Senador jeff merkley gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor Thursday about President Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey as FBI director. He called into question the integrity of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, insisting that their official explanations for backing Comey’s removal were a “cover story.”
The junior U.S. senator from Oregon demanded that an independent prosecutor be appointed to find out whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers who sought to sow chaos in the 2016 U.S. election. He said the real reason Trump fired Comey was because the FBI’s investigation into the matter was escalating.
“To call the times we find ourselves in right now ‘interesting’ would be certainly an understatement,” Merkley said. “The fact is we find ourselves in our country at a moment that is profoundly testing the rule of law here in America, profoundly testing the strength of our democratic institutions.”
Merkley, a Democrat who supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign last year, said President Trump is “engaged in a pattern of removing individuals from office who are executing their responsibilities under the law,” citing Trump’s firing of former Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, former New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Comey.
He mentioned worrisome “bits and pieces” of information coming out about conversations between various Trump campaign advisers and Russian officials in 2016.
“The president insists there’s no there there, but we have seen a pattern of conversations that we don’t fully understand,” the senator said. “Was there coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians to interfere with the U.S. election? … We don’t know.”
The White House insists that Comey was fired because of his grandstanding and other missteps last year in his handling of the FBI’s investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. Merkley picked apart that explanation, which was laid out in letters this week from Attorney General Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and President Trump.
“I don’t think there is a single American,” Merkley said, “not a single member of this body of 100 senators, who believes for a moment, not for a micro-second, that the reasoning in this memo from the deputy AG, and the letter from the AG to the president, and the president’s letter to James Comey, that the arguments made here were the basis for his firing.”
“The accurate story,” he said, was that Trump fired Comey because the FBI director wouldn’t support the president’s baseless claim that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower last year and, most of all, because he wouldn’t back off on the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump team and the Russians.
“What we have here is a president determining he wanted to derail [the Russia] investigation, and he went to the AG and the deputy AG to say, ‘Help me do this, help me derail this investigation, give me a cover story I can sell to the American public.'”
Merkley pointed out that conspiring with a foreign power to undermine a U.S. election “is a treasonous act” and that every patriotic American should want to get to the bottom of these allegations.
“Where is your integrity?” he asked Sessions and Rosenstein about their willingness, in Merkley’s view, to provide the president with a “false story.”
“How is this not obstruction of justice?” he asked.
“Lady Justice is all about getting the facts,” the senator concluded, adding: “We need to have that special prosecutor.”
Watch Merkley’s speech below.