Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) hold a news conference on the death of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 12, 2018. Image Credit: Reuters

WASHINGTON: Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, vowed Sunday to investigate whether the top officials at the Justice Department and the FBI plotted an “attempted bureaucratic coup” to remove President Donald Trump from office, and said he would subpoena the former FBI director and the deputy attorney general if necessary.

Graham, was reacting to an interview in which former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe confirmed an earlier New York Times report that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had suggested wearing a wire in meetings with Trump and that Justice Department officials had discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

Rosenstein has disputed the account.

“I think everybody in the country needs to know if it happened,” Graham said on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” calling McCabe’s assertion “beyond stunning.” He added: “I’m going to do everything I can to get to the bottom of Department of Justice, FBI behaviour toward President Trump and his campaign.”

Asked by the program’s host, Margaret Brennan, if he would subpoena McCabe and Rosenstein to testify, Graham said, “How can I not if that’s what it takes?” He promised to have a hearing to find out “who’s telling the truth.”

A Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, agreed with Graham that McCabe’s remarks “deserve scrutiny.” But he took issue with Graham’s characterisation of the situation.

“I don’t think that this frankly rises to the level of some deep state conspiracy or a serious attempt at what Sen. Graham called an administrative coup,” said Coons, also speaking on “Face The Nation.” “I suspect that once this is fully discussed, it’ll be clearer that this was a brief or passing conversation that’s been taken out of context.”

McCabe made the explosive remarks in an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes,” released in part Thursday, in advance of its full airing Sunday evening. He said Justice Department officials became so alarmed by Trump’s decision in May 2017 to fire James Comey, the bureau’s director, that they discussed whether to recruit Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment, which outlines the succession plan should the president become incapacitated, resign or die in office.

In a second clip of the interview aired Sunday on “Face The Nation,” McCabe said he spoke to the president just after Comey was fired, and subsequently ordered the bureau’s team investigating Russia’s election interference to look into whether Trump had obstructed justice by firing Comey. The FBI also began examining whether Trump had been working on behalf of Russia against US interests.

McCabe said that he and others were “concerned about a national security threat.”

He continued: “And the idea is, if the president committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the FBI to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia’s malign activity and possibly in support of his campaign, as a counter-intelligence investigator you have to ask yourself, ‘Why would a president of the United States do that?’”

He added, “So all those same sorts of facts cause us to wonder, is there an inappropriate relationship, a connection between this president and our most fearsome enemy, the government of Russia?”

McCabe was fired by Jeff Sessions, the attorney general at the time, on the eve of his retirement in March 2018, after being accused of a lack of candour. The “60 Minutes” interview was part of a book tour to promote his memoir, “The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump,” which will be released this week.

—New York Times News Service