Chafee: Probe into Russian interference a ‘non-issue’

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Former Democratic presidential candidate and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee said he doesn’t believe Russia interfered in the U.S. election and calls the Russia investigation a “headscratcher” and “non-issue.”

Chafee has given a series of recent interviews questioning the merit of the investigation. In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Chafee dismissed testimony given before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week by former FBI Director James Comey, who said the entire intelligence community has a high level of confidence about Russian election interference.

“As you read his comments, all I could think of is the Iraq war, the solemn intonations of high officials telling us how dangerous Saddam Hussein was,” Chafee responded, after the AP asked him about Comey’s testimony. “Close your eyes, you can just imagine (then-CIA Director) George Tenet or (then-Secretary of State) Colin Powell, and lying through their teeth.”

Chafee, a former Republican senator, said he has admired Comey through his career, but, “How serious and how much effect Russia had on any voter, I can’t understand.”

Chafee said he doesn’t know whether the Russians tried to interfere with the election, but doesn’t believe any voters changed who they supported if they did.

“Is anybody in Detroit or in Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, Ohio or Rhode Island going to stand up and say, ‘Because of the Russians, I voted for Trump, or because of the Russians I voted for Hillary,'” he said.

Chafee said he would be open-minded about new evidence if it comes out, but dismissed the purported Russia connection to hacks of the Democratic National Committee, which U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts have publicly tied to Russian intelligence services. Stolen emails were later released on WikiLeaks.

“Wikileaks has occurred without Russians in the past,” Chafee said. “I take everything the intelligence community says with a grain of salt. You have to, as an American. It’s fresh. A fresh debacle. A fresh intelligence debacle.”

Asked whether he believes Russia’s attempt to influence the election is a valid subject for investigation, Chafee returned to Iraq.

“Not to the extent that it’s just all-consuming. Every day in the paper. Every member of congress is being asked about it. Daily. Hourly. Just compare it to what didn’t happen on Iraq. Where was George Tenet being dragged before the congressional committees?” he asked.

He said he disagrees with President Donald Trump on most things, but called the focus on Russia “a mainstream media attack” on Trump.

Chafee has said he is contemplating another run for governor, and said he’s open to switching back from a Democrat to an independent. He was elected to a single term as governor as an independent in 2010.