Jeff Flake - U.S. Senator ~ Arizona

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, last night took to the Senate floor to encourage Republican leadership to speak out against the president's attempts to politicize the Department of Justice:

"I appeal to the leadership in this body to speak out. They don’t have to speak out at every twitter outburst, but when the president so blatantly calls for the Department of Justice to act as an arm of the Republican Party, then the leaders of the Republican Party in this body need to stand and say that the president is out of bounds."

Video of Flake’s full remarks can be viewed here.

A transcript of Flake’s prepared remarks can be found below.

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Mr. President,

In the annals of “Presidents Say the Darndest Things,” last week’s twitter outburst will stand out, at least for me. Because the president attacked the Attorney General of the United States for simply doing the job that he swore an oath to do.

Of course, it wasn’t the first time the president has so diminished himself. But this particular slander was leveled at the Attorney General for having the temerity to prosecute public corruption by members of congress who also happen to belong to the president’s political party.

That’s right: the president attacked Mr. Sessions, by name, for refusing to cover up allegations of Republican misconduct. The President’s concern was not for justice, but for the political fortunes of the accused, because their congressional seats might now be at risk of falling to Democrats. In doing this, the president is projecting a vision onto the system of American justice that is both bizarre and more important, destructive.

Of course, the only truly shocking thing about this statement from the president is that given what all of us have become accustomed to during this presidency – or, even worse, have grown numb to – this twitter eruption is not at all surprising. This numb acceptance is an appalling statement on the very real threat to our democratic institutions, Mr. President.

At this point, it might be too late for tutorials in how American justice works, but it certainly bears repeating that in order for justice to truly be served, justice must be based in empirical truth and must absolutely be carried out independent of politics, period. No president – any president – administers the justice system in America, any more than he or she decrees what is objective truth.

In this country, justice and truth operate quite independent of the dictates of even the most powerful of offices. The reasons for this point are obvious to most. But we know by now that this particular president seems to have a profound unease with both justice and truth, and so has been at unrelenting war with both, virtually since the moment he swore the oath. Not because there is any deficiency in justice or truth that requires his intervention, mind you, but for other less noble reasons.

The president seems to think that the office confers on him the ability to decide who and what gets investigated in the United States, and who and what does not. Weekly, it seems this president has been threatening to “get involved” in the function of the Justice Department – sometimes intimating, sometimes plainly threatening to corrupt the independence of justice in America. He has overtly expressed a desire for his political opponents to be investigated, and almost two years into his presidency he presides over boisterous rallies where the last election is re-litigated, and chants of “Lock her up” fill the halls.

None of this is normal, or acceptable. But his is not mere recklessness. It seems to be a deliberate program, by which he intends to weaken the institution of American justice, threaten its independence, and perhaps set the stage for some future assault on it – the firing of the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, and perhaps even the special counsel.

It has been said that a president deserves to have an Attorney General of his choice, a top lawyer with whom he is compatible. This is true. The president’s appointment powers are clear, and all of his appointees serve at the pleasure of the president. But what no president deserves is a top lawyer who will simply do his bidding.

The Attorney General is not the president’s personal lawyer, and his job is not to protect the president from damaging facts, or to turn the power of American justice on the president’s enemies – or to direct Justice Department investigations in any particular way that is either politically motivated or presupposes guilt or innocence – or favors any outcome whatsoever, other than that which is supported by evidence and truth. The attorney general’s job description, as tweeted yesterday by the president, bears scant resemblance to the attorney general’s job in a constitutional democracy.

And so I rise today, Mr. President, because the founders gave us, the Article I branch of the government that they conceived, the responsibility to curb such reckless behavior. Thus far, I believe that we have all been so incredulous at the daily excesses – and ever hopeful – hopeful beyond any reason – that this president will at last begin to inhabit the office in a more responsible fashion, that we have been somewhat uncertain what to do.

First and foremost, we must speak out. We cannot be quiet when the moment requires us to defend the democratic norms under which this system functions – and without which our system ceases to function. The president has repeatedly and over time heedlessly breached these norms. If we say nothing we become accomplices in the destruction of our democratic norms. The United States Senate is not the place to come for deniability.

We must do what we can to curb the destructive impulses of this White House. We must encourage the administration of justice – and that means voicing our support for Mr. Mueller and his team. We have passed bipartisan legislation out of the Judiciary Committee to protect the Special Counsel. I call on the Majority Leader to bring this resolution to the floor. We must say in no uncertain terms that to call this investigation a “witch hunt” is wrong. To call Mr. Mueller’s team “thugs” is wrong. Relentlessly slandering the Attorney General of the United States is wrong, it is a travesty, and it is unbecoming of the office of the presidency.

And I would say to Attorney General Sessions: stand firm. You have spent your life in public service, in the service of your country. At the risk of being presumptuous, I will say that these days of your service, right now, during this critical period in which we have had a president who in a malign fashion is actively testing the limits of his power and the independence of American justice – well, your determination to safeguard the independence of the Justice Department at the same time that you have been under assault by the president has verged on the heroic. In your long career, you will render no more consequential service to your country. Stand firm, Attorney General Sessions.

I appeal to the leadership in this body to speak out. They don’t have to speak out at every twitter outburst, but when President so blatantly calls for the Department of Justice to act as an arm of the Republican Party, then the leaders of the Republican Party in this body need to stand and say that the president is out of bounds.

Mr. President, we all have our pulls to conscience. Most recently for me, I hear the whisper so well described a few weeks ago, the whisper over my shoulder that says: We are better than this. America is better than this. 

In a time of rank tribalism, Mr. President, we need to remember that we are all Americans. That is our only tribe, and it is to the rule of law and the ideals of our founding that we owe our allegiance.

I yield the floor.

 

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