Nice work by Sen. Mark Warner on this.
Opening Statement of Sen. Mark Warner; Vice Chairman, Senate Intelligence Committee; Open Hearing with Director Coats, Acting Director McCabe, Admiral Rogers and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein
Below are Vice Chairman Warner’s opening remarks as prepared for delivery:
I want to thank the Chairman for hosting this hearing on the 702 program and ways to ensure its effectiveness. I will get to that in a moment.
However, given the panel of witnesses here today, and given recent news about the ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, I want to take the opportunity to pose some questions.
Each of you here today has taken an oath to defend the Constitution. As leaders in the Intelligence Community, you also have committed to act, and to provide advice and counsel, in a way that is unbiased, impartial, and devoid of any political considerations. This is the essence of what makes our intelligence community so impressive. You tell it straight, no matter which political party is in charge.
And that’s why it was so jarring to hear recent reports of White House officials – perhaps even the President himself – attempting to influence and enlist our intelligence community leaders in attempting to undermine an ongoing FBI investigation.
Obviously, tomorrow, we will be hearing from former FBI Director Comey. I imagine he will have something to say about the circumstances surrounding his dismissal. We have now heard the President himself say that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he fired the FBI director overseeing that investigation.
Today, we will have an opportunity to ask Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein about his role in the Comey firing as well.
Additionally, we have seen reports that the President asked at least two of the leaders of our nation’s intelligence agencies to publicly downplay the Russia investigation. And now, according to news reports from last night, the President is alleged to have also personally asked Director Coats and CIA Director Pompeo to intervene directly with then Director Comey to pull back on that same investigation. I will be asking DNI Coats and NSA Director Rogers about those reports today.
Because if any of this is true, it would be an appalling and improper use of our intelligence professionals – an act that could erode the public’s confidence in our intelligence institutions. The IC fiercely prides itself on its apolitical service to the country. Any attempt by the White House or even the President himself to exploit this community as a tool for political purposes is deeply, deeply troubling.
I respect your service to the nation. I understand that answering some of these questions may be difficult or uncomfortable given your positions in this Administration. But this issue is of such great importance – the stakes are so high – that I hope you will consider our obligation to the American people, and making sure that they get the answers that they deserve.
Now let me return to the other subject of our hearing. Mr. Chairman, I agree that the reauthorization of FISA Section 702 is important. As the attacks in London, Paris, Manchester, Melbourne, and elsewhere around the world have demonstrated, terrorists continue to plot attacks that target innocent civilians. Section 702, under court order, collects intelligence about these potential terrorist plots. It authorizes law enforcement and the Intelligence Community to collect intelligence on non-U.S. persons outside the U.S., where there is a reasonable suspicion they seek to do us harm.
I have been a supporter of reauthorizing Section 702, to protect Americans from terrorist attacks, and I am eager to work with my colleagues to do so before it expires on December 31, 2017. A reauthorization of 702 should ensure that the robust oversight and restrictions to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans remain in place and to see if these protections can be strengthened.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.