Senator Warren, Former U.S. Attorney For Mass. React To Trump's Firing Of Comey

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FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill on May 3, 2017. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill on May 3, 2017. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

We discuss the latest reaction and consequences to President Trump's abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders filled in for White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer today, saying that Trump had lost confidence in Comey. She added, "Most of America had decided on their own that Director Comey should not be leading the FBI as evidence by the numerous comments we’ve seen from Democrat members in the House and Senate, members of the FBI, and people across the board."


Elizabeth Warren, Democratic senator for Massachusetts. She tweets @senwarren.

Matt Viser, deputy Washington bureau chief for the Boston Globe. He tweets @mviser.

Donald Stern, former U.S. attorney for Massachusetts from 1993 to 2001, and managing director of corporate monitoring and consulting services at Affiliated Monitors.

Tim Weiner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA" which won the National Book Award in Nonfiction and "Enemies: A History of the FBI." He tweets @timweinerauthor.

Interview Highlights With Senator Warren

On Democrats' issues with Comey before the last election

"The idea that Donald Trump now claims -- after having embraced Comey during the campaign, and embraced Comey once he was elected president, and embraced Comey to be his FBI director, but now that Comey's getting close in an investigation wants to fire him, and then lay it off on the connection to Hillary Clinton -- the reasoning is laughable, the truth is obvious. Donald Trump does not want anyone near him with investigatory powers about his connection to his campaign and ties to Russia."

On what Comey's firing means to the ongoing investigation

"I think it means that we must have a special prosecutor here. And we've got to have someone who's independent, who has got the resources, who has got the authority to get to the bottom of this. Good, bad or indifferent, whatever is the truth here, we need a special prosecutor to get the truth out there and everyone should care about that — Democrats, Republicans, independents. Donald Trump is trying to set himself up as above the law. That's not how it works in America."

On calls for a special prosecutor

"Donald Trump has stepped over a line and I think it's causing a lot of people who were confident that the FBI will get to the bottom of this on their own, to rethink that assumption ...

Trump has made it clear, he doesn't want this investigation to go forward and that means it is now the responsibility of Congress to demand a special prosecutor. It's gotta be someone who is truly independent; it's gotta be someone who truly hast he resources to be able to get to the bottom of this and truly has the authority to be able to investigate wherever that investigation leads.

Let's be clear here: Comey wanted more resources to be able to pursue the investigation and he asked for those resources last week. And yet, what happens instead of getting the resources he needs from the deputy attorney general, instead of getting those resources, he gets fired."

On Russian interference during the 2016 election

"We know from our intelligence community that the Russians hacked into American systems in order to influence the outcome of the election and it's not just here in the U.S. ... The Russians have developed a new weapon. And it's not a weapon that leaves a nuclear signature, it's a weapon that interferes right at the heart of democracy, directly into the electoral system. And every American Democrat, Republican, independent should wanna get to the bottom of this and find out exactly how Russia interfered in our elections and what kind of ties Russia has to the sitting president of the United States."

Interview Highlights With Donald Stern

On his reaction to James Comey's firing

"I was among those who were critical of Director Comey's press conference in July and then his similar statements in the lead up to the election in November. But having said that, I never thought then or now that it was a firing offense. Like most of America, I was stunned on the merits that the president would fire Director Comey. And stunned frankly with the timing, because it raises all kinds of questions and suspicions as to the motivations behind the firing.

The way it in which it was done is very dispiriting and disheartening to the average agent in the field. The fact that no one spoke to the director before he was fired, and that he learned about it while he delivered a speech to agents in the LA office, that's how he found out about it, that's shocking to me on its own terms, and disheartening and disrespectful I think to the bureau."

On Attorney General Jeff Sessions' involvement in the firing decision

"With respect to the Attorney General Sessions, if you're recused from making smaller decisions about an investigation, you're not to be making the 800-pound gorilla decision, which is whether the person leading the investigation should stay or leave.

