WASHINGTON — Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., warned congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump on Sunday that using the release of the “Nunes memo” as a reason to fire special counsel Robert Mueller over his Russia probe could trigger a “constitutional crisis.”
Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democratic leader, made his remarks in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Durbin, asked what he would do if Trump fired Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, said, “Listen, this would be an extreme event and one that I say with some caution could create a constitutional crisis in this country.
“The question at that moment is whether or not the majority Republicans in the House and the Senate will stand up for the rule of law and the Constitution if the president takes that extreme position. Trey Gowdy, who is retiring from the House, a Republican conservative from South Carolina, said he saw nothing in this memo that undermined the investigation and he still had confidence in Bob Mueller. I hope people like Mr. Gowdy will continue to make those statements and stand behind the rule of law. If the president takes this extreme action, this presented action, I’m afraid that it could lead to a confrontation we do not need in America.”
BELOW, THE FULL TRANSCRIPT, PROVIDED BY CNN
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I’m Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is ready for some football.
As Americans wait for the Eagles and the Patriots to face off in the Super Bowl, President Trump is facing off with his own national security community leaders.
The president spent Saturday golfing and complaining on Twitter that nobody’s talking about his great jobs numbers, only Russia, Russia, Russia. He also used Twitter to declare himself cleared in the ongoing Russia investigation after the release of a Republican four-page memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance tools during and afternoon the 2016 election.
He tweeted — quote — “This memo totally vindicates Trump in probe. But the Russian witch-hunt goes on and on. There was no collusion and there was no obstruction, the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding nothing, collusion is dead. This is an American disgrace” — unquote.
In response to the president’s tweet, a former senior national security official told me — quote — “As a public servant, I was taught to never take official action for personal gain. That is exactly what our president has done. He personally ordered the declassification of the memo not for political purposes, but for personal purposes. The proof of that is his claim that he has now been vindicated by the memo. In my view, this conflict of interest is the real story, not the memo itself, which doesn’t contain much we didn’t already know” — unquote.
Let’s get right to the number two Democrat in the senator, Dick Durbin of Illinois. He’s also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senator Durbin, thanks for joining us.
President Trump says the Nunes memo totally vindicates Trump in the probe. Does it?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: No, of course it does not.
And the fact that the Republicans in the House refused to allow a minority report, the Democratic response to their memo, is an indication that this — they’re just bound and determined to continue to find ways to absolve this president from any responsibility.
I agree completely with John McCain. It was John McCain who said, trying to undermine the FBI and the Department of Justice is really not in the best interest of the America, and, frankly, it’s doing Putin’s work.
We ought to be trying to focus on an investigation on a professional level by Bob Mueller, and not trying to find a way to obstruct justice or to absolve this president from any responsibility he has.
TAPPER: I want you to take a listen to what the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, said about the allegations laid out in the memo of FISA abuse.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: I think the American people understand that the FBI should not go to secret courts using information that was paid for by the Democrats to open up investigations and get warrants on people of the other political party.
That’s the type of stuff that happens in banana republics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, it seems as though the judge was told that the information from the Steele dossier was funded by a political source, but it was not specifically referred to as having been paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
Do you think that is problematic?
DURBIN: What Nunes conveniently ignores is, this investigation was under way long before the involvement of the Steele dossier.
And, in fact, the court was advised that there was a political source to it. And the judge, in issuing a FISA warrant, has to weigh whether or not there’s something in the background here that should disqualify the issuance of a warrant. And he decided repeatedly that it did not.
The Nunes memo, if they allowed the Democratic response to come out, would be discredited itself. The information, the facts tell a totally different story.
TAPPER: So, Senator, just to play devil’s advocate here, one could really look at this objectively and say, look, I get what you’re saying about the Nunes memo, but the Democratic Party isn’t exactly bathed in glory here.
“Mother Jones” magazine broke the story of the dossier’s existence in October 2016. The intelligence chiefs felt the need to brief the incoming and outgoing presidents of the existence of the dossier in January 2017.
And the fact is, the public didn’t find out that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC paid for the dossier until a little over three months ago in October 2017. This dossier was used for this FISA warrant, a surveillance warrant of a Trump official, and the Clinton campaign and the DNC didn’t close that.
Isn’t that problematic?
DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that that is one piece of evidence. Its credibility has to be judged by law enforcement officials first, ultimately by a judge, and perhaps by a jury.
But to say that that’s the end of the investigation, that this is all that Donald Trump needs to fire Rosenstein or to fire Bob Mueller, I will just tell you, this could precipitate a constitutional crisis.
If the House Republicans believe they have set the stage for this president to end this investigation, they are basically saying that, in America, one man is above the law. And that’s not a fact. We have got to make sure that we explore all the possibilities and all the evidence.
TAPPER: I want to get to that, and I understand your larger point.
