Schumer Floor Remarks On Midterm Elections And The Need For Acting Attorney General Whitaker To Recuse Himself From The Russia Investigation

November 13, 2018
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor [at approximately 3:18 PM] regarding the midterms and the need for acting Attorney General Whitaker to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:
Mr. President, first, let me say that all of our hearts go out to everyone affected by the terrible wildfires in California and once again express how grateful we are to the first responders and firefighters -- those brave people -- on the scene. We continue to monitor the situation, and the Senate will do everything it can to help.
Now, let me welcome everybody back after the midterm elections. Last week, Americans voted in record numbers to deliver an unambiguous message: they wanted change.
People across the country were disappointed in what two years of one-party Republican rule had delivered. Rising health care costs and declining quality. A massive giveaway of public resources to multinational corporations and the wealthiest few. A Congress that failed to provide a check and balance on the president. So the American people voted for a change. They voted for a check on President Trump and a Congress that would stop trying to take away their health care. After two long years, that’s what they’ll get. Republican plans to rip health care away from Americans have been stymied.
Democrats won the House of Representatives decisively. Democrats flipped several governorships and state legislatures. And here in the Senate, Democratic candidates did extraordinarily well with a very difficult map. Overall, last Tuesday night was a very good night for Democrats. 
But more importantly, it was a very good night for America, and for beginning to restore some normalcy to our nation’s governance.
This afternoon, let me welcome the new Republican senators and the two new Democratic senators, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – the women of the West – whom I met with this morning. Both are highly accomplished. Both are tough and incredibly bright – principled but also pragmatic. And I assure you, Mr. President, they will both make excellent, effective senators. I could not be more pleased to welcome them to this chamber.
But now that the hard-fought midterm campaign is over, we must turn the page and see what Democrats and Republicans can accomplish together for the American people. In the lame duck session, we’ll consider legislation dealing with the Coast Guard and wrap up the appropriations process. And then in January, the House and Senate will come back with a new legislators and new priorities.
One item cannot wait though until January, Mr. President. Last week, President Trump asked for the resignation of his once best friend, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and announced that Matthew Whitaker, the Chief of Staff to the Attorney General, would become the acting Attorney General.
Even though Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, already confirmed by the Senate, was next in line for the title of acting attorney general under the Justice Department’s succession statute, President Trump took the highly unusual step of naming another person to the job – Mr. Whitaker – who has not been confirmed by the Senate for any job in the Justice Department.
First and foremost, there are serious questions about whether or not Mr. Whitaker’s appointment is even constitutional, considering the requirement for Senate confirmation in Article II of the Constitution. But in addition to very serious questions about the appointment itself, Americans should be concerned about the appointee – Mr. Whitaker -- and what he might mean for Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.
It’s amazing, Mr. Whitaker claimed that Russia didn’t interfere with our elections, contrary to the conclusions of 17 intelligence agencies. When someone ignores the facts and just says these things, you know they’re an ideologue. They’re not trying to dispense justice or anything else down the middle, they’re an ideologue. 17 intelligence agencies said Russia interfered in our election. This isn’t about collusion, just whether they interfered. And Mr. Whitaker says “no.” He’s called for, quote, “pulling the reins back” on the Russia investigation that is hardly a neutral arbiter for who is going to call the shots as they should be called – down the middle. He referred to Special Counsel Mueller and his staff as a “lynch mob.” You know, Mr. President, when I saw General Flynn on the 2016 campaign, a three-star general screaming “lock her up,” I thought, something is wrong. A general shouldn’t do that, no matter what their political views. Well, when the acting attorney general refers to Special Counsel Mueller and his staff as a “lynch mob,” that is way over the top in a similar way. And Mr. Whitaker has openly mused about how to grind the investigation to a halt.
There is simply no question that Mr. Whitaker enters his role as acting attorney general with a clear bias against the Russia investigation. Essentially, Mr. Whitaker has prejudged the outcome of an investigation he now oversees.
In light of this, two things must happen:
First, we are demanding that Mr. Whitaker recuse himself from the Russia investigation. On Sunday, I sent a letter along with Leader Pelosi, and top Democrats from both houses and the relevant committees, to the Department of Justice’s Chief Ethics Officer explaining why Mr. Whitaker should be recused and requesting the Chief Ethics Officer notify Congress as to what guidance Whitaker has given.
We’ve heard that Mr. Whitaker is meeting with Ethics officials this week, and we expect, we expect, that Congress will be notified about the results of those discussions.
Second, if Mr. Whitaker does not recuse himself, we Democrats are going to attempt to add legislation to the must-pass spending bill in the lame duck session that will prevent acting Attorney General Whitaker from interfering with the Mueller investigation in any way.
Judiciary Committee Democrats have also requested that Chairman Grassley schedule a hearing with Mr. Whitaker and former Attorney General Sessions. I support that request wholeheartedly.
Now, even if you don’t believe Mr. Whitaker poses a threat to the Mueller investigation, there are serious questions about whether his appointment is lawful, and beyond that, whether Mr. Whitaker has the experience, the temperament, and the independence, the fidelity to rule of law, required for such a vitally important position. Given that the Senate never confirmed him for his current role in the Justice Department, now is the time for the Senate to consider whether Mr. Whitaker is qualified for his new role as our nation’s chief law enforcement officer. 
Let’s remember one thing: Democrats, Republicans alike have said that if President Trump interferes with the Russia investigation, we’d be on the brink of a constitutional crisis, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades. Altering the chain of command in the Justice Department to put a partisan loyalist in charge of the investigation certainly feels like we may be heading down that road.
Why not head the whole thing off at the pass? Mr. Whitaker can and should recuse himself, and regardless, the Senate should pass legislation to protect the integrity of the Russia investigation.
In conclusion, it is far better thing to be safe than sorry when it comes to something as paramount as the rule of law and fidelity to the great Constitution of the United States of America.