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Sen. Mark Warner Reacts To Reports Of Trump Trying To Fire Mueller

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right, let's stay with this story and bring in the voice of Virginia Democrat Mark Warner. He is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which means he is helping lead the Senate's efforts to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. Senator Warner, welcome.

MARK WARNER: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: The Times reports that President Trump ordered Mueller fired. President Trump has shot back. He's calling this story fake news. I want to ask you. Does The Times' reporting square with what you have learned as you have investigated?

WARNER: I believe not only the Times' reporting, but I was even on Fox News, where I believe they've even confirmed that this was the president's intent. Thank goodness the president listened to his lawyer because not only would he - was he threatening to quit, but he said this would have created chaos. And that's what I'm fearful of. I went to the Senate floor back in December and said firing Mueller or, for that matter, pardoning some of the people that Mr. Mueller has indicted would be crossing a red line.

Yet this president, whether - as your earlier report has indicated, not only did he fire Comey because he wouldn't back off the investigation. He's wanted to fire Mueller. Now that's become evident. He's been obviously angry at his attorney general, Sessions, who recused himself from overseeing the investigation. Just recently, we've also had evidence that he pressured Sessions to try to fire another senior FBI official, Andrew McCabe.

And then we've seen some of these - if they weren't so - wasn't so dangerous, almost absurd theories being bandied around by the president's allies in the last week or so trying to basically impugn the overall reputation of the FBI and the Department of Justice writ large. We're in uncharted area here. And my hope is come this week that the Congress would take up the legislation - bipartisan legislation that had been discussed last fall that would protect...

KELLY: To protect Robert Mueller.

WARNER: ...To protect Mueller from being fired by an arbitrary action of this president.

KELLY: Which I want to get to in a second. But may I first just flat-out ask you. Can you confirm The Times' report? Do you have firsthand knowledge?

WARNER: I'm not going to confirm or deny that particular report. I do think that every news organization that I'm aware of that I've spoken to today all seem to have independently confirmed that. And I'll leave it at that.

KELLY: So you have nothing - no knowledge that you have come across that gives you any cause to doubt The Times' reporting?

WARNER: I'm not being - one of things I'm - I have nothing to doubt The Times' reporting. And again, we have a president here who has continued to say there's no there there yet acts in an absolutely opposite way. And I think many of us in Congress are going to have to in effect, you know, take off our Democrat and Republican badges for a few days and recognize that we have an oath to the Constitution, and that means that no one, no individual, including the president, is above the law. And...

KELLY: You mentioned that there is legislation on the Hill to protect Robert Mueller from being fired. How worried do you think he should be about his job?

WARNER: Well, this legislation arose in the September time frame when there were, again, a swirl of rumors. It didn't move forward because those rumors died down. We then started seeing in December what appeared to be an organized effort somewhat orchestrated out of the White House, promoted by certain networks that the president seems to follow that were saying - in effect using the words like coup about the Mueller investigation.

You then had a number of allies of the president go out and impugn the overall reputation of the FBI, overall actions of the Justice Department. That promoted me to go to the floor. And then after that in December - and after that...

KELLY: And forgive me, Senator. Forgive me. I just - there's so much I want to get to with you.

WARNER: Sure.

KELLY: And I want to fast-forward to now. Now that this story is out there, does it somewhat inoculate Robert Mueller to have this story out there? Does it make it harder for Trump to fire him?

WARNER: I would hope so. I know that every time these theories have come up, many of my Republican Senate colleagues have come up and said, no, we should defend Mueller, that it would be crazy for the president to fire him. My hope would, though, be that those members who've been silent would also step forward.

KELLY: Right.

WARNER: The American public deserves to get to the bottom of this, and I believe Bob Mueller's investigation will provide that. I believe our Senate intelligence investigation, which is the last bipartisan investigation, also has to continue.

KELLY: One argument I might make if I were a lawyer for the president would be, the president may have wanted to fire Mueller, but he didn't. It didn't happen. So where's the obstruction?

WARNER: I'll leave that to the lawyers to make their judgments.

KELLY: (Laughter).

WARNER: But I will say, if you just look not as a lawyer but as a judgment on somebody who says he has nothing to hide, if you take the wanting to fire Mueller, combine it with the firing of Comey, the pressure on Sessions, the actions of his allies to try to basically impugn the reputation of the FBI and the Department of Justice, there seems to be a pattern here that is not a pattern of someone who doesn't have anything to hide.

KELLY: Senator, in the brief moment that we have left - a question I've asked you before and I want to ask you again. You've devoted many months now to investigating this. Are you convinced that there is smoke here and not - that there is fire here and not just smoke?

WARNER: I'm convinced a year ago that this was the most important piece of action I've worked on in my public life. I believe that more today than I did a year ago particularly based upon documents and information that I've received in the last 60 days.

KELLY: Senator Warner, thank you.

WARNER: Thank you.

KELLY: Virginia Democrat Mark Warner.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAME IMPALA SONG, "NEW PERSON, SAME OLD MISTAKES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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