Flake urges GOP to break silence on Trump's 'destruction' of 'democratic norms'
© Greg Nash

GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (Ariz.) railed against President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE on Wednesday over a recent tweet in which he criticized Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWhite House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations The Hill's Campaign Report: Late bids surprise 2020 Democratic field Sessions vows to 'work for' Trump endorsement MORE for investigations into two GOP lawmakers, comparing the comments to “slander.”

Flake encouraged Sessions to “stand firm,” characterizing his actions to "safeguard the independence of the Justice Department” as “heroic," while also urging his Republican colleagues to more forcefully curb Trump's "destructive impulses."

ADVERTISEMENT

“I appeal to the leadership of this body to speak out. … 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,” Flake said in a speech from the Senate floor on Wednesday evening.

Flake added that if senators are silent “then we've become accomplices with the destruction of these 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,” he continued.

Trump, in a tweet earlier this month, criticized Sessions for bringing “well publicized” charges against two Republican lawmakers — who were both early supporters of the president’s campaign — months before the midterm elections, where GOP control of Congress hangs in the balance. 

“Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff…" Trump said in the tweet.

Flake, a frequent critic of Trump, added on Wednesday that the president directed the “slander” at Sessions only because the attorney general, and former senator, did his job.

“The president is projecting a vision unto the system of American Justice that is both bizarre and, more important, destructive,” he said. “[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.”

Flake suggested that Trump is consciously deciding who is allowed to be investigated and questioned, behavior which could be interpreted as laying the ground work ahead of an effort to interfere in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE’s probe into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. 

“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,” Flake said. 

Republican senators have repeatedly warned Trump not to fire Sessions, who served in the Senate for decades and is still widely respected by his former colleagues.

Multiple GOP senators indicated late last month that if Trump were to fire Sessions they were not sure the chamber would confirm a successor.

"We don't have time, nor is there a likely candidate, who could get confirmed, in my view, under these current circumstances," Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Overnight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters at the time.

Cornyn shot down a question on Wednesday about whether he would like to succeed Sessions, noting that the country already had an attorney general.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy On The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments MORE (R-Ky.) also told reporters that he believed Sessions should “stay exactly where he is.”

But Flake added that he believed senators had been “incredulous” and “hopeful beyond reason” that Trump would eventually start to “inhabit the office in a more responsible fashion.”

During his speech, Flake suggested that senators could stand up to Trump by passing legislation that would protect Mueller against being fired.

"We must also 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,” Flake said.