STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here are two Republican responses to President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey. Republican Senator Jeff Flake said, last night, that he had spent hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the firing and, quote, "I just can't do it." Blake Farenthold did find a rationale, the Republican congressman from Texas spoke earlier on MORNING EDITION.
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BLAKE FARENTHOLD: The real issue is Comey had become the focus of everything. It wasn't about the FBI. His face was on TV way too much. How many former FBI directors, beyond J. Edgar Hoover, can you name?
INSKEEP: He certainly was high profile. Now let's hear a Democratic response from Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.
Senator, welcome back to the program.
TIMOTHY KAINE: Steve, good to be with you.
INSKEEP: What we heard from Farenthold there - Congressman Farenthold - is essentially the Trump White House explanation, that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, was saying that Comey spoke too much in public about an investigation, specifically of Hillary Clinton's emails. Is that true, was Comey on TV too much?
KAINE: Steve, that's laughable as an explanation. I mean, here is the - this is so troubling, an FBI director gets a 10-year term so that whether they make a president mad or Congress mad, they can be insulated from politics and do their job. I've been critical of Jim Comey, but I haven't called for him to be fired. He's got to be insulated from politics to do the job. The White House sacked Jim Comey for one reason, which is they are deeply concerned about the investigation that he is conducting into the ties with Russia.
INSKEEP: Now, I want to get to that Russia investigation. But let me just follow up on this. There were some Democrats who have called for Comey's dismissal and have said that he effectively threw the election. Do you think that Jim Comey is the reason that you're not vice president of the United States?
KAINE: No, I don't. I'm a U.S. senator now. And I have a job to do. I criticized Jim Comey's decisions. I think he made a blunder as FBI director. But again, he's got a 10-year term. And he's supposed to be in that job. And whether we criticize him or not, he's supposed to be insulated from politics. But, Steve, look at the pattern here. Look at the pattern. Deputy Attorney General Yates goes to the White House and tells President Trump about NSA Flynn's deep ties to Russia...
INSKEEP: Now, that's Sally Yates, the deputy attorney general...
KAINE: Sally Yates. And President Trump doesn't fire Flynn, he fires her. Then when the Flynn contacts to Russia finally get into the public eye, then Trump fires Flynn over the contacts with Russia. Then Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, gets caught misleading the Senate Judiciary Committee about his contacts with Russia. And he has to recuse himself from an investigation. And now Jim Comey, the FBI director, gets fired as the FBI is investigating ties between Trump and Russia.
There is a pattern here that is extremely clear. There's more to come. And that's why we need a special prosecutor.
INSKEEP: So you see a pattern because of these previous actions by the president of the United States. Do you see any specific indications that Comey's firing itself would have been to, in some way, impede or stop an investigation of people around President Trump?
KAINE: I believe that is the reason. We will obviously know more in days to come. But the pattern of sacking people or people having to recuse themselves around issues with Russia, all of these major personnel moves in the first hundred plus days of the administration are all connected to people when we get into this Russia issue.
And even President Trump's letter yesterday, his one-page letter, he just inserts into the letter this odd thing, I'm firing you, but thanks for telling me three times I'm not the subject of your investigation into Russia. Why did that go into the letter? The Rosenstein three-pager didn't say anything about Russia. That was inserted by the president into the letter because this is a president who is deeply insecure and hyper-sensitive about the Russia investigation.
So it just ups the stakes for law enforcement to carry forward, for the Senate Intelligence Committee to carry forward. We've got to get to the bottom of this.
INSKEEP: I am curious about that, Senator. Is there evidence that - outside evidence of any kind, that James Comey did tell the president of the United States, you're not under investigation. And if so, is that even appropriate for an FBI head to tell anybody that they are or aren't under investigation?
KAINE: That's a good question, Steve. There's no evidence I know of that would back up whether Jim Comey said that to the president. And of course, Jim Comey would be able to answer that question. But it was pretty clear from Director Comey's testimony before the Senate recently that the - there is an ongoing investigation, and there has been since the summer, into contacts between the Trump campaign, the Trump transition and likely the Trump administration and Russia.
And how high that goes, we don't know. But that's why the investigation needs to be completed.
INSKEEP: You mentioned that the FBI director is appointed for a 10-year term, although, as we have just seen, he can be removed by the president. What does the president's move mean for the independence of the FBI?
KAINE: Well, it's certainly being - the president is trying to thwart the full investigation into the Russia ties. But from what I know of law enforcement after 23 years in public office - I was a mayor with a police force, I was a governor with the state police force and now at the federal level I've worked with federal agencies - if somebody tries to crack down on them or push them away for an investigation, the law enforcement folks I know, they understand why that's happening and they redouble their efforts.
So look, there is an effort in the White House to stop this. But I have got confidence that law enforcement will continue to get to the bottom of this story.
INSKEEP: Do you still have confidence in your body's investigation led by the Senate Intelligence Committee?
KAINE: It's been slow. But it has been moving forward. I think this - it's been slow because it's important to get this right. As you know, Steve, the lead Democrat, Mark Warner, is my friend of 37 years, my Virginia colleague. And I am extremely impressed, having known Mark for so long, that there's never been anything in his life that he's worked on with the seriousness that he's taking this.
And it is slow and it's going to be slow, but we're going to get to the bottom of it. And I have confidence in the Senate investigation.
INSKEEP: Now, given that you can't filibuster president Trump's nominee of a replacement to run the FBI, but it will be considered by the Senate and Republicans, Democrats will weigh in, do you believe the Senate will be able to ensure a credible and independent replacement as head of the FBI?
KAINE: I - and you're right, he can get confirmed with 51 votes. But Steve, I can guarantee you this nominee, whoever it is, will be subject to one of the most searching examinations in their confirmation hearing of anybody who's ever been before this body. We'll make sure of that.
INSKEEP: You think Republicans will make sure of that as well?
KAINE: I do. Maybe not every Republican but many of my colleagues, as you pointed out, have weighed in with grave concern about what the president did yesterday.
INSKEEP: Senator Kaine, thanks very much. Really appreciate you taking the time.
KAINE: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: Tim Kaine was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2016 and remains the United States Senator from Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.