Rep. Swalwell questions Trump’s loyalty: Is he with Russia or the U.S.?

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., delivered a scathing condemnation of President Trump in the aftermath of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation late Monday.

In a conversation with Yahoo News on Tuesday morning, Swalwell, the lead Democrat on the CIA Subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said there’s a wealth of evidence leading him to question whether Trump is loyal to the United States or Russia.

“The Republicans may have the majorities in Congress and their candidate may have won the White House, but [the Democrats] are not helpless. We have the American people, and the American people will not be satisfied until they know whether the president is with us or with Russia,” Swalwell said. “What happened with Michael Flynn I think shows clearly that there are a lot more questions that need to be answered.”

Swalwell said the White House knew that Flynn had lied about his conversations with a Russian ambassador but allowed him to maintain his top-secret security clearance and brief the president. He said the administration only dumped Flynn once the press revealed that he had discussed easing sanctions against the Kremlin, potentially violating the law. Flynn also reportedly misled Vice President Mike Pence about the discussion.

“They’re willing to keep people who have improper relationships with Russia until the public finds out and it hurts them in the realm of popular opinion,” Swalwell said. “Getting rid of a rotten plank does not fix a compromised platform.”

The U.S. intelligence community said Russia launched a multifaceted campaign of propaganda and deception intended to sway the presidential election in Trump’s favor. Former President Barack Obama leveled sanctions against the Kremlin in response.

Rep. Eric Swalwell and President Trump (Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Rep. Eric Swalwell and President Trump (Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Carolyn Kaster/AP)

According to Swalwell, Trump’s behavior is also disturbing. The California lawmaker cited Trump’s admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, his statements comparing U.S. government actions to the Kremlin’s “killers,” the White House’s revised sanctions that affect Russia’s Federal Security Service (Russia’s top security agency), his openness to easing other sanctions against Moscow and his skepticism toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Swalwell considers the world’s greatest check on Russia.

“Then if you look at the fact that he won’t release his taxes, which could clear up a lot of questions about his global financial holdings and whether there are deals with Russians,” Swalwell continued, “I think all of those arrows point to a single question: Who are his loyalties with?”

Swalwell said there are many people in the Trump administration, including the president himself, who had personal, political and financial relationships with Russia before the election. Trump has rejected this sort of characterization and recently tweeted, “I don’t know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy!”

“The American people are concerned whether Russia is going to be paid back for the work they did to help get Donald Trump elected. I think Flynn should motivate us to want to learn more about those relationships,” he said.

Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer who has represented international oil and gas companies, including Russian oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, characterized this questioning of Trump’s loyalty as “very ill-advised commentary.”

Robert Amsterdam (Photo: Julie Carr Smyth/AP)
Robert Amsterdam (Photo: Julie Carr Smyth/AP)

“These issues are serious enough that we need dispassionate and intelligent thought,” Amsterdam told Yahoo News. “This kind of commentary from a member of that committee is just sad. There’s no basis for making that kind of a comment.”

However, Amsterdam said it would be worthwhile to investigate whether Trump’s team and Putin had some sort of conversation or quid pro quo agreement regarding Obama’s sanctions against Russia.

He said the Kremlin has been “overplaying its hands” — making it all but impossible for “a Trump rapprochement.” After he spoke to Yahoo News, the New York Times reported that, according to administration officials, Russia had secretly deployed a cruise missile, violating an arms control treaty.

“Trump is an American politician who wants to succeed within the context of the United States, and everything that is touching Putin at this point looks toxic,” Amsterdam said.

Yahoo News asked Swalwell if he was concerned that such a bold denunciation — questioning whether Trump is loyal to the U.S. or Russia — would remind some listeners of one of the nation’s darker chapters: McCarthyism. In the 1950s, Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wis., spread paranoia about Communists infiltrating the federal government.

“In the McCarthy era, it was about a personal political belief, not whether they had been compromised personally, politically or financially by a foreign adversary. Here, with everything I laid out a moment ago for you, all of those arrows point to the question of whether there was a political or financial compromise of the president or his team,” Swalwell replied. “I don’t care if it’s Russia or any other country that’s not the United States. If our leaders’ loyalties lie anywhere but to the American people, that’s a problem.”

Like many congressional Democrats and Republicans, Swalwell strongly criticized the Russian government, citing Putin’s alliance with the Syrian government, the downing of an airliner carrying 300 by Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine, and the forceful annexation of Crimea, among other issues.

“They are not our friend at all. If our president or anyone on his team had a preexisting relationship with them, we should know,” Swalwell said. “And we should also know if it’s going to make us less safe because they are going to have to pay back the help that they got to win the election.”

Swalwell and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., co-authored the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which has been cosponsored by every member of the House Democratic Caucus. The legislation would establish an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate Russia’s interference with the U.S. election. The Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to embrace major legislation authored by Democrats.

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