After James Comey was fired by Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took to the floor and called for Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the investigation of Russia's involvement in our 2016 presidential election.
His call was so vital and so important that he demanded that all Democrats come to the floor at 9:30 AM to stand for his call.
The dismissal of Director Comey establishes a very troubling pattern. This Administration has now removed several law enforcement officials in a position to conduct independent investigations of the President and his Administration - from Acting Attorney General Sally Yates to Preet Bharara, and now Jim Comey.
What should happen now…what must happen now…is that Mr. Rosenstein appoints a special prosecutor to oversee this investigation.
Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein sat in the Judiciary Committee and promised to appoint a special prosecutor at the appropriate time. He said, “I'm willing to appoint a special counsel whenever I determine that it's appropriate…”
So my colleague, Senator Coons asked him: “…would you agree that it's vital to the assurance of confidence in our democracy and law enforcement system that any investigation into these matters be fair, free, thorough and politically independent?”
Mr. Rosenstein answered, “Yes, I do.”
If there was ever a time when the circumstances warranted a special prosecutor, it is right now.
Mr. Rosenstein already expressed concern that Director Comey damaged the integrity of the FBI. The Attorney General has already had to recuse himself from the investigation for being too close to the President.
If Mr. Rosenstein is true to his word, that he believes this investigation must be “fair, free, thorough and politically independent,” if he believes as I do that the American people must be able to have faith in the impartiality of this investigation – he must appoint a special prosecutor and get this investigation out of the hands of the FBI and far away from the heavy hand of this Administration.
Mr. Rosenstein has the authority to appoint a special prosecutor right now; he needs no congressional authorization. This would simply be a step that he could take, as outlined in the Department of Justice guidelines and in a law passed after Watergate, to get an independently-minded prosecutor who would be insulated from various pressures:
A special prosecutor is not subject to day-to-day supervision by the attorney general or anyone else at the Justice Department. That means the special prosecutor would have much greater latitude in who he can subpoena, which questions they ask, how to conduct the investigation.
The special prosecutor can only be removed for good cause, such as misconduct, not to quash the investigation.
Third, there is built-in congressional oversight. Congress is notified whenever a special counsel is appointed, removed, or finished with the investigation.
The appointment of a special prosecutor would be a welcome step in the right direction, but it is not the only action that should be taken.
There are a great many outstanding questions about the circumstances of Director Comey’s dismissal, the status of the executive branch investigation into the Trump campaigns ties to Russia, and what the future holds for these investigations.
So I will be requesting that the Majority Leader call a closed, and if necessary, classified, all-Senators briefing with the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General separately, at which they can be asked some of the questions.
• Why was Attorney General Sessions, who had recused himself from the Russia investigations, able to influence the firing of the man conducting the Russia investigation?
• Did Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein act on his own or at the direction of his superiors or the White House?
• Are reports that the President has been searching for a rationale to fire the FBI Director for weeks true?
• Was Director Comey’s investigation making significant progress in a direction that would cause political damage for the White House?
• Why didn’t the President wait for the Inspector General’s investigation into Director Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation to conclude before making his decision to fire him? Was this really about something else?
No doubt we’ll have an opportunity to question Mr. Comey, now a private citizen, about what happened. But we need to hear from this Administration about what happened and why, and what is going to happen next.
That is why, again, I am requesting that the Majority Leader call a closed, and if necessary, classified all-senators briefing with the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General separately, at which they can be asked these questions.
I hope the Majority Leader agrees with me that we need to get to the bottom of this…and get a handle on all of the facts so that we can grapple with them.
I’d remind him and my Republican friends that nothing less is at stake than the American people’s faith in our criminal justice system, and the integrity of the executive branch of our government.