidence in American institutions is shaken by this administration?
Winston Churchill, according to some historians, said that the Americans always get it right after they've tried everything else. My dad and I talked a lot about this. I used it when I was warning about the fact that the public didn't know really how the Patriot Act was secretly interpreted. In America, the truth always comes out, always comes out eventually. So that makes me a believer in the American experiment.
How do you respond to critics who say the Democrats' fixation on Russia is losing touch once again with the daily concerns of Americans?
If you look at my calendar, you can see that I'm spending an enormous amount of my time working on efforts to improve health care. I introduced a major prescription drug bill recently to lift the veil of secrecy on the middlemen who I think have been a big factor in driving up prescription drug prices. Whether it's health care, infrastructure or closing tax loopholes in order to ensure that you can get tax relief for middle-class people, I've got a domestic agenda where we're playing offense. That's key, I think, for voters. Show that you can stop damaging stuff, stop policies that will harm America, and show that you can really deliver in areas that make people's lives better. The American people understand that you're supposed to do both. You're supposed to hold off policies that will harm them and the institutions they rely on, and you're supposed to play offense in areas that will help them.