Finding the Truth: No Obstruction of Justice and No Trump Investigation
An Interview With Peter Hoekstra

 
Besieged by fake news and an overtly biased media, is U.S. President Trump in the cross-hairs as he continues to find himself in a maze of conflict designed to undermine his Presidency? From charges of obstruction of justice, cries of collusion, back channels, a Russian probe that won’t go away, and the appointment of a Special Counsel, the Liberty Web asked The Honorable Pete Hoekstra, an alumni of Congress, and expert on international relations and intelligence, his thoughts on the current state of politics in Washington and his assessment of how the Trump administration is holding up.

(Interviewer: Hanako Cho)

 

Hoekstra on the Comey Firing

Peter Hoekstra

The Honorable Pete Hoekstra holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Hope College and a Master’s of Business Administration from the University of Michigan. After a successful career as a Fortune 500 business executive, he served in the U.S. Congress for 18 years. His specialties include national security, international relations, countering global Islamist terror and cyber security. Among other areas, he currently serves as the Shillman Senior Fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, the world’s most comprehensive data center of radical Islamist terror. He has been featured in a variety of media and written opinion pieces for major television and print sources. Among other prestigious areas of recognition, in 2011 the Director of National Intelligence awarded him with the “National Intelligence Distinguished Public Service Medal”. He lives in Michigan with his wife, and is father to three children.

Interviewer (hereafter refer to as I): As you are a former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, I’m very curious to know your insights on the Russian probe.

Hoekstra: Well okay.

I: My first question is, was it illegal for Trump to fire Comey?

Hoekstra: No, it was not illegal; it was not obstruction of justice. You know in our system of government, the people in the Executive Branch work for the President of the United States and he has the right and the authority to fire people in the Executive Branch if he believes that they are not performing, or if he’s dissatisfied with their performance. He was uncomfortable and dissatisfied with the performance of Mr. Comey, as were many members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, so, you know he has the authority to fire Mr. Comey and put people into these types of positions who he has confidence in.

 

What Is the Subject of the Russian Probe?

I: But Mr. Mueller was recently appointed Special Counsel to investigate President Trump and his Administration. And many people are beginning to assume Trump did something very wrong, doing something horrible to America, but no one seems to know for sure what constitutes a crime. Under what circumstances could Trump be found guilty of obstruction of justice?

Hoekstra: Well, #1, Mr. Mueller was not tasked, was not assigned to investigate the Trump Administration. Mr. Mueller was put in place, he’s a Special Counsel; he’s been put in place to investigate Russian activities in 2015 and 2016 that may have, where they attempted to impact the 2016 elections. So his job is to investigate the Russians. His job is not to investigate the Trump administration. His assignment is not to investigate the Hillary Clinton campaign and those types of things. As he determines what the Russians did, there may be things he will look at that affect President Trump or affect Hillary Clinton, but at this point in time, his assignment is to investigate Russian involvement in the U.S. elections.

 

Was There Collusion by the Trump Administration?

I: In what case should Trump be found to have colluded with Russia?

Hoekstra: I mean, I’m not even going to go there. There’s no evidence. A number of people in the Intelligence community have said that there is no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and so, as long as they are saying there isn’t any evidence of collusion, there’s no reason for us to speculate, you know, about what collusion took place. Everybody so far has said that it has not taken place.

 

Grounds for Appointment of a Special Counsel

I: One thing I don’t really understand is the fact that Special Counsel was not established even for Hillary Clinton to investigate her private email case, so in what case should a Special Counsel be established?

Hoekstra: The Special Counsel is established when a President or the Attorney General believes that there is a situation where the Department of Justice is incapable of handling an investigation and that the most appropriate method, or the most appropriate means of completing a thorough investigation is by having a Special Counsel. So there’s no set of rules or guidelines saying, “If these five criteria exist, you must appoint a Special Counsel”. It is really a matter of judgment by the Attorney General or the President that would lead to a Special Counsel being appointed.

I: Do you think the appointment of a Special Counsel was really necessary to investigate this case?

