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‘Russia Is Winning Right Now’

Rising East Bay congressman Eric Swalwell on investigating Trump, his own political ambitions, and the best doughnuts in town.  

This is "Think Tank," an occasional series of conversations with Bay Area power players, conducted by San Francisco editors. Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.   

Name: Eric Swalwell
Occupation: U.S. Representative, 15th District (D-Pleasanton)
Age: 36
Residence: Pleasanton

San Francisco: Four years ago, you were an unknown congressional newbie from the suburbs. Now you’re on cable news almost every day leading the investigation into Russian interference in the election. I know you’re no fan of the president, but is it possible Donald Trump has been good for your career?
Eric Swalwell: [Laughing] Maybe 10 or 15 years from now, I can step back and think about how all of this affected what I was doing. I overheard my wife the other day FaceTiming with her mom, saying, “It’s been so hard for him to be away as much as he is and to be involved in this investigation as much as he is,” and her mom said to her, “Honey, when you guys got pregnant, no one expected that your child would be born into a Donald Trump administration.”

The president has done a U-turn on Russia. Does that change the intelligence committee’s investigation?
It doesn’t. We’re charged with getting to the bottom of what happened in the last election. We were attacked. It was an electronic attack and meddling by Russia. We want to find out whether any U.S. persons were involved and then—most importantly—make reforms so that this never happens again.

Trump says that this is all Democratic Party sour grapes. Does this just increase cynicism in an already cynical electorate?
Russia is winning right now. Republicans and Democrats are losing when an attack like that happens, and then we continue to be divided.… I’m hoping we can put aside who benefited and who lost because of this attack and realize that whether it’s Russia coming at us again or other foreign adversaries that have similar capabilities, if we do nothing and remain divided, we will be even more vulnerable and exposed to an attack. But if we unite to say, “Never again will we tolerate outside meddling,” we can go into the next election season with a stronger democracy.

Generally, prosecutors are pretty tight-lipped about pending investigations. But you and fellow committee members have been anything but that.
You’re right, my nature and most of our natures would be to do this in as much secret as we can. But we see continued undermining by the president—his trying to discredit the intelligence community, trying to say that Russia did not meddle in our elections, trying to say that any evidence about people on his team that are connected to Russia is just politicized. So as he runs his own disinformation campaign, I think we feel a responsibility to the country to make sure that people understand that we were attacked.

So far, all the evidence of possible collusion is circumstantial, right?
So far, yeah, it’s circumstantial. But remember…DNA evidence, for example, is circumstantial. You know, I don’t know if we’ll ever find a video recording of collusion or a signed document with fingerprints and DNA on it of a U.S. person saying, “I’m going to go to work for Russia.” So that’s why this case is even more complicated. And I want people, at the end of the investigation, to have all the faith in the world that whether it’s circumstantial or direct evidence that’s put forward to them, that that evidence has been tested and is credible.

Some people might think that you have your eyes on higher office already. Any truth to that?
I have my eyes on making sure we go into 2020 in a much better position than we are in right now. I think that the country right now is anxious about economic stability. I think people are concerned about the threats posed abroad, and I think they’re looking to Congress to see who the leaders are who are going to step up in this angst and in this despair and try and lead us forward. I want to be in the team that does that.

If Senator Dianne Feinstein were to decide not to run in 2018, would you consider running for her seat?
I hope she runs. I think she’s a terrific senator. She’s been a mentor to me, especially on issues of intelligence.

But if she doesn’t, it is something you would consider?
Of course, yes, of course.

So when you’re in D.C., what do you miss the most about your district?
Johnny’s Donuts [in Dublin]. Two maple bars. I really should cut it down to one. I’ve been doing that every weekend for five years.


Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco

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