VOL. 132 | NO. 97 | Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Kustoff Talks Comey Missteps, Health Care
By Bill Dries
The FBI investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign will continue without fired FBI director James Comey, says U.S. Rep. David Kustoff.
“The FBI is going to continue to investigate whether James Comey is the director or not,” the Germantown Republican said on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.”
“There are enough career-minded men and women at the FBI. They just want to do their job,” Kustoff said, noting separate House and Senate investigations. “Let them run their course. Let them trade information if they feel it’s appropriate. But I’ve got confidence in the FBI that they can conduct the investigation.”
Kustoff, a former U.S. attorney, says Comey had several missteps going back to the 2016 presidential campaign when he announced a renewed FBI investigation into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server and its contents.
“As a former U.S. attorney … I know the Department of Justice is not supposed to interject itself into an election during an election. And clearly in July we were in the heat of the election,” he said. “That decision was not his decision to make. There were still people in the (Justice) department who could have made the decision.”
Comey’s firing last week by President Donald Trump is another part of the nation’s partisan divide but the positions in this specific controversy have shifted.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis called on Comey to resign in October over his handling of the Clinton emails.
Cohen, a Democrat, said then that Comey’s announcement was “plainly premature, careless and unprecedented in its potential impact upon a presidential election.”
“It was clearly foreseeable that his statement would be seized on by the Trump campaign and embellished, exaggerated and distorted to have an effect on the election, and in fact, that occurred,” Cohen said in a written statement last November.
Cohen later retracted his call for Comey’s resignation as the email investigation yielded to questions about Russian influence. As Comey investigated the ties of Trump and his campaign to Russia, Cohen said he believed Comey would “do the right thing.”
“I also believed President Trump wouldn’t fire him unless he felt that Director Comey threatened his presidency,” Cohen said in a written statement last week. “I call on (House) Speaker Paul Ryan to immediately appoint a bipartisan, non-classified, public and transparent commission to investigate the Trump-Russia relationship. Our democracy is in danger.”
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said the new FBI director must be “a person of unquestioned integrity who can lead the FBI and can continue investigating Russian involvement in our elections.”
“It would have been easier to explain if the president had fired the FBI Director earlier when Senator (Charles) Schumer and other Democrats said they’d lost confidence in Mr. Comey,” Alexander added, referring to Democratic criticism of Comey.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said the timing of Comey’s removal “will raise questions.”
“It is essential that ongoing investigations are fulsome and free of political interference until their completion,” Corker added in calling for a “well respected and qualified individual” to be appointed to lead the FBI.
“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.
Kustoff is a former Shelby County Republican Party chairman who headed George W. Bush’s Tennessee campaign in the 2000 presidential race. Bush took Tennessee, the home state of Democratic nominee and Vice President Al Gore, signaling a political shift in the state.
Kustoff said the conservative shift in much of the state accelerated in the 2008 battle for the Democratic presidential nomination between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
“And after Barack Obama won, you saw a lot of counties in Tennessee that had been traditionally Democrat that started splitting because the Democratic Party started moving so far to the left,” he said.
Eight years later as a candidate in a 15-county congressional district dominated by rural counties, Kustoff says he saw evidence that the conservative shift was still in place along with a desire to disrupt what seemed like a Clinton landslide to some.
“The media and the pollsters I think had everybody convinced that there was no way Donald Trump could win and effectively there was no way that Hillary Clinton could lose,” Kustoff said. “People were tired of the same old same old. They wanted something different. Donald Trump is truly something different. He is not politically correct. He doesn’t weigh things or measure words. He says what he says.”
Kustoff was part of a field of 13 candidates in the Republican primary field in the 8th Congressional District – all said during the campaign that they backed and supported Trump’s campaign.
For Kustoff that includes his vote this month with the majority in favor of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, to be replaced with the Republican House plan, the American Health Care Act.
“I thought when I came in that we had to replace a system that is failing and may fail within the next two to three years. I understand it’s not perfect,” Kustoff said of the House alternative. “We’ll have to see what that looks like once it comes out of the Senate later this year.”
Alexander, who is the Senate Health Committee chairman, said last week the Senate version probably won’t be built around the House version but will instead by a separate proposal that was already being crafted before the House bill was approved.
Corker said the day of the House passage that it has “zero” chance of passing that way in the Senate.
Critics of the House bill say it does not automatically cover pre-existing conditions that the ACA covered.
“If the preexisting conditions were not included in this bill – if there weren’t protection for people with preexisting conditions, I don’t know that I would have voted for it,” Kustoff said. “I feel strongly about it. We all know that once you get to an age you are going to have some kind of preexisting condition.” But he acknowledged states can opt out of pre-existing conditions.
“If the state decides they want to opt out of the preexisting conditions there is a federal back up,” Kustoff said. “I can’t see Bill Haslam as governor asking the state for a waiver to exclude pre-existing condition. I can’t foresee any state doing that.”