Hoekstra: I would have preferred that a Special Counsel not be appointed. I think this could have been handled by the different groups that were already in place, with the investigations going on in both the House and the Senate, the work that the Justice Department was doing, so no, I don’t think it was necessary at all.

 

Michael Flynn and the Logan Act

I: About Michael Flynn, was it illegal for Michael Flynn to communicate with the Russian, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition period?

Hoekstra: No. It was not illegal.

I: But some people say there was a violation of the Logan Act. Do you think this is the case?

Hoekstra: No. I’m not an attorney, but the Logan Act has been around for, I believe, 200+ years, and the Logan Act has never been used to prosecute any American, and so, no, I don’t think there is any precedent or that he violated the Logan Act. He was working for the President-elect of the United States of America. And for someone who is working for the President-elect to talk to, you know, government officials from Russia, China, Japan, Germany, you know, whatever, would be something that I would fully expect would be occurring.

I: So why are people talking about the Logan Act right now?

Hoekstra: Oh, there are people who want to do everything they can to damage the Trump Administration, to damage President Trump personally because they don’t like what he wants to accomplish and they don’t like him personally.

I: They don’t like him personally as well?

Hoekstra: No. No.

 

Jared Kushner and Unofficial Communications

I: As to Jared Kushner’s case, the situation looks almost the same. That’s because he went and asked the Russian counterpart to create an informal communication with Russia. Is this a bad thing, or an illegal case?

Hoekstra: No, it’s not bad, and it’s not illegal. It’s perfectly acceptable for people associated with an incoming Administration to be talking to people in other governments. You know, they need to be ready to govern here, in the United States, on January 20, which is when the new President takes office. So they can’t wait until January 20th to start doing their work. They have to do it immediately once they are elected.

I: Ok, but Special Counsel appears to be stretching the statue for the case involving Jared Kushner, thinking there may be some collusion because he was trying to set up an informal communication channel with Russia. What do you think of this case?

Hoekstra: Oh I’m not sure whether the Special Counsel will look at it, or look at it in any depth. It could very well be one meeting with Kushner saying, “You met with the Russian Ambassador, you met with these Russian officials, what were you talking about?” And it could be like, “Well” – because, #1, it happened after the election, and it’s kind of like, “We were talking about Syria; we were talking how to make sure the United States and Russia would deconflict their military assets in Syria.” And someone might say, “Well okay. Thank you. That’s very much an appropriate type of behavior and activity you would expect to be taking place between November and January 20.

I: Mainstream media is reporting it as “back channel communications”, using derogatory word.

Hoekstra: Sure. You know back channel communications happen each and every day between the U.S. Government and foreign governments, I worked on the Intelligence Committee; that’s not something you’re surprised by. You know, there are always back channel communications between governments and individuals, so that’s not a surprise. There’s no requirement or expectation that all communications will be public and there’s no ban on having back channel communications. Sometimes it is the most effective way to get things done.

 

Reality Winner

I: About the leaks, yesterday there was another development with regard to leaks. An employee of a National Security Agency contractor leaked classified information to the Press that includes information that Russian military Intelligence carried out a cyber-attack to access voting technology. How do you view this leak?

Hoekstra: I view this leak just about as any other leak. I’m glad that in this case we were able to find the person who leaked the information; I expect that she will go through our court system, but if the press reporting is somewhat accurate, I think that this person faces significant legal jeopardy, and a high probability that she will be convicted of a crime, and that she will spend some time in prison. So you’re disappointed that anyone gets into a situation where they break the law the way that they broke the law, but you know, it appears that she’s broken the law and it appears that she will be prosecuted.

 

Can Leaks Be Stopped?

I: So far the leaker’s names were unknown and the numbers of leaks are so increasing after Trump took office, so do you think the leaks can be stopped?

Hoekstra: Well, no. I think historically we have seen that it is very, very hard to stop leaks. Most of the time, it is very hard to find the people who actually leaked the information. But I think both under President Obama and President Trump there will be significant efforts to find the leakers, and we may be successful to find some leakers, but I don’t think we’ll be able to find them all.

 

Leaks and the Media

I: How does justice coexist with the media because the media is using the leaker’s information and they seem to be thriving on it?

