Steve Knight said he is convinced the Russians meddled in the 2016 election, and expressed support for the Robert Mueller investigation, but stopped short of calling it a witch hunt.
In a wide-ranging, 42-minute phone interview last week, Knight (R-Palmdale) discussed a wide variety of topics, including President Trump, the FBI, immigration, the election and local topics such as CEMEX and chloride.
Knight was careful to separate Russian meddling in the election with suspicions of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, saying he wants to let Mueller do his job and see what comes out.
“We’ve invested a lot of time,” he said. “It won’t come out before the (2018 midterm) election.”
As for Trump’s claims that Mueller is conducting a “witch hunt,” Knight said, “I don’t know.”
However, Knight said he has read the Steele dossier, a private intelligence report of 17 memos written from June-December 2016 by Christopher Steele, a former head of the Russia Desk for British intelligence. This collection of documents contains allegations of misconduct and conspiracy between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russia during the 2016 election cycle, with campaign members and Russian operatives allegedly colluding to interfere in the election to benefit Trump. It also alleged that Russia sought to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, including sharing negative information about Clinton with the Trump campaign.
“I buy a lot of it,” Knight said. “Too many things, I can put one, two and three together. I can connect too many dots.”
Knight spent much of the interview talking about Trump, who he says he has met only a couple of times and was invited to play golf at one of the President’s resorts. “It’s not something I plan on doing,” he said.
Asked to give Trump a letter grade for his first 516 days in office, Knight declined, saying he would give him “a passing grade. He’s still got some room (where) I can say get better yet.”
He elaborated a bit, saying the economy is good, unemployment is low and the tax plan, though initially unpopular, will benefit more people than not. He especially had kind words to say about Trump’s handling of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“Nine months ago, if you were to ask me, ‘Do you think we’re going to war?’ I would have said it’s a possibility,” Knight said. “Today, we’re talking about a peace treaty.”
Knight insists he doesn’t trust Kim at all, but he believes that Trump’s tough talking about comparing North Korea’s nuclear capabilities to the U.S.’s made Kim see the need to come to the table. “It’s going to be bad for his country, which I don’t think he cares about, and it’s going to be bad for his family,” Knight said.
However, Knight is not as complimentary toward Trump in the context of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump and Putin have met before, and Trump last week said he wants to meet with Putin in July, possibly in Vienna.
To this, Knight is a bit more cautious. He said he’s aware that any previous relationship Trump might have had with Putin doesn’t automatically indicate anything nefarious, since presidents Reagan and Clinton had relationships with other country’s leaders, too. The key, he said, is if the relationship keeps the U.S. out of war. Still, “When President Trump’s name comes up with Vladimir Putin, I do raise my eyebrows,” Knight said.
Knight said he has not read the inspector general’s report on the FBI, which found that former director James Comey had exercised poor judgment when he went public about his circumventing Justice Department leadership and spoke publicly about Hillary Clinton’s emails. It also criticized FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page for their anti-Trump comments in private messages, but concluded there was no political bias in the way the FBI conducted its business.
Knight called the FBI “a phenomenal law-enforcement agency,” but acknowledged Comey probably overstepped his bounds. Mostly, he just wants to stop hearing about it.
What he knows he’s not going to stop hearing about anytime soon is immigration. He introduced his own bill last week in an attempt to stop families from being separated, if the parents are charged with nothing more than illegally crossing the border. The bill, HR 6173, was referred to the judiciary and homeland security committees. But he also cast votes on two pieces of legislation: HR 4760 and HR 6136. Both dealt with immigration and DACA, but Knight preferred 6136, nicknamed the Compromise Bill, because he thought it did more to help Dreamers. It also allots more money for Trump’s border wall. Last week, he voted no on 4760. On Wednesday, he voted yes on 6136. Both went down to defeat
“We’re in Congress. We’re not looking for a perfect bill. We’re looking for something we can pass,” he said.
Knight responded to a Facebook post that quoted him in the Antelope Valley Press from 2008, “I have no problem telling a family: ‘Your child can stay … but you’re going to have to go,’” and contrasted that with his Facebook comment from June 19: “I absolutely oppose the practice of separating children from their parents at the border.”
Knight said the 2008 comment wasn’t about immigration, but about birth hospitals in which Chinese women were coming into the country, possibly legally, possibly not, to give birth, making their children U.S. citizens. He opposed that then and still does, calling it “selling citizenship.”
As for the election, Knight had nothing to say about Katie Hill, his opponent in the Nov. 6 general election. Nor does he think that just because he received almost 53 percent of the vote he is no longer considered vulnerable. He just wants to make sure he isn’t one of those incumbents who think their seat is safe and then lose.
“We don’t know any different. We run hard,” he said. “We keep our head down. We do our work. We have money and we’ll spend what we need to.”
Knight also took a few minutes to address some local issues. He said he talks to city leaders every seven to 10 days, mostly about CEMEX and traffic. He referenced the $47 million grant he secured to relieve traffic along Interstate 5, and he said he talks weekly to the Department of the Interior, Secretary Ryan Zinke or White House officials about when the department’s Board of Land Appeals will rule about CEMEX’s appeal over the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to cancel two contracts to mine in Santa Clarita. He said he now expects it by next month.
“We’ll reach out to the city about what our strategy is, if a poor decision comes out, or if a good decision comes out,” Knight said.
Knight said he has not approached the Environmental Protection Agency about getting the chloride levels in the Santa Clara River raised from their current 100 mg/l.