Editor’s Note: Answers have been edited for clarity and length.
In May, President Donald Trump fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James “Jim” Comey. Thursday morning, Comey testified before the United States Senate Intelligence Committee, answering questions in an open session about his interactions with Trump prior to his dismissal and his role in investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.
Hours after Comey’s testimony, U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, spoke to The Daily Californian, answering questions about Comey’s meetings with Trump, her thoughts on the next steps Congress should take and what this development means for the Berkeley community.
THE DAILY CALIFORNIAN: What are your thoughts on today’s testimony by former FBI Director Jim Comey?
CONGRESSWOMAN BARBARA LEE: Well, if this testimony does not suggest obstruction of justice, I don’t know what will. Second, nine conversations — specifically the one in February, where President Trump suggested the investigation against (former National Security Advisor) Michael Flynn be halted? It seems like this president is obsessed with this investigation, and why is the question. He has not released his tax returns. We need to push very hard for this independent investigation to be established. Republicans need to find some backbone to reassert their patriotism and say “enough is enough.”
DC: What did you think of the questions during today’s Senate hearing? Did you hear all of the questions you would have liked to have seen asked?
LEE: I think the questions, especially coming from our great (United States) Senator Kamala Harris, were good and tough. Republicans had some softball questions, but I believe Democrats asked the questions that needed to be asked to get it on the record that clearly there’s a pattern here of trying to stop this investigation.
DC: You’ve been in elected office — I believe — since 1990. This is your fifth presidential administration as an elected official. Is this situation anything like you have seen before?
LEE: Well let me tell you, I was a Cal in the Capital intern during Watergate (laughs). So it feels like that, but even more serious.
DC: I know you held a town hall a couple weeks ago where you discussed Watergate. After this testimony, do you still think there are a lot of parallels between this controversy and Watergate?
LEE: There are many parallels — some that are very quite frankly more disconcerting. This whole issue of loyalty — the meetings that (Comey) had in February, and the questions of loyalty as it relates to his job. It was almost — and this wasn’t said very overtly — a litmus test to keep the job. I think this democracy is really at a defining moment. This president never once asked how we can stop foreign influence into our elections and our political system. According to Mr. Comey, none of the accounts that he recorded mentioned anything about the seriousness of what has taken place — it was all about loyalty, stopping an investigation and trying to determine if Donald Trump was the target of an investigation. These are very serious issues.
DC: What actions would you like to see Congress take next? Would you like to see Congress hold more hearings or even consider impeachment?
LEE: Well, we need to follow the facts where they lead. We need more hearings, we need more investigations. People are talking about what constitutes impeachment and certainly obstruction of justice. Right now, we need to establish an independent bipartisan commission, and I think we need to try to get Republicans to understand that’s the patriotic thing to do.
DC: What do you think this controversy means for the Berkeley community and campus students, given that the Daily Cal serves many students and community members as a whole here in Berkeley?
LEE: Well, students are very smart — they’re watching what’s taking place. As we say, stay woke, stay vigilant and stay engaged. Fortunately, we have strong, progressive, bold senators from our state in the right place and at the right time. But students need to make sure that they stay engaged with their counterparts throughout the country and make sure that we get the co-sponsors and the votes to establish this bipartisan commission. The commission would be independent, have republicans and democrats and would not be in the House of Representatives or within the Senate.
DC: And for the Berkeley community as a whole?
LEE: My district is very enlightened, very astute, as witnessed by some of the questions at my town meeting. We wanted to hold that, so people in my district and Berkeley would hear different points of view and really understand what a full and thorough investigation would mean. That would mean looking at all the facts and where the facts lead, and I think those the panel really laid out their perspectives on where the facts were and how these investigations need to move forward.
DC: Do you have any final thoughts on this development?
LEE: Stay woke. Thank you, and I encourage students to continue to be a clear voice for our democratic principles and values.