GOP senator to Bannon: Russia ‘would love nothing’ more than for US to drop probe

Responding to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., defended the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into foreign meddling in the 2016 election, saying that the Russians would welcome his committee dropping the ongoing probe.

“Clearly the Russians are still actively engaged,” Lankford told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein on the “Powerhouse Politics” podcast. “They would love nothing more than for us to just move along and to say there’s nothing here.”

Lankford, a member of the intelligence committee, also responded to a report from The Washington Post that Bannon wants Senate Republicans to end their probes into Russian influence, calling them “church mice.”

When asked if it was his role to defend President Donald Trump in the ongoing investigation, Lankford emphatically said no.

“I don’t see it as my role, I see it as my role to be able to get all the facts out and get the facts resolved as fast as possible. I think it’s best for the president and the presidency if we handle this right, everyone looks at this as a fair process and moves along,” Lankford said.

Lankford said he was “not surprised” by Monday’s news from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of indictments against former Trump campaign associates Paul Manafort and Rick Gates and defended the charges brought against former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.

“You know what if you lie to the FBI about that you should have to be able to face indictment on that,” Lankford said, adding that he does not feel it is his responsibility to defend Papadopoulos, Manafort or Gates, either.

“I shouldn’t have to be able to cover somebody for cheating on their taxes or for leveraging some sort of influence inappropriately, not declaring that you’re a foreign agent or hiding money in Cyprus, I’m not going to protect somebody in that,” Lankford said.

In addition to his comments on the Russia investigation, Lankford also voiced his concerns on U.S. immigration policy in the wake of the terror attack in New York City Tuesday that killed eight people.

Lankford said he has “concerns” about the diversity visa lottery program “long before” the attack, but also defended Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., whom Trump attacked on Twitter this morning. Schumer helped create the program.

“I don’t blame Chuck Schumer for that. There are plenty of other issues and areas where we can agree and disagree, and we can be able to work together on immigration, but I don’t blame Chuck for that,” Lankford said.