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The Roundtable

Congressional Corner With Paul Tonko

The U.S.-Russia relationship has taken another turn.

In today’s Congressional Corner, New York Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat from the 20th district, speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

Alan Chartock: Here we are with our wonderful friend Paul Tonko. And he is the congressman of choice for the day and one of my favorite people in the whole world. Does that make you feel good Paul?

Representative Paul Tonko: It makes me feel as best as I can. So thank you very much, doctor.

Now, let's get into it because there's so much to talk about. First of all, the most incredible thing is this question of the Russian bounties, which they were paying on killing US troops. And what is Congress going to do about that? It seems to me if this is true, and Trump didn't either read his briefings, or if he knew about it, or if he's in the pocket of the Russians altogether, this would ordinarily call for an impeachment wouldn’t it?

Well, yeah, so I think you know, what you're saying is very accurate. From any angle that you look, it's deeply troubled. Then very disturbing. And if any part of it is true it really needs to be addressed. The reporting now suggests that this intelligence was included in the President's daily briefings during 2019. And John Bolton has said he has briefed the President about it. So the evidence is mounting. But, to say you weren't briefed, who knows if that's the truth, but it's not an excuse. As the commander in chief of our military, our military members should trust their president. They should know that their backs are covered, that their lives matter, and that that he will do everything to protect them. And it's just fascinating that again, we're into an awkward discussion about what Russian influence might have here, what it looks like. And for some reason, whatever that might be, it seems to work itself differently when it involves Russian leadership. And the whole concern that they were involved in the last election, that they now may have had these bounties on our military, the ultimate responsibility here rests with the president to protect our troops, and to have them trust and know that their commitment to our principles, our way of life, our government, our people, comes with this absolute trust factor that the president should be front and center providing.

Can you imagine if you're the parent of a kid who got killed over there or wounded terribly, and that you find out that the President of the United States had failed to act on this kind of information, whether he got it, whether he didn't get it, whether his people were responsible, he's the president. I mean, it's got to be more than any adult or anybody could handle.

Yeah, I saw some interviews last night in the media of parents whose offspring had passed in Afghanistan in defense of this nation. And their concern was deepening. They are very distressed and disturbed by the news. And so they, first and foremost, need to know what happened, but our country needs to know what happened and Congress will begin its efforts to really thoroughly dig into this so that we're not only briefed, but we're given every bit of detail. And that yeah, I think we're only at the tip of this iceberg here as we go forward and make certain what the President knew when he knew it, and how this team operates. It's just fascinating to hear stories that perhaps some of the staff didn't share news with the president, because he didn't want to hear it. It's like, what is happening here? I mean, it's more failure, on top of failure on so many topics. And with this one, sadly, it involves American lives, the troops, the lives of our troops, where individuals give it their all, so that our principles can be expressed and defended in places like Afghanistan.

So what does Congress do about this? In other words, well, yeah, in other words, it's another quick impeachment effort out of the question, at least it would put some of those Republican senators on a quite a precarious position if it was if it happened.

Yeah, I think the United States Senate is feeling the pressure of this. And of course their whole effort to keep control of the House is going to be tested this fall. So it puts a lot of pressure on them. But the most important thing is that we begin a process that delves into the issues, that seeks for the truth that provides the information here, and that our troops are defended. They have every reason to expect that their government supports them and honors them and does everything to protect them. And if that's not the case, then it's difficult to manage our military if they don’t feel the trust factor is there.

But I'm just specifically only got a minute for this Paul. But the Congress of the United States is a check on the president. If you can’t impeach him, what can you do?

Well, I think that providing for public scrutiny here and making certain that the entire operation, the administration responds, well beyond the president is a start. I think, perhaps an action taken against Russia, if this is the case, where sanctions or something might be included. I don't know we will go forward with as thorough a process, I'm convinced. I know that our certain committees, the respective committees that have jurisdiction in these areas, want answers and they're going into, I think, rely on a formal process that really searches for the truth.

Do you think this is the end for Donald Trump? It seems to me of all the things I've heard, this is by far the worst.

I would agree that this is probably the most agregious because we're putting people's lives at risk and if there's silence here, And nothing was done. As the information was shared. It's totally unacceptable. And it shows that you're not worthy to be the president of this country and to be the commander in chief of our military.

It's an extraordinary story. And I know you'll keep in touch with us, Paul, tell us what you know, as you know it. Thank you so much. Paul Tonko is a congressman from the 20th district. We are so grateful for your service. Thank you, Paul.