Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the need to protect Special Counsel Mueller in the wake of the FBI raid of President Trump’s personal lawyer. Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:
Mr. President, yesterday, FBI agents, at the direction of the US Attorney of the Southern District of NY, seized information from President Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
It was reported that the referral to the US Attorney’s office originated with Special Counsel Mueller, but the raid itself was under the direction of the US Attorney’s office and New York FBI agents.
We don’t know the reason for Special Counsel Mueller’s referral. We do know that any referral must have been signed off by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Furthermore, the US Attorney’s office in New York would have to be convinced that whatever information Mueller passed along was worth pursuing. And then the US Attorney would have to convince an independent magistrate judge – nonpartisan – that there was probable cause to believe that seizing information from Mr. Cohen would yield evidence of a crime. That’s a serious and high standard that had to be met.
I go through these details because it’s important to understand that yesterday’s events could only have been the result of a rigorous legal process with checks at each step and a very high burden of proof. And yet, last night, President Trump said that the FBI raid was a “disgrace,” part of a “witch hunt,” an “attack on our country,” and mentioned that many people have encouraged him to fire Mueller. “We’ll see what happens,” he concluded.
Let’s break some of this down.
The president suggests that the latest events are part of a partisan conspiracy against him. I’d remind President Trump that the source of the referral, Special Counsel Mueller, is a lifelong Republican. The Deputy Attorney General who signed off on the referral, Rod Rosenstein, is a Republican, appointed by President Trump. The Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, a Republican appointed by President Trump. The US Attorney for the Southern District in New York, who sought a search warrant based on that information, is a Republican, appointed by President Trump. The FBI Agents in New York who carried out the seizure are under the direction of Christopher Wray, a Republican, appointed by President Trump. So if President Trump believes this to be a partisan conspiracy, he once again ignores the fact that every major player is a Republican and all but the judges appointed by President Trump himself. But the partisan affiliation of those involved doesn’t matter. These are all law enforcement officers doing their jobs. A job enshrined by the Constitution of the United States.
The president also tweeted this morning that “attorney-client privilege is dead.” Mr. President, attorney-client privilege is alive and well, but there is an exception when that attorney might be involved in a crime or fraud. It’s well-known as the “crime-fraud exception.” And that exception is obviously in play today. Law enforcement officers believe there is a good chance that the attorney for the president committed crime or was involved in fraud. They couldn’t have gotten the O.K. from the magistrate to make these seizures.
President Trump also said that the implication of his personal attorney for potentially serious federal crimes constitutes an “attack on our country.” That’s what he said, “an attack on our country.”
With all due respect, President Trump, America has been around for over two and a half centuries -- an investigation of your personal attorney is not an attack on our country.
The Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor was an attack on our country. 9/11 was an attack on our country. When Russia interfered with our elections -- that was an attack on our country. Investigating your personal lawyer with a high standard to be met is certainly not an attack on our country. It is what America has always been about and still is, rule of law.
President Trump said the raid was a disgrace. I say to the president: Mr. President, you have it wrong, interfering with the investigation would be a disgrace. Calling it an attack on our country is a disgrace. What matters is the rule of law. In this country, no man is above the law, not even the president. Mr. President, your comments were the real disgrace.
Now, if the president is thinking of using this raid to fire Special Counsel Mueller or otherwise interfere with the chain of command in the Russia probe, we have one simple message for him: don’t even think about it. Special Counsel Mueller has uncovered a deep and detailed pattern of Russian interference in our elections that has led to several indictments and guilty pleas. It has also led the Trump administration itself to level sanctions against Russian individuals for meddling in our elections, that is proof positive that Mueller’s investigation is not a so-called ‘witch-hunt.’ If the president’s own administration has leveled sanctions against Russian individuals for meddling in our elections, how can the president say it’s a witch hunt? It’s being pursued by his own administration. Independent of the Mueller Investigation.
The investigation by Special Counsel Mueller is critical to the health of our democracy, the security of our future elections, and must be allowed to continue. The president seems to have a view that the Department of Justice’s sole purpose is to protect the president and go after his enemies. I emphatically state to the president, that is NOT the role of the Department of Justice – their role is to enforce the law, and go after anyone who breaks it. That’s their role – not subject to the president’s political interests in any way. So President Trump should not have any contact with the new US Attorney in the Southern District, his office, or with the Department of Justice officials overseeing an investigation of Mr. Cohen. Any attempted contact by the president or the White House should be reported to the Department of Justice immediately.
One final point. When President Trump implies that the Mueller investigation is an assault on our country and our values, he’s not only dead wrong, he’s wrong in a very dangerous way. Special Counsel Mueller, the FBI, federal prosecutors and US Attorneys are following the due process of our legal system. Calling that an attack on our country undermines the rule of law – a bedrock principle of this great nation for centuries, the reason above all that the rest of the world looks up to these great United States of America. The only person engaging in an attack on American values – “what we all stand for” – the rule of law – is unfortunately, President Trump. And it needs to stop. It’s gnawing at the very core of America.
You know, Mr. President, it is difficult to know when you’re living through a historic time in this country. Our nation has prevailed through many dark times. We all hope that, in the sweep of history, our current moment is not one of peril. But we have witnessed a sustained attack by the President of the United States on the rule of law in this country and we may be getting to that point. We’ve seen that any institution with the power to check the president’s power -- the federal judiciary, the Department of Justice, the FBI, Congress, the press -- suffers his disdain and derision. If we fail to adequately defend these institutions, which represent the rule of law and balance of power in our country that the founding fathers so brilliantly enshrined, then we are letting our grand democracy diminish.
I beseech my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stand up and say that what President Trump is doing is wrong. Make it clear that firing Mueller or interfering in his investigation crosses a red line and is a threat to our constitutional order. Let us also be clear that the president does not have the authority to order the Special Counsel’s firing without cause. And finally, let’s take steps to protect the Special Counsel from political interference. We have several bipartisan bills designed to do just that. Majority Leader McConnell should bring them to the floor and let us debate them.
For months, Republicans have said that legislation to protect the special counsel is not needed because they’ve been assured by nameless people that the president won’t fire the Special Counsel. That assurance has been shaken by the president’s comments last night. By his own words, it’s clear he may be considering firing the special counsel. This Congress must respond forcefully and on a bipartisan basis by reaffirming our belief that the president cannot fire the special counsel without cause, and by passing legislation to ensure that any attempts to remove Robert Mueller will be unsuccessful.
We should not abide the president’s attempted assault on the rule of law in America. The eyes of history are upon us.