Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called on President Donald Trump Sunday to release his tax returns as Democrats ramped up calls for a special prosecutor to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign in the wake of the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Trump touched off a firestorm last week by dismissing Comey without warning and later confessing in an NBC interview he was thinking about the Russian investigation when he acted, touching off comparisons to Watergate.
Graham, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Comey will be called before the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain what happened at a January White House dinner to which he had been summoned. Sources close to Comey told the New York Times the president asked the FBI director to pledge his loyalty and that Comey declined, saying he would pledge only his honesty. Trump, however, denied asking for the pledge and tweeted Comey had better hope there aren’t any secret “tapes.”
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said if any White House tapes exist, he would try to subpoena them.
“We have got to make sure that these tapes, if they exist, don't mysteriously disappear. So, I have asked, others have asked, to make sure the tapes are preserved if they exist,” Warner said.
Graham said he plans to ask Comey to testify about the dinner.
“I think it was inappropriate. I think it requires somebody like me, a Republican, to call Comey before the Judiciary Committee to let him explain that conversation. Right now, I do not believe President Trump is a subject or a target of any investigation regarding collusion with the Russians,” said Graham, who ran for president last year but dropped out early in the presidential primary cycle.
“I would advise the president not to tweet or comment about the investigation, as we go forward. The Russians did interfere in our election. I don’t think they changed the outcome. I have no evidence of collusion. But the president needs to back off here and let the investigation go forward. We need to call Comey and get to the bottom of all this.”
Graham also said investigators have yet to find evidence of “improper business dealings between the Trump organization and Russia regarding the election or anything else.
“However, if you can show me there is a reason for that to — there’s suspicion of that, then we need to get financial documents. I just can’t … ask for documents unless I have a reason. But the president should turn over his tax returns. He should do that. I don’t have a reason to subpoena them. If I get that reason, I’ll do it. But he should turn over his tax returns.”
Graham said he’s also open to the idea of subpoenaing the returns of all of Trump’s businesses to see if Russian money was involved.
“I'm open-minded to all things Russia. The bottom line is I think Russia tried to affect our election, undermine our democracy. I want them to pay a price,” he said.
Graham, however, said it’s premature to appoint a special prosecutor because the investigation has yet to move from a counterintelligence investigation to a criminal one.
Democrats, however, disagreed. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the American people need to be assured the investigation will be conducted in a nonpartisan manner.
Schumer, on both “Meet the Press” and CNN’s “State of the Union,” said Democrats will block the nomination of a new FBI director until a special prosecutor is appointed.
“To have that special prosecutor, people would breathe a sigh of relief, because then there would be a real independent person overlooking the FBI director,” Schumer said on “State of the Union.” He also noted a special prosecutor would be immune from firing except for cause and “can look into any attempts to thwart the investigation.”
Schiff said it is clear the Justice Department memo on Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation Trump’s spokesmen cited as a pretext for the firing was false. The memo was written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at Trump’s request.
“That wasn't why Comey was fired. And what disturbed me most, frankly … is the fact that it was addressed to the attorney general. The attorney general was supposed to have recused himself from anything involving Russia, and here he is, recommending the firing of the top cop doing the Russia investigation, in clear violation of what he, the attorney general, had committed to doing. And now we have the attorney general participating in the interview of new directors of the F.B.I., underscoring, I think yet again how imperative it is we have an independent counsel,” Schiff said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
(Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would not involve himself in the Russian investigation after it became clear he denied during Senate confirmation hearings that he had met with any top Russians. It was subsequently revealed he had met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.)
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called Comey’s firing another win on the Russians’ scoreboard.
“Their first objective was to sow doubt, discord and dissension in this country,” Clapper said on ABC’s “This Week.” “And the Russians have to be celebrating with a minimal expenditure of resources and what they have accomplished.”
On “State of the Union” and “This Week” Clapper said he had only limited knowledge of the FBI’s investigation, putting his remarks on being unaware of any collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign into perspective.