May 16, 2017

VIDEO: On Senate Floor, Udall Says Trump’s ‘Dangerous’ Behavior Demands Bipartisan Congressional Oversight

Udall: President’s firing of FBI director & sharing of classified information with Russians ‘call into question his fitness for office’

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke on the Senate floor to call for real, bipartisan oversight of the Trump administration in light of the president’s “dangerous” behavior with classified information in a recent Oval Office meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador. Udall said that President Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey – who was overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election and possible ties to Trump campaign officials — and the president’s reported sharing of highly classified information with Russian officials “call into question his fitness for office and further underscore the imperative for independent investigations.”

Speaking about the widely corroborated reports that the president revealed highly classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office, Udall said "we can already tell that President Trump’s behavior in this incident is very dangerous — dangerous to our national security institutions, and dangerous to the men and women overseas who are serving their country and risking their lives.” Udall called the president’s reported actions “strange,” especially in the context of Russian interference to benefit the Trump campaign in the 2016 elections.

"America’s intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, and that they favored the Trump campaign,” Udall continued. "Now the President is hosting senior Russian officials in the Oval Office, and disclosing highly classified information – information that puts future intelligence, and maybe lives, at risk. The day after he fired the FBI Director, President Trump admitted on camera to NBC News that he did so in part because he is frustrated at the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference, and potential Trump campaign contacts. Congress needs briefings on this incident.”

Udall said "President Trump’s firing of the FBI Director in the middle of an investigation into the campaign that put him in office – and the President’s bizarre behavior since – should concern all Americans, regardless of party. The only rational explanation is that he has something to hide — that he wants to disrupt the investigation into Russia’s interference in our election.”

In light of the president's dangerous behavior and what Udall called a “constitutional crisis," Udall urged Republicans to join Democrats in Congress in conducting real oversight of the administration. "The majority in Congress must listen to the American public, must follow the lessons of history, and must protect the rule of law and our Constitution,” Udall said. "In the United States, no person is above the law, not even – and especially – the President.”

The full text of Udall’s remarks is available below.

Mr. President, the White House and President Trump face yet another crisis, perhaps the biggest in his chaotic term so far. According to the Washington Post and other outlets, President Trump disclosed highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. in the Oval Office last week. This is utterly stunning.

Congress needs to find out exactly what happened on a bipartisan basis. But we can tell already that President Trump’s behavior in this incident is very dangerous — dangerous to our national security institutions; dangerous to the men and women overseas who are serving their country and risking their lives.

Many other outlets have confirmed the Washington Post’s article, and they have cited several sources. Assuming it’s true, the president has endangered our relationship with the partner who gave our security agencies this information. That has ripple effects that will risk similar relationships with other countries. It also could put our sources at risk.

While his national security team denied the news reports this morning, the president is on Twitter contradicting them. He claims he has the right to tell the Russian Foreign Minister anything he wants.

Mr. President, I can’t think of any parallel in history for the president’s dangerous lack of discretion – or his dangerous misunderstanding of how to handle classified national security information.

As the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Corker put it this way: the White House is in a “downward spiral." And he said it needs to get “under control.” Senator Corker is a senior Republican, I know the presiding officer and I serve with him on the Foreign Relations Committee. He’s a man I respect very much, and I hope the White House will listen to Chairman Corker.

It is very strange that the president chooses to meet with the Russian ambassador at the center of the Trump campaign’s contacts to Russia, or to allow Russian press, with their electronic equipment, into the meeting at the Oval Office.

But let’s put these strange—and dangerous—events in the context of the last several weeks and months. America’s intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, and that they favored the Trump campaign.

Now the president is hosting senior Russian officials in the Oval Office, and disclosing highly classified information – information that puts future intelligence, and maybe lives, at risk.

The day after he fired the FBI Director, President Trump admitted on camera to NBC News that he did so in part because he is frustrated at the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference, and potential Trump campaign contacts. Congress needs briefings on this incident.

