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Sen. Mark Warner Responds To Firing Of FBI Director James Comey

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Trump said today that the firing of James Comey marks a new beginning for the FBI. Today's dramatic turn comes just days after Comey was on Capitol Hill testifying about the FBI's investigation into Russia's role in the U.S. election and whether there were any connections between Russia and Trump's campaign.

We'll have the latest from the White House in just a moment - but first, reaction from Democratic Virginia Senator Mark Warner. He is vice chairman - that is to say the most senior Democrat - of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Senator Warner, welcome to the program. And...

MARK WARNER: Well, thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: How did you learn about Comey's firing?

WARNER: Well, I heard right before 6 o'clock, right before the news broke. And I'd actually thought, you know, that I could no longer be surprised by this president and this administration. But I was once again proven wrong. It shocked me. I was with Director Comey yesterday. He was going to testify before our committee on Thursday in both open and closed sessions.

We see a disturbing pattern here from this president. And it seems like whenever there's anyone that's affiliated with investigating his ties to Russia, good things don't happen. We've seen the acting attorney general Ms. Yates gets fired. We've seen the FBI director get fired. We've seen the NSA national security adviser General Flynn get fired for failing to disclose ties with Russia. We've seen...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

WARNER: ...The actual attorney general have to recuse himself because of his ties with Russia. It is - it means our investigation is more important than ever.

SIEGEL: Do you not buy the administration's explanation for why Director Comey has been dismissed, that it had to do with the way he handled the Hillary Clinton emails investigation?

WARNER: I find that frankly laughable. The idea - and I'm very disappointed. I've lost any confidence I might have had with the deputy attorney general, who the first official action was putting his name on that letter basically making up what I - what appeared to be bogus reasons firing the FBI director. His first action was actually firing the guy who's supposed to be doing the investigation that he was supposed to be in charge of, hence Attorney General Sessions had to recuse himself. But the idea that somehow they were firing him now for actions that in a sense said he was unfair to Hillary Clinton. This president firing an FBI director because of actions taken nine months ago...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

WARNER: It doesn't pass the (unintelligible) test.

SIEGEL: You've suggested that the administration's commitment to the rule of law has been lacking. Do you think that this firing reflects that shortcoming?

WARNER: Robert, those are terms I'm hesitant to use. But I have to say at this point in time, I do question its commitment to rule of law. This is so much bigger than just this president. This is a time where I hope that individuals in the Justice Department, at the FBI and, for that matter, Congress can redouble our efforts to get to the bottom of what, if anything, happened in terms of ties between Trump officials and the Russians.

It's - you know, if you had to protect nine months ago what Vladimir Putin would have wanted, he would have wanted a campaign in America where people question its legitimacy, and he would have wanted the kind of chaos that has been created by this administration.

SIEGEL: Are you hopeful that Senate Republicans will join you in calling for a special counsel to be appointed to pick up the investigation into Russian actions last year?

WARNER: Well, I think a special counsel, special prosecutor should be appointed. My hope - my Republican colleagues will join me. That will not mean - conclude our Senate investigation from going on as well.

SIEGEL: But have you heard anything encouraging from your Republican colleagues on that score?

WARNER: Well, this is all fairly - you know, this has all happened in the last two hours, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. I can tell you this - that our committee - and while we've taken some incoming from both Democrats and Republicans, I'm very proud of the fact that both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee at least...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

WARNER: ...Have been pretty diligent about following the facts wherever they lead.

SIEGEL: And just a quick yes or no - do you have confidence in the Justice Department and Attorney General Jeff Sessions?

WARNER: At this moment in time in, until I see further proof of why I should have that confidence, I don't have the confidence I need.

SIEGEL: Senator Warner, thanks for talking with us today. That's...

WARNER: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: ...Mark Warner, Democratic senator from Virginia. And we have reached out to a number of Senator Warner's Republican colleagues, and we've either been turned down, or we haven't heard back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.