When President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska was one of several Republicans in Washington voicing concern. As details unfolded throughout the week, Sasse, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, continued to call the timing of the firing “troubling,” though he maintains there is not yet a need for an independent investigation or special prosecutor to look into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Of utmost importance, he tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep, is shoring up the public’s waning trust in American institutions.
“The timing of this firing I think is very troubling because there’s obviously an active investigation into the president’s campaign and organization and associates,” he says. “And I just wish the president would spend much more time tending to this crisis of public trust.”
On what troubles him about the firing of Comey
We have a crisis of public trust in this country that is much deeper than just the last four months or the last 18 months. We have an erosion of a shared narrative about what America is about. And we have the huge unpopularity of almost all of our governing institutions. That should trouble everybody.
The FBI is a really important institution in American life. We believe in three separate but equal branches. But our founders distinguished between legislative functions and executive functions and judicial functions. And so investigative and prosecutorial functions are in the second branch and so ultimately they report up to the president, but the FBI director has a 10-year term for a reason. He or she is not supposed to be thought of as a Republican or a Democratic actor but as an impartial investigator who doesn’t really report through a chain of command that is ultimately political.
On future election meddling and the further erosion of trust
We need to know a lot more about 2016, but the thing that keeps me up at night is 2018 and 2020. We know what the Russians are trying to do. We know that technology around info ops [information operations] is getting better and better.
Here’s what I think comes next: I think you’re going to start seeing data leaks in the 2018 and 2020 cycle that’ll be Steve Inskeep’s [as a fictional example of a candidate for office] credit card records. … And it’ll be 93 percent real stuff and 7 percent fabrications. And so it’ll all be very plausible because you were in the city at that time and then you were away from work for this travel and you did X, Y and Z but then 7 percent of the credit card records will be “Why are you buying so much clothes at a women’s clothing store in Chattanooga? That’s weird, Steve. Your wife isn’t in Chattanooga.”
And I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to have a drip-drip-drip erosion of trust in almost every public official and almost every public institution. We should be losing sleep about that now before it starts happening, because Russia is doing this stuff to their near neighbors now. And the technology is going to get better and better.
On why there is not yet a need for an independent investigation
I’m not calling for that at this time. I’m open to that deliberation as we go forward because I think that would be a vote of no confidence in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation, and I think what the American people need is to have a restoration of their trust that some of our institutions can work.
Morning Edition editor Miranda Kennedy and producer Phil Harrell and web producer Heidi Glenn contributed to this story.