U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., says in theory he’s okay with Jared Kushner’s possible communications with Russian officials and with President Trump’s signals to the Middle East and Europe, but he questions the sources that are leaking information to the media.
In a wide-ranging interview with Talk Business & Politics’ Roby Brock, Cotton weighed in on President Trump’s first foreign trip, efforts to put new sanctions on Russia, allegations of inappropriate communications by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, NATO, Trump’s budget and its impact on Arkansas, Cuba and healthcare reform.
The scandal that is dominating headlines in Washington, D.C. centers on Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, whom The Washington Post reports attempted to set up communications with Russian officials that would circumvent U.S. intelligence sources. Cotton said he would not comment on “anonymous-sourced stories in the news about what may or may not have transpired in those meetings” because he doesn’t know what the nature of the conversations entailed. But he’s okay with foreign contact during the transition.
“As it relates to meetings during a transition, it’s perfectly appropriate for any incoming administration to have meetings with foreign ambassadors or foreign ministers. I can tell you that I meet regularly with foreign ministers and defense ministers and heads of states who pass through Washington and with ambassadors, probably less than ambassadors would like because we get so many requests,” said Cotton. “So, it’s perfectly appropriate for that to happen. It happens in every transition. Because you have to remember that for every country in the world, the most important relationship they have is with the United States. So, of course they want to develop a relationship with the incoming president-elect and his team.”
Cotton, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Trump-Russia ties, warned that he sees a lot of misinformation in the press related to a host of D.C. intrigue.
“Let me say that there’s a lot of back-and-forth in the media, most recently about Jared Kushner and the meetings he had during the transition with the Russian ambassador, ‘he said/she said,’ oftentimes based on double or even triple hearsay, and I’m simply not going to speculate about what anonymous sources say in the news, especially when I know that certain stories are simply false,” said Cotton.
“I have been briefed on certain matters in the Intelligence Committee. I can’t discuss them here, but I can say that some of the stories I read in the news are simply false. That doesn’t mean that all of them are, but that means that sources are using reporters to advance their own agenda. Sometimes it doesn’t even reflect poorly on Donald Trump, it just undermines our national security, like the leaks in recent weeks of intelligence shared by the United Kingdom with U.S. intelligence officials related to the Manchester bombing,” he added.
Cotton emphasized that Kushner has said he would agree to cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is also independently investigating the Russian influence in the 2016 elections.
“I think that’s a good thing and he’ll be able to share his side of the story and we can evaluate it at that time,” said Cotton.
The state’s junior senator, who is often sought out for comment on foreign affairs, said President Trump’s first trip abroad should be deemed a success. In Saudi Arabia and Israel, Trump departed from the Obama administration’s positions on Middle East relations, said Cotton.
“He spoke to an unprecedented gathering of over four-dozen Arab and Islamic leaders in Saudi Arabia. He gave a very strong speech saying that the United States would once again stand side-by-side with our traditional allies and partners, countries like Israel and Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, against Iran’s aggressive campaign for regional hegemony throughout the Middle East in Yemen, in Iraq, in Syria, supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah,” said Cotton.
“I can tell you from my meetings with Arab leaders from the Persian Gulf, they really did feel forsaken during the Obama era. It’s not surprising since Barack Obama openly said that they needed to learn to share the Middle East with Iran. He called for a cold peace there. He labeled a lot of them as freeloaders. And they are very relieved that President Trump is once again siding with our traditional allies against extremist forms of Islam in no matter what form it takes, whether it’s Iran or ISIS and Al-Qaeda,” he added.
On the second leg of Trump’s trip abroad, the president encountered criticism for chastising NATO members on their financial contributions to the organization and for not clearly stating American support for the North American/European-based alliance. Cotton said the tact may not have been pitch-perfect, but the message was direct and necessary.
“The president had said during the campaign some things about NATO that I wouldn’t have said, but since he’s taken office, he has said that NATO’s essential to our security, that we support NATO,” said Cotton. “He simply asked all of NATO’s leaders, to include Chancellor Merkel above all, to contribute the money that they should for our common defense because Europe is not contributing the money that they’ve all committed.”
Cotton said NATO funding falls more than $100 billion short of needs every year.
“I think it’s an important part of leadership to go speak to friends and speak candidly and frankly to them and demand that they carry their share of the load as well,” he said. “During the Cold War, Europe and North America split the NATO costs about 50/50. We now spend about 70% of all of NATO’s defense spending, Europe spends 30%. John McCain and Barack Obama and other leaders in both parties have long called for this. I think Donald Trump is simply calling a spade a spade and saying to these leaders, ‘You need to do more to carry your share of the load.’ As Jim Mattis said earlier this year, ‘We can’t care more about your kids and their future than you care about your own kids and their future.’”
Watch Sen. Cotton’s full interview in the video below.