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Glenn Greenwald: Independent Probe Needed to Uncover Truth Behind Russia’s Role in 2016 Election

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Following Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, many Senate Democrats are now calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump administration. In recent months, Comey had come under widespread criticism from many Democrats for notifying lawmakers just before the election that the FBI was once again investigating whether Clinton had sent classified information from her private email server while she was secretary of state. Just last week, Clinton said Comey’s actions factored into her loss. Still, on Tuesday, dozens of Democrats spoke out against Comey’s firing, saying they didn’t believe it was over his handling of the investigation into Clinton’s emails. For more, we speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Trump has set off a political firestorm after firing FBI Director James Comey, just weeks after Comey confirmed the FBI was investigating whether Trump’s campaign collaborated with Russia to sway the 2016 election. On Tuesday, Senator Chuck Schumer reiterated his call for the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor for the probe into the 2016 election, saying failure to do so would rightly make the American public believe there had been a cover-up in Comey’s firing.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: The only way the American people can have faith in this investigation is for it to be led by a fearless, independent special prosecutor. If Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein does not appoint an independent special prosecutor, every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire Director Comey was part of a cover-up.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer speaking Tuesday, after news of Comey’s firing came out. Meanwhile, in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper Tuesday night, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway disputed the claim that Trump and his White House are under investigation by the FBI.

ANDERSON COOPER: Clearly, this White House is under investigation. The people around the president—the people around the president are under investigation. You would agree with that, yes?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: And those people—no, I don’t. I know that you—that some are obsessed with—

ANDERSON COOPER: You don’t believe—

KELLYANNE CONWAY: —the word “Russia.” Russia—

ANDERSON COOPER: James Comey said that there was an ongoing investigation.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: The president is not under investigation. I’m around the president. I’m not under investigation. I can name—

ANDERSON COOPER: Well, there’s—

KELLYANNE CONWAY: —many people in that same situation. But I know everybody wants to say—

ANDERSON COOPER: So you’re saying there is no investigation by the FBI that’s ongoing right now into the people around the president of the United States?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: I’m saying that—well, I don’t know that. But I’m saying that, to the extent that that, any of that is true—


KELLYANNE CONWAY: —the president himself is—excuse me—is not the subject of an investigation.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s White House counselor Kellyanne Conway speaking last night to CNN’s Anderson Cooper. So, Glenn Greenwald, can you respond to that, and also, again, Trump saying in his letter that he was assured by Comey three—on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation?

GLENN GREENWALD: So, first, just on the—quickly, on the Chuck Schumer comment, I think it’s unlikely this, the most extreme theory, that Comey’s firing was due to some desire to suppress some kind of smoking gun evidence that the FBI was on the verge of discovering, because, obviously, if there was such evidence, many people besides Jim Comey would know about it. There are still career Justice investigators who are continuing to look into this; getting rid of James Comey would not silence him. But I think the broader point is the correct one, which is that what Trump wants is to make sure there’s a loyalist to him directing the FBI, as opposed to somebody who prides himself on being independent.

As far as Kellyanne Conway is concerned, she’s a lawyer. I think she’s using very legalistic terms there to talk about who is a formal target of this investigation. But according to Jim Comey, it’s the Trump campaign itself, along with individuals like Carter Page and Paul Manafort and Roger Stone and others, who are the specific targets of the investigation. So whether Donald Trump, the individual, is a formal target of the criminal investigation makes no difference, given that it is his campaign and now people close to his White House who are part of and targets of this investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: And given, on the same day that Trump fires Comey, CNN reports federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as part of their ongoing probe into the alleged Russian meddling in the election. You’re a constitutional lawyer, as well, as well as a reporter, Glenn. So, the significance of this and also Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, weighing in here, when he explicitly recused himself? Let’s go to that moment in March when Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would recuse himself from any investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: My staff recommended recusal. They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation. I have studied the rules and considered their comments and evaluation. I believe those recommendations are right and just. Therefore, I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign. The exact language of that recusal is in the press release that we will give to you. I’ve said this, quote: “I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.”

AMY GOODMAN: So this is really stunning, Glenn. I mean, reportedly, at the time, Trump was furious that Sessions was recusing himself. And now, though, he hardly has recused himself. I mean, they’re saying this came from Rosenstein. He’s been there for a few weeks, and this entire memo that came up with a justification for Trump firing Comey? Clearly instigated by Trump asking for this rationale.

