U.S. Sen. Jim Risch spoke staunchly in support of President Donald Trump as Trump endures criticism over reportedly disclosing highly classified information to Russian officials during a White House meeting May 10.
In interviews on several national TV news networks Tuesday, the Idaho Republican called the disclosure “a good act” and called for punishing the unnamed sources who told reporters the details of the meeting. Those sources told the Washington Post the disclosure put a critical source of information on the Islamic State in jeopardy.
Risch sits on both the foreign relations and intelligence committees in the Senate. In interviews with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, PBS’s John Yang and Fox News’ Martha MacCallum, he repeated the stance that, as president, Trump has both the legal authority and moral obligation to declassify information “in the best interest of the American people.”
“What difference does it make if he did it knowingly or unknowingly? It was a fact that he wanted to discuss with the Russians that would improve airline safety ... He has the legal right and the obligation to do that,” Risch told Blitzer.
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Blitzer conceded that Trump’s actions were legal but questioned whether the disclosure was “the right thing to do.” Risch met that query with an emphatic “yes.”
And, Risch argued former President Barack Obama did the same thing last year by telling Russian officials the U.S. had reason to suspect Russia was interfering in U.S. elections.
Still, Risch told newscasters that he didn’t find the situation entirely blameless.
“You got to remember, it was not the president of the U.S. that caused this. It was some traitor that’s in the chain of command below the president that actually disclosed this,” Risch told CNN, referring to those unnamed sources.
He went on to call such a source a “weasel” and called for punitive action.
“This is a person who is a traitor. They betrayed their own country, they betrayed their families and their neighbors. And when you disclose ... classified conversations that you have access to, it is an act of treason,” Risch told PBS’ Yang.
On Fox News, he told MacCallum that the leaker is “unAmerican” and repeated claims that the media’s handling of the situation is partially to blame.
“It’s part of this anti-Trump fervor that the national media has to try to make him look bad every time he turns around. This was a good act that he did, not a bad act that he did,” Risch told Yang.
Risch said on PBS NewsHour that he had no knowledge of a memo by former FBI director James Comey that claims Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation against former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
On Fox’s program, Risch demurred on the possibility of assigning a special prosecutor to investigate ties between the Trump administration and Russia and any possible resulting influence Russia had on the 2016 election.
“You’ve got to have a crime first,” he told MacCallum.
Wednesday afternoon, the Justice Department appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee that investigation.
Support for Risch’s comments was hard to find on social media. Idaho Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, on Facebook called it “a dark day for Idaho.” Others tweeted criticisms of the senator, claiming his support of Trump’s comments was part of plans to further advance his own political career.