President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday night has provoked strong responses, including from members of the U.S. Senate. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders says he's troubled by the firing and wants an independent prosecutor to investigate Trump's ties to Russia.
Listen to our conversation with Sen. Bernie Sanders above.
Do you believe the reason that President Trump gave for firing James Comey?
“No, I don't believe that for a second. I mean the fact — it's totally ludicrous. I mean, Trump was almost encouraging people at campaign rallies to shout out, ‘Lock her up, lock her up,’ and now suddenly to say that that's the reason — the way he conducted his investigation of [Hillary] Clinton — is nonsense. Now obviously, I am concerned about the way he handled himself, the way Comey handled himself during the campaign. But that's certainly not the reason that Trump fired him.
“What I think is that … Comey last week made it clear that there is an investigation going on looking at the possible collusion between Trump and Russia. That, in fact, according to The New York Times, Comey had asked the Department of Justice for increased resources to move that investigation along ... He was going to be testifying tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee on a number of issues, certainly including Russia. And I think those are the reasons why Trump fired him: that the investigation was moving forward, and it looks to me like Trump did not want to see that happen.
You said in your statement last night we need to know what the president is hiding. What do you suspect he's hiding?
“Well, I don't know. I mean, the charges are a serious charge, and I'm not going to suggest that the Trump campaign was in collusion — that is what the investigation is about. What we do know is that Russia has attempted to undermine elections in a number of countries — last week, in France supporting [presidential candidate Marine] Le Pen. We know according to virtually every intelligence agency in this country that Russia was involved in our election in favor of Donald Trump.
“The key question, and we don't know the answer to this, is: Was there collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, or did Russia just act independently? That's what the investigation is about. And that's what we need to find out. And the only way I think that we find that out is through a special counsel, independently appointed not by the attorney general of the United States or anybody in the Trump administration.”
Senate Democrats held a long caucus meeting this morning. What did you discuss?
“What we discussed is, what is the best way forward in a nonpartisan way? If this looks like it's just another partisan battle, another partisan fight or an anti-Trump effort, then I think the American people will lose faith in what we're trying to do here. And what we are trying to do, and it must be done in a nonpartisan way, is to get to the truth of the matter. And there are Republicans who absolutely agree with that. And I think there are a number of Republicans who are quite upset about Trump's firing of Comey and the manner in which he did it.”
Does this put all other major legislative work on hold — things like health care, and the tax code rewrite?
“No … the issue here, why this issue is so important, is that this nation is supposed to be a nation guided by the rule of law. And yet we have a president who has, day after day, attacked mainstream media as ‘fake news.’ He has lied quite frequently. He has attacked judges — has called them ‘so-called judges’ when they rendered verdicts that he didn't like.
“And now, he has fired a FBI director who was the middle of an investigation regarding his campaign. And it is terribly important that we follow through on this in a nonpartisan way and that we get to the truth of the matter. So that's what this is about.
“But to answer your question, we've got a health care bill that just came out from the U.S. House, which might be the most disgusting piece of legislation that I have seen since I have been in Washington. This is a horrific piece of legislation that gives hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the top 2 percent and throws 24 million people off of health insurance and cuts back on people who have preexisting conditions, et cetera. So we have got to pay attention to that. And obviously there are many many other major issues facing this country.”