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Trump firing Mueller would ‘create a constitutional crisis,’ Sen. Warner says

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat said Thursday that President Donald Trump would spark a “constitutional crisis” if he fired special counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“I believe that firing Mueller or Rosenstein would create a constitutional crisis,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told the PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff. Warner added that “history would then judge all of us” if Congress did not prevent Trump from firing the officials in charge of overseeing the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.

The White House has in the past denied that Trump is considering firing Mueller. Rosenstein appointed the former FBI director last May to head the Russia probe.

But Warner said the president is unpredictable. Last week, as FBI agents raided Michael Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, Trump said “we’ll see what happens” when asked if he’d fire Mueller. And White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president had the power to fire Mueller, if he wanted to.

“Saying one thing on one day doesn’t mean that’ll be his position the next day,” Warner said of Trump.

Warner, who along with Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C, is leading the Senate Intelligence panel’s probe into Russia — also expressed support for a bipartisan Senate bill aimed at protecting Mueller from getting fired. The bill would fast track a judicial review of a president’s decision to fire Mueller and future special counsels.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is planning to hold a committee vote on the bill. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he won’t bring the bill to the full Senate floor, so its chances of passage, at least now, appear to be zero.

Warner said he was disappointed in McConnell’s opposition to the proposal. Warner added that he hoped the majority leader “would reconsider” if the Judiciary Committee passes the measure with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the latest twist in the Russia investigation, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will be joining President Trump's legal defense team.

    The move comes amid bipartisan calls in the Senate to pass a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.

    A short time ago, I spoke with the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia.

    And I began by asking about the addition of Giuliani.

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    Well, the president's legal team seems to expand and contract on almost a weekly basis.

    I had a lot of respect for Mr. Giuliani when he was a prosecutor and was mayor of New York. I didn't know he had been actively practicing law. I thought he had been consultant the last decade-plus. But Mr. Trump has an ability to hire whoever he wants.

    At the end of the day, I hope this will also mean that Mr. Trump is going to go ahead and allow the Mueller investigation to continue unimpeded, because, at the end of the day, Americans deserve the answer from his investigation and, frankly, from our Senate Intelligence investigation as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of the Mueller investigation, you and other bipartisan senators are supporting legislation to protect Robert Mueller's job. Why?

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    Well, Judy, over the last year, we have seen this president turn his ire on anybody that crosses him. We have seen him attack Comey. We have seen him attack Mueller.

    His own original attorney general, Mr. Sessions, had to recuse himself because he was involved with some of these Russian activities. And we set up this special prosecutor to be independent and overseen by somebody, a long-term career individual, actually a Republican, Rod Rosenstein.

    And we have got this system set up. The president says there's nothing, yet he continues to, at least on press reports, think about firing Mueller, may have already even tried to pull the trigger a couple of times.

    And on top of that, Judy, you have the president going off and making these ad hominem attacks against the integrity of everybody at the FBI, everybody at the Justice Department. That gets us into very scary times, in my mind, when people start choosing which laws they want to follow.

    So, my Republican colleagues have said, if Mr. Mueller was fired, that would be the end of the Trump presidency. I think we ought to go ahead and reinforce that by passing this legislation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I'm sure you know, Senator, when that law came before a committee last fall in Congress, scholars were divided over whether it's constitutional for the Congress to do something like that.

    You have had a number of Republicans who are saying right now it's not necessary because the president himself is saying he doesn't plan to fire Robert Mueller.

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    Well, if there is one thing we have found from this president is that he's unpredictable, and saying one thing on one day doesn't mean it will be his position the next day.

    And over the last number of months, he's clearly tweeted against Mr. Mueller's investigation a variety of times. His allies have gone out and attacked the Justice Department and attacked Mr. Mueller.

    So I would rather be safe than sorry. The fact is, now, while there would be in this legislation the ability to, even if Mr. Mueller was fired, to have him take it to court for 10 days, let's just preclude all this and put something on the books that will protect this individual and this investigation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Senator, the majority leader in the Senate, who controls I guess what comes to the floor, Mitch McConnell, is saying he doesn't plan to bring this to the floor.

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    Well, I'm disappointed by that.

    I'm disappointed, in a time when there appears to be broad bipartisan support, when I know the Judiciary Committee was going to mark up this legislation, I would hope that the majority leader would reconsider that if it comes out with a big majority out of the Judiciary Committee.

    Again, we're in unprecedented times. In my lifetime — I'm old enough. I was in college here in Washington during the Watergate era. Even during the Watergate era, I don't remember a president so broadly attacking the whole FBI, the whole Justice Department in these unprecedented ways, reinforced by allies, reinforced by certain news networks, where I think people are starting to question whether rule of law is going to stand at this point in time.

    That's why I think this investigation, regardless of where it ends up, is so important to be protected.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in fact, the "NewsHour," in collaboration with NPR the Marist College, has done a poll that is coming out just now saying that the public's confident in the FBI is starting to slip.

    But what I want to ask you, though, is about the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. The president — there has also been speculation about whether his job is safe.

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Republican congressmen have gone to see him in recent days to say he may impeachment proceedings if he doesn't turn over documents related to the origin of the Mueller investigation. Is he safe in his job?

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    Well, Judy, I believe that firing Mueller or Rosenstein would create a constitutional crisis.

    I think history would then judge all of us. I believe that some of the president's allies are frankly trying to simply intimidate Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, a career professional, politically a Republican, just as Mr. Mueller is.

    And this is part of this, what appears to me at least, as somebody who follows this very closely a campaign, wherever it's orchestrated, to undermine Rosenstein, undermine Mueller, undermine the FBI. And that puts us in uncharted territories.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, a question or two about Mike Pompeo, the president's choice to be the next secretary of state.

    You supported him to be CIA director. You voted for him. You have not said whether you will vote for him in this new position. But where does that stand right now? Does it look like he will be confirmed?

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    Well, Judy, I think that's still being actively discussed.

    But I under feel no immediate pressure to rush to a decision. At this moment in time, choosing the next secretary of state — and acknowledging almost every secretary of state of a president has been approved — is a really weighty decision.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    Thank you, Judy.

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