A Senate Democrat leading one of the congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election took to the Senate floor Wednesday to push back against “the growing chorus of irresponsible and reckless voices” calling for the dismissal of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned that efforts to remove Mr. Mueller could evoke “a constitutional crisis” and urged colleagues to speak out against any accusations that the special counsel’s investigation was tainted by political bias.
“It is up to every member of this institution, Republican or Democrat to make a clear and unambiguous statement that any attempt by this president to remove special counsel Mueller from his position, or to pardon key witnesses in any effort to shield them from accountability, or to shut the investigation would be a gross abuse of power,” the Virginia Democrat said.
“These truly are red lines and we simply cannot allow them to be crossed,” he said.
Mr. Trump said last weekend that he is not planning to fire Mr. Mueller, but that he does have concerns with the way the investigation is being run.
Republicans have raised concern in recent weeks over the possibility that political bias among FBI investigators could have influenced recent investigations — including the special counsel probe of Russian meddling and possible ties to Trump campaign members as well as the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Meanwhile Trump transition lawyer Kory Langhofer last week complained to congressional committees about Mr. Mueller’s investigative tactics, arguing that emails from the transition team that were stored by the General Services Agency were inappropriately provided to investigators.
Mr. Trump complained about the development to reporters over the weekend.
“Not looking good. It’s not looking good. It’s quite sad to see that. My people were very upset to see that,” Mr. Trump said. “A lot of lawyers thought that was pretty sad.”
Mr. Warner noted that when Mr. Mueller, a former FBI director, was initially appointed to lead the investigation that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle praised the decision.
He noted that all the major players who held roles overseeing the Russia investigation are Republicans — including Mr. Mueller, former FBI Director James B. Comey, current FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the probe because of his ties to the Trump campaign.
“The charges that some of made that somehow Democratic political bias has crept in this investigation are baseless given the makeup of the leadership team,” Mr. Warner said.
But Republicans have questioned whether key figures in the FBI let their bias taint their investigations after it was disclosed that a member of Mr. Mueller’s team had exchanged text messages with another FBI lawyer in which the two mocked then-candidate Mr. Trump and worried about the fate of the United States if he was elected.
FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok was removed from the Mueller investigation after the messages were discovered as part of an inspector general’s inquiry. The other employee, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, had also worked on the Mueller team for a short time but was no longer doing so when the messages were uncovered over the summer. Mr. Strzok had also led the investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s email server in 2016.
Mr. Warner said the fact Mr. Mueller took quick action to remove Mr. Strzok was proof he was dedicated to running an impartial investigation.
“Firing Mr. Mueller or any other of the top brass involved in this investigation would not only call into question this administration’s commitment to the truth but also to our most basic concept of rule of law,” Mr. Warner said.