In a wide-ranging interview with Talk Business & Politics on Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., opened up on his Intelligence Committee work investigating Russian influence in the U.S. saying that a broader range of the investigation is now underway.
“We’re certainly not in the warm-ups anymore, but we may be in the second quarter,” Cotton said, when asked to compare the committee’s work to a football game.
“The most immediate thing that we wanted to focus upon was the report that the intelligence community made public in January about Russian efforts and their assessment to hack into the email of the Democratic National Committee and into the campaign chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. We’re pretty far along in that process. We’re reviewing documents, we’re making an assessment. As I’ve said publicly, I have no reason to doubt the intelligence community’s assessment. But now we’re opening our lens a little bit more broadly as we move forward to focus on all of Russia’s malign activities against the United States and our interests, especially in the integrity of our electoral process. But that predates last November; it’s been going on for a long time,” he said.
Cotton said the Intelligence committee’s oversight of Russian efforts to undermine American democracy have been ongoing since the start of his first Senate term in 2015. He added that despite the lack of full public disclosure, the committee’s work has been extensive.
“We’ve had numerous hearings to date. Obviously, that’s not happening in a public forum because this is some of the government’s most sensitive, classified information, but I can assure Arkansans that it is going very quickly and we’re going to follow the facts wherever they may lead us,” Cotton said.
Cotton also explained the rescheduling of his Northwest Arkansas town hall meeting planned for Wednesday. He will hold a town hall on Wednesday, Feb. 22 in Springdale at Springdale High School’s Pat Walker Performing Arts Center from 5-6:30 p.m.
The Senator and his office tell TB&P that the rescheduling was due to increased participation, now expected to be as high as 2,000 attendees. The arts center is expected to accommodate everyone expressing an interest in attending and seats are first come, first serve, although the school has some restrictions on when it will open the venue to the public. Cotton’s office said there is no preferential list for attendees, although a handful of seats have been reserved for local elected officials and the senator’s parents, who plan to attend. The senator’s office said it is planning more town halls across the state, but has yet to set a date for them.
Cotton, known for being strongly opinionated, said he values voters’ input, even if he may disagree with constituents.
“I learn a lot from all of my interaction with Arkansans. Whether it’s a town hall with 2,000 people or a single mom that came to Washington, D.C. when we were in session to lobby for more funding for critical disease research,” Cotton said. “I’m never going to have unanimity. If you get two-thirds of the people agreeing with you in office, that’s a pretty good position to be in as an official. But that still means that a million Arkansans will disagree with you.”
As for Wednesday night’s town hall in Springdale, Cotton says he expects to discuss several topics that are reflected in contacts to his office.
“I know people want to talk a lot about health care. They want to talk about jobs and the economy. They want to talk about national security and foreign policy. So I expect those will be three of the main topics on the agenda just judging from the volume of phone calls and letters and emails we get in the office,” he said.
Watch Cotton’s full interview in the video below, which also includes comments on a border tax proposal and the Affordable Care Act.
A portion of the interview will replay on Sunday’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, which airs Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on KATV Channel 7 in Central Arkansas; 10 a.m. on KAIT-NBC in Northeast Arkansas; and 10:30 a.m. on KFSM Channel 5 in Northwest Arkansas/Fort Smith.