Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., minced no words Friday, Jan. 26, on recent reports that President Donald Trump attempted last year to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller-the ex-FBI director now investigating links between Russia and the president's campaign.
"Russia is a hostile foreign government that interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the goal of undermining our democracy. No serious person disputes that fact," Smith said in a statement provided by her office. "On top of that, members of the Trump campaign and members of the Trump administration knew about Russia's meddling and welcomed offers of assistance.
"The report that President Trump sought to fire Robert Mueller-the man leading the Trump-Russia investigation-is profoundly disturbing, to say the least," Smith's statement continued. "I plan to support measures that would help protect this investigation from further political interference."
The New York Times reported Thursday night, Jan. 25, that Trump had ordered a White House lawyer to fire Mueller, but backed down after the attorney, Don McGahn, threatened to resign. If carried out, the firing would likely have created an extraordinary political crisis.
Smith responded to an query seeking comment not only on the reported attempt to fire the special counsel, but also on whether Mueller needs Congress to provide him with protections from firing. One such suggestion has been adding a judicial review element to a special counsel's dismissal, if the fired party requests it.
Other North Dakota and Minnesota leaders offered more measured remarks. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a provided statement that "it's critical that the independent special counsel is able to do his job ... without pressure from Congress or the White House." Likewise for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who said "the independent investigation must continue without interference from the White House or Congress."
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., offered a slightly different take.
"(Trump) didn't fire Mueller, and that was the right decision. The special prosecutor's investigation is continuing, along with the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation," he said in a statement provided by his office. "The President and White House have said they are cooperating with investigators."
But Smith's comments contrast most markedly with those of Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. When asked about the New York Times story, he laughed at the suggestion that it was a "scoop." He called the New York Times a "tabloid" and said it was spinning "news out of rumors" and anonymous sources-though multiple other outlets later published reports of their own corroborating the story.
"First of all, let's remember, he didn't fire him," Cramer said. "You have to judge a person on the outcome, and in this case, Donald Trump has done nothing but cooperate with the special counsel."
Cramer added that it's Congress's role to provide oversight, and expressed concern that Mueller is "part of that executive state that's not accountable to anybody. ... We're seeing more and more that intel agencies, particularly the FBI, feel like they're not accountable to anybody."
The office of Collin Peterson, D-Minn., did not respond to a request for comment.