We do know that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election.
We know that the Russians did so in order to undermine confidence in our democracy.
We know that the Russians carried out this attack with the goal of benefiting the campaign of Donald Trump, whom the Kremlin preferred to see win the election.
These facts have been confirmed by our intelligence agencies.
What we don’t fully yet understand is all of the reasons why, all the reasons why the Russians favored Donald Trump and whether associates of the president or members of his campaign assisted in the Russian operation to sway the election in his favor.
These questions are the subject of an ongoing counterintelligence investigation, an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and until last night, an investigation led by James Comey.
As former Director Comey recently testified to the House Intelligence Committee, quote, the FBI, as part of its counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia, unquote.
So, the timing of Director Comey’s dismissal raises serious questions, and President Trump’s decision to abruptly fire the man leading an investigation that could implicate the Trump administration should shock the conscience of every American who believes that no man or woman is above the law and who has faith in the fair and impartial pursuit of justice.
Now, the White House attempted to preemptively dispel any suspicion by announcing that President Trump fired Director, the director, quote, based on the clear recommendations, unquote, of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
(Inaudible) several documents to back up that claim, a letter from President Trump to Director Comey firing him, a letter from Attorney General Sessions to President Trump recommending that Comey be fired, and a memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, which cited the director’s handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigations as damaging the FBI’s reputation and credibility.
But, Mr. President, these documents really create more questions than they answer.
First, the letter from President Trump to Director Comey firing him.
President Trump, ever eager to put distance between the Russia inquiry and himself, wrote, quote, while I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.
Again, we know that the FBI is conducting a criminal investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians in their efforts to influence the election.
Director Comey confirmed that before he was fired.
So, whether President Trump is personally under investigation by the Bureau or whether investigators are merely scrutinizing his advisors and associates, the president’s clumsy attempt at misdirection does little more than remind us of the many unanswered questions about his and his people’s connections to Russia.
Second, Attorney General Sessions’ letter to President Trump.
The attorney general writes that, based on his review of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s memo, which cites the director’s handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation, that General Sessions has concluded that the FBI requires new leadership and a fresh start.
So, General Sessions recommended that Director Comey be fired.
But, Mr. President, Attorney General Sessions should not have had any involvement in this decision at all.
On March 2nd, the attorney general called a press conference to announce, quote, I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States, unquote.
Now, the reason that General Sessions made that announcement was because news reports revealed that he had provided misleading, shall we say, misleading testimony in response to a question that I asked during his confirmation hearing that General Sessions had falsely stated, quote, I did not have communications with the Russians.
In fact, he did meet with the Russian ambassador during the campaign, twice.
Having provided misleading testimony, under oath, about a matter that could potentially be the subject of a criminal investigation by the FBI, General Sessions was forced to recuse himself.
So, Mr. President, I find it deeply troubling that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who misled the Judiciary Committee about his own communications with the Russian ambassador and who pledged to recuse himself from this investigation, as a result, betrayed that pledge by involving himself in the decision to fire the director of the FBI who was leading the investigation into Russia’s interference into our elections, including whether members of President Trump’s campaign were involved in that interference, and Attorney General Sessions was a member of that campaign, and he misled the committee on whether he had met with the Russians, and he did that under oath.That’s why he recused himself.
And yet, he inserted himself in this firing.
Finally, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s memo, which asserts that Director Comey’s handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation caused the public to lose confidence in the Bureau.
Mr. President, Director Comey spoke publicly about the Clinton e-mail investigation twice, in July and October of last year.
Now, setting aside whether Director Comey’s decision to discuss the investigation was unorthodox or broke with Justice Department and FBI protocols, his actions were well known to both President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, and both of them celebrated, celebrated, his actions at the time.
After Director Comey wrote to Congress on October 28th, informing us that the FBI had discovered additional e-mails and would, therefore, reopen its investigation into Secretary Clinton, then-Candidate Trump praised his decision.
He said that, quote, what Comey did was the right thing, and that, quote, it took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had, unquote.
Appearing on Fox Business Network, then-Senator Sessions said that Director Comey, quote, had an absolute duty, in my opinion, 11 days before an election or not, to come forward with the new information that he has and let the American people know that, too, unquote.
So, Mr. President, if President Trump or Attorney General Sessions truly objected to the way that Director Comey conducted the investigation into Secretary Clinton’s e-mails, I suspect they would have said so at the time rather than heap praise upon him.
But their previous statements lauding Director Comey’s handling of the Clinton e-mail probe casts suspicion on the extent to which they relied on the deputy attorney general’s purported rationale.
Further, and this is important, if Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein were truly concerned that Director Comey’s handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation had damaged the reputation of the Bureau, then why not wait for the conclusion of an investigation by the very respected DOJ Inspector General into Comey’s decision during the election, his decisions, an investigation that had been under way since January.
Mr. President, the shifting positions of President Trump and Attorney General Sessions lead me to believe something else is going on here, that this is not about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, but about turning the page on Russia.
In fact, last night a White House spokesman said so.
Appearing on Fox News, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked how Director Comey’s firing would affect the Russia investigation.
She replied, quote, when are they going to let that go? It’s been going on for nearly a year.
Frankly, it’s getting kind of absurd.
There’s nothing there.
It’s time to move on.
Frankly, it’s time to focus on things the American people care about, unquote.
Mr. President, the American people care about whether a hostile foreign government influenced our election.
And they care about whether advisors and associates to the president helped that foreign government do that.
The events that occurred over the past 24 hours are deeply, deeply unsettling.
As my Republican colleague, Senator Flake, said last night, quote, I have spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey’s firing.
I just can’t do it, unquote.
And I can’t either.
In my view, the timing and circumstances surrounding Director Comey’s dismissal are very, very suspicious.
For example, just this morning it was reported that Director Comey recently asked the Justice Department to provide additional resources for the Russian investigation, a request that reportedly he made personally to Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein.
This raises grave concerns about the Trump Justice Department’s ability to conduct a full, fair and impartial investigation.
And in order to address these concerns, Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein should come to the Senate and explain their involvement to all the senators in this body.
And in the wake of what I believe was a politically motivated decision to remove Director Comey, I no longer have confidence that the Department of Justice can fulfill its obligation to resolve this matter impartially.
The situation now calls very clearly for the appointment of a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation (inaudible) associates of the Trump organization or former members of the Trump campaign had knowledge of or participated in the Russian attack on our democracy.
I join my colleagues’ calls for an independent inquiry so that the American people can have confidence that the individuals who conduct this investigation will follow the facts no matter where they lead.
Thank you, Mr. President.
Transcription and captioning by Accurate Secretarial LLC