Rep. Chris Stewart On Russian Meddling, Health Care And The ‘Challenge’ Of Trump

Portrait photo of Rep. Chris Stewart.

As part of KUER’s ongoing series of congressional candidate profiles, Nicole Nixon spoke with Stewart about Russian meddling in U.S. elections, his votes to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and the “challenge” of the Trump Administration.

Utah’s Second District Congressman Chris Stewart is seeking a fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. The author and former Air Force pilot sits on the influential House Intelligence Committee and the House Appropriations Committee. Stewart faces two challengers in the November election: Democrat Shireen Ghorbani and Libertarian Jeffrey Whipple.

Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Nicole Nixon: Are you worried about Russian meddling in this year’s midterm elections?

Rep. Chris Stewart: Absolutely. I was in Moscow in August before the election and I came home and I did dozens of media interviews saying they’re going to mess with our elections, they’re going to try to interfere. And they did, there’s no question about that. One of the reasons that the House Intelligence Committee – which I sit on – was so anxious to release our report last spring was so that we could prepare for the 2018 midterm elections. We had 47 recommendations that we feel would help us counter some of this interference.

N: You have previously said that there’s no evidence that Russia was trying to help President Trump in the 2016 election, do you still believe that?

S: What we said, what the intel committee concluded, was that the tradecraft – the process – that the CIA, and other organizations, but primarily the CIA went through was found to be lacking. And there’s no question that that’s true. They rushed to report and we were concerned about the process that they went through, and whether that process allowed them to come to an accurate conclusion.

But putting all that aside, here’s the end of the day, bottom line reality: you can’t know what Vladimir Putin wanted unless you can crawl inside his head and actually read his thoughts. But I’ve got to tell you, it doesn’t matter. It truly doesn’t matter. The reality is that they interfered, they were successful at it, and we’ve got to do everything we can to counter that.

Here’s the end of the day, bottom line reality: you can’t know what Vladimir Putin wanted unless you can crawl inside his head and actually read his thoughts.

 

There’s a distinction to make here, too, which is important. There’s a difference between actually affecting the outcome of an election by changing votes – going in and manipulating the voting machine – we have no evidence that that occurred. And again, I don’t know that they ever actually tried to do that. The intel indicates that they were trying to penetrate a couple of voter registration databases, for example, but not actually voting machines.

The bigger thing, the thing that they’re very successful at: they want to break down the foundation of democracy. They want to break down people’s trust in the electoral process. They want to make us angry and frankly, in some cases hate each other. And they’ve been very successful in that. And I think that’s a that’s a harder challenge to address because you’re talking about opinions and people’s perceptions of things. And it’s a little bit harder to fix that.

N: Your opponent in this election, Shireen Ghorbani, is criticizing your votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If Obamacare isn’t working, what do you think is the right solution for making sure that people have access to health care?

S: Ever since I came to Congress this has been an enormous issue. And I’ve had the opportunity to meet with hundreds, maybe even more than a thousand Utahns, people in my district, who have been negatively affected by Obamacare. We were promised that it would drive down the cost of healthcare by $2,500 for a family of four. Exactly the opposite has happened. And I just felt like we could do better. So repealing Obamacare itself is not enough. You have to replace it with something and have those priorities: protect pre-existing conditions, protect Medicaid and Medicare, protect women’s health, drive down costs.

There’s no question about it, health care is a real challenge for America. Obamacare, I believe, was a sincere effort to make it better. My conclusion was that it didn’t and we could do better. And I hope we have a chance to do that.

N: You are working on a couple of public land bills that would affect Utah. Can you explain what those would do and why they’re important?

CREDIT KELSIE MOORE / KUER

One of our initiatives is to take part of the (Grand Staircase-Escalante) National Monument now, and actually turn it into a national park. It’s worthy of being a national park. It’s that spectacular. One of the things we hope to accomplish by that is if you go down a Moab, for example. Oh my gosh, it’s like walking around a Walmart. It’s crowded everywhere. You can’t find a place to park many times, you don’t have that kind of serene, isolated experience, and (there’s) congestion in Zion and in many of the others as well. So we hope by creating this sixth national park we relieve some of the congestion in some of the other national parks. The third thing is tourism is an important part of the industry and economic culture in rural Utah. And this would help foster that, it would encourage that. We think that’s a good thing.

I do think there’s this one economic reality and that is it’s difficult to raise a family if the only option before you is a is a job in the tourism industry. So we would hope to open up other economic avenues other economic opportunities for people in rural Utah. I kind of feel like I’m standing up for the little guy a lot of times, having talked to some of these ranchers, having talked to some of these families who have a couple of generations who have been coal miners and they feel like, ‘These opportunities being taken away from me. I can’t raise my family, I’m going to have to move up to Salt Lake City and find a job up there.’ Let’s see if we can find ways where they can stay there. If they can work in the tourism industry, great. If they want a working cattle and ranching, great. Can’t we find ways where we could allow them to do all of these options?

