Rep. Swalwell: Trump "Presides Over A Criminal Presidency"

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Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) said it is "looking more and more" that President Trump was "part of a criminal campaign, a criminal transition" and presides over a "criminal presidency" in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Thursday.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Let's talk, first of all, about this new investigation, preliminary investigation into the Trump inaugural committee.

You saw "The Wall Street Journal" report saying it's a criminal investigation right now. The committee raised $107 million. And the allegation is, what they're investigating is some of that money was misused. Some of it was brought in to try to influence the incoming administration.



REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): It's looking more and more, Wolf, that Donald Trump was a part of a criminal campaign, a criminal transition, and now presides over a criminal presidency.

And remember, back in August, Sam Patten, a Republican lobbyist, pled guilty for failing to register as a foreign agent for his role in trying to get a Russian-Ukrainian oligarch tickets to that inauguration.

So there's always been skepticism about whether they really followed the rules on their inaugural campaign. But this also, I think, shows, Wolf, that the promise that Donald Trump made as a candidate that he would drain the swamp has not been fulfilled, if indeed they're investigating that there was a pay-to-play operation going on for that inauguration.

BLITZER: You used the words criminal presidency? Is that what you're saying?

SWALWELL: Yes. Well... BLITZER: What does that mean?

SWALWELL: Well, right now, we have the president of the United States who is under investigation for at the very least obstruction of justice for the firing of James Comey, for the way that he has treated Jeff Sessions and intimidated him to try and back off of the Russia investigation or leave the office, so that he could put someone else in.

And so I think that -- fortunately, we're not powerless to the DOJ policy that you can't indict a sitting president. Now a new Congress will be able to at least shine a light on these abuses, intervene where possible, and hold the president accountable if necessary.

BLITZER: So, you're going to be a member of the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, on the Intelligence Committee, the Judiciary Committee.

[18:15:00]

The Judiciary Committee has to deal with the whole issue of impeachment. Where do you stand on that?

SWALWELL: Yes, well, we will give the president a fairer investigation than he probably deserves, and he very well may be impeachable. But, if that's the case, it'll be because we put together an airtight case, we sought bipartisan buy-in, and the American people understood why that was necessary.

But we're also going to seek to collaborate on issues of infrastructure, DREAM Act, reducing gun violence. But we're not going to look the other way, as Republicans have before. And this president, it's going to be a wakeup call that presidential immunity is over.

BLITZER: You heard the president the other day say the American people will revolt if you guys impeach him.

SWALWELL: Yes, he tried to goad us into talking about impeachment during the campaign. I think he sees that as an issue for his base.

We stuck to what the American people cared about with health care, with making sure tax cuts didn't go to the wealthy, and reducing corruption. And the same thing here. We're not going to be reckless in rushing to impeachment.

But, again, we see that there are red lines that can't be crossed in our democracy, and we will hold him accountable, if our investigation shows that he crossed them.

BLITZER: But don't you think you should wait to begin impeachment proceedings in the House Judiciary Committee until after Robert Mueller, the special counsel, completes his investigation?

SWALWELL: Absolutely. But there's -- it's not -- his exposure to oversight is not limited to

what happened with Russia. That's important. There's also cashing in on access to the Oval Office. Seeing his tax returns will tell us whether his financial interests are driving policies in Saudi Arabia.

And, also, Wolf, we know that this president gave -- reduced sanctions on ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications firm, at the same time that he received a $500 million loan on a Trump Tower project in Indonesia.

So there's a lot to look at. And, again, it may just be that we're intervening and preventing his worst instincts from materializing. But if he did cross the line, we can't look the other way.

BLITZER: The other breaking news we're following right now is that CNN has confirmed president was -- was in the room, was in the room when there was a conversation back in 2015 involving Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, David Pecker, the publisher of American Media, Inc, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," in which the issue of hush money payoffs, payments to women who allegedly had affairs with the president were discussed.

Then candidate Donald Trump was in the room. What does that say to you?

SWALWELL: Well, it shows that he had knowledge. It shows also that there are two witnesses. So he's outnumbered, as far as, you know, the accounts here.

But, most importantly to me, because I think what Americans really care about is how this affects them, it shows that the president was a shadowy operator. And if he acted that way with respect to these payoffs, I think we should be looking at whether he acts that way with his taxes, with his finances and the relationships that he's entangled us in with many of our foreign adversaries.

BLITZER: The chairman, the incoming chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, he was here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday.

He says he wants Michael Cohen to come back and testify before he starts his prison term in March. What do you want to ask him? What do you think he might be able to share with your committee?

SWALWELL: Sometimes, when you interview a witness, it's better to let them just do the talking. And he seems to be a witness now where you just want to ask him, what happened? What did you see? What did the president hear? What did the candidate do?

And I think of June 1973, when John Dean sat down and gave a full come-clean allocution before the House for the Watergate proceedings. And I think Michael Cohen, because he lived in all three of Trump's worlds, personal, political and financial, he knows a lot.

And, Wolf, it's also very informative. When someone who lied before comes clean, you understand why they lied before, but it also puts in context all the outstanding lies that are still being told by people just like Michael Cohen who are still trying to protect the president.

BLITZER: Yes, the bottom line, as you take a look at all of this, do you believe a sitting president can be indicted?

SWALWELL: Yes.

But I also believe that the Department of Justice has discretion. And if their policy is that a sitting president cannot be indicted, we must do all we can to make sure that he doesn't escape criminal liability just by getting reelected or running out the clock. We should look at extending the statute of limitations if a DOJ policy prevents someone from being indicted.

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