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PROVO — Former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin said Tuesday the FBI’s investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia “is a big, big deal” and hinted he knows secrets that have yet to surface.
“There are things I know that I haven’t made public, things that haven’t been made public also,” McMullin told a group of BYU students at a political science seminar. “You know, there’s a reason why a guy like me decided to throw his hat in the ring.”
McMullin, a BYU graduate who served in the CIA and later, as a chief policy director for U.S. House Republicans, said he got in the race just months before the November 2016 election because of concerns about Trump.
“I honestly believed, and still do, that Donald Trump presents a danger to the country. And I make no apologies for that,” he said, reminding the audience he had questioned Trump’s connection to Russia during the campaign.
“More people laughed than listened, and now, just recently, we learned the very shocking news that our president’s team and potentially the president is under FBI investigation for potential collaboration with one of our greatest foreign adversaries.”
He asked the students to consider the impact.
“I don’t think that’s ever happened before,” McMullin said. “This is a big, big deal.”
For Chris Karpowitz, a BYU political science professor who also had McMullin speak to his class Tuesday, McMullin’s comments about Trump are “indicative of just how serious this situation is.”
Karpowitz, co-director of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said he sees McMullin as “issuing a kind of warning about the dangers of the Republican Party becoming the party of Trump.”
It’s an alarm being sounded by someone with “an interesting and diverse set of experiences,” including with the GOP, Karpowitz said. But he said it’s too soon to tell what impact McMullin’s concern will have on Utah voters.
The state, which has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, went for Trump. The president won 45.5 percent of the vote, compared to 27.5 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton and 21.5 percent for McMullin, his best showing nationally.
McMullin did not offer any details about Trump’s connection to Russian meddling in the election, either during his nearly hour-long presentation nor in response to reporter questions afterward.
“There are some details I haven’t expounded upon. There was concern about Russia’s efforts to influence our election well before the election among Republican leadership,” he told the Deseret News, noting “they chose not to act.”
He said he knew during the campaign about the controversial dossier that became public in January, claiming the Russian government had cultivated Trump for years and had compromising information on the billionaire businessman.
“There are people who are connecting those dots and I’ll leave it to them,” McMullin said, referring to the Federal Bureau of Investigation efforts. “That stuff, all of that, needs to be investigated.”
In addition to the criminal investigation already underway, Congress is also probing possible links between the president and Russia. McMullin said a new, bipartisan special select committee should be created to do the job.
“There is a broader picture,” he said. “Americans deserve answers across the board, not only on criminal issues, but in general what Russia did, were there any ties. It may or may not amount to criminal activity.”
Whether it amounts to an impeachable offense also remains to be seen, McMullin said, declining to rule out treason as well. “That’s what we could be talking about, but again, we need an investigation.”
His comments come amid speculation he may run for Congress from Utah in 2018, either for the seat held by Rep. Jason Chaffetz or Sen. Orrin Hatch, Republicans who are expected to run again.
McMullin, who declined to talk about his political future with the media, told the students Tuesday it’s likely he’ll run for public office again but he hasn’t decided whether that means next year in Utah.
“It is possible I will do that,” he said, calling the most important factor what kind of representation voters in Utah want. McMullin said he believes Utah’s congressional delegation “needs to do more to hold the administration accountable.”
Chaffetz has come under fire as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for not taking on the Trump-Russia issue. McMullin said later the Trump campaign doesn’t fall under the committee’s jurisdiction.
BYU senior Reed Rasband, a political science major and a self-described moderate Republican, said after the seminar he’d like to see McMullin take on either Chaffetz or Hatch next year even though he voted for Clinton for president.
“I’ve been frustrated with our congressional delegation,” Rasband said. “As a constituent here in Jason Chaffetz’s district, I’ve been really frustrated with the lack of attention that I’ve seen by him into Donald Trump.”
Another member of the seminar audience, Kristilee Neuberger, a BYU senior majoring in broadcast journalism from Missouri, said she’s seen Utahns “getting really involved in the last couple of months in the politics.”
Neuberger said she voted for McMullin for president “because I did not believe either Trump or Hillary were the correct option for me morally.” She said she liked hearing McMullin “standing up for those core values that we kind of all want to see.”
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