I'm surprised and scratching my head as to why the attorney general participated in that decision. The deputy attorney general's memo made some good points, but I think the timing of the recommendation and ultimately the timing of the decision raises a host of questions. I would be surprised if the deputy attorney general went into his office, on his own, decided to write a memo, and then present it to the president, and the president said 'Oh, interesting memo, I think there's a lot of merit here, I'm going to fire the director.' I can't imagine that's how it happened."

On the appointment of a special prosecutor

"I do [think it's time for a special prosecutor]. If we had this conversation yesterday, I would have said no, because I'm not a big fan of independent special prosecutors. I think the integrity of the Department of Justice and the FBI is enough to get us over the goal line with an independent investigation with integrity. But in light of what happened yesterday, I think this is really one of the exceptions to that.

On how this might affect future FBI investigations

I have faith that the career agents in the FBI and the career prosecutors will do their best to conduct a fair and aggressive investigation. To me, the problem is not so much in the short run, but over the long haul, when the message being sent from the White House and maybe higher ups in the Department of Justice is 'go slow as the president has tweeted this is a fake investigation, this is a waste of taxpayer money.' Over time, that's going to sap the energy and the aggressiveness of any investigation if that's allowed to persist."

Interview Highlights With Tim Weiner

On the historic precedent of firing an FBI Director

"No FBI director who is in the middle of an investigation involving the White House has ever been fired. Full stop.

One FBI director has been fired with cause. His name was William Sessions, no relation to Jeff Sessions. He was the subject of a report at the end of the Bush 41 administration, accusing him of petty corruption. He remained in office regardless. And then eventually about six months into the Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno determined that it was time for him to go.

The subject of this FBI investigation is an attack on the United States and its democratic system and its electoral processes by a hostile enemy: Russia. The inquiry was proceeding to ask whether Americans aided and abetted this attack on the United States. It is the most politically charged counterintelligence investigation the FBI has run since the Soviets stole the secrets of the atomic bomb. For the president to dismiss the FBI director in the middle of this investigation may someday be construed as an obstruction of justice."

On what he believes should happen now

"It is time for Republicans like Senator McCain, like Senator Richard Burr, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to stiffen their spines and put together a bicameral investigative commission in Congress like the one that investigated the Iran-Contra scandal 30 years ago. Pool their resources and start digging. Because the pursuit of a special prosecutor or independent counsel of this Justice Department with its recused attorney general is hopelessly compromised."

On why the president fired James Comey

"If you believe that Jim Comey was fired over his handling of Hillary Clinton's emails, I suggest you reexamine that presumption. I don't think anybody believes that. I think that this was an intemperate and hasty decision by a president who apparently enjoys firing people. That is how he became a reality television star after all and how he came to great public attention. To fire the FBI director in a way that to put it politely was disrespectful, and to do it when everyone in the United States knows that the FBI director is investigating an enormous counter espionage case that clearly involves at least a handful of Trump associates, it's breathtaking."

On what impact the firing might have on the rank and file of the FBI

"I think the way the president handled the dismissal of Jim Comey was disgraceful. I think that the majority of rank and file agents would agree with that. I think that it was a slap at the institution of the FBI to dismiss the director in this way. And I think that the vast majority of FBI agents believe in the rule of law. That's what they're there to defend — the principle that we are a government of laws, not a government of men. And that they will continue this investigation unless it is obstructed by the White House or the Department of Justice."

On the comparison of the firing to the events surrounding Watergate

"It took Richard Nixon into the fifth year of his presidency before he had to dismiss close aides who were enmeshed in criminal investigations and then eventually fire the special prosecutor who was investigating the White House. We are now, I believe, 110 days into the Trump administration. And he has fired the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, his national security adviser Mike Flynn, and the FBI director, Jim Comey, all of whom play different key roles in the Russia case. I lived through Watergate ... And it does seem like seeing the movie and fast forward at warp speed."

This segment aired on May 10, 2017.


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Jamie Bologna was senior producer and director of Radio Boston.


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Alison Bruzek was a producer for Radio Boston.


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