Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the recent firing of FBI Director Jim Comey. Jim Comey was my law school classmate, and I know in my state he had a lot of respect from our agents and also from law enforcement in general. We we had the stabbing in the mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, I was just with our police chief from St. Cloud. It was the FBI that came in and helped at the crime scene and other things, because for a smaller police department it is difficult to deal with something like that. And also because they had work to do with working with the community to calm people. The result was a good one because of the courageous work of an off duty policy officer. No one killed and the investigation was completed. It's just one example of the work that the FBI has done when Director Comey was in charge.
I think we focus very much on very much on what goes on in this town, but there's a lot of agents and law enforcement out there that have deep respect for him. Last week when Director Comey was fired, I came to the floor and said in recent months foundational elements of our democracy, including the rule of law, have been questioned, challenged, and even undermined.
Today I return to the floor with the same concern. In the last 48 hours we have learned that in addition to sharing top secret intelligence information with Russia without checking about it ahead of time, and we know that presidents have the right to share information and declassify it, but in instances that we are aware, the president checks with intelligence agancies ahead of time. Was this shared with an ally? No.
This was shared with Russia, a country that 17 intelligence agencies in the United States of America established was trying to undermine our election. Russia, who was found responsible for trying to shoot down and in fact successfully brought down a plane, killing innocent people in Ukraine. The same regime that has poisioned dissidents, the same regime that have put people to death for simply expressing an opinion tha tis different from Valdimir Putin's. So that is the country that the President chose to share this information with.
What elese happened in the last 48 hours? Well, President Trump allegedly urged Director Comey, we found--this news dropped in the last 48 hours--to end the investigation into ties between Russia and General Flynn and to put reporters who published classified leaks in prison. This was information I didn't know before. It has happened in the last few months, of course, but it all came out in the last 48 hous.
The American people are looking to Congress for answers in the face of this assault on our democracy. It is our job to give them the answers they deserve and to right this ship. That is why I continue to call for a special prosecutor ever since the Attorney General had to recuse himself because of his own meetings and ties with Russia. And ever since this mess kept getting messier, I have been calling for a special prosecutor. I believe this is the way to go. I have have long called for an independent commission, and this is a different purpose.
As the Senate Intelligence Committee continues its bipartisan work as a special prosecutor and the FBI would get to the bottom of any criminal investigation. To me the purpose of an independent commission would be to set the rules of the road so that this doesn't happen again, so our country can protect ourselves. This would be a panel of experts appointed by both sides. Thier focus could well be to take these facts but to put them into a future election, as in what do we do when campaigns get information that clearly is from a cyber attack from a foreign power?
Our founding father have said that our elections are precious, that they should be protected from foreign powers. Way back then, they were thinking of Great Britain. Now we're thinking of Russia. Next time it could be another country. We should have some rules of the road here. It's not that long ago that I remember when presidential campaigns would be given some more information that they weren't supposed to get from the opposing side, they would actually return it to the opposing sde. We could go back to that kind of day.
We also could have the media have some rules of the road. Look what happened with the recent French election when there was a cyber attack there. The media didn't put out every rumor and everything they got out of that setback. They showed some discretion. So the media didn't put out every rumor and everything they got out of that setback. They showed some discretion. So those are the kind of things that we could do with an independent commission in addition to fact finding. So I'll start with the special prosecutor.
The stack of reasons that we need a special prosecutor is getting higher and higher every day. Aides and surrogates of the Trump Administration both in the campaign and in the transition, were in contact with officials from the foreign government, which was actually working to tear our democracy apart. That is pretty much established here. We know that the campaign chair for the Trump campaign had to step down because of his ties to Russia. We know that General Flynn was on the phone with the Russian ambassador on the very day that President Obama declared that he wanted to expand sanctions against Russia, and we also know that he then lied to the Vice President of the United States about it. Those things happened during the campaign, during the transition.
Las week, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and fromer Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reminded us--I was there among the Judiciary Committee--they reminded us that on the very day that President Obama imposed those sanctions, that was when general Flynn, the former National Security Advisor--the person charged with the most sensitive matters of U.S. national security--was contated by the ambassador, and then later lied to the Vice President about that contact. And I actually asked them specifically that after the fact that Flynn knew that he was on tape, that they knew that there was a tape of him saying one thing to the Russians and then another to a high-ranking official in America--that would be the Vice President--is that material for blackmail, and they both said definitively that it was.