Hoekstra: I mean, whether that is Edward Snowden or whatever, the problem with leakers is they make a decision on information the government has determined that needs to be secret, that needs to be classified to keep America safe. These individual take it upon themselves that they have better understanding of the national security framework of the United States and that therefore they decide that certain information can be leaked and be given to the press. These people don’t have the background, the breadth and depth of knowledge to be making that decision. You do the best you can to find them and hold them accountable.

 

Filling the Open Positions in the Trump Administration

I: The leak issue also related to the fact that Trump has not yet appointed bureaucrats to fill the many openings in the Administration. How should Trump proceed with this issue?

Hoekstra: Well I think the President is attempting to fill these positions. I think it’s absolutely critical that the President fill these positions as quickly as possible to get his people in place.

I: How many more days and months for Trump to fill these vacancies?

Hoekstra: Oh, I don’t know. For certain position it’s a very, very slow process, especially positions that require people to get a security clearance. The government at that point has to do background checks and all of that. So the security and background checks sometimes take three months to complete. And then you still have to wait for the confirmation by the U.S. Senate. It could take the rest of this year for the President to get all of the positions filled. It’s going to take time for the President to get his people in all the positions where he needs them.

 

Surveillance Under the Obama Administration

I: The House Intelligence Committee issued seven subpoenas on Wednesday including John Brennan, Samantha Power, and Susan Rice. Does this signal the U.S. government started to think seriously about unmasking and surveillance conducted by the Obama administration in relation to Russia probe?

Hoekstra: Yes, I think there are people who are rightfully very concerned about what the coverage was of Americans, okay? Because we are continuing to see more and more stories out there about, you know, what NSA was doing in terms of covering the American people. You know there are also members of Congress who’ve been very concern that they may have been covered and they may have been unmasked. We cannot have an intelligence community that is spying on Americans. It’s against the law.

 

Protecting the Legal Framework and The Right to Privacy

I: Is this illegal in terms of the Fourth Amendment?

Hoekstra: I’m not sure which Amendment but it’s against our legal framework. Our foreign intelligence is there for one reason. Not to conduct intelligence on the American people.

I: I see. Because the NSA was not established for foreign matters?

Hoekstra: Yea. Correct — Not for American citizens. That’s why.

 

Holding Violators Accountable

I: FISA Court found serious Fourth Amendment violations during Obama’s tenure. How should President Trump deal this?

Hoekstra: Yea, I mean, if there were illegal activities that were conducted, you know, where specific individuals operated outside of the legal framework, yes those people should be accountable. If it was a system wide violation, then we’ve got to go back and modify the system, and just make sure that the system works — And that the systems and frameworks that we put in place for surveillance are fully legal and in compliance with the law.

I: With regard to Mike Flynn, his call with Sergey Kislyak was recorded and transcribed and shared among the intelligence community. Is this illegal?

Hoekstra: Yea I think so.

 

Failures of the Intelligence Community

Hoekstra: I think the unmasking of political figures is inappropriate. And I also think that, you know, clearly leaking of that information is illegal. So, you know, we’ll just have to look at this and deal with it.

I: So information handling inside the NSA is not dealt with correctly?

Hoekstra: It may not be dealt with correctly. I don’t know; I’m not in the NSA at this point. But, those are some of things that we need to take a look at, whether or not the NSA is acting appropriately.

I: There is an institution like FISA court that should oversee the NSA. Do you mean this kind of institution is not working in the right way?

Hoekstra: I don’t know. But that’s something that we will have to take a look at.

 

Effects of the Russian Probe on the Trump Administration

I: This on-going probe seems to be having a deleterious effect on the long-term goals of the Administration, and causing the President’s campaign promises and hopes for America to be side tracked. How should President Trump deal with this issue?

Hoekstra: Oh I think what the President has done in the last week was he basically assigned the Russia probe to outside legal counsel so that he is not going to focus on it. Congress can go do its work where they need legislative work on taxes and health care and some of those things, so Congress can work on that. Yesterday, the President announced the reform of the Federal Aviation Authority. The Veterans Administration announced major changes. So what the President really needs to do is… the President went out on foreign trips to the Middle East, to Italy, to Brussels… The President needs to focus on his agenda. I think if the President does that, then it will be very helpful and effective for the President to move his agenda forward.

