Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy, On The Firing Of FBI Director James Comey

The President’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey is so inappropriate that it is difficult to know where to begin.  In less than four months, this President has pushed our country to the edge of a constitutional crisis — a crisis that seems more complex and potentially more threatening than the one instigated by President Nixon’s order to fire the Special Prosecutor investigating Watergate.

First, we can easily dismiss President Trump’s transparent pretext for dismissing FBI Director Comey.  President Trump claims to have removed the FBI Director because of his unfair treatment of Secretary Clinton.  Of course we know this is not true.  President Trump celebrated Director Comey’s mistakes in handling the email investigation.  He encouraged leaks from the FBI.  He pressed Director Comey to release more embarrassing evidence.  He even praised Director Comey after the Director’s misguided letter to Congress last October.  Yet, now, the President would have us believe that those same events compelled him to fire the FBI Director.  More than six months after they occurred.  The claim is so unbelievable that it is almost laughable.

The truth is that the President removed the sitting FBI Director in the midst of one of the most critical national security investigations in the history of our country — a sprawling inquiry that implicates senior officials in the Trump campaign and administration.  The press is now reporting that President Trump weighed firing the FBI Director for more than a week, after becoming enraged at Director Comey’s statements and actions in the Russia investigation.  There are even reports that his firing may have been precipitated by grand jury subpoenas issued to associates of President Trump’s former National Security Advisor.  I have no doubt that we will learn more disturbing details as to the President’s true motivations.  We can rest assured that none of them have to do with the FBI being too tough on Secretary Clinton.

I am also troubled that Attorney General Sessions played a role in Director Comey’s firing.  The Attorney General had supposedly recused himself from the Russia investigation — and for good reason:  He was a central figure in the campaign that is now under investigation.  And he provided false testimony to the Judiciary Committee to hide his own contacts with Russian officials.  It is beyond inappropriate for him to then recommend the firing the official overseeing that investigation.

Does anyone believe that President Trump is interested in getting to the bottom of Russia’s interference with our elections?  Does anyone believe that the White House will allow investigators to follow the facts without interference or obstruction at every turn? 

A quick review of the President’s Twitter account would dispel any such illusions. 

This is the same White House that interfered with the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation, which led the Republican chairman to recuse himself. 

The same White House that reportedly sought access to the highly classified FISA court surveillance order that purportedly authorized surveillance of Trump associates. 

The same White House that demanded the FBI Director and the Department of Justice issue perfunctory statements to clear President Trump’s name. 

Even the President’s letter informing FBI Director Comey of his dismissal indicated that the President had directly asked the FBI Director whether he was under investigation – three times.  That should never happen.  It is stunning, but it should also be informative.  It is clear that any credible investigation must take place outside the political chain of command. 

That is why I and others have said for months that a Special Counsel must be appointed to lead the Russia investigation.  A Special Counsel, unlike an FBI Director or Deputy Attorney General, cannot be fired by the President.  The American people must have confidence that ours is a government of laws, not of Donald Trump’s whims.

Our nation is at a precipice.  There is a counterintelligence investigation into the campaign and administration of a sitting President.  There is evidence that that campaign colluded with a foreign adversary to sway our presidential election.  And now the President has fired the lead investigator, FBI Director Comey, under absurd and false pretenses.  There are several inquiries underway into Russian interference and collusion with Russia; but the President has fired the head of the one investigation that could bring criminal charges.  It has just been reported that this came just days after Director Comey asked for additional funding for the investigation.  None of this is normal.  And we cannot treat it as such.

President Putin’s goal last year was to undermine our democratic institutions — to corrode Americans’ trust and faith in government, and to sway the outcome of the election in favor of Donald Trump.  If we do not get to the bottom of Russia’s interference in our democracy, Putin will be successful.  The President appears to be content with that result.  But I know many of my Republican friends are not.  We may disagree on policy matters and we may have supported different candidates last November, but we all agree on the supremacy of the rule of law, and that no person and no President should be above it.  We must stand united in calling for a truly independent investigation. 

There simply is no avoiding the fact that this cascading situation demands the prompt appointment of an independent Special Counsel to pick up the pieces of these investigations.  How we respond at this moment is a test of our commitment to the separation of powers.  This is not just a scandal.  The President’s actions are neither Republican nor Democratic.  They are authoritarian.  This is an effort to undo the ties that bind our democratic form of government.  All of us – both sides of the aisle – must now put country over party. 

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