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Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Susan Collins appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this morning with host Chuck Todd to discuss the Russia investigation and tax reform
A transcript of the interview follows:
“Meet the Press”
December 3, 2017
TODD: Joining me now is Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. She sits on the Intelligence Committee. Senator Collins, welcome back to "Meet the Press."
COLLINS: Thank you, Chuck.
TODD: Obviously, I want to get to two stories. I’m going to start though with Russia. Taken at face value, there are two sort of alarming quotes over the weekend. One comes from the president's twitter feed—we referenced it earlier in the lead in—that he said the reason he fired Flynn is he lied to the vice president and the FBI, apparently invoking the idea that he knowingly obstructed justice, perhaps. And then let me show you this K.T. McFarland quote. She was the deputy national security adviser for a short period of time. There is an e-mail that she sent around during the transition that apparently said this, “If there is a tit-for-tat escalation, Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown USA election to him.” Now we have the White House trying to backtrack, clarify all of those things. How alarming are those two quotes to you?
COLLINS: Well, they're the reason why we have two investigations underway right now. The special counsel's investigation clearly is bearing fruit, as we've seen with the guilty plea with General Flynn. And we have the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, which is a different kind of investigation, a counterintelligence investigation, and we're also making progress.
TODD: It's interesting you said “bearing fruit.” Do you believe that there was collusion? Do you think that this is where this is headed, that Mueller is slowly but surely proving his case there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians?
COLLINS: We don't know that yet, but what we do know is that there were conversations during the transition period. During the transition period there is still only one president and that was President Obama, so those conversations should not have been taking place. But that does not confirm collusion.
TODD: This deal for Flynn to work with Mueller now, how much does that slow down the Intelligence Committee investigation?
COLLINS: Well, that's a great question because we had already asked General Flynn to come before us and to also produce his personal papers, and his attorney asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. So now, really, the special counsel is in the driver's seat as far as General Flynn is. I still want to hear from him because I believe that he could contribute a great deal to our investigation.
TODD: Do you think at this point -- you guys have some cooperation between the special prosecutor's office and what you guys are doing. Does that include your ability to read all the interview transcripts for instance of Michael Flynn?
COLLINS: Well, I’ve been reading the interview transcripts that our staff is doing --
TODD: Do you get access to Mueller’s?
COLLINS: We do not get access to Mueller’s, and I understand that because only he can pursue criminal wrongdoing. Ours has a different mission but also a very important one.
TODD: I'm curious, the scope, does it include the transition? I know the scope is about the campaign, does that include the transition?
COLLINS: Yes. And it should.
TODD: You believe the scope of Intel Committee does include the transition. Everything up to January 20th or even more?
COLLINS: It not only includes the transition period, it includes the campaign period, and that's why we're looking at the conversations that occurred during that period as well.
TODD: Do you have a sense of where Mueller is in his probe? Do you feel as if this is the end of the beginning, beginning of the end? Do you guys have a sense of the length of this probe right now?
COLLINS: Although we're in touch, or the chairman is in touch, with the special counsel, it's very difficult to say, but clearly he is making progress. He's had guilty pleas from two individuals. He's had two other indictments. So he is making progress.
TODD: The chairman of the Intelligence Committee, fellow Republican Richard Burr, acknowledged in an interview to the New York Times that the president has talked to various Republican members of the Intel Committee, encouraging them to move the probe along, end this probe. Senator Burr wrote it off to inexperience in government. He didn't view it as an attempt to obstruct justice. Two questions. One, has the president called you?
COLLINS: No, he has not.
TODD: That doesn't surprise me, frankly. But second, do you think Richard Burr -- do you agree with his take that oh, this is just inexperience in government by the president? He doesn't realize he's violating some protocol here.
COLLINS: Well, even if it's inexperience, that doesn't make it right. The president should have no comment whatsoever on either of these investigations, and the only thing he should be doing is directing all of his staff and associates to fully cooperate.
TODD: All right. Let me move to the tax bill. I want to move to the debt part first. Let me play a little mash-up of what you've said about the debt in the past. Take a listen.
[Begin Video Clip]
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Senator Collins, you supported President Obama on the stimulus package. Can you support his budget?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not?
COLLINS: Because it brings our debt levels to an unprecedented level.
COLLINS: Our current debt is unsustainable. It's $14.3 trillion. And it is a threat to the future prosperity of this nation.
[End video clip]
TODD: All right. If the debt is unsustainable at $14 trillion, how do you -- how did you make yourself comfortable voting for something that is going to increase the deficit, this tax bill? We're at $20.6 trillion now and the best estimates say it's going to, even the best estimates of dynamic scoring that we could find still add half a trillion to the deficit.
COLLINS: Economic growth produces more revenue, and that will help to offset this tax cut and actually lower the debt. I –
TODD: Where is the evidence? Can I -- explain to me -- find a -- find a study that actually says what you're claiming. It doesn't exist.
COLLINS: Let me do that. First of all, if you take the CBO’s formula and apply it, just four tenths of [a] one percent increase in the GDP generates revenues of a trillion dollars. A trillion dollars. Even the Joint Committee on Taxation has projected that the tax bill would stimulate the economy to produce hundreds of billions of additional revenue. I've talked to four economists, including the dean of the Columbia School of Business and former chairs of the Councils of Economic Advisers, and they believe that it will have this impact. So, I think if we can stimulate the economy, create more jobs, that that does generate more revenue.
TODD: But why isn't there a single study. I'm going to show you three studies that we have: sort of a liberal one, a centrist one, and a conservative one right up there. The most conservative one, the most pro-economic growth argument, still adds $516 billion to the deficit over ten years.
COLLINS: Well, talk to economists like Glen Hubbard and Larry Lindsey and Douglas Holtz-Eakin who used to be head of the CBO. They will tell you otherwise. So I think you will find that economists just don't agree on this.
TODD: All right, you’re comfortable with your vote on this tax bill. And is it there no matter what really comes out of conference?
COLLINS: No, I mean obviously I want to see what comes out. I believe that the amendments that I added on medical expense deductions, on property tax deductions, on helping retirement security for public employees improve the bill. I got a commitment that we're going to pass two bills, including the Alexander-Murray bill and one that I’ve authored that will help offset the individual mandate repeal by lowering premiums. And I also got an iron clad commitment that we're not going to see cuts in the Medicare program as a result of this bill.
TODD: All right, we will be watching that commitment that was made to you. I'm curious to see if they keep their deal with you. Senator Collins, thanks for coming on. I’m out of time unfortunately. I appreciate you coming on and sharing your views.
COLLINS: Thank you, Chuck.