Trump, Russia Questions Dominate McHenry Town Hall in Asheville (With Videos)

Aug 2, 2018

Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry held a town hall event in Asheville Wednesday.  The packed event at the Riceville Volunteer Fire Department was dominated by questions about President Trump's behavior and the Russia investigation.  BPR's Jeremy Loeb was there and videotaped the event.  

***Check below for video highlights of the town hall***

Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry of western North Carolina held a town hall in Asheville this week.  McHenry represents North Carolina’s 10th Congressional district, which leans heavily Republican.  The reason for that is it was heavily redrawn this decade, and now resembles a foot with a little mushroom growing out of the toe.  That little mushroom is part of Asheville, which was split with the 11th district, effectively minimizing the votes of the heavily Democratic city.  So when McHenry holds a town hall in Asheville, he can expect a lot of unhappy Democratic voters.  And at the Riceville Volunteer Fire Department, that’s what he got.  His answers on issues like an assault weapons ban (he says it was ineffective) and the Equal Rights Amendment (he called it unnecessary) drew the ire of his constituents here.  Some of the popular responses he gave were on his support of renewable energy.  But even that was dampened by his unwillingness to support a federal carbon tax.  And while a lot of the questions focused on climate change, it was President Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation that really dominated the event. 

Rep. Patrick McHenry: “I think the Mueller investigation should be wrapping up.  And I think the American people deserve to know what he has found.  But I don’t think we need to have any protection.  I think it would be a mistake for the president or anyone to fire Mueller, but I don’t think it is necessary for Congress to legislate.”

And cue the back the forth.

Questioner: “You know, you’re talking about that it needs to wrap up.  (Whitewater) against Bill Clinton took years just to bring charges.  Right now Mueller has five guilty pleas, 17 indictments, including Michael Flynn, a retired Lieutenant General.  What are you doing in terms of commitment to supporting the Mueller investigation and committing that truth and justice will be served?”

To that, McHenry pivoted to question what he had done to hinder or stop the investigation.

McHenry: “And the answer is nothing.   You don’t have any speech of mine, any conversation in the press, any rhetoric on tv about it, because I don’t engage in it.”

And not engaging is not what most audience members wanted.  Multiple people urged McHenry to condemn Trump’s behavior, including with regards to the investigation.  One speaker said McHenry’s silence equated complicity, drawing a standing ovation from the audience.  McHenry repeatedly demurred.   

McHenry: “I think this process is going to work itself out, without any outside intervention.  I think Mueller will be able to finish his report, and I will address it if actions taken otherwise at that time that action will be taken.”  Audience member:  “Trump just called on Sessions to fire Mueller.  Just now.”  McHenry: “Ok, and as she just said… this is the glories of Twitter.  But as you just said, Sessions is not responsible for that.  It’s Rosenstein who is in charge of the fullness of the Russia investigation, because Sessions has recused himself.”

McHenry referring to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.  Western North Carolina’s other Congressman Mark Meadows has introduced articles of impeachment against Rosenstein.  McHenry gave a slight denunciation of the idea of impeaching Rosenstein, but was less than committal on protecting him.

McHenry: “I don’t think he’s been a good actor.  I think he’s been one of the lesser appointees of the Trump administration.”

About the best the audience could get from McHenry on the topic was this.

McHenry: “Is the Russian government our friend?  No.  Are they an ally?  No.  Were they trying to influence the outcome of our election?  Yes.  Ok?”

But whether that investigation is allowed to continue to completion may depend on Congressional Republicans.  And whether those Republicans will dare defy the president remains an open question.  Take McHenry’s response to another question asking whether he would support forcing Trump to release his tax returns.

McHenry: “He won not giving them.  I think that’s already been litigated.  That was the hot rage two years ago, and not so much anymore.  It is what it is.   He either will or will not.  It’s not up to me….. The overall debate on his tax returns, I think, is a done deal.”

Meanwhile, the Mueller investigation made a huge leap this week, as Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort goes on trial for bank fraud and conspiracy charges.  For BPR News, I’m Jeremy Loeb. 

**********Video highlights***************

McHenry says Rod Rosenstein has been 'a bad actor'

McHenry on the Mueller investigation

McHenry: "I have no response.  That's my answer."

Questioner to McHenry: "Silence is complicity."

McHenry takes issue with Nazi Germany comment.

McHenry on potential of Rosenstein firing

McHenry: Trump has his 'style' and I can't control it

McHenry urged to stand up to Trump

McHenry on election security

McHenry: Debate on Trump's tax returns 'a done deal'

McHenry: Assault weapons ban 'was not effective'

McHenry says Equal Rights Amendment 'not necessary'

McHenry also took a number of questions on the topic of climate change.  This story will be updated.