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Sen. Wyden Questions Sessions' Motive Behind FBI Director's Firing

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The White House has released a timeline of what led to James Comey's firing as director of the FBI. Apparently, President Trump lost confidence in him over a period of months. Yesterday, reporters put the question directly to President Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Mr. President, why did you fire Director Comey? Why did you fire Director Comey?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Because he wasn't doing a good job, very simply. He was not doing a good job.

MARTIN: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaking on Fox News appeared to support the president's choice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL RYAN: And I do think that Director Comey was compromised. Clearly, his superiors in the Justice Department felt that way. And the president made a presidential decision and removed him.

MARTIN: But there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who question the president's motives and those of his attorney general. In fact, a key Senate Democrat on the Intelligence committee is calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon joins us now in our studio. Senator, thanks so much for coming in.

RON WYDEN: Thanks for having me again.

MARTIN: Why do you believe Jeff Sessions should step down?

WYDEN: I think if you compare the recusal letter he issued indicating that he was not in any way going to be involved in the Russian investigation and the fact that the last couple of days indicate that he was hip-deep into the matters surrounding how it was James Comey resigned, I think that is a blatant disregard of the commitment he made to the American people and to the Congress that he would not be involved in the Russian matter. I think it raises very serious questions about his fitness for office.

MARTIN: Although the administration says that James Comey's firing had nothing to do with the Russian investigation.

WYDEN: I think that's awfully far-fetched because there are debates obviously - and we're going to get into this I'm sure this morning at the Intelligence committee - about how it was that James Sessions (ph) was involved in - Jeff Sessions was involved in these letters. I mean, these letters talk specifically about whether or not the president was being investigated.

So I think the way I would characterize it, this is not in line with what people normally think a recusal is. When you say you're recusing, you walk away. Based on what we've seen in - his role in these letters, that was not the case.

MARTIN: And when you talk about these letters, this is correspondence - this is a memo that was drafted by the deputy attorney general, Rosenstein, who - Rod Rosenstein. And we heard White House press secretary - Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders during a press briefing yesterday talking about this letter and what she described...

WYDEN: Calling it an atrocity.

MARTIN: Atrocities.

WYDEN: Which strikes me as just shameful. I mean...

MARTIN: Let's listen to the clip that she describes.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SARAH SANDERS: Having a letter like the one that he received and having that conversation that outlined the basic just - atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice, any person of legal mind and authority knows what a big deal that is, particularly in the Department of Justice.

MARTIN: So if we could set aside the choice of language that she used, does she have a point in saying the FBI director broke protocol?

WYDEN: Let's understand when you look at a matter like this what's been on the record for a long time. I mean, what she's calling an atrocity people have known about for quite some time. Mr. Comey has given his explanation. I think what is really relevant is the events of the last week. I mean, think about what happened with Sally Yates. When Sally Yates came in, she told the White House they were in a position where Mr. Flynn could be blackmailed.

I mean, we still need to know why they waited so long to fire them. I think, in my own judgment, they were very apprehensive about the idea of James Comey heading to the witness table today before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and having members ask questions about the status of the investigation with the Russians.

MARTIN: And, of course, James Comey won't be there. Instead, the new acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, will take his place in that hearing. I want to ask you, you are holding up the confirmation of a Donald Trump nominee to the Treasury Department in connection to all this. What do you hope to accomplish by doing that? What are you looking for?

WYDEN: The reason that's so important is that there is a stack of documents, a voluminous stack of documents to point - that points to various financial relationships between people who are close to the president, part of his world and the Russians. And for me, one of the key questions in doing an investigation is to always follow the money.

In fact, Clint Watts, the former FBI man, came to our committee and said, Senator, you're right. You ought to follow the money, but you also ought to follow the trail of the dead bodies. And so this is very much relevant to our inquiry. And we've been stonewalled in terms of getting financial documents. I'm the ranking Democrat on the finance committee. I obviously serve on the intelligence committee. We're asking that these documents be sent to both committees.

MARTIN: And these documents are specifically financial documents related to Donald Trump?

WYDEN: Yes. They raise questions with respect to financial connection between Russia and the president and his associates...

MARTIN: OK.

WYDEN: ...Some of the allegations with respect to whether money has been laundered. And they are enough documents to put some serious cracks in the stonewalling we've been getting.

MARTIN: Last question briefly. You'd like to see a special prosecutor appointed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell essentially said yesterday that's not going to happen, so is that the last word on this?

WYDEN: I don't think so. I mean, I think the American people want an independent accounting. And a special counsel at Justice, according to experts, is really the appropriate place to ensure that you have an independent inquiry. And they're the only place - the only agency that could, in effect, bring about a criminal case.

MARTIN: Democrat from Oregon, Senator Ron Wyden. Thank you so much for coming in.

WYDEN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.