N: How would you grade the Trump administration halfway through its first term?

S: I have kind of this bit of a challenge with the administration because I support his policies – they’ve helped so many Americans. Lowest African-American unemployment rate ever, lowest Hispanic unemployment rate ever, incomes are rising, (we have) more jobs now than we have workers. We’ve defeated ISIS, we’re confronting China in the South China Sea, and we have judicial nominees which I’m very, very supportive of. I support those things, but on the other hand, he makes my job so much harder with some of the things he says and some of the things he tweets.

I support those things, but on the other hand, he makes my job so much harder with some of the things he says and some of the things he tweets.

 

His press conference in Helsinki was indefensible. I was on an airplane flying back to D.C. when he held that press conference and when I landed and heard what he said, I immediately talked to the media and said, ‘Mr. President, you’re wrong. You should correct the record and you should defend the work of the intelligence community.’ So, there are times when I have to challenge the president and there are times when I want to defend his policies because I think they’re helping Americans.

But we live in a divided time in a divided country. No matter what I do or what I say about half the people are going to be angry with me, right? So you might as well say what you think is true and do what you think is right, and then kind of let the chips fall where they may.

Follow KUER’s coverage of the 2018 midterm elections.

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart says it’s too early to know if Trump broke campaign finance laws

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s too early to say whether President Donald Trump committed a crime as his former lawyer and fixer asserted while pleading guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and other charges in court, Rep. Chris Stewart said Wednesday.

The Utah Republican said there might be some implications for Trump regarding Federal Election Commission violations, but it’s not clear to him what those would be.

“I don’t know that we know that yet. I think we should let the process play out, by the way. Let them go through what any other candidate or elected official would go through. That is, if there was a potential violation, let the FEC investigate that,” Stewart said.

Stewart was one of few Republicans to speak on the issue Wednesday.

Michael Cohen said in a federal court hearing in New York on Tuesday that Trump directed him to arrange the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and a former Playboy model to fend off damage to his election campaign. Cohen admitted to lying about his income to evade income taxes, lying to banks to obtain loans and making illegal contributions to benefit Trump’s White House bid.

Also Tuesday, a federal court jury in Virgina found Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, guilty of tax fraud and bank fraud in a separate case.

Stewart said he sees no ties to the Trump campaign because those crimes happened long before Manafort’s association with the president. He said Manafort should go to jail and Trump shouldn’t even think about pardoning him.

“I think it’s a terrible idea, and I don’t think the president’s considering it. But I hope he’s not. Why in the world would you pardon this individual? Why treat him any differently than any other person who broke the law?” Stewart said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also weighed in on the Manafort and Cohen cases, telling reporters Wednesday the news constituted “serious

“Well I’m not very happy about it,” he said of the hush money. “It should never have happened to begin with.”

“Naturally it makes you very concerned, but the president should not be held responsible for the actions of the people he’s trusted,” Hatch said.

Hatch also told the New York Times Wednesday that he believes Trump is a changed man since taking office.

“Eight years ago to 10 years ago, Trump was not what I consider to be a pillar of virtue,” Hatch told the Times. “I think he has changed a lot of his life once he was elected. I think Trump is a much better person today than he was then.”

Hatch went on to say that, “I think most people in this country realize that Donald Trump comes from a different world. He comes from New York City, he comes from a slam-bang, difficult world. It is amazing he is as good as he is. If anything, you have to give him plaudits for the way he has run the country as president,” the Times reported.

The Democratic and Republican candidates seeking to replace Hatch expressed their thoughts on Twitter.

“Know a man by his friends. The president cannot distance himself from the crimes of his former personal attorney or his campaign chair,” said Jenny Wilson, a Democratic Salt County Council member.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, tweeted, “The events of the last 24 hours confirm that conduct by highly placed individuals was both dishonorable and illegal. Also confirmed is my faith in our justice system and my conviction that we are a nation committed to the rule of law.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called the Cohen indictment “troubling” and said Americans deserve to know more.

“The allegations in this indictment are going to be adjudicated one way or another, and until we know more about how it will be adjudicated I think it is premature to speculate about the allegations in the indictment,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said in a statement that countless Americans have given their lives to ensure laws apply to everyone equally.

“The recent conviction of Paul Manafort and guilty plea from Michael Cohen show that none are above the law. As always, I support the processes through which legal wrongdoing is brought to light and believe we must let those processes play out,” she said.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, expressed similar thoughts.