But would you — would you grant the point that the DNC and the Clinton campaign should have disclosed much earlier than they did to the public that they actually funded this dossier?
DURBIN: Of course, you know as well, Jake, that the actual political motivation, beginning of this, was on the Republican side.
It was then switched over where there was Democratic funding. It really goes to the credibility. But that is an issue that the judge in issuing the FISA warrant takes into consideration, and ultimately some other trier of fact will as well.
But to say now that we can say, as the president said, it’s all over, stop the investigation, I’m above the law, and I shouldn’t be investigated any further, that is an extreme position. And it’s inconsistent with one of the fundamental rules of law in this country.
TAPPER: Well, I think, in point of fact, the opposition research project was funded by Republicans, but the Steele dossier, per se, was funded by Democrats, but this appears to be a dry well. So, I’m going to move on.
Before the memo was released, Democrats were sounding the alarm that putting it out could compromise national security and intelligence sources and methods.
Take a listen to the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I think we have a crossed a deeply regrettable line in this committee where, for the first time in the 10 years or so that I have been on the committee, there was a vote to politicize the declassification process of intelligence and potentially compromise sources and methods.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Do you see any evidence of sources and methods compromised in the memo?
DURBIN: I tell you, I can’t answer that without being on the inside and understanding the sources.
It was the FBI itself, not Adam Schiff, whom I respect very much, but the FBI itself that said the release of this memo would be reckless. That was their word, reckless. And yet the House Republicans were bound and determined to do this in order to stop this investigation of the president and those around him.
TAPPER: I want to ask you about the fact that the president, as you alluded to, it seems pretty clear from the response of Trump and his allies to the memo that it could, if not likely, will be used as pretext for the president to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or special counsel Bob Mueller.
What will you do if he does, if he carries out either one of those actions?
DURBIN: Listen, this would be an extreme event and one that I say with some caution could create a constitutional crisis in this country.
The question at that moment is whether or not the majority Republicans in the House and the Senate will stand up for the rule of law and the Constitution if the president takes that extreme position.
Trey Gowdy, who is retiring from the House, a Republican conservative from South Carolina, said he saw nothing in this memo that undermined the investigation and he still had confidence in Bob Mueller.
I hope people like Mr. Gowdy will continue to make those statements and stand behind the rule of law.
If the president takes this extreme action, this presented action, I’m afraid that it could lead to a confrontation we do not need in America.
TAPPER: But can you be more specific about what Democrats might do?
DURBIN: Well, I can’t — I don’t want to predict that. I think that’s too hypothetical.
But we understand what the Constitution says we must do, and that is hold everyone in the United States, including the president of the United States, accountable if they have violated the law. No one, including the president, is above the law.
TAPPER: Let’s switch to immigration.
The Democrats have been protesting the changes that President Trump has proposed to the legal immigration system, limiting family reunification, or so-called chain migration, so it’s only for spouses and minor children, and ending outright the diversity visa lottery.
You, in 2013, voted for the gang of eight immigration bill that contained similar provisions, ending visa diversity lottery and eliminating the ability of brothers and sisters to the country on family reunification visas.
So, why oppose it when President Trump is proposing it this time?
DURBIN: The answer’s very obvious.
The comprehensive immigration reform dealt with 11 million people in the United States and gave them a path to legal status over a long period of time. We swept away all of the existing applications for family members seeking visas.
Over three million of them were going — the backlog was going to be wiped away, and we were going to bring them in to the United States, and then moving forward change the standard.
That is not what President Trump is suggesting. Understand what they are proposing. They want to cut legal immigration into the United States of family members, some of whom who have waited 20 years or month to join up with their families here.
This is no longer about the security of the United States. It is not about competition for American jobs. It is an effort by them to make a different immigration policy in the future, one that envisions an America that is much different than it is today.
This is not an acceptable premise.
TAPPER: Senator, a CNN poll after the government shutdown, when Democrats forced a government shutdown over the dreamers two weeks ago, found that 56 percent of Americans polled thought that keeping the government open was more important than continuing DACA.
The next deadline to fund the government is Thursday. Do you vow right now that you will not shut the government down again if there is not a DACA deal before the deadline?
DURBIN: There is not likely to be a DACA deal, though we’re working every single day, on telephone calls and person to person, to try to reach this bipartisan agreement.
I think we’re making real progress. I want to salute the moderates in both the Republicans and Democratic caucuses in the Senate. They have really been a positive voice, Democrats and Republicans sitting in the same room working to try to solve this problem.
I don’t see a government shutdown coming, but I do see a promise by Senator McConnell to finally bring this critical issue that affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in America, finally bringing it to a full debate in the Senate.
That’s what we were looking for when there was a shutdown. We have achieved that goal. We’re moving forward.
TAPPER: Senator Durbin, I understand you’re rooting for the Patriots this evening. I’m not going to bring up the subject. And I hope you have an OK Sunday night.
Thanks so much for watching.