Republican Sen. Jeff Flake told CNN Sunday morning that the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was "a horrible day for democracy" and said that firing special counsel Robert Mueller would be "a red line" in a wide-ranging interview with CNN's Jake Tapper.
"Once he goes after Mueller, then we will take action," Flake warned. "I think that people see that as a massive red line that can't be crossed."
Flake also talked about comments he made this week at an event in New Hampshire, where he said he hopes President Trump gets a Republican primary challenge in 2020.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Obviously, the description he has of the Mueller team is much disputed. He doesn't mention, for instance, that Mueller is a Republican.
But, beyond that, do you think that -- that the president is laying the groundwork to fire Mueller?
SEN. JEFF FLAKE: Well, when the president said it was a great day for democracy yesterday, I think it was a horrible day for democracy.
To have firings like this happening at the top, from the president and the attorney general, does not speak well for what's going on. So, I don't know what the designs are on Mueller, but it seems to be building toward that.
And I just hope it doesn't go there, because it can't. We can't, in Congress, accept that. And so I would expect to see considerable pushback in the next couple days in urging the president not to go there. He can't go there.
TAPPER: So, just to ask about the McCabe firing, Attorney General Sessions has said that the recommendation came from the Office of Inspector General and internally, and it wasn't -- he suggested it wasn't because of anything President Trump said.
But, of course, there is this very politicized context. President Trump has been calling for McCabe's firing for more than a year. After the firing, he tweeted, as you note, it was a great day for democracy.
McCabe said in a statement his firing was driven by the president, writing -- quote -- "The Office of Inspector General's focus on me and this report became part of an unprecedented effort by the administration, driven by the president himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn."
So, you are not buying the Sessions explanation. You believe that he was fired because President Trump put pressure on the Justice Department to do so?
FLAKE: Well, I'm certainly, like everyone else, waiting for the I.G. report to come out. And so I don't want to get too far ahead.
But I can tell you it will come out. And we in Congress have oversight in that regard. The Senate Judiciary Committee will be looking into it. So, I am just very surprised that the president would get so far ahead of this and take -- make the statements that he's made, because we will know.
And I just -- I'm just puzzled by why the White House is going so hard at this, other than they -- they're very afraid of what might come out. I don't know how you can have any other conclusion.
TAPPER: The president's lawyer John Dowd said in response to McCabe's firing that the Justice Department should -- quote -- "follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to the alleged Russia collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss, James Comey" -- unquote.
Again, there are a lot of factual misstatements in there, but let me ask you. You have already said, based on President Trump suggesting the Mueller probe should end, that you expect to see pushback.
I don't know why you expect to see pushback, to be honest. I have been watching Congress now for the last year, and with the exception of you and maybe Ben Sasse and John McCain, I haven't seen a lot of pushback from Republicans.
Do you really think that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan will stand up and say, no, Mr. President, you can't do this?
FLAKE: I hope so.
I mean, talking to my colleagues all along, it was, you know, once he goes after Mueller, then we will take action.
I think that people see that as a massive red line that can't be crossed. So, I hope that that's the case. And I would just hope that enough people would prevail on the president now, don't go there. Don't go there. We have confidence in Mueller. I certainly do.
And I think my colleagues do as well. So, I hope that the pushback is now to keep the president from going there.
TAPPER: Let's turn now to something else that Mueller's looking into which was covered in a bombshell report in "The New York Times" and another one in "The Guardian" newspaper.
The conservative data firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked with the Trump campaign in 2016, Facebook is now accusing the company of fraudulently obtaining data from more than 50 million Americans and then lying about it.
We know Mueller is looking into Cambridge Analytica as part of this Russia investigation. What questions might you have about this issue, especially when it comes to Russian interference in the election?
Well, certainly, who knew what when? This is a big deal, when you have that amount of data. And the privacy violations there are significant. So, the question is, who knew it? When did they know it? How long did this go on? And what happens to that data now?
I guess there's some discrepancy as to whether or not it's been expunged or given back, or if it's still held and being used. So, that was a big report, significant reporting.
TAPPER: You have also said that you're actively considering whether or not you're going to challenge President Trump in 2020. You have said you haven't made a decision, it's not likely, but you -- it is on the table.