RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Joining us now on the line is a member of the Senate intelligence committee, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. Senator, thanks so much for being with us.
SUSAN COLLINS: Glad to join you.
MARTIN: Senator, do you want James Comey, the former FBI director, to testify about this memo in front of your committee?
COLLINS: Yes, I do. I think that's absolutely essential. Only Director Comey can give us the context that we need. Right now, the stories are getting a head of the facts. It's important that we get all of the documents, including the memo and then the other memos that Director Comey wrote. But it's also important that we hear direct testimony from him that will describe the context, the tone of voice the president used and the actual words that were said.
MARTIN: We spoke with the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee this morning, Adam Schiff, and he listed off the questions that he has right now. Let's listen to that.
ADAM SCHIFF: Was he trying to interfere in the investigation? Was his motivation to try to shut down the investigation of Mike Flynn? And was this also motivated by a concern that the trail of liability could lead to him? If that were true, that would be obstruction of justice, and there would be very serious consequences that might fall from that.
MARTIN: Talking there obviously about President Trump. So, Senator, do you have the same questions? Do you see this as a possible obstruction of justice on the part of the president?
COLLINS: It's too soon to tell. That's why it's so important that we get the documents that we need and that we have Mr. Comey come in and testify. If it were an actual effort to shut down the investigation or otherwise interfere with that, that obviously is very serious, and that's why it's important that this be vigorously but fairly pursued.
MARTIN: When President Trump fired James Comey, you said in a statement that this was, quote, "inevitable." You supported the firing because of how Comey handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. You also said Comey's firing had nothing to do with the Russia investigations. Do you still believe that?
COLLINS: Actually. I'm going to correct you on the second part.
COLLINS: What I said was that anyone who felt that firing James Comey was going to shut down the Russian investigation was mistaken, that the president fired the director of the FBI, he did not fire the whole FBI. And indeed, I have talked to FBI officials. And we've heard testimony from the acting director assuring us that the investigation is continuing as it should.
As far as the justification for firing Mr. Comey, I believe that he did mishandle the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, not the investigation per se but his public appearances to discuss it. It is virtually unheard of for an FBI director to express his personal views of the conduct of someone that he has decided does not warrant an indictment, and that's what he did last July that snowballed...
MARTIN: And you still believe that that was the justification for his firing?
COLLINS: I don't know. That's what we need to find out, and that is important that we find out. But my point is, and I said at the time, that the investigation into the Russian influence and to the presidential election should and would continue and was continuing.
MARTIN: Do you think it's time for a special investigator?
COLLINS: There is a three-part test that the Department of Justice applies in deciding whether an independent counsel or special prosecutor, is it used to be called, is warranted. And one is, is there going to be a criminal investigation? But second is does the Department of Justice has to have a conflict of interest, or are there other extraordinary circumstances? And the third is, is it in the public interest?
The deputy attorney general should be making that determination right now. We're certainly at a point where it's appropriate for him to explore those three criteria. And he will be briefing the Senate tomorrow. And that is certainly a question that I will raise if others already haven't by the time I get to ask a question.
One thing I think we should remember is that an independent counsel in some ways has a very narrow jurisdiction, and it is not a substitute for the congressional investigation that's going on.
MARTIN: Let me ask you though, you haven't always supported the idea of a special prosecutor. So did the past 48 hours change your mind? Now you think it is something that the deputy attorney general should be starting to look at?
COLLINS: I believe that there are sufficient allegations out there, regrettably many of them from anonymous sources, that the Justice Department should take a look at this. But we may have it backwards.
It perhaps would be more effective if the congressional hearings and investigation were completed because that would be a far broader inquiry, and more evidence will come out. Then there may be a recommendation by the Senate intelligence committee that an independent counsel be appointed.
MARTIN: Just briefly, do you want to hear from President Trump on this?
COLLINS: I think the president - that the president should put out a statement far more thoroughly explaining his actions, but the key person right now for us to hear from is James Comey.
MARTIN: Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. She sits on the Senate intelligence committee. Thanks so much for your time this morning, Senator.
COLLINS: Thank you, Rachel.
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