Remarks as delivered on the Senate floor:
“Mr. President, I rise to discuss the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions by President Trump immediately after the mid-term elections, as well as the ongoing Justice Department investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential elections.
“The only transparency to be found in the Trump White House is in the president’s disdain for the Mueller investigation into the 2016 election. After multiple guilty pleas and convictions among the president’s campaign advisers on this ongoing investigation, President Trump remains relentless in his campaign to find any way possible to limit the scope of the ongoing investigation. I did not support Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be Attorney General, but he followed the law and rightly recused himself from overseeing the work of Mr. Mueller and his team of professional investigators. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should continue to oversee the Mueller investigation.
“Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has shown his fidelity to the rule of law with the much needed announcement of the Special Counsel to investigate potential criminal activity and collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian Government in the 2016 election. His choice of Robert Mueller was solid – Mr. Mueller served as the FBI Director under both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations. He has a well-earned reputation as a non-partisan professional.
“Let me remind my colleagues that when Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein made the Special Counsel appointment in May 2017, he wrote and I quote, Madam President: “I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a Special Counsel to assume responsibility for this matter…What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command…Considering the unique circumstances of this matter, however, I determined that a Special Counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome. Our nation is grounded on the rule of law, and the public must be assured that government officials administer the law fairly. Special Counsel Mueller will have all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, and I am confident that he will follow the facts, apply the law and reach a just result.”
“That’s what Mr. Rosenstein said when he appointed Mr. Mueller as special counsel. Now we know just how right Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein was to worry about protecting the independence and integrity of the Special Counsel’s investigation, so that the rule of law will be followed and the Special Counsel could follow the facts, apply the law, and reach a just result, regardless of what the President wants. Indeed, at every turn, President Trump has tried to undermine the rule of law and interfere with this investigation. He has relentlessly criticized the Mueller investigation in the court of public opinion, somehow characterizing it as a “witch hunt” or conflicted “angry Democrats,” notwithstanding the dozens of guilty pleas and convictions already obtained by the Special Counsel, as well as Mr. Mueller’s professional, non-partisan legacy of service.
“The new Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who is an unconfirmed political appointee, is already on-the-record making inflammatory comments on how to limit the scope of the investigation and cut off resources. He should immediately recuse himself from the investigation. Serious legal questions have been raised about the legality and constitutionality of the designation of Mr. Whitaker by President Trump, who has not been confirmed by the Senate and is heading a Cabinet department. The Constitution’s Appointments Clause requires all principal officers of the government to be nominated by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.
“This action by President Trump imperils the very leadership of the Justice Department and its day-to-day operations, and calls into consideration any decisions made by Mr. Whitaker during his temporary service. The Senate has already confirmed Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein on an overwhelming bipartisan basis by a vote of 94 to 6 in April 2017. Under Justice Department guidance and current law, Deputy Attorney Rosenstein – who has served with distinction under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, and who was nominated by President Trump – should be designated as the Acting Attorney General, until such time as the President nominates and the Senate confirms a successor to the former Attorney General Sessions.
“Under current oversight of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must continue until its conclusion. The president must stop trying to impede its progress. Congress has a responsibility to finally take legislative action to protect the investigation from meddling from the White House, especially from interference by the President.
“The Senate has an obligation to pass legislation that would: ensure the independence of the Special Counsel; provide judicial review for removal of the Special Counsel; and require additional reporting to Congress on the Special Counsel’s investigation, documents, and additional findings. S. 2644 does exactly that and is a bipartisan bill that passed the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 14 to 7 in April 2018. It has sat on the Senate calendar for more than 6 months. The full Senate should be able to vote on this immediately.
“I hope my colleagues agree that the Special Counsel should be allowed to finish his work without interference.
“No one, no one, under the Constitution – not even the President – is above the law, and Congress cannot allow the President to obstruct the Special Counsel’s investigation.”