Rep. Mike Turner on “Face the Nation”, June 25, 2023

The following is a transcript of an interview with U.S. Representative Mike Turner, Republican of Ohio, which aired on “Face the Nation” on June 25, 2023.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio. He joins us from Dayton. Hello to you.


MARGARET BRENNAN: I understand that key congressional leaders, including yourself, have been repeatedly briefed in recent days by the administration regarding the risk posed by the Wagner Group. Last year, US intelligence had “extraordinary detail”, in the words of the US intelligence chief, about Putin’s plans to invade Ukraine. I wonder how you would describe the intelligence the United States had about this march on Moscow?

REPRESENTING. TURNER: Of course. Well, if the intelligence committee were very aware of that. The conflict between Prigozhin and Putin was inevitable, and even from public sources, which you have seen, Prigozhin, for months, has released videos criticizing the Putin-critical Russian government. Putin allowed that and as the secretary said, those videos themselves even included, criticizing Putin is the very premise of the war, that it wasn’t started by NATO, that he didn’t there were no Nazis in Ukraine. And then going into Moscow – going into Russia itself and taking their convoy to Moscow, it really shows the fundamental question of whether or not Putin is in control of his army. For any government to have stability, it must control its army, obviously Prigozhin, in order to keep that distance, must have accomplices, you know, where was the air force? Where was the Russian Air Force preventing this? This is going to be a problem that – that Putin is going to have to deal with both internationally and domestically, is that his government, as an authoritarian government, depends on his assertion of power, of strength, in order to be able to contain – to continue to wield power, and that’s definitely going to be a problem

MARGARET BRENNAN: Was Vladimir Putin himself aware of the potential of this uprising?

REPRESENTING. TURNER: Well, I can’t go into the details of our intelligence. But I can tell you this, those videos that he allowed Prigozhin to broadcast were public, they were broadcast all over the world. Putin was certainly aware of this because he allowed them, their content, where they not only criticized Putin and the Russian government, and called for the dismissal of the Minister of Defense. Ultimately, as you know, Prigozhin’s statement over the weekend was the impeachment of the president himself. So Vladimir Putin certainly had a lot of public notoriety that Prigozhin was – was a – was a critic and a threat to the government and ultimately carried out this military action in Russia itself.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But that begs the question whether this was a strategic move by Prigozhin or just some kind of bet and an opportunity he took, do we have any idea?

REPRESENTING. TURNER: You know, he’s military. Remember, it’s like a 12 hour trip from Ukraine to Moscow, and it arrived within two hours of Moscow. Now that he’s in the military, he understands the logistics and really the help he’s going to need to do that. It’s not a weekend that he does, taking his convoy – his military convoy to Moscow. There are a number of accomplices, including, as we have seen, some Russians on the border with Ukraine who clearly support the Wagner group, in contrast to their support for the Russian government. This is something that should have been planned for a considerable time to be executed the way it was,

MARGARET BRENNAN: There was a report last month that Prigozhin offered in January to help Ukraine attack the Russian military by sharing information about troop positions he had. Is it useful one way or another? What just happened to end the war in Ukraine, like where is Prigozhin’s interest?

REPRESENTING. TURNER: Right, so it really hurts Putin, and not just politically and in his leadership in Russia and his presidency, but in his efforts to continue the war in Ukraine. You know, I think obviously in the beginning there’s going to be a- an initial increase in Russian activity against Ukraine, but because he went- Putin himself went on a television national to respond to Prigozhin and Prigozhin said that your government had I lied to you, this is not a war that NATO started, there are no Nazis in Ukraine. Removing the very premise makes it much more difficult for Putin to continue to look to the Russian people and say that we should continue to send people to die in this war that Prigozhin himself told the Russian people about, the premise is a lie.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There were a lot of things that Secretary Blinken said he couldn’t answer during our interview. Is it because US intelligence doesn’t know or because it’s classified?

REPRESENTING. TURNER: Well, you know, I can’t answer either. But you can – you can certainly assume that we focused on Russia and Ukraine. And this is an area where Ukraine’s successes are partly due to the successes of the intelligence community. So we were very, very focused on that. I think as we – as we move forward, this is going to be even more critical – as we deal with the threats, both to Ukraine and to the United States, is it will happen to Putin and Russia next?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Chairman, please stay with us. We need to take a break. We’ll be back in a minute with the continuation of our conversation.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’re back with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner. I also want to talk a bit about China, sir. But let me clarify, how would you define the relationship between China and Vladimir Putin right now?

REPRESENTING. TURNER: That’s right. So President Xi must be very worried right now because as you know he went to Moscow, stood next to Putin and said, you know, we are together – he and Vladimir Putin are making a change which did not happen. for 100 years. And of course, it is the march of authoritarianism against democracy that we won in World War II and that they are rising up against now. But now he’s standing next to a guy who can’t even control his own army. Remember, Putin, in his national address, said these individuals would face inevitable punishment. And then in the end, Prigozhin takes a vacation in Belarus and his troops will now sign contracts, it looks more like paperwork than a KGB agent, inflicting inevitable punishment. Xi, seeing this with Putin, must understand that – that Putin’s stature in the world has diminished – that it diminishes President Xi, and certainly Putin seems weakened, certainly not being able to control his – his army and being a powerful nuclear power player, President Xi must worry about the stability of Russia itself.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll watch that. You know, last Friday, the- last Friday, sorry, I’m back from Beijing and my schedule is screwed up here. But the Director of National Intelligence released this declassified summary of findings regarding links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of the COVID pandemic. He says that several researchers at this institute were sick in 2019, with symptoms consistent with, but not diagnosed with COVID? Why is it still so inconclusive?

REPRESENTING. TURNER: Well, and that’s the problem, really what the Director of National Intelligence, Director Haines, did. We passed a law saying to declassify the information you have about COVID and the activities of the Wuhan lab. What they did was they went and did an article on what they think of the information they looked at. I’ll give an example of that, we asked to open the curtain and release the intel, and they went behind the curtain, read this stuff and came out and said, “Well, that’s what we think about it.” It’s not enough and it’s certainly going to be set up between a battle between Congress and the Director of National Intelligence to ensure that the law that was passed unanimously by both the Senate and the Chamber and signed by the President is complied with, but also the American public gets the answers it deserves.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So there was a classified appendix to this, although it wasn’t published, I assume you’ve read it? Is it–

REPRESENTING. TURNER: No, actually, we just got this late, late Friday, so I didn’t have access to it in a classified setting, but even publishing a classified appendix is ​​against what the law says. The law says declassify, not give us more classified information. I mean, my committee has already seen a significant amount of this information, giving my committee more information doesn’t give it to the American public, and that’s what the declassification law was about.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The- the report says that, you know, it details that two agencies say it was a lab accident, the CIA can’t determine that, the National Intelligence Council and four other agencies say most likely caused by a natural exposure. Do you believe that there really is a definitive conclusion that the government does not publish?

REPRESENTING. TURNER: So I saw, for example, the classified appendix to the report that President Biden requested from the intelligence community. What you have just read are other findings from the intelligence community. In the report that was given to the president, the 90 day or so report, they have – they have information in this report that contradicts, I believe, the impressions that are given in these statements by the intelligence committee. We want the information to be published, not their opinion of the information. If we had wanted their opinion, we would have asked for it. We passed a law saying, declassify it, it’s the law of the land. Release this to the American public and see it – experts in the community, in addition to the intelligence community, need to take a look at this and help us understand what really happened that led to the deaths of millions of people.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman, thank you for your time today. We will be back.

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