Yet, when Sally Yates went to the Administration twice for two formal meetings, with other people there. This wasn't a little heads up at a cocktail party. She actually went to the White House to inform them that she believed that the National Security Advisor had been compromised. So what happened?
They let him stay on for 18 days, and two days in, he was on an hour-long call between Vladimir Putin and the President of the United States of America. Then, of course, we have the fact that the Attorney General was forced to recuse himself from any involvement with the Russian investigation because he met with the Russian ambassador. I will note that he met with the Russian ambassador just a few days after President Obama had said no, I'm not pulling back these sanctions. Then what happens?
Jeff Sessions, who was closely affiliated with the Trump campaign, a surrogate for the campaign, goes and meets with the Russian ambassador. So because of that and some things that happened at his confirmation hearing, he has now recused himself from any matters regarding investigation between Russia and this Administration and the campaign. In addition to the recusal, we have seen two people resign, as I noted. The campaign manager, the campaign chair and the National Security Advisor. The one thing that they have in common is Russia and President Trump.
We have seen three people fired now--Sally Yates, who was the acting Attorney General of the United States, while the reasons given for her firing were of course, related to the refugee order. In fact, she was fired on the very same day that she had gone over to the White House to talk to them about General Flynn. We have Preet Bharara, who was fired after saying he could stay on. He was the, of course, U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, in a very major position to inevstigate these kinds of issues and crimes. And then, of course, we have Jim Comey. And the one thing that they all have in common is that they were all investigating various facets of this.
In fact, Director Comey--as I noted--who had broad support and respect from law enforcement was fired the same day that federal prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas to Michael Flynn's associates. Just days after Comey requested more resources, according to news reports, to carry out the Russia investigation. And right before, two days before he was scheduled to testify publicly before the Senate Intelligence Committe, where members of that committee were going to ask him Russia. Think about it.
The independent government officials who are charged with getting to the truth no matter where it leads were being fired. And the President of the United States reportedly now--and this is what we have learned in the last 48 hours. Of course we want to get to the bottom of the evidence, but according to news reports, he urged the FBI Director to end the investigation into the ties between Russia and Mike Flynn.
We it to the American people to get to the bottom of what is going on here. It is our job to get to the bottom of what is going on here. It is our job to get to the bottom of this. The President can't fire Congress. He can fire the Acting Attorney General, he can fire the FBI Director--although, I think it is very important we get to the bottom of why the FBI Director was fired. And if, in fact, it was for the reasons that were given in the memo that was prepared by the Justice Department or if it was, in fact, because of what President Trump has said that it was related to Russia or was because at one point he said he wasn't doing his job--which is not what I've heard from agents on the street.
But the one group that the President cannot fire is right here in this room. The President cannot fire the U.S. Senate. The President can't fire the House of Representatives. He is not above the law. The Administration cannot investigate itself.
We have the ongoing and important investigation led by bipartisan leaders in Senator Burr and Senator Warner. That is important and it must continue. But we also need a special prosecutor to look into the President's most recent conduct and all contacts between Trump campaign aides and surrogates and Russian officials during the campaign and the transition in the Administration. This prosecutor must be fair and impartial and completely unattached to either political party. Above all, this prosecutor must be comfortable speaking truth to power. In addittion to a special prosecutor, we need an independent commission.
When I came back from my trip with Senator McCain and Senator Graham to Ukraine, and the Baltics, and Georgia, I made very clear--I remember speaking to my colleagues about this--that what we saw there made me even more concerned about the findings of our intelligence agencies. Because those countries, they have seen this movie over and over again where Russia has cyberattacked them.
It happened in Lithuania just because they had the audacity to invite members of the Ukrainian Parliament from Crimea who were in exile. They invite them to Lithuania fro their 25th anniversary and they get hacked into. Or in Estonia where they moved a bronze statue out of a public square and into the cemetery with other statues of soldiers--but this was a Russian soldier. The Russians didn't like it. This was in 2007. So what did they do? They shurt down the internet for the entire country. This is not just a single incident involving one candidate or one political party or one election or even one country. This is something widespread. It's an attack on democracy.
And that's why when I came back from that trip, I stood with Senator Cardin and with House Members Adam Schiff and Elijah Cummings to stand up for a bill that has a number of other sponsors to create an independent nonpartisan commission to uncover all the facts and make sure that future elections and political campaigns are safeguarded from foreign interference.