Republicans and Democrats must come together for real oversight.

Based on what I see now, President Trump’s actions call into question his fitness for office and further underscore the imperative for independent investigations.

It is not an exaggeration to say that our nation faces a constitutional crisis. Our Constitution is based on the rule of law. In the United States, no man or woman is above the law — not even the President of the United States.

Our constitutional democracy is remarkable for many reasons. One is that presidential action has threatened the fabric of our democracy only a few times in our history.

President Nixon’s Watergate scandal was one of them. And I believe we face another today.

President Trump’s firing of the FBI Director in the middle of an investigation into the campaign that put him in office – and the president’s bizarre behavior since – should concern all Americans, regardless of party.

The only rational explanation is that he has something to hide, that he wants to disrupt the investigation into Russia’s interference in our election. What possible reason could the president have for wanting to hinder this investigation? It should be his highest priority to ensure it never happens again. Instead, he calls it fake news.

Here is what we know:

Early in the new administration, the White House Chief of Staff asked the FBI to publicly disavow reports that the FBI was investigating Trump campaign ties to Russia. This attempted political interference was wrong.

The White House next set its sights on House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, who was investigating Russian interference in the election. Representative Nunes made midnight runs to the White House to view documents that he said validated the president’s claims that he was wiretapped.

While the information did not ultimately prove that, Representative Nunes still chose to go public with classified information before discussing it with his Committee.

This was circus-like behavior, which ultimately forced Representative Nunes to recuse himself from the Committee’s investigation. But it was also serious. It showed that the White House was willing to go to great lengths to interfere with the House investigation into the president.

Next, the president fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. At the time, he claimed it was for refusing to defend his executive order barring Muslims from the country.

In the end, her analysis was correct. The federal courts found the order to be unconstitutional.

We now know that Ms. Yates was fired just days after notifying the White House that then-National Security Advisor Flynn had lied about his conversations with the Russian foreign ambassador. She had told the White House that Flynn’s own conduct “in and of itself was concerning.”

She warned that the president’s chief advisor on matters of national security was susceptible to blackmail by Russia.

It still took the president 18 days to fire Flynn. As Ms. Yates put it, “To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security advisor compromised with the Russians.”

And now the president has fired FBI Director James Comey.

It defies reason to believe that President Trump fired Mr. Comey because he was too hard on Secretary Clinton.

We give the FBI Director a 10-year term so he or she can do the job free from political interference and follow any investigation wherever it may lead — even into the Oval Office.

A deluge of evidence has pointed to the conclusion that the president fired Director Comey for similar reasons as Sally Yates – because he was unhappy with the FBI probe of Russian election interference and possible ties to the Trump campaign.

It’s been reported that Director Comey had sought additional resources for the investigation, and was receiving daily briefings on the investigation days before he was fired.

The U.S. Attorney Office’s in Virginia had also issued grand jury subpoenas to persons with knowledge of Flynn’s ties with Russia and Turkey.

Well-sourced media reports say the president had become increasingly angry with Director Comey’s public statements about the FBI’s investigation of him, and because Mr. Comey would not confirm the president’s baseless claim that the Obama Administration wiretapped Trump Tower.

The president understood that Director Comey would not do his bidding, and so he fired him.

And still, the White House has flatly lied about the circumstances of Mr. Comey’s dismissal.

Numerous White House officials, including the vice president himself, said the decision was at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. They have said this publicly, on the record, and on camera.

But Trump himself contradicted them. He said—again, on camera—that he had already decided to fire Director Comey before receiving the Deputy Attorney General’s recommendation.

He made clear that he was frustrated with the continuing counter-intelligence probe into Russian election influence. And he was upset with Mr. Comey’s testimony before Congress.

The White House also claimed that Director Comey had lost confidence at the FBI.

