Mr. President, I join the Minority Leader's remarks and his plan for moving forward, which is a bipartisan plan and a plea to our colleagues to work together. You know, America is an ideal. America is something that is grounded on our democracy. They were concerned at the time about Great Britain. Now we have another concern, and that concern is Russia. It is not just a Democratic concern. As on of our colleagues, Senator Rubio, has noted in the past, maybe this election it was an attack on one political candidate and one party, but next time it will be the other party. And that's why we must join together and handle this correctly. And in the spirit of our democracy and constitution.
Now, I have known Director Comey for a long time. We were classmates at the University of Chicago Law School. He was well liked in our class just as he earned the respect of the agents that he supervised and the law enforcement that he worked it. Now, I made it clear to him that I didn't agree with how he handled the e-mail investigation regarding Secretary Clinton, but nevertheless, this man is a hard worker and someone of integrity.
Just because someone doesn't agree with how an investigation is handled, even if it is in a big way, doesn't mean that this person should be fired. FBI Directors have ten-year terms for a reason. That is because we want them to be independent from political influence. All Americans, including those who have criticized Director Comey for whatever reason in the past, should be very troubled by the timing of this firing. Let's just look at the past week.
We started the week on Monday where former Director Clapper testified in great detail about the Russian threat to our democracy and the fact that the Russians feel empowered and he believes they will do it again and again. We also were on the heels of the French cyberattack where their election was attacked, where Russia was trying to get involved in their election. Then former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified, and she made very clear that she had not just given a heads up to the Administration that their National Security Advisor was compromised by the Russians. No. She had two formal meetings over at the White House. She outlined in detail how she had gone over to the White House and voiced her concern. And when I asked both former Director Clapper and former Acting Attorney Yates whether or not this was material for blackmail when you had a high-ranking official saying one thing on a taped recording that the Russians knew he said and another to the Vice President of the United States, if that was material for blackmail. They said yes. Yes, he had been compromised. They allowed General Flynn to stay on for 18 days, including an hour-long conversation between the President of the United States and Vladimir Putin. So that's what happened on Monday.
Then we know what was going to happen tomorrow, Thursday, and that is that Director Comey was to testify in his capacity as the FBI Director in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, where we know questions were going to be asked about Russia. Of course, I commend Senators Burr and Warner for inviting him again in his capacity as a private citizen now next week. But when you look at what happened here--Yates and Clapper testimony on Monday, Comey testimony expected on Thursday, and what's sandwiched in between? The firing of the FBI Director. The firing of the FBI Director. And, by the way, this is the same FBI Director who had the audacity to tell the truth before Congress when asked whether or not President Obama had wiretapped the Trump Tower, as alleged by President Trump in a tweet at 6 in the morning. And the FBI Director truthfully answered, no, that did not happen. That is also something that has happened in the past month.
Today we learned that just days before he was fired, Mr. Comey asked senior officials at the Justice Department for more resources to carry out the Russian investigation. Now, what are my colleagues saying about this? Well, I think it is very important to note that the two members who are privy to the most classified information--Senator McCain as Chair of the Armed Services Committee and Senator Burr as Chair of the Intelligence Committee--both have expressed serious concerns about what happened. Senator McCain said he was disappointed and Senator Burr, Republican Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee said, "I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey's termination. I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already-difficult investigation by the Committee." Senator Flake says, "I've spend the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing. I just can't do it."
The reasoning that the White House is using for Director Comey's firing is bizarre. That is why I believe Senator Burr said, "His dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation." These are quotes from letters that I sent back during the presidential campaign. And that is what is used in the letter as a justification. If the Administration found Director Comey's conduct during the election to be so problematic, why now, right smack in the middle of the advancements of this Russian investigation? The answer, I believe is because the justification provided in the memo is a pretext. The fact that President Trump's terminiation letter to Director Comey strangely discusses the fact that Director Comey informed the President he was not under investigation in the context of the Russian investigation sheds light on what this is really about. Director Comey was seeking the truth. Senator Burr said that Director Comey has been more forthcoming with information than any FBI Director he could recall in his tenure on the Congressional Intelligence Committee.
In firing Comey, President Trump has cast doubt about the independence and viability of any further investigtion into the foreign interference of our democracy. Why was Attorney General Sessions, who had recused himself from the investigation on Russian interference, able to influence the firing of the man at the helm of the Russia investigation? That's one of the questions we want answered and why, by the way, we believe it is important to have a closed-door briefing by the Deputy Attorney General and his predecessor. Did Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein act on his own or at the direct of Attorney General Sessions? Was his firing influenced by any recent developments in the investigation, like the issurance of grand jury subpoenas or Director Comey's recent request for more resources for the Russia investigation? Why didn't the President wait for the Inspector General's investigation into Director Comey's handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation to conclude before making his decision to fire him?
I am a former prosecutor. I believe in facts, in evidence. And these decisions should not have been made without these facts, without this evidence, in the middle of a major investigation of Russian influence in our election. Answers to these questions are essential to getting to the truth and ensuring that an independent investigation at the FBI can continue.