 

Growing Mistrust of Mainstream Media

I: About the negative coverage of the media toward Trump, according to Harvard University research, 80% of Trump coverage to date has been negative. How do you view this recent state of media?

Hoekstra: It’s disappointing; it’s awful. You know I go to a number of different number of websites that cover politics and public policy, and what you consistently see is negative coverage of the President, both his policies and him personally. It is just disappointing because this President has had successes. The President has reached out, dealing with some of the foreign policy mistakes that have been out there, and he is trying to get our foreign policy moving in the right direction. He’s appointed a very good person to be Supreme Court Justice. So the President has gotten a lot of things done. Parts of the mainstream media have spent the vast majority of their time giving negative coverage to this President; that’s disappointing. It is one of the reasons that people no longer trust their media. They don’t believe the mainstream media anymore.

 

Taking the Messages to the People

I: How should Donald Trump fight against the mainstream media?

Hoekstra: I think what you see is that President will continue to tweet and he will continue to use social media. But I think also what you’re going to see is the President and Vice President, and many members of his cabinet, you will find them spending more and more time traveling around the country, and #1, taking the message directly to the American people, but also talking to local media. Because what you will find, typically, is that the local media they don’t focuses on what’s going on in Washington. They are more worried about what’s the economy looking like? Is the economy of Michigan growing? Are more people at work? Are they making more money? So, you know, he will take the message directly to the local media.

 

Effects of Fake News

I: That’s a very wise way to give message directly to his people. On the contrary, it’s embarrassing to say, this but Japanese media introduces mainstream media to its readers, the Japanese people. They cover fake media and fake news as well. So Japanese people are beginning to worry about how the Trump administration would continue to survive under this condition, and its effects on American-Japanese relations. How do you see this situation?

 

The Importance of Japanese-American Relations

Hoekstra: No I think, as we said, I think that the Trump administration has put a tremendous focus on making sure that we have a very, very strong relationship with the Japanese, that we have a very strong relationship with the South Koreans, that we are coordinating our foreign policy in regards to how we deal with both China and how we deal with North Korea. And so I think the President and his administration has made it very, very clear that our relationship with the Japanese is absolutely essential. There’s a lot talk about the President and our relationship with NATO and Europe. You know the President is very clear. We are more than willing, and we need these relationships. But they must be relationships, and in relationships there are always expectation of both parties. And, so whether it is with the Japanese or Korean, though in this case, Europeans of NATO. The President is going to say that relationship is absolutely important, you can expect things from the United States, but it’s also appropriate and proper for the United States to expect certain thing from you. That’s why some countries are uncomfortable –because he’s putting demands on them.

 

Trump’s Growing Success In the Middle East

I: You are an expert of the Middle East. So I’m very interested on your take of the President Trump’s trips to the Middle East.

Hoekstra: I thought that the President’s trip and the first trip overseas was absolutely very successful. He’s trying to get the governments and countries with a majority of Muslim populations involved in the role of fighting against radical Islam. He is trying to get the people who are most affected by what’s going on with ISIS to get involved. It is Muslims. More Muslims are killed by ISIS than in any other groups. So he’s challenging the religious leaders of Islam to confront these individuals who are acting in the name of religion, and for the religious leaders of Islam to condemn this interpretation of their religion. He went to meet with the Christian community. You know the Christian community they are going through genocide in the Middle East. And the Christian community needs to stand up for this. So you know there are lots of things that the President must deal with, and these are top issues. But the President is raising them and he’s bringing them to the forefront. He doesn’t say that he has an answer. Okay? But he’s saying that these are issues and these are groups of people that maybe we can work with to resolve some of this problems.

Cho: The Saudi people are very much welcoming Trump. Because they could find people that they can talk to.

Hoekstra: Yes.

Cho: It’s a very delightful outcome, I thought.

Hoekstra: Yes.

Cho: Thank you so much taking your time today for this interview.

 


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