Republican congressman: 'I cannot' rule out a Trump criminal conspiracy

Republican U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance hasn’t been afraid to spotlight where he and President Trump differ, which is not surprising considering Hillary Clinton won his northern New Jersey district by a slim margin during the 2016 election. Not only has Lance been a vocal opponent of Trump’s budget proposal, he voted against the House’s health care plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

But on Friday night, during an appearance on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes, Lance had a remarkable exchange where he said he couldn’t rule out the idea that the Trump campaign, and possibly the president himself, colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

“Can you definitively say… can you look into my eyes, the camera, your constituents and say ‘I am 100 percent sure the president and his campaign did not engage in a criminal conspiracy with a foreign intelligence apparatus?’” Hayes asked the 5-term congressman

“No, I cannot,” Lance replied. “And that’s why I want to get to the bottom of it.”

“Think about how remarkable that is,” a somewhat stunned Hayes said before noting that the Republican could not say the president of the United States and a member of his own political party, definitely did not coordination his election efforts with a foreign intelligence apparatus.

Lance noted that the president has said he didn’t know about the meeting, leading an incredulous Hayes shot back, “But you can’t be sure that’s true.”

“I try to take people at their word, but certainly we should get to the bottom of it,” Lance said.

There is some question about when President Trump first knew about the meeting. A new filing with the Federal Election Commission shows that Trump’s reelection campaign paid $50,000 to the attorneys representing Donald Trump Jr. two weeks before the release of emails detailing a meeting between top members of Trump’s campaign and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who offered dirt on Hillary Clinton and reportedly presented documents detailing what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats.

Also in attendance at the meeting were Trump’s then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Rinat Akhmetshin, a former K.G.B. counterintelligence unit agent and Soviet army veteran who is now an American lobbyist.

“Do you take the president of the United States at his word when he says he did not know about that meeting?” Hayes asked.

“I hope he’s being accurate and truthful, Lance responded. “Certainly Donald Trump Jr. will be asked about that when he comes before the Congress in an open committee meeting.”

Trump Jr. has been invited to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committie, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) told reporters last week he would be willing to subpoena the president’s son if necessary.

Lance’s district includes Trump National Golf Club, where the president is spending the weekend at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“Are you going to get any face time with the president?” Hayes asked.

With a chuckle, a smiling Lance responded, “I don’t think so, Chris.”

Watch the full interview: