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WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2017 — Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate to warn of threats to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and highlight the constitutional crisis that would likely ensue if the President were to interfere in the Mueller probe. In recent weeks, a growing chorus of voices in Congress, the media, and the White House have begun pushing a coordinated narrative undermining the credibility of the Special Counsel’s investigation and the FBI itself. Sen. Warner today responded to these “troubling” signs that the President may be considering firing Mr. Mueller or top FBI/DOJ brass, pardoning potential witnesses, or otherwise interfering in Mueller’s investigation.
Sen. Warner called on Senators from both parties to “make a clear and unambiguous statement: that any attempt by this President to remove Special Counsel Mueller from his position, or to pardon key witnesses in an effort to shield them from accountability or shut down the investigation, would be a gross abuse of power and a flagrant violation of Executive branch responsibilities and authorities.”
He continued: “These are red lines, and we simply cannot allow them to be crossed.”
Senator Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery follow:
Mr. President –
I rise today concerned about threats to the Special Counsel’s critical investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Over the last several weeks, a growing chorus of irresponsible and reckless voices have called for President Trump to shut down Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation. At first, these calls came from the fringes of our political discourse – those who would refuse to put our country and our security before base political instincts. Earlier this year, many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle were right to push back on those misdirected calls and urge that the Special Counsel be allowed to do his job without interference.
However, in recent weeks, those voices seem to be growing in stridency and in volume. Just this weekend, one major news organization suggested that Special Counsel Mueller could be involved in a “coup” against this President. One senior advisor at the White House has now outrageously alleged, “The fix was in against Donald Trump from the beginning.”
These statements are reckless. They are inappropriate. And they are extremely worrying.
They are also at odds with the President’s own lawyers, who have pledged to cooperate with the Special Counsel.
Beyond being irresponsible, the seemingly coordinated nature of these claims should alarm us all – particularly since, in recent days, these baseless accusations have been repeated by several members of the House of Representatives.
I believe it is up to every member of this institution, Republican or Democrat, to make a clear and unambiguous statement: that any attempt by this President to remove Special Counsel Mueller from his position, or to pardon key witnesses in an effort to shield them from accountability or shut down the investigation, would be a gross abuse of power and a flagrant violation of Executive branch responsibilities and authorities. These are red lines, and we simply cannot allow them to be crossed.
Let’s remember why Special Counsel Mueller was appointed in the first place – and why it remains so critical that he be permitted to finish his job, without obstruction.
Recall, last spring, we were all reeling from a series of confounding actions by this President, beginning with the firing of FBI Director Jim Comey on May 9, 2017. Mr. Comey was fired just two months after publicly revealing the FBI’s ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign, and – as we would find out later – after several attempts by this President to improperly influence Director Comey.
Try to put yourself back into those dangerous days. Director Comey’s dismissal was met with confusion and widespread condemnation. We needed a stabilizing action from our nation’s law enforcement leadership. We needed some certainty that the facts would be found and brought to light – regardless of what they were.
Eight days after Mr. Comey’s firing, Trump appointee and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to oversee the investigation into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
His appointment reassured Americans that there would be a full and thorough law enforcement investigation. The announcement was met with support on both sides of the aisle and received nearly universal praise. In fact, many of the same people who are attacking him today praised Mr. Mueller’s appointment just months ago.
Indeed, there is much to praise. The fact is that Robert Mueller has impeccable credentials as a man of the law. He has assembled a team that includes some of the nation’s best investigators, and he is leading this investigation with the professionalism that it deserves.
Mr. Mueller is a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a lifelong Republican, appointed to his current role by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, also a Republican. In fact, all of the major players to date in this investigation – former Director Comey, current FBI Director Wray, Rosenstein, and even Attorney General Sessions, who has recused himself – are all Republicans. The charges of Democratic political bias are baseless, given the makeup of the leadership team.
In recent weeks, much has been made of some political opinions expressed by an FBI agent during the election last year. This specious line of argument conveniently ignores the fact that, as soon as Mr. Mueller learned about those comments, he immediately removed the agent in question from the investigation. If anything, this incident only adds to Mr. Mueller’s credibility as a fair and independent investigator.
Mr. President, I stand here as the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. We are in the midst of our own investigation into the Russian incursion, and I’m proud of the way Chairman Burr and our Committee members have taken on this difficult task. We’ve made tremendous progress in uncovering the facts of Russian interference in our elections. Our Committee’s work helped expose a dark underbelly of disinformation on our social media platforms. We have successfully pressed for the full accounting of Russian cyber efforts to target our state election systems. And, despite the initial denials of any Russian contacts during the election, this Committee’s efforts have helped uncover numerous and troubling high-level engagements between the Trump campaign and Russian affiliates – many of which have only been revealed in recent months.
We’ve got some work to do yet. But, this Committee has gone out of its way to ensure continued bipartisan backing for this effort, and I’m committed to seeing this through.
However, it should be very clear that our Committee cannot and will not stand as a substitute for Mr. Mueller’s investigation. As Chairman Burr and I have noted on numerous occasions, the FBI is responsible for determining any criminal activities related to this inquiry. As such, Mueller has already moved to indict two individuals and has negotiated two additional guilty pleas. This is an investigative path reserved solely for law enforcement, and it is essential that it be permitted to go on unimpeded.
The country no doubt remains severely divided on the question of the last election; however, the national security threat facing us today should demand that we rise above the partisan differences. No matter the political divide, surely each of us – and all Americans – should want to know the truth of what happened during last year’s election. And, no doubt, we all want to know as quickly as possible.
The President has long called the investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election a witch hunt, and he has done much to discredit the Intelligence Community’s unanimous assessment of Russian interference in our election. The failure of this White House to lead a whole-of-government approach to prevent this type of election interference in the future – either by Russia or some other adversary – defies understanding. The President’s refusal to accept the Intelligence Community’s assessment and his blatant disregard for ensuring Russia never again infiltrates our election process has been unnerving and cause for significant concern.
In recent days, the President has said he is not considering removing Special Counsel Mueller. But the President’s track record on this front is a source of concern. I’m certain many of my colleagues believed that he wouldn’t possibly fire Mr. Comey, either.
Firing Mr. Mueller or any of the top brass involved in this investigation would not only call into question this Administration’s commitment to the truth and the rule of law. It also has the potential to provoke a constitutional crisis. In the United States of America, no one is above the law. Not even the President. Congress must make clear to the President that firing the Special Counsel, or interfering with his investigation by issuing pardons of essential witnesses, is unacceptable, and would have immediate and significant consequences.
I hope my concerns are unfounded, but there are troubling signs. It is critical that we as elected officials, and as citizens, speak up against these threats now…before it is too late.
Thank you, Mr. President.