GLENN GREENWALD: Even if it—the impetus for it was Rosenstein, they are admitting that Sessions himself formally endorsed the letter. And I suppose their excuse is that because this firing wasn’t about the Russian investigation—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, they claim it wasn’t.

GLENN GREENWALD: —but instead was about the email investigation, this is consistent with Sessions’s promise to recuse himself from all matters regarding Russia. But, of course, removing the FBI director has a major impact on the very investigation that Jeff Sessions promised or recused himself from all matters concerning, which is this Trump-Russia investigation.

Let me just add, you know, I’ve been one of the people who have been—who have been urging skepticism on the question of Russia and Trump and collusion and even the broader Russia questions—and I still do—but my position has always been, from the very beginning, given how significant these questions are, it is in everybody’s interest—if you’re somebody who believes Trump is a Kremlin puppet to believing that this is just a Democratic conspiracy to avoid self-critique, to everything in between, it is in everybody’s interest to have an investigation that, at the end, no matter what the outcome, everyone says, “I may not agree with all the conclusions, but this was a fair investigation.” And what just happened in the last 24 hours makes that utterly impossible, which is why I think the reaction should be, besides an investigation into the firing of Comey, let us construct an actual independent, empowered body that can truly and finally get to the bottom of these questions.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in a piece in January for The Intercept, you wrote, quote, “In the wake of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the FBI assumes an importance and influence it has not wielded since J. Edgar Hoover’s death in 1972.” Now, you wrote this in January, and here we are with Trump having fired the FBI director, and he’s now in a position to appoint whomever he wants. So, what does that mean for the power of the FBI?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, that story was actually in conjunction with a major leak that we were able to publish about these powers of the FBI, these vast, far-reaching domestic powers that very few people knew about. And we highlighted the importance of it by saying exactly that, namely, that the FBI played a really important role in the 2016 election. They continually leaked, the parts of the New York office that are close to Rudy Giuliani and were supporting Trump, information designed to damage Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump loves law enforcement agencies and clearly wanted to empower the FBI. And what this is, because of exactly that, is a takeover of one of the most powerful agencies when it comes to the right to dissent, political activism in the United States and the ability to apply the rule of law equally. So, as someone who has tried to tamp down a lot of the overreaction to a lot of Trump stories, this is one where I am fully on board in believing that its importance can’t be overstated, primarily for the reason that you just referenced.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted, “This FBI Director has sought for years to jail me on account of my political activities. If I can oppose his firing, so can you,” and “Set aside politics: every American should condemn such political interference in the Bureau’s work.” I mean, this is pretty stunning. This is Edward Snowden, who Comey, as he said, has been trying to jail for years. And he says, “If I can oppose this firing, so can you.”

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, Jim Comey has not only tried to do everything possible to put Edward Snowden into a prison cell for 40 years, he has denounced him as a traitor, he has called him a criminal and a felon, devoted huge amounts of resources to securing his apprehension. And I think what Snowden is trying to encourage people to do there is to say, “Look, we all have very strong opinions, even vested interests, but there are times, as Americans, when we say there are certain lines that we won’t allow to be crossed.” And firing the FBI director in order to influence criminal investigations directed at the White House has to be one of those lines.

AMY GOODMAN: Maine Senator Angus King, an independent, who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he came up with an idea last night. He said, Why don’t we hire James Comey to lead the investigation for us in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence? He’s now a free man to do whatever he wants to do. Now, this is very interesting proposal.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. Well, this is what I was getting at earlier—right?—is the idea that the objective here was to suppress some smoking gun evidence by getting rid of Jim Comey makes no sense, even to the Trump White House. If anything, you’d make it more likely that it would surface through a scheme like this or through Jim Comey simply leaking it. But what I do think is interesting about Jim Comey is that over the last 12 months there probably is nobody more hated in Washington, first by the Democrats—first by the Republicans, then by the Democrats and now again by the Republicans. And in some sense, that is the kind of person that you want leading an investigation like this, somebody who genuinely feels no fealty to any faction or any political party and who everyone knows that’s the case. I think that’s an ingenious idea.

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Greenwald: Hillary is to Blame for Losing 2016 Election, Not James Comey

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