“We are a nation of laws and those laws are upheld by a sound legal system,” he said in a statement. “While many are hungry for finality, we must all respect the thorough nature of the system and allow justice to run its course.”

Stewart said he continues to back the president’s goals for the country, even though some of Trump’s personal behavior puts him in a tough spot as a congressman.

“It’s not the first time that I’ve had this problem where I support the president’s agenda,” Stewart said. “But when it comes to his personal behavior and some of the other things, it puts me in a bind because I can’t support those and I’ve been clear on that.”

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, was in South America on official business for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and unavailable for comment, his spokeswoman, Katie Thompson, said.

Hatch, Stewart bill to create national 3-digit suicide prevention hotline goes to president

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill two Utah Republicans pushed to create a three-digit telephone number — similar to 911 — for the national suicide prevention hotline passed the U.S. House on Monday.

Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart were among lawmakers who introduced the bipartisan legislation in May 2017. It passed the Senate last November and sailed through the House on Monday, 379-1.

“There are many tools available for people who are struggling with mental illness or thoughts of suicide, but tragically some of these resources are too difficult to find in a time of urgent need,” Stewart said on the House floor.

The national suicide prevention hotline number — 800-273-TALK — is cumbersome and hard to remember, he said, adding most people have never heard of it.

Since handbag designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain took their own lives earlier this year, calls to the national hotline jumped 25 percent, he said.

“While the hotline number has increased access, I know we can do better and that’s the purpose of this bill,” Stewart said.

The bill aims to reform the suicide prevention lifeline system and Veterans Crisis Line by requiring the Federal Communications Commission — working with the Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Veterans Affairs — to study the system and make recommendations to Congress on how to improve it.

Hatch said making the hotline more user-friendly would help save thousands of lives.

House Backs Suicide Hotline Bill; Could Lead to 3-Digit Dial Code

Rep. Chris Stewart is sponsoring legislation to streamline the suicide prevention hotline. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo.)

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is headed for an overhaul, with passage of a House bill Monday. The bipartisan proposal would move towards creating a new national three-digit dialing code — similar to 911 — to be used for a mental health crisis and suicide prevention hotline.

The House passed the bill by an overwhelming, 379-1, margin. Michigan Republican Justin Amash cast the lone nay vote against the bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah.

The proposal would prompt the Federal Communications Commission to study and report on the feasibility of designating a new three-digit dialing code, in coordination with the Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services Departments. A National Suicide Prevention Lifeline currently exists, but supporters of the bill say that the long 1-800 number is difficult to remember in times of crisis.

“We all know by heart to dial 9-1-1 during an emergency. We have fate and confidence that somebody who can help will be on the line. It shouldn’t be any different for someone in a mental health crisis,” said Leonard Lance, R-N.J. in support of the bill.

The Senate passed a companion bill in November 2017, sponsored by Utah Republican Orrin G. Hatch.

“There are literally lives on the line here and leaving them on hold is not an option,” said Hatch in June, calling on the House to move quickly on their version of the bill.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In Stewart and Hatch’s home state of Utah, young people are particularly vulnerable, and suicide is the leading cause of death among teens.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. The program was last authorized at $7.2 million a year through fiscal year 2021.

“This legislation will build upon the success of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to increase access to life-saving service while evaluating new and innovative ways to improve the current system,” said bill cosponsor Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.

Trump allegedly moved to fire Mueller, a move that would worry Utah’s Stewart

Washington • President Donald Trump sought the firing of Robert Mueller III last June, shortly after the special counsel took over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he backed off only after White House Counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign over the move — a situation Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said put him in an “uncomfortable position.”

The extraordinary showdown was confirmed by two people familiar with the episode, which was first reported by The New York Times.

McGahn did not deliver his resignation threat directly to Trump, but he was serious about his threat to leave, according to a person familiar with the episode.

The incident could now become part of Mueller’s examination of whether Trump has taken steps to try to stymie the investigation.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, declined to comment. McGahn did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A White House spokesman referred questions to Ty Cobb, the attorney coordinating the administration’s response to the Russia investigations, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment. John Dowd, an attorney for the president, declined to comment.

Stewart told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Thursday night that the report needs to be substantiated, but if it were true, it would be concerning.

“If he did, his instincts were wrong, but the people around him protected from those instincts,” Stewart said.

Sen. Mark Warner, Va., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation of Russian interference, said in a statement that “firing the Special Counsel is a red line that the President cannot cross. Any attempt to remove the Special Counsel, pardon key witnesses, or otherwise interfere in the investigation, would be a gross abuse of power, and all members of Congress, from both parties, have a responsibility to our Constitution and to our country to make that clear immediately.”

Trump was initially calm when Mueller was appointed, surprising White House aides, according to a senior administration official.

