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By Alex Ross 

Tester wants look at Russia


February 16, 2017

Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said Wednesday that he wants a non partisan blue ribbon committee established to investigate possible Russian influence on members of the Trump administration.

“If it’s nothing, that is a good thing, if it is something, people need to know about it, it is critical,” Tester, a member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs said in a telephone press conference.

Tester’s call for such a commission came after National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation Monday, after Flynn was found to have misled Vice President Mike Pence about the discussions he had with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislayk in December before Trump’s inaguration.

“If Flynn was doing things behind closed doors with Russian leaders and cutting deals, that is a big problem, a big problem,” Tester said.

Tester said any investigation should be transparent.

“Look, if Trump wants to make a relationship with Russia, we got to get the facts and get this behind us,” Tester said.

Though President Donald Trump has dismissed allegations that his administration and campaign had improper contact with Russia, Tester said Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker, R-Tenn, agrees that the Senate needs to look into the matter.

If a select committee cannot be formed, Tester said, the Senate Intelligence Committee should conduct their own investigation, but do so in a way that is transparent.

“You are innocent until proven guilty, but we have to find out what happened so we can get to the facts,” Tester said.

Trans Pacific Partnership

Agriculture producers have been “very, very concerned” with some of Trump’s actions and rhetoric about trade, including withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Tester said.

Trump withdrew the U.S. from TPP, a major trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 pacific rim nations, soon after his inauguration.

A slew of bipartisan critics of the agreement including Trump has long argued that  the TPP puts the U.S. at a disadvantage.

Tester has been critical of trade deals in the past because of currency manipulation and provisions in deals such as TPP that do not allow for country-of-origin-labeling. Tester said, however, that the deal opens up new markets for agriculture producers, and he wishes Trump had modified the TPP.

Trump has said the U.S. should avoid large multilateral trade agreements in favor of smaller bilateral trade agreements between the U.S. and one country at a time.

Tester said that two weeks ago he voiced his concerns to Robert Lightzher, Trump’s nominee to be U.S. trade representative, that the U.S. would not be able to negotiate bilateral agreements arrived at and signed on time so agriculture producers are not shut out of new markets.

He said that Lightzher expressed concern, but did not give a good answer.

“That is one of the reasons we do multilateral agreements, because it is quicker than doing multiple bilateral agreements,” Tester said.

Threats of a 20 percent tariff on Mexico to pay for construction of a wall along the U.S. Southern border is something that could also negatively affect U.S. agriculture, Tester said.

CNN reports that a bill was introduced in the Mexican legislature to shift the country’s corn supply from the U.S. to Argentina and Brazil in response to Trump’s threat of a tax on Mexican imports.

Tester said the move shows why Trump should be more measured in his rhetoric.

“We are not the only supplier of food in the world, and there are other people who do that, and that is basically the concern that people in agriculture have is that if these markets go away, we are not going to get them back,” Tester said.

Tester added that he has heard from malt and barley growers in Montana who worry that tensions between the U.S. and Mexico could hurt their ability to trade with Mexico.


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