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Pompeo To Tell Senators About Trump's North Korea And Russia Summits

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All right. We are joined now by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, who joins us on the line from his office. Senator Gardner, thanks for being with us.

CORY GARDNER: Hey. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: I want to start by asking you about the conversation we just had with The Washington Post's Robert Costa about these tapes. What does this recording between then-candidate Donald Trump and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, suggest to you?

GARDNER: Well, I certainly understand the intrigue around any recording of this nature. But as you had said and as the reporter said, this is a bit of a Rosetta Stone. I think it'd be inappropriate for any of us on Capitol Hill to try to speculate or add conjecture to what is clearly a subject of investigation, clearly a matter of interpretation. And I think it would be reckless for any of us to try to get involved and make a determination of what this tape is or isn't.

MARTIN: May I ask you if it just disturbs you in general that there's a recording of the president of the United States talking with his former fixer about a payoff to a woman alleging an affair?

GARDNER: Well, I don't think you'll find many experts on Capitol Hill about trying to set up a company to pay off a company to talk about an affair. So let's let other people figure this one out and understand what it is because I do think in a time of hyper-sensitive partisanship, it would be dangerous for us to try to figure out and speculate on our own without the context or other information what exactly is happening.

MARTIN: All right. I'm going to switch gears now because you sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is going to hear testimony today from a high-profile guest. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's was coming up to the Hill. Your committee called him up because, frankly, you haven't gotten clarity on the substance of conversations President Trump had in his recent summits with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. What do you want to know?

GARDNER: Well, I think we have to learn a great deal about exactly what we're planning to do in North Korea. The administration had the summit. They had the Panmunjom Declaration that led to this sense that denuclearization was going to be imminent. We haven't seen that. If there's a succeed fast, fail fast strategy in North Korea, we haven't seen a succeed or fail yet that makes it look like we're making progress. I think there has to be clarity given to what is going on in North Korea.

I think as it relates to Russia, the Senate will want to understand - the Foreign Relations Committee members will want to understand what we are doing to push back against a increasingly aggressive Russia, whether it's information warfare, whether it's meddling in the elections, whether it's attempts to destabilize the Middle East, incursions into sovereign nations like Crimea, Ukraine, like Georgia.

We have to understand exactly what we can be doing to push back and strengthen our efforts against Russia and be tough as we can on Russia. And then in Iran, exactly what is our position in Iran now that the JCPOA has been withdrawn? How do we move forward to make sure that we address a leading state sponsor of terror?

MARTIN: So those are all kind of big-picture normal questions you would want to know about policies moving forward. But I want to ask you very specifically, do - are you clear on the conversation that President Trump had with Vladimir Putin in that room? And would it be protocol for you as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to know what was said there?

GARDNER: Well, look. I think leaders of this country have meetings with leaders of other countries, and that's appropriate, especially superpowers with nuclear weapons. And that's what Russia has. And the United States and Russia are two global powers with significant components that could do great harm to one another and the world should we have conflict. That being said, I don't think a conversation to play pattycake right now is appropriate.

I think we need to make sure that we are tough, that we are expressing our concern with the Middle East, that we are objecting to any interference in the election, that we're laying out the consequences of such actions. That's what needs to occur. That's what I'd like to hear happened in that conversation. I do think there will be questions about the conversation itself. If it was a conversation just to talk about how nice the weather is, you know, that's a concern. We need to lay out what our grievances are and how they are going to be addressed in not only a bilateral nature but a global forum as well.

MARTIN: I mean, do you think Congress even has any influence of foreign policy over President Trump in this moment? I mean, considering the sanctions on Russia that were slow-walked, that these were mandated by Congress and the president slow-walked them.

GARDNER: Well, it certainly does. And we have put sanctions on Russia. We have - over the objections of the president, the president did sign the sanctions. But we have to do more. I believe that we should make Russia a state sponsor of terror. I believe there's more action that we can take. I am a cosponsor of the DETER Act by Senator Rubio and Senator Van Hollen. That's something that we can and will continue to act on. And Congress has a strong role in foreign policy, whether it's approving treaties or others. In fact, it's the foreign policy that we'll hear this morning that I think will actually result in actions against Russia.

MARTIN: Do you agree with President Trump's decision to invite Vladimir Putin to the White House?

GARDNER: I don't think this meeting should occur at the White House. I - you know, conversations about continued malign activity by Russia are appropriate. And that's - we can't just have, you know, paper press release diplomacy. This is something we need to do. But I don't think you should do it at the White House. I think finding that, you know, third forum out of the United States is appropriate.

MARTIN: Republican Senator of Colorado Cory Gardner. Thanks so much for your time, Senator.

GARDNER: Thanks. Thank you.

MARTIN: I want to bring in White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, who was listening to that conversation. Ayesha, even though we heard Senator Gardner parse his words carefully talking about what he wants to hear from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to be sure, Democrats and a whole lot of Republicans have not been pleased with the level of transparency that the Trump administration has given them on the summits that took place with Putin and Kim Jong Un.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: No. They've raised a lot of concerns, especially on the summit with Putin. And it was interesting to hear Senator Gardner talk about how he wants to make sure that the administration is being tough on Russia. And I think that's one of the big concerns. And that's an argument that Pompeo will likely try to make is that the administration is being tough on Russia because in that news conference, as you know, with Putin, the public didn't see that. They didn't see the administration taking a tough line when it comes to Russia.

MARTIN: White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe giving us fuller context this morning. Ayesha, we appreciate it, as always.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.