Opening Statement of Senate Intel Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner of Open Hearing with former FBI Director James Comey
Jun 08 2017
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you Mr. Comey for agreeing to come testify before our Committee as a part of our Russia investigation.
I realize that while Washington has been focused on this, many Americans tuning in today may not have focused on every twist and turn in the investigation. So I'd like to briefly describe what we already know, and what we are still investigating. To be clear, this investigation is not about re-litigating an election. This is not about who won or who lost. And it is certainly not about Democrats versus Republicans.
We are here because a foreign adversary attacked us right here at home. Plain and simple. Not by guns or missiles, but by foreign operatives seeking to hijack our most important democratic process – our Presidential election. Russian spies engaged in a series of online cyber raids and a broad campaign of disinformation – all ultimately aimed at sowing chaos to undermine public faith in our process, in our leadership and in ourselves.
That is not one senator’s opinion—it is the unanimous determination of the entire U.S. intelligence community.
So we must find-out the full story -- what Russia did, and why they were successful.
And more importantly, we must determine the necessary steps we must take to protect our democracy and ensure that they can’t do it again.
Simply put, we cannot let anything or anyone prevent us from getting to the bottom of this.
Now, Mr. Comey, let me say at the outset that we haven’t always agreed on every issue – in fact I’ve occasionally questioned actions you’ve taken – but I’ve never had any reason to question your integrity, expertise or intelligence.
You have been a straight shooter with this Committee and have been willing to speak truth to power – even at the risk of your career. Which makes the way in which you were fired by the President utterly shocking.
Recall, we began this entire process with the President and his staff first denying that the Russians were ever involved and then falsely claiming that no one from his team was ever in touch with any Russians. We now know that is just not the truth.
Numerous Trump associates had undisclosed contacts with Russians before and after the election, including the President’s Attorney General, his former National Security Advisor, and his current Senior Advisor, Mr. Kushner. That doesn’t even count the host of additional campaign associates and advisors who have also been caught up in the web.
We saw the Trump campaign manager, Mr. Manafort, forced to step down over ties to Russian-backed entities.
The National Security Advisor, General Flynn, had to resign over his lies about engagements with the Russians. And we saw the candidate himself express an odd and unexplained affection for a Russian dictator while calling for the hacking of his opponent.
That is a lot to investigate. Enough, in fact, that then-Director Comey publicly acknowledged that he was leading an investigation into those links between Mr. Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. As the Director of the FBI, Mr. Comey was ultimately responsible for conducting that investigation… which might explain why he is appearing before us today as a private citizen.
What we didn’t know is that at the same time that investigation was proceeding, the President himself appears to have been engaged in an effort to influence or coopt the Director of the FBI.
The testimony that Mr. Comey has submitted for today’s hearing is disturbing. For example, on January 27th, after summoning Director Comey to dinner, the President appears to have threatened Director Comey’s job, while telling him “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”
At a later meeting on February 14, the President asked the Attorney General to leave the Oval Office so that he could privately ask Director Comey to “see [his] way clear to… letting Flynn go.”
That is a statement Director Comey interpreted as a request that he drop the investigation connected to General Flynn’s false statements.
Think about it: the President of the United States asking the FBI Director to drop an ongoing investigation.
And after that, the President then called the FBI Director on two additional occasions – March 30 and April 11 - and asked him to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation.
Director Comey denied each of these improper requests. The loyalty pledge, the admonition to drop the Flynn investigation, and the request to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation. After his refusals, Director Comey was fired.
The initial explanation for the firing was laughable: the idea that Director Comey was fired for his treatment of Hillary Clinton. Of course, the President himself then made very clear that he was thinking about Russia when he decided to get rid of Director Comey.
Shockingly, reports suggest that President Trump admitted as much in an Oval Office meeting with the Russians the day after Director Comey was fired.
Disparaging our country’s top law enforcement official as a (quote, unquote) “nutjob,” the President allegedly suggested his firing released the great pressure he was feeling about Russia.
This is not happening in isolation. At the same time the President was engaged in these efforts with Director Comey, he was also allegedly asking senior leaders of the intelligence community to downplay the Russia investigation or intervene with Director Comey.
DNI Coats and NSA Director Admiral Rogers had plenty of opportunities to flatly deny these reports yesterday.
They did not.
That is not how a President of the United States should behave.
Regardless of the outcome of our investigation into those Russia links, Director Comey’s firing and his testimony raise separate and troubling questions that we must get to the bottom of.
I have seen firsthand how seriously every member of this committee is taking this work. I am proud of our committee’s efforts so far.
Let me be clear: this is not a witch hunt. This is not fake news. It is an effort to protect our country from a new threat that will not go away any time soon.
Mr. Comey, your testimony today will help us move towards that goal. Thank you for your continued service to this country, and I look forward to hearing from you.