For months, U.S. intelligenece agencies--17 as I noted--17 of them have said that Russia used covert cyberattacks, espionage, and harmful propaganda to try to undermine our democracy. Reports show it. The facts prove it. Two hundred million spent alone on Russian TV on our own election--much of it passed out on the internet.
Last week, the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that Russia will continue to interfere in our election system. This is what he said. I believe Russia is now emboldended to continue such activities in the future--both here and around the world--and to do so even more intensely.
If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundation of our democratic political system, this episode is it. Vigilance. He said that Russia felt emboldened by what happened.
Well, what happened in the last 48 hours? We find out that we have given high-level intelligence to the Russians before we gave it to any of our allies--before we expected it out with the intelligence agency. That actually emboldens them. So we find out that in fact because of Director Comey keeping such meticulous notes, we find out, in fact, the President actually asked him to discontinue the investigation into General Flynn. What does that do? That emboldens Russia even more.
So what former Director Clapper was telling us was that we need vigilance. We need oversight. We need to send a clear message that they cannot continue doing this. We do not need to embolden them. What message does it send when the President urges the person in charge of the investigation into Russian election interference to let it go? It is not one of vigilance in seeking the truth and fighting against a foreign adversary. An independent commission nonpartisan experts can get to the bottom of this an tell us how we can prevent this from happening again. They can provide recommendations to help prevent future attacks on our democracy from being successful.
In addition to a special prosecutor and independent commission, we also need our congressional committees to continue to exercise their oversight authority. Since the election, we have heard a lot about the three branches of government and our system of checks and balances. One of the fundamental jobs of Congress is to closely oversee the executive branch to ensure that the law is being properly followed and enforced. That means we need congressional committees to continue their investigation into Russian interference in our political system. We have supboena power for that reason, and we need to use it.
There are tapes--there President says there may be tapes. Well, of course readact the classified information. We don't want to hurt anyone any further from what has been happening in the last few weeks, but we should see the transcripts. We should have the tapes. There is bipartisan support for turning over this material, including the memos prepared by Director Comey. Today Senator Grassley sent a letter to the White House Counsel requesting these documents. May of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle understand the importance of doing our jobs to get to the bottom of this. The ongoing bipartisan intelligence committee investigation is vital to addressing the covert and classified aspects of Russian interference. But we also need transperancy because the American people deserve to know as much as possible about what happened and how we're going to prevent it in the future.
That's why I fully support the Judiciary Committee hearings. I also believe, Mr. President, as a fellow member of the Judiciary Committee, that if the Director is to testify, former Director Comey, he should come before the Judiciary Committee because these are matters related to the justice system, to the criminal justice system, and we should hear from him. And I hope that Senator Grassley has requested that he come before our committee. I'm aware that the Intelligence Committee also would like him to come, but I think it's more important given the substance of what what is at issue here. Yes, he should be before Intelligence about ongoing matters related to the Russian investigation, but there's also just the issue of the fact that he was fired. And we heard one thing in a memo from the Justice Department. We hard one thing from the White House and then we heard another thing from the President. That is all true. We need to get to the bottom of this.
On Monday, Republican Senator Bob Corker said that the Administration was in a downward spiral. He used the world chaos. And that was before we even knew that the president may have urged the FBI Director to end the Russia investigation and put reporters in prison. This is an unprecedented time in our country's history. The President having written of the Senate today--having written a book on the Constitution--knows that one of our jobs is to stand by that Constitution. Yet we are witnessing a signular moment of constitutional and democratic unease.
On this day in 1983, the Senate Select Committee on presidential campaign activities began televised hearings on Watergate. One week later Professor Archibald Cox was sworn in a special Watergate prosecutor. Like Director Comey who is leading the investigation into Russian interference in our election, Archibald Cox was eventually fired by the President for doing his job. The night that Archibald Cox was fired by President Nixon for investigating Watergate, he said, "Whether our should continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people." He's right.
The American people deserve a thorough independent investigation into whether this Administration obstructed justice and the extent of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. They need to know if because we are a democracy. We don't hide things like this. We get the facts. We get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That's what our democracy is about and that is what our justice system is about. But they also need to know it because our democracy is the basis of our freedoms. And if we don't protect our democracy in coming elections, then we hurt those freedoms. And the only way we figure out how we're going to protect that democracy is getting to the bottom of the truth so we can figure out how to prevent it from happening in the future. This is not a partisan issue. This is an American issue, and Americans deserve answers.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.