But in the weeks that followed, the president spoke with a number of friends and advisers who convinced him that Mueller would dig through his private finances and look beyond questions of collusion with Russians. They warned that the probe could last years and would ruin his first term in office.

At the time, his legal team was urging him to aggressive action against the special counsel and compiling arguments about why he could not be impartial, raising questions about whether Mueller had gotten into a dispute over membership fees at a Trump-owned golf course in northern Virginia.

In response, McGahn said he would not be at the White House if Trump went through with the move, according to a senior administration official.

The president, in turn, backed off.

Since then, Trump brought in a new legal team that has counseled cooperation with Mueller. He has continued to fume about the investigation, even as his lawyers have publicly pledged to work with the special counsel. On Thursday, one of the president’s attorneys distributed a memo outlining the number of voluntary staff interviews and documents they have produced.

— Tribune reporter Aubrey Wieber contributed to this story from Salt Lake City.

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart: The real scandal isn’t possible Russian meddling in election, it’s taint of politics in CIA and FBI

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart: The real scandal isn’t possible Russian meddling in election, it’s taint of politics in CIA and FBI

No one is talking about Russian collusion with the Donald Trump campaign anymore, says Utah’s only member of the House Intelligence Committee.

“We are unraveling or peeling back an onion there that is extraordinarily concerning to me,” Stewart, Utah’s only member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday on the Utah Senate floor. “When it comes to the politicalization of agencies like the FBI, the Department of Justice and frankly, in my opinion, worst of all, the CIA, where they’ve been turned into political operatives.

“Obviously, there are dedicated public servants that work there,” he added. “But a few individuals in very senior positions. We cannot allow that to go unanswered if that is true.”

“You don’t hear [collusion] anymore from either side of the aisle because the reality is there just simply isn’t evidence on it,” he said.

There is, however, an ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling led by special counsel Robert Mueller III, whose team interviewed Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week, according to press reports that were confirmed by the Department of Justice. Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, also was subpoenaed, The New York Times reported last week.

Praising President Trump’s achievements in his first year in office, Stewart began his speech by comparing the president to Rodney Dangerfield, the comedian who starred as the golfer with an unorthodox swing and loud behavior in the movie “Caddyshack.”

“Halfway up the swing he stops and he tweets something out,” Stewart said of Trump, who is an avid golfer. “Halfway down the swing he throws a toy out and the press goes running over there to look at the toy and then he swings, and it’s just as ugly as anything you’ve seen, but the ball goes down the middle of the fairway.

Stewart — who during the 2016 campaign called Trump “our Mussolini” — told the House Republican Caucus he now has become a “huge convert” to the president.

“He has really won my respect,” he added. “He has had an incredibly effective first year” despite “all the distractions, and all the diversions and all the media polls.”

He added, “It’s surprising to me that he has a 44 or 46 percent approval rating” while in the news media, “90 percent of the coverage is negative” that offers a “continuous beat-down.”

Stewart added that he keeps a list of where the news media “doesn’t just get it wrong, they actually deceive, actively lie.”

Reporter Lee Davidson contributed to this report.

Rep. Chris Stewart joins other Republicans in calling for Sessions to step down

Rep. Chris Stewart joins other Republicans in calling for Sessions to step down

Updated 5:18 AM ET, Sat January 6, 2018

Washington (CNN) GOP Rep. Chris Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, joined the growing list of Republicans calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign.

“This is hard for me, it really is, because I think Jeff Sessions is one of the most honorable men in Washington, D.C.,” Stewart told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Friday afternoon. “But we have been weakened in our investigation into very important concerns at the Department of Justice and the FBI. Jeff Sessions is not able to take the reins and direct that investigation.”
He continued: “We need the director there who can take the reins and be assertive in that. He can’t do that when he is recused. I believe it may be time for him to step aside.”
Because of his recusal, Sessions is unable to act on the department’s current Russia probe — spearheaded by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, appointed in May, and overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But a new attorney general, appointed by Trump, would not be bound by those restrictions, and could potentially fire Rosenstein and Mueller and reassert control over the investigation.
In the call, Stewart joined Mark Meadows, Freedom Caucus chair, and Jim Jordan, a member who sits on the oversight and judiciary committees in the US House of Representatives, who wrote an op-ed for the Washington Examiner and criticized Sessions’ handling of the department’s investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia investigation, but it would appear he has no control at all of the premier law enforcement agency in the world,” they wrote. “It is time for Sessions to start managing in a spirit of transparency to bring all of this improper behavior to light and stop further violations.”
The Republican congressmen wrote that “if Sessions can’t address this issue immediately, then we have one final question needing an answer: When is it time for a new attorney general? Sadly, it seems the answer is now.”