Ex-CIA Officer, Texas Rep. Will Hurd, On Russia's 'Greatest Covert Action Campaign'

19 hours ago
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've been broadcasting all weekend from the Texas Standard studios at member station KUT in Austin, Texas, where we're experiencing South by Southwest. It's the 30th anniversary of this massive festival and conference that explores music, film and technology. We figured we'd come because frankly, you get a different perspective when you travel, and because some of the people and ideas that will transform the future are here.

Now, to that end, we'll start today with Congressman Will Hurd, a Republican who represents the 23rd congressional district. It runs from El Paso to San Antonio. We called him for a Texas perspective on a number of the important national stories that have been percolating while we've been here. And he recently had a transformative experience himself while traveling. I began our conversation by asking him about President Trump's budget proposal, which includes billions of dollars to build a wall between Texas and Mexico. Congressman Hurd opposes that.

WILL HURD: I always talk about with a president's budget is a statement of priorities, but it's Congress that funds the government. And so I think almost all Republicans have said the government is going to look a little bit differently than what the president has asked for. But when it comes to border security, there's already physical barriers along the border. I have 820 miles of the international boundary between Texas and Mexico. The Santa Elena Canyon and Big Bend National Park, you have a 6,000-foot cliff on the Mexico side. You have the Rio Grande or the Rio Bravo, as they call it in Mexico. And then you have another 6,000-foot cliff on the U.S. side. That's already a physical barrier.

We should be spending some of this money on increasing folks within border patrol. And that's one thing that the president is trying to do. We should be using some of that money to help improve intelligence collection in Mexico and Central America on drug trafficking organizations and human kingpin smugglers.

You know, I've spent nine and a half years as an undercover officer in the CIA. Meanwhile, I was in India two years, Pakistan two years, New York two years, Afghanistan a year and a half. I chased al-Qaida all over the world. You know, intelligence is important, and we can stop this problem before it gets to our border. And it's cheaper to do it than building a 30-foot concrete barrier.

MARTIN: I'm glad you mentioned your intelligence background because I want to talk about that next. But just one more question on the whole border question. Do you have any evidence that your colleagues are listening to you?

HURD: I do. I've brought members of Congress down to the border and I've taken them into Juarez. And I represent from San Antonio to El Paso. El Paso is one of the safest cities of its size in the country. Juarez is not the murder capital of the world the way it was in 2008 and 2009. And they've seen and they've changed their opinion. They've actually gone back and written op eds talking about how building a wall is probably not the most reasonable way.

MARTIN: Now, I want to draw on your intelligence background. You sit on the House Intelligence Committee. The president still hasn't offered any evidence that the Obama administration wiretapped Mr. Trump's Manhattan office. Your committee has also said that they've found no evidence. What should happen now?

HURD: Well, what should happen now is folks across the country should be happy that the government is working. You have Republican leaders in the House and the Senate that deal with intelligence that disagree with the president. And the reality is there is no evidence that suggests any truth to these claims. And the folks in Congress are doing our job and calling balls and strikes.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the hearings. On Monday, the committee will be holding the first public congressional hearings on Russian interference in the U.S. elections. Now, a number of people, including Evan McMullin - he's a one-time candidate for president and, like you, a former CIA officer - he's criticized these hearings being held, saying that this should go to a bipartisan special committee. His argument is that this makes it easier to limit and control the investigations. And this is a way, he says, that this could be used to minimize the political damage toward a Republican president, potentially, rather than allow the chips to fall where they may. And I'd like to ask how you respond to that.

HURD: Well, I disagree with Evan on that. First off, the fact that this hearing is being done publicly, which is rare for the House Intelligence Committee, is a sign of commitment to an open investigation. And we're going to be able to hear the responses from the director of the FBI and the director of the NSA. And this is going to go down in Russian history as the greatest covert action campaign not because of who won the election. That was won fair and square. It's going to go down as the greatest covert action because it created a wedge, whether real or perceived, between the White House, the intelligence community and the American people.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, we understand that you took a road trip with your Democratic colleague, Representative Beto O'Rourke, when the weather forced the cancelation of, you know, thousands of flights. And the two of you decided to drive from your districts in Texas to Washington, D.C. And some legislation came out of it. So do you want to just tell us about it?

HURD: Sure. It was a 36-hour trip that - we were in the car for 31 hours. About 29 hours were live streams. And we talked about every single issue. And one of the things that we tried to show is that you can disagree without being disagreeable. And I learned about a bill that Beto was working on which would let family members of U.S. citizens who are barred from ever re-entering the United States on a technical issue to go before a federal judge to decide if they can return. And I signed on as a co-sponsor on Friday. And so that was, you know, a tangible example of spending time together, coming to agreement on important issues.

MARTIN: Thirty-one hours in the car together. I would bet you're either really good friends right now or you're probably not going to speak for a couple weeks (laughter). So which is it (laughter)?

HURD: Well, I was going through separation anxiety. And after it was over it was - you know, it was weird not knowing where he was.

MARTIN: Well, thanks so much for talking with us.

HURD: Well, Michel, thanks for having me on. I look forward to doing this again.

MARTIN: Yeah, it wasn't 31 hours, but thanks so much for giving us some time.

HURD: (Laughter) Well, if you need me to fly down there and drive you back from Austin, let me know.

MARTIN: Don't tempt me. That's Congressman Will Hurd. He is a Republican who represents the 23rd congressional district in Texas. But we caught up with him in his office in Washington, D.C. Congressman, thanks so much for speaking with us.

HURD: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.