Read a Transcript of Paul Ryan’s Press Conference on Jeff Sessions

13 minute read

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should only recuse himself from investigations into Russia if “he himself” is the subject of the investigation.

Speaking at a brief press conference on Capitol Hill, the Wisconsin Republican said he “hadn’t read” the transcripts of what Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing about whether he met with Russia and could not speak to whether it was accurate.

“Should he recuse himself?” he said. “I think he answered that question this morning, which is if he himself is the subject of an investigation, of course he would. But if he’s not, I don’t see any purpose or reason to doing this.”

Read a complete transcript of Ryan’s remarks.

RYAN: Good morning, everybody.

We are very pleased with the progress that we are making on the agenda for the country. President Trump has already signed a number of important pieces of legislation. This week he signed two bipartisan initiatives to expand opportunities for women in science. This includes Barbara Comstock’s bill to encourage young women to pursue careers in the STEM fields.

RYAN: Also, the president’s already signed three bills into law that block harmful regulations.

This includes protecting coal country from rules that would have wiped out thousands of good-paying family-supporting jobs. This is the first time since 2001 that Congress has reversed harmful regulations under the Congressional Review Act.

And the House has already passed another 10 of these bills. So more relief is on its way.

We’re also making progress on our work to repeal and replace Obamacare. Working very closely with the Trump administration, we will soon introduce legislation to have lower costs, increased choices, and give people more control over their health care. We are united and we are determined to rescue people from this collapsing health care law and to keep our promise to the American people.

Lastly, I want to take a moment to echo the president’s strong condemnation of the recent anti-Semitic incidents that have been taking place across the country. Across this country, we’ve been seeing vandalism, acts of desecration and bomb threats. In Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, right outside the district I serve, a community right in north side of Milwaukee, there have been two threats on the Jewish community center there — a community center I’ve been to — one as recently as February 20th.

To think about parents getting those calls in the middle of the day makes your stomach turn. This is wrong. These threats and these attacks on Jewish Americans are vile and disgusting. They are rooted in a poisonous ideology of hate and they must be wholeheartedly rejected.

So on behalf of every Republican and every Democrat in Congress, on behalf of the whole House, I want our friends in the Jewish community to know that we stand with them. We stand with you. We may stand — we’ve got to stand to help root out this evil wherever it may surface. These are disgusting acts of violence and vandalism and of bigotry, and they must be rejected.


QUESTION: Did the attorney general mislead the committee regarding his contacts with the Russians? And should he recuse himself?

RYAN: Well, OK, two questions.

First, I would just refer you to the Senate Judiciary Committee. I’d check the transcript on all of that. So I can’t speak to what the Judiciary Committee transcript is. Frankly, I haven’t read that.

Should he recuse himself? I think he answered that question this morning, which is if he himself is the subject of an investigation, of course he would. But if he’s not, I don’t see any purpose or reason to doing this.

Let’s take a step back for a second here. Number one, we know that Russia tried to meddle in the election. Why do we know this? Because we in Congress and the intelligence community did an investigation after the election which discovered Russia was trying to meddle in the election. This is something we all well know.

Here’s another thing. We have seen no evidence from any of these ongoing investigations that anybody in the Trump campaign or the Trump team was involved in any of this. We’ve been presented with no evidence that an American was colluding with the Russians to meddle in the election.

This is something we also know. We’re still doing investigations. You’ve got to remember in the House and the Senate, the Intelligence Committees have been investigating this. The intelligence community itself, not the committees, but the community did an investigation after the election and it gave us the results of that investigation before the inauguration.

The House Intelligence Committee just finished coming up with its oversight plan to continue investigations. We will always make sure that we are making — that we are protecting our sources and methods and getting to the bottom of any of these things. But we have seen no evidence — been presented with no evidence that anybody on the Trump campaign on an American was involved in colluding with the Russians.

QUESTION: (inaudible) what about the idea, though, that the Obama administration had tried to preserve some of this information that was coming out about Russian (inaudible) they believed that this influenced the election (inaudible). And secondarily, (inaudible) that that was either, A, an effort to keep the story alive (inaudible) outcome of the election; or B, you know, (inaudible) contributes to what we’re seeing now as these inquiries begin?

RYAN: Yeah, I think — I think part of what is happening — I think Democrats are lighting their hair on fire to get you to cover this story that kind of keeps repeating the same story. I think they’re trying to get this coverage going. There’s nothing new that we have seen here.

This is stuff we’ve been going over and by the way, we’re going to make sure that we leave no stone unturned and that is why our intelligence committees are conducting the investigations and that’s where they should be conducted. Because you had to protect your sources and methods of intelligence gathering which is why we have intelligence communities in the first place.

QUESTION: Just to follow up briefly, is that what you think that they were doing? The Democrats?

RYAN: I can’t speak to what — I’m not going to speak to the motives of the I.C., the intelligence community before this. I can’t speak to their motives, but all I can tell you is you know this as well, they did an investigation, intelligence community-wide. Many of us went down and got the briefings from Clapper and Brennan after the election, before the inauguration and never have we ever seen any evidence presented to us that an American or a person on the Trump campaign was involved or working with the Russians.


QUESTION: The Defense Appropriations Bill was filed today. Do you plan — does that — will that get to the president by itself or will it be with other measures and will it be the vehicle for fiscal ’17…

RYAN: I would — I’d have to defer to the Senate on that one. We’re passing that bill off the floor here in the House. Whether or not they can take it up or they’re going to do something with it, merge it with something else, it’s more of a Senate question.

For Senator McConnell, his problem is calendar. It takes a lot longer to do things over there than it does us. So he’s got to manage his calendar. So whether or not that goes separately or is added is something that you’re going to have to ask the Senate.

