GOP Sen. Susan Collins Details Briefing With Deputy Attorney General

May 18, 2017
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We turn now to Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine. She's a member of the Senate intelligence committee and was at the briefing today with the deputy attorney general. Thank you for joining us, Senator.

SUSAN COLLINS: My pleasure.

CORNISH: So you just heard some of the takeaways there - for one, your colleague Lindsey Graham saying, this has really limited what Congress can do, this special counsel. Do you feel the same way?

COLLINS: I see it differently. I asked a question of the deputy attorney general about the mandate and mission of the special counsel and the fact that the regulations in the Justice Department make it clear that the focus is on whether or not to bring criminal charges. That makes the investigation underway in the Senate intelligence committee even more important because we need to look at the counterintelligence aspects of this case.

After all, while this special counsel is the one who decides whether or not to bring criminal charges, the special counsel cannot pass legislation imposing additional sanctions on Russia. Only Congress can do that. So I think there's a clear delineation between the two investigations, and both are very important.

CORNISH: President Donald Trump has called himself the victim of a witch hunt. He says he thinks the appointment of a special counsel for the Russia investigation is bad for the country - your reaction to that?

COLLINS: I don't agree with the president at all. There are sufficient grounds for the appointment of a special counsel. The deputy attorney general clearly followed the Justice Department guidelines, which I carefully read. And I believe that this will ensure that if Bob Mueller decides that there is no basis for criminal charges for any members of the Trump campaign, it will be better accepted by the president than if the Justice Department reached that conclusion. I trust Bob Mueller. I've worked with him. I know him to be someone who will definitely follow the evidence and make an unbiased, nonpolitical decision.

CORNISH: After hearing from the deputy attorney general today, do you actually have any clarity on why the FBI Director James Comey was fired? Did you get any answers to your questions?

COLLINS: I did get some but by no means all of my questions answered. The deputy attorney general was understandably leery of answering a lot of fact-based questions outside of the criminal investigation that will be conducted by the special counsel. But he did give us some very interesting information. He said, for example, that he had been troubled for a very long time by Director Comey's actions last year during the investigation of the Hillary Clinton campaign, that he felt that the FBI director had inappropriately usurped the proper role of the prosecutors at the Justice Department, that he never should have given his personal opinion in the case and that he had discussed those issues with Jeff Sessions, now attorney general but back then United States senator, very early on as they were - or shortly after they occurred. So that was new information to me.

He also made very clear that he did not give the White House a preview of his decision to appoint a special counsel. He made it very clear that that would have been inappropriate and had no discussions with the White House on his decision to appoint a special counsel, much less the name of the person he appointed.

CORNISH: That's Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

COLLINS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.