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

GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeDemocrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE (Ariz.) railed against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE on Wednesday over a recent tweet in which he criticized Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSarah Sanders to leave White House Sarah Sanders to leave White House Barr compares his return to DOJ to D-Day invasion 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."

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“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 MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump 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 CornynTrump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Overnight Health Care: Pelosi to change drug-pricing plan after complaints | 2020 Democrats to attend Planned Parenthood abortion forum | House holds first major 'Medicare for All' hearing 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 McConnellElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale 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.