Rep. Chris Stewart says he still supports Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election, but hopes he’ll remain focused on the inquiry’s original purpose.
Stewart and the state’s other House representatives are back in Utah campaigning during Congress’ August recess. The Utah Republican fielded questions at different appearances this week about Russia, election security and President Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Tuesday, Stewart told KUER he he still supports Mueller, but has concerns that the investigation could drag out.
“I hope he does a great job. I think that he will,” said Stewart. “I do hope he does it as quickly as possible for the reasons I just said, and that is we want to get the information and give it to the American people.”
Stewart sits on the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee, which last spring wrapped up its own investigation into election interference over loud objections from Democrats on the committee who said their work was not yet complete. Stewart said they did so in order to issue recommendations about how to prevent future election tampering.
To date, no U.S. citizen has been indicted for collusion, Stewart noted, adding that the only charges stem from shady financial dealings. Mueller is also investigating whether there were any ties between members of the Trump campaign and Kremlin.
Stewart has also contradicted top intelligence officials’ assessment that Russia interfered with U.S. elections in order to help President Trump win. Instead, Stewart insists foreign interference was focused on undermining electoral confidence in general.
“They didn’t penetrate any voting machines. We have no evidence at all — zero — that any votes were actually changed or manipulated, but the American public opinion was,” he said. “And that’s a much harder thing to guard against and a much harder thing to identify.”
According to homeland security officials, Russian hackers tried to breach election systems in at least 21 states, including neighboring Colorado and Arizona.
Stewart, who’s seeking a third term, faces Democrat Shireen Ghorbani in November. Ghorbani said Stewart’s comments are misinformed.
“I’m unsure why Rep. Stewart continues to say that Russia didn’t have a desired outcome in the election when there are many things that point to the fact that they did, including Putin’s own words,” she said.
Before Congress recessed, Stewart joined Republicans in blocking a Democratic measure on July 19 that would’ve provided more money for election cyberdefense. Republicans accused Democrats of grandstanding and said states’ security needs had already been fully funded.
“I think it’s disconcerting that we don’t have a clear strategy, a single agency, or a single person in charge to ensure the security and strength of our elections,” said Ghorbani. “And I do think that makes our president, and frankly our representatives at this point, look weak on that issue.”
At a forum on Thursday of this week, Stewart stuck up for President Trump, who he said is being tough on Russia despite his cozy appearance alongside President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Helsinki, Finland last month.
Stewart said he doesn’t believe Trump or his frequent outbursts on Twitter against the Russia investigation would hurt Republicans running for re-election this year in Utah.
“There is a little bit of a water-and-vinegar mixture going on here between Mr. Trump — a brash, New York kind of guy — and Utah, which has a bit of a softer demeanor,” said Stewart. “Overall, in the very big picture, [Trump] helps Republicans.”
Judy Fahys contributed to this report.