Transcript: Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut on "Face the Nation," June 30, 2024

The following is a transcript of an interview with Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat, on “Face the Nation” that aired on June 30, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes. He’s the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Good morning to you.

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Good morning, Margaret. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you were recently briefed regarding those arrests in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York City and the eight Tajik nationals with suspected links to ISIS-K. Do you know where we are in regard to understanding whether they were a cell working together, whether there were direct links?

REP. HIMES: Yeah, so law enforcement, as you might expect, is making pretty good progress determining who these people were talking to, what the plans were, other people involved in the network, whether an attack was imminent, whether there were specific plans for an attack. And- and this isn’t new, right. In other words, you know, as you know, shortly after these individuals entered the United States, not stopped because there was no derogatory information on them at the time, very quickly, some derogatory information was developed. And the decision was taken to watch these guys. Now, the reason you watch these guys, instead of instantly arresting them, is that their behavior and their communications can really paint a very specific picture of a plot of a conspiracy if there is one. Obviously, they took the decision at one point that the risk/reward there was such that they made these arrests. But of course, they continue to work to understand whether there were plans, and if so, who else might have been involved.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So it sounds like intelligence is still being gleaned from these eight individuals. So how can we say there is no active threat?

REP. HIMES: Well, Margaret, we can never say there is no active threat. You know, there is always a baseline threat of a terrorist act in the United States, there is absolutely nothing we can do to change that fact. So you can never say that there is zero risk. What you can do is, you can look at the period of time since 9/11, the tragic attack on 9/11, and say, how many Americans have actually died in a terrorist attack engineered by foreigners? And the answer to that question is- is vanishingly small. Our people are very, very good, but you can never have zero risk of a terrorist attack. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Would you support a public hearing with the intelligence chiefs to lay out the facts as we know them? I know Director Wray said, we are at the highest possible level of threat right now.

REP. HIMES: Yeah, and Margaret, look, I think it’s really important for people to keep this in context. That may be true. And it’s probably true, because the world is a more complicated place than it was 10 yea- years ago, in particular, with the war in Israel and Gaza. We see every radical Islamic group from the Houthis to all the Iranian backed proxies interested in doing things that they might not have wanted to do 10 years ago. So Director Wray may be right. And in fact, you know, I think our- our intelligence agencies and law enforcement are on alert in a way they haven’t been in a very long time. And look, the Tajik story is a success story. They were arrested. They did not conduct a terrorist attack.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Your Republican colleague, Mike Turner, was on this program a few weeks ago, and he said, quote, “We have terrorists that are actively working inside the United States that are a threat to Americans.” Is that an accurate characterization? And- and if so, why not?

REP. HIMES: Well, I the- the Tajik case is, as far as I know, the only case that we have been briefed on on the Intelligence Committee of our intelligence community, our law enforcement community, following people that we think could be involved in a plot. I’m certainly not aware of other situations like that. Now, it is almost certainly true, in a country of 350 million people, that there are some people out there who are thinking about undertaking acts of violence. We see a lot of violence in this country, most of it is domestic, most of it is- is not related to transnational terrorism. But again, you asked earlier about a public hearing around the facts here–


REP. HIMES: And I didn’t answer it directly, so I’ll answer it directly right now: we’re probably not at that stage. Because what we started talking about, which is the absolute necessity of law enforcement, really understanding the full contours of that Tajik group and doing the work that they need to do, which is best done in secret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In terms of what’s happening, and the connection to the southern border, President Biden said at the debate on Thursday, quote, “I’m not saying no terrorist ever got through.” So he seems to be acknowledging this unknown element here. Do you think the intelligence community has the resources they need right now to deal with the threat and the vulnerability at the border?

REP. HIMES: Of course, a border in which people are entering and we don’t know who they are is a risk, no question about it. And I wish that we had seized the opportunity of the bipartisan bill negotiated by Jim Lankford and Chris Murphy, a conservative Republican and a progressive Democrat to actually do something about that. But Donald Trump said, No, he said don’t do it. I want to run on this issue. So I would have loved to have seen that get done. But again, you know, people need to put this into context. How many Americans have died in a terrorist attack by somebody who snuck across the southern border? The answer to that question is zero. So, resource allocation – should the FBI, should the CIA be laser focused on the southern border? I don’t know. Clearly, it is a risk and a vulnerability. But you know, a lot of these plots we pick up because of our collection ability abroad. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you think the resources are adequate to intelligence collection abroad?

REP. HIMES: Well, I think if you had the head of the FBI or any of the people who were involved in this effort, they would say we could really use more resources, right. But one of the challenges we have that we haven’t talked about Margaret, is remember that for a decade, now, more than a decade, we’ve been talking about the pivot to China. Right, China, invading Taiwan is an outcome that is catastrophic in 10 different dimensions. If we’re serious about pivoting to Asia, if we’re serious about supporting the Ukrainian fight against Russia, inevitably, because we don’t have infinite resources, some things like counterterrorism are not going to get the full amount of resources that you would like. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Before I let you go, how do you think America’s foreign adversaries viewed President Biden’s performance on Thursday night?

REP. HIMES: I suspect that, you know, pretty much everybody watched that debate, and thought that the President did not perform the way we would have liked to have seen him perform. However, I’ve spent time around three different presidents Margaret, and I will tell you that the President’s job is enormously hard and involves all kinds of things, none of which are standing and doing a debate for 90 minutes on TV. The President’s job involves passing legislation, I would hope that people would compare this President’s record in that regard with the last President’s record. He– 

MARGARET BRENNAN: –being quick on your feet is kind of important for the job. 

REP. HIMES: –Part of the president’s job is setting the tone. Well, yeah, yeah. And again, I think he’s acknowledged- the vice president acknowledged that- that was not the performance we were looking for. But I’m not so cynical as to believe that the American people are going to choose a president based on a 90 minute debate rather than a four year record of startling legislative achievements and of setting a tone that the rest of the world says “wow, you know, America is back to the decent leader that we used to believe that it was prior to the Trump administration.” 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman Himes thank you for your time this morning. We’ll be back in a moment.

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