For months, U.S. intelligence agencies -- 17 of them -- have said that Russia used propoganda and cyberattacks to undermine our democracy. The facts prove it. When former Intelligence Director Clapper testified, he said that Russia will continue to interfere in our system. I believe Russia is now emboldened 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. I was in the hearing and asking questions of Clapper when he said that. Vigilance--that's what he said. Vigilance. How can we call it viligance when the FBI Director who is conducting the investigation has been fired? What message does that send to Russia? Does that make them think that we're serious about this investigation, that we want to get to the bottom of it, that we don't want it to happen again? No, it send the opposite message.
Aides and surrogates of the Trump Administration during the campaign and the transition were in contact with officials from a foreign governemnt that was actively working to tear our democracy apart. And we need to know why. And when and how. But the first question--that's what I really want to know--is why?
This week former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and Mr. Clapper told us that a member of the Trump transition team spoke to a Russia official regarding sanctions. Michael Flynn, the person charged with the most sensisitive matters of the U.S. national security, wasn't truthful with the Vice President. He lied to the Vice President about contact with Russian officians and, in turn, the American people were misled. After the Department of Justice warned the Administration that the National Security Advisor had lied and may be vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian government, what did the Administration do? They continued to allow General Flynn to handle top-secret information for 18 more days. They let him participate in an hour-long phone call with President Trump and Vladimir Putin. In fact, decisive action was not taken until The Washington Post revelated what was happening.
We have now seen two people resign--Trump's campaign manager and his national security advisor--and the one thing they have in common is Russia and the President.
And we have seen three people fired--Sally Yates, the Acting Attorney General of the United States who was simply doing her job; Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in New York City; and Jim Comey, the FBI Director. The one thing they have in common is that they were all investigating links, that they were doing their job. Think about that. Let that sink in. The independent government officials who are or could have been charged with getting to the truth, no matter where it led, were fired.
We owe 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 this. Because the President of United States, President Trump, he cannot fire Congress. We need to know the full extent of the Trump's campaign contact with the Russian government during the campaign and transition, including what was said and what was done and who knew about it.
That is why on January 4, I stood with Senator Cardin and Adam Schiff of the House of Representatives and Elijah Cummings and called for an independent investigation. This is different than the good work that is being done by the Senate Intelligence Committee under the leadership of Senators Burr and Warner. To me, an indpendent committee would help us because they could get to the bottom of what happened with the intent of making sure it doesn't happen agan, to protect our democracy. You could talk about--they could have recommentations, just like the 9/11 commission had. We could improve our laws. They could have recommendations on what we could do if the media gets hold of information that is the result of a cyber attack against the opposite party. It wasn't that long ago when campaigns would come upon debate information and other things and would simply put in an envelope and send it back to the other side.
We can do this, but that is not going to come out of some simple piece of legislation or what the work of the intelligence committee is doing. That is why I believe we need this independent commission, as well as a special prosecutor to look into all contacts between Trump aides and surrogates and Russian officials during the campaign, transition, and administration. This prosecutor must be fair and impartial and completely unattached to either political party. In addition to the independent commission, we also need our ocngresisonal committees, as I mentioned, to continue exercise our oversight authhority.
Since the election, we hsave heard a lot about the three branches of government and our system of checks and balances. One of the fundamental jobs of Congress, as I told a group of students in my office today, is to closely oversee the executive branch to ensure that the law is being properly followed and enforced. This shouldn't just be things that students learn when they come in for a school trip from their senator ro what they learn in a textbook. This is actually our job.
This means that in addition to this independent 9/11-style commission, we must make sure our congressional committees continue to investigate Russian interference in our political system. We have subpoena power. We need to use it.
Some of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle understand the importance of doing our jobs to get to the bottom of this. As I mentioned, we have the intelligence committee investigation, but we also have the judiciary subcomittee on which I serve, led by Senators Graham and Whitehouse. They're the ones that held a hearing with Sally Yates and Director Clapper this week.
This is an unprecedented time in our country's history. We are witnessing a singular moment of constitutional and democratic unease. In recent months, foundational elements of our democracy, including the rule of law, have been questioned. Challenged and even undermined. Several of colleagues have compared the President's action to President Richard Nixon's action of firing Archibald Cox, who was investigating Watergate.
But even then, Mr. Cox was replaced by a new special prosecutor. Today we have no special prosecutor to determine whetehr the President's campaign colluded with a hostile foreign power. Some in Congress are continuing to resist any serious investigation. For that reason, our democracy may be even greater peril. The night was fired, Mr. Cox defended his decision to conduct the Watergate investigation as he saw fit rather than yield to the President's order that he limit his request for tape recordings. Cox said this: whether ours shall 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 answers now. And where should they get those answers? They should get those answers from this chamber because we, as members of the United States Senate, cannot be fired. Mr. President, I yield the floor.