QUESTION: But what about for different principals (ph) in the House? Are you going to…

RYAN: Yeah, we — we’re moving it so — you already know, we’re moving our bill — are we going to have 11 bills moving? No. For F.Y. ’17, we don’t have the time for that as well so we’re going with defense first. We think defense is important.

The reason we think we need to move defense as quickly as possible is it’s — continuing resolution is uniquely bad for the military because a continuing resolution for the military, they have to buy exactly what they bought last year, this year. That’s not how the military operates. Whether it’s munitions, whether it’s supplies, they need to have the flexibility through an appropriations bill that you don’t have in a continuing resolution to be able to customize what they need. Whether it’s supplies, munitions, bullets, missiles, you name it.

Now let me go to somebody in the back, yeah?

QUESTION: Thanks, Mr. Speaker. (OFF-MIKE) two questions. One on the attorney general; I want to make sure I understand your position. You’re saying there’s nothing new here and I understand you’re deferring us to the committee transcript, but we now know that he did meet with the Russian ambassador and in addition he at least implied, and some believe he stated, that he had not spoken with the Russians.

So you think there’s no questions to be asked there?

RYAN: Sure, but ask him questions. But honestly, we meet with ambassadors all the time. I mean, I did a reception about 100 yards that way with like 100 ambassadors last year. I don’t even remember which — all the ones I met with and took pictures with. It’s really common for members of Congress to meet with ambassadors.

I met with the Indian ambassador yesterday. So, that kind of thing happens all the time. As to the rest of it, I would just defer you to Jeff Sessions and the Senate Judiciary Committee.


QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On the issue of immigration, there have been reports of immigrants who are in the country illegally, but who are otherwise long-term residents who have been living law-abiding…

RYAN: You mean not — don’t have criminal backgrounds. Right.

QUESTION: Being caught up in the raids. Notably, there was I think yesterday a young DREAMer down in (inaudible) arrested and detained right after a press conference where she was speaking with clergy and others about her concerns about immigration.

QUESTION: Is there any role for Congress to step in and take a second look at…

RYAN: Sure.

QUESTION: … this executive action (ph)?

RYAN: No, no, I think there’s always a role for Congress under every instance in every administration to conduct oversight of the executive branch and how they perform in all these cases.

I can tell you this. The priority of the Trump administration, and we’ve spoken with this — I spoke with Secretary Kelly a couple of days ago about this — is to secure the border and deport criminal aliens; people who have — not just here illegally, but people who are here illegally who have — who have — are violent criminals. That’s the goal.

Now, you saw this kind of thing happening in the Obama administration as well. Sometimes they — they — people slip through the cracks. But the priority and the goal is to not go out there and deport DREAMers. The priority and the goal is to secure the border and deport people who are violent criminals who are making our communities less safe.


QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, if there really is something there (inaudible) on the whole Russia issue, why not just allow a special prosecutor to investigate…


RYAN: First of all, we don’t have that law. Second of all…

QUESTION: But you could pass a law…


RYAN: My own view is you have to protect the sources and the methods of our intelligence-gathering capabilities, especially with adversaries like Russia. And that is why the committee of jurisdiction, which is supposed to protect those methodologies, should be the Intelligence Committee. The Intelligence Committee, just so you know, they’ve been doing an investigation for some time now. They just recently added more scope to that investigation on a bipartisan basis.

So you have Adam Schiff, the ranking member, Devin Nunes, the chairman, agreed to the scope of an investigation going forward. That is exactly where, from the Congress standpoint, that investigation should occur. Because remember at the end of the day, we have to protect our intelligence assets. We do not want to compromise our sources and our methods of getting intelligence from any adversary, let alone Russia.

QUESTION: So you’ll oppose a special prosecutor?

RYAN: We don’t even have the law.

QUESTION: (inaudible) legislation (inaudible).


QUESTION: (inaudible) one aspect of (inaudible).

RYAN: Who are you?

QUESTION: (inaudible)

RYAN: From where?

QUESTION: (inaudible)


QUESTION: (inaudible) House Intelligence Committee investigation is to investigate the leaks themselves. (inaudible) some of my colleagues will be concerned that that will cross the line (inaudible) among journalists. So can you talk about how (inaudible)?

RYAN: Sure. Leaking classified information is a crime. And if we have evidence that somebody in the executive branch is committing a crime, we should prosecute that person.

STAFF: Last question.

RYAN: Yes?

QUESTION: (inaudible) Republicans (inaudible)? And I was wondering what (inaudible)?

RYAN: Let me give you a quick refresher of history. We have been running on repealing and replacing Obamacare since 2010. In 2016, the House in a bottom-up way, set a working group together, the Commerce Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, the Education and Workforce Committee, and then any other member of Congress who cares about this issue, participated in a working group to come up with a plan for what we will replace Obamacare with.

Much of it was modeled off the Tom Price legislation, which — which we conservatives have always seen as sort of the gold standard for replacing Obamacare. He’s now the secretary of HHS. That is the bill — the plan that we ran on in 2016. We told America here’s our vision for how we replace Obamacare after we repeal Obamacare.

RYAN: That’s the bill we’re working on right now. That’s the bill we’re working on with the Trump administration. We’re all working off the same piece of paper, the same plan. So we are in sync — the House, the Senate and the Trump administration — because this law is collapsing.

And you can’t just repeal it, you have to repeal it and replace it with a system that actually works. And that is exactly what we are doing. And I am perfectly confident that when it’s all set and done, we’re going to unify, because we all, every Republican, ran on repealing and replacing and we’re going to keep our promises.

Thank you.

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