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Sen. Ron Wyden On Comey And Jeff Sessions


Not every congressional hearing is must see TV. But 19.5 million people tuned in to former FBI Director James Comey's testimony Thursday. And this morning, we're still trying to figure out what the dramatic few hours on Capitol Hill will mean for the White House.


RICHARD BURR: Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

JAMES COMEY: It's my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired, in some way, to change - or the endeavor was to change the way the Russian investigation was being conducted. That is a very big deal.

PAUL RYAN: The president's new at this. He's new to government.

MARCO RUBIO: My hope is that there are people in the White House that have advised the president about what's appropriate and what isn't.

MARC KASOWITZ: The president feels completely vindicated and is eager to continue moving forward with his agenda and with this public cloud removed.

CHUCK SCHUMER: The cloud hanging over this administration has just gotten a whole lot darker.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We were very, very happy. And frankly, James Comey confirmed a lot of what I said. And some of the things that he said just weren't true. Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senator Ron Wyden was on the dais Thursday and questioned James Comey. He also grilled the intelligence chiefs the day before, and he joins us now from his home state of Oregon. Welcome to the program, sir.

RON WYDEN: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There were closed-door sessions as well as the ones we watched on TV this week. Comey himself mentioned there were answers he could only give in those private meetings. In those private meetings, did you hear anything from the former director that you feel would change your investigation or make it more or less urgent?

WYDEN: I continue to believe the question I asked Mr. Comey with respect to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general - he said he couldn't answer in public. I continue to believe that the American people deserve a public answer to that question, and I'm going to keep pressing for it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, claiming his close personal relationship with Donald Trump as the reason. Do you think that there's more to it than that?

WYDEN: I can't say anything more than what I said in public. I asked about the question of Jeff Sessions' recusal. The FBI director said it was problematic and he couldn't say anything. And what I can tell all of you at NPR is I think there is a strong public interest in the American people knowing what the FBI director wouldn't talk about with me in public.

Look, there are a lot of unanswered questions here. I mean, we had open sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. The director of national intelligence has now, in effect, given three different accounts about whether he was aware of matters with respect to dropping the investigation into Michael Flynn. He told the armed services committee he wasn't aware; The Washington Post said that he was, and then before the intelligence committee said he really didn't know. So there are a lot of unanswered questions. And - for example, I asked questions at the public hearing with respect to FISA 702 and issues relating to communications that the government knows are entirely domestic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, you, obviously, do ask a lot about government surveillance. It's a very personal issue for you. But why did you ask, since you mention it, Dan Coats, the head of national intelligence, this past week, in open session about the warrantless surveillance of citizens inside the United States when it is clearly not allowed?

WYDEN: He has made this his top priority. And for those of us who believe in liberty and security, I think that what he's essentially done is said - OK, we'll go the security side because I and others believe that there are reasons to target individuals overseas. But as communications become more globally interconnected, my concern is more and more law-abiding Americans are going to get swept up into those searches.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you have any reason to believe it's happening?

WYDEN: Again, the fact that the intelligence leadership has stonewalled on this issue again and again and again - and in...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But he didn't stonewall exactly. He said, not to my knowledge, it's against the law - in response to your question.

WYDEN: Well, as you know, they have already had to retreat from some of their earlier practices. In other words, there are two issues here, and it's not commingle them. One is the number of law-abiding Americans that gets swept up in searches of individuals who are foreign targets. The second one was the question I asked at the end of the public session - can the government use FISA 702 to collect communications it knows are entirely domestic? They are two separate issues.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to just go back to Comey for a second. It seems like this investigation is going in all sorts of different directions. You have the president's firing of Comey under investigation, possibly now obstruction of justice being bandied around. It's confusing to many people, and it's unclear what you're trying to get at.

WYDEN: Well, first of all, I've always said that in an investigation, you go where the facts lead you. With respect to the obstruction - all right - issue, I mean, the president of the United States went on national TV - in his own words said, I wanted the investigation dropped. I thought it should go away, and that's why I fired Mr. Comey. I mean, those were his own words with - to Lester Holt. So the president has, in effect, had a story that has been based on shifting sands. And some of these matters, like his discussion with Lester Holt - (unintelligible) I fired Mr. Comey, make this investigation go away - are on the public record.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon - thank you so much for being with us.

WYDEN: Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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