But in a public hearing last week, my colleague and senator in New Mexico, Senator Heinrich, asked the FBI’s acting Director if that was true. And the acting director strongly denied it.

It has been well reported that the Deputy Attorney General has threatened to resign – based on the White House claims that Mr. Rosenstein advocated for firing Director Comey. It seems clear that he was told to draft a cover story for the real reason. His memo was short, and is dated the same day as the firing.

Now—in what may be the worst development so far—the President of the United States is threatening on Twitter to release “tapes” of Mr. Comey. He is implying – but not confirming – that he has tapes of their conversations, and that he will release them if Mr. Comey talks to the press and the public. Mr. Comey knows that he is well within his rights to speak publicly, as long as he does not reveal classified information.

The president’s comment is another example of interference: A sitting president is seeking to pressure a fired FBI director against speaking out publicly, a man who is a likely to be a witness before Congress.

Mr. Comey reportedly would like to testify in an open hearing. Apparently, he doesn’t have anything to hide. We need to hear his testimony as soon as possible. Let’s find out if President Trump demanded the FBI Director’s loyalty.

And if the president does have tapes of their conversations, he should release them. Or we need to subpoena them. Let’s get to the bottom of this.

At this point, there is more than probable cause to believe that the president is attempting to obstruct FBI and Congressional investigations.

President Trump seems to put himself above the law. Firing the FBI Director and Acting Attorney General, and interfering with a Congressional investigation: these are the actions of an autocrat.

As a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and Attorney General for New Mexico, I have some experience with investigations.

When someone interferes with ongoing investigations, it seems clear that they have something to hide. That’s not the behavior of an innocent person.

Make no mistake, Russia’s interference in our democratic process is an attack upon our nation. If the president or his associates colluded in any way with Russia in this attack, it would represent the most serious betrayal of our nation by any president.

While there are rarely exact parallels in history – the parallel between Nixon’s Saturday night massacre and President Trump’s Tuesday night massacre is hard to ignore. Nixon’s firing of the man heading investigation into his actions led to his impeachment and resignation. Recall that the first article of impeachment was obstruction of justice.

At that point in our history – both Congress and the Supreme Court stood resolute that the president was not above the law. Congress must again stand resolute that the president is not above the law.

It is well past time for Congress to appoint an independent commission. Like the 9/11 Commission, it must investigate every aspect of Russia’s interference with our election and recommend steps to ensure it never happens again. And, it must investigate whether candidate Trump or his associates colluded with Russia to interfere with our presidential election. Congress must do so swiftly, and must give the commission sufficient resources to do the job.

The Attorney General is compromised. He has recused himself from any investigation into the Trump campaign. But I believe he violated the terms of his recusal when he weighed in on Director Comey’s termination. Several of us will be sending a letter this week to the Justice Department Inspector General asking him to investigate this specific issue.

And now, the president is about to nominate a new FBI director — presumably, one he believes will be less independent than Director Comey. One who won’t pursue the Russian investigation if it points to his campaign.

Given these circumstances, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein must appoint a special counsel to conduct a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s role in our election, and, if necessary, a criminal investigation into the conduct of the Trump Campaign and the administration.

A special counsel must be appointed before we consider a new nominee for FBI director and that nominee needs to be closely scrutinized by the Senate. We need a director who is non-partisan and has a law enforcement background. This person will be responsible for restoring American’s confidence in the FBI, and ensuring us that he or she does not pledge loyalty to the president, but pledges loyalty to the Constitution.

The majority in Congress must listen to the American public, must follow the lessons of history, and must protect the rule of law and our Constitution. In the United States, no person is above the law, not even – and especially – the President.

In my career in Congress, I have always believed you put the country first. Party comes last. In their hearts, I know my Republican friends and colleagues feel the same.

Congress—and the Senate—need to fulfill the roles the founding fathers envisioned. When the Executive Branch is moving outside the bounds of rule of law, we must rein it in. It is well past time for action.