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Sasse: 'Shared Civic Understanding of America' Needed Before Arguing Party, Policy Differences

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) walks down the Capitol's Ohio Clock Corridor after a vote April 6, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) warned of America currently being caught in a “civilization-warping crisis of public trust” and said the firing of FBI Director James Comey “exacerbates the erosion of trust in our institutions.”

Asked on CBS’ Face the Nation why he thinks Comey was fired last week, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight replied, “I’m not sure how this president makes lots of decisions, so I honestly don’t know.”

“There are lots of reasonable arguments people can make about the way Director Comey made decisions in the midst of the unprecedented complexities of the 2016 election cycle. And lots of people can think that Director Comey, who is a fundamentally honorable man, but people can think that he executed his job in all sorts of clunky and imperfect ways,” Sasse said.

“…That’s a different question than whether or not he should have been fired the way he was last week. And I have been critical of that decision.”

The senator said he’s “disappointed in the timing of the firing, but I want to preserve room that there’s lots of reasonable reasons that people across the political spectrum can argue about the way the FBI leadership conducted its business in the 2016 cycle.”

The country “can’t work” with public approval ratings in the tank for core institutions, he stressed.

“We need to have a shared civic understanding of America before we get to partisan and policy differences. There are important fights to be had in policy. But we first need a civic sense of what America is. And here’s what comes next in things like Russian interference in America and in other countries in the age of cyber-war over the next decade. I’m obviously concerned about 2016, but I’m far more concerned about 2018 and 2020, because here is what comes next,” Sasse continued, giving the example of cyberhacking that releases mostly true information with some false info intended to take down a candidate: “Your phone records are dumped, and they’re 99 percent accurate, but 1 percent, you’re calling a brothel in Chattanooga on Tuesday nights, when your wife is at bridge club.”

“That is what is coming next in the era of cyber-war. And we’re going to need to have some institutions that we can rely on and believe are apolitical, when the public has more and more doubt.”

Sasse also emphasized the importance of three separate, co-equal branches of government, including ensuring the Justice Department is “very, very insulated from partisan politics.”

“We have three branches of government, not one, not 17, right? And so you need to have investigative and prosecutorial functions be in the Article II branch of government. They need to be in the executive branch, but there should be lots of insulation from the career civil servants and the leadership of the Justice Department from political decision-making at the White House,” he said.

“…There are a number of things I don’t want to say yet before we have Deputy Attorney General [Rod] Rosenstein before us, but there’s a lot that we need to understand better about how this happened.”