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Few Republicans defend Comey firing outright, as Democrats cry Watergate | US news

Few Republicans defend Comey firing outright, as Democrats cry Watergate | US news

Few Republicans defend Comey firing outright, as Democrats cry Watergate | US news
May 11
09:05 2017


Republicans on Capitol Hill gave a muted response to Donald Trump’s surprise firing of the FBI director, James Comey, while Democrats compared the situation to the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, on Wednesday resisted calls to open an independent inquiry led by a special prosecutor.

“Today we’ll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation,” McConnell said in a floor speech, “which can only serve to impede the current work being done to not only discover what the Russians may have done but also to let this body and the national security community develop countermeasure.”

The Republican Senate intelligence committee chairman, Richard Burr, called the timing of and reasons given for Comey’s dismissal “troubling” and said it “further confuses an already difficult investigation” into alleged Russian interference with the 2016 election. John Kasich, the governor of Ohio and a primary opponent of Trump’s, went further, saying he was “extremely troubled by the circumstances surrounding the dismissal”, while John McCain, another outspoken foe of the president, said he was “disappointed”.

But speaker Paul Ryan, however, supported Trump’s decision to fire Comey. In an interview with Fox News, 24 hours after Comey’s firing, Ryan made his first public comments on it. The Wisconsin Republican said that “senior justice department officials had lost confidence” in Comey and thus, “the president made a presidential decision to remove him.” Ryan also expressed his opposition to the appointment of a special prosecutor to oversee an independent investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, saying this was “not a good idea”.

One Senate Republican, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, indicated some interest in a special prosecutor being appointed to investigate the Russian role in the election – “I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no” she told reporters – but others remained firmly against the idea.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine told reporters: “I am concerned that the Senate investigation by the intelligence committee is now at a critical state. We’ve made a lot of progress in the past month and I would be concerned if an independent counsel could shut that down.”



Trump and Comey’s love-hate relationship

Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana expressed his concern that “the White House’s timing of the firing was less than impeccable”. The newly elected Republican added his view “that the president’s selection of new FBI director might be one of the most important decisions of his presidency”.

This concern over appearances was echoed by Bob Corker, the GOP chair of the foreign relations committee, who said: “We have to figure out a way forward that is beyond reproach and find an FBI director that is beyond reproach.”

In the meantime, there was confidence among Republicans that the decision would not affect current congressional and FBI investigations. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana argued that Comey was “not running that investigation”, saying the FBI director’s “first meeting in the morning is about HR, his second is about the budget, his third is about the cafeteria, his fourth is about M[S]-13 gangs, his fifth is with the director of this particular investigation and that person, whoever he or she is, is still there and still running it”.

Few Republicans explicitly defended Trump’s actions. Senator John Cornyn of Texas told reporters: “We’re going to get the bottom of this. We’re going to get the facts. I agree that Director Comey is a good man; he made a bad mistake.”

When asked what the mistake was, Cornyn said “read the Rod Rosenstein memo”, implying he shared the deputy attorney general’s and the White House’s belief that Comey should have been fired for his handling of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.



Russian foreign minister feigns shock over firing of James Comey

Others, such as Johnny Isakson, a Republican senator from Georgia, remained equivocal. He noted that Comey was “the president’s person to hire and the president’s person to fire”. Isakson added that since Trump is “the only guy who can [fire the FBI director], that’s his job. That’s what the public has to judge. That’s what we have to judge.”

When asked if he had had an emotional reaction to Trump’s sacking of Comey, Isakson said: “This is not an emotional business.”

Meanwhile, Democrats drew parallels to Watergate, the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon in 1974.

Bob Casey, a moderate from Pennsylvania facing a re-election bid in 2018, called Trump’s actions “Nixonian” on Tuesday night, while Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut explicitly compared Trump’s actions to those of the 37th president.

“The situation has very much the look and feel of Nixon’s dismissal of attorneys general in the Saturday night massacre,” he said, referring to the resignations of the then attorney general, Elliot L Richardson, and deputy attorney general ,William D Ruckelshaus, in 1973 after they refused Richard Nixon’s order to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor leading the Watergate investigation.



Democrats: Trump firing Comey could raise ‘grave constitutional issues’

Blumenthal said his Republican colleagues were “thinking seriously about the constitutional crisis we face right now and they are deeply troubled by the potential confrontation, not unlike United States v Nixon”, the landmark supreme court case that forced Nixon to hand over Oval Office recordings to federal investigators.

Sherrod Brown of Ohio echoed these comparisons by claiming that Comey had been fired because the FBI’s investigation was on the verge of implicating Trump. “It’s only about his investigation, and [Trump] knows they are getting close and he’s going to resist it,” the Ohio Democrat said.

After a closed-door meeting of Senate Democrats, the minority leader, Chuck Schumer, returned to the Senate floor on Wednesday afternoon to articulate Democrats’ demands in response to Comey’s firing.

Schumer said a special prosecutor should be appointed by the highest-ranking career civil servant at the justice department, not by the deputy attorney general, Rosenstein, who was confirmed several weeks ago by 94-6 vote in the Senate. The US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from the Russia investigation after it was revealed that he had failed to disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador during his Senate confimration hearing.

Additionally, Schumer called on Comey to testify before the Senate and said that Sessions and Rosenstein should brief the Senate on the extraordinary timeline of events that culminated in the president’s decision to fire the director of the FBI.

“What we are seeking – the only thing we are seeking – are assurances that this investigation is carried out in an impartial, independent way. That we get all the facts. That we get to the very bottom of it,” Schumer said.

Democrats have little power to exert over their Republican colleagues, and it’s still unclear to what lengths the party is willing to go in an attempt to see its demands met.

On Wednesday, Democrats offered a glimpse of a strategy they could apply to thwart Republicans, using procedural maneuvers to block a series of afternoon hearings. The deliberative action irritated Collins, who was refused consent to hold an afternoon hearing on ageing.

“Given that we have no path forward on the horrible and momentous events of last night,” Schumer said, he was compelled to reject her request.

Collins, visibly upset, protested: “I am baffled by this. This has nothing to do with the firing of Jim Comey.”



Dianne Feinstein: ‘This issue should be handled by the most senior career attorney at the Department of Justice.’ Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and a ranking member of the Senate judiciary committee, said: “Here is really the thing: ostensibly, [the firing is] because of the way the emails were handled,” she told reporters. “There was a time to do that a long time ago.”

Feinstein noted that Comey had been fired shortly after the FBI sent subpoenas to associates of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, whose ties to Russia are under investigation.

“This is happening right at that time,” she said. “So one has to think – is it really to affect this investigation?”

But Democrats were optimistic that Comey’s firing would reinvigorate their call for a special prosecutor to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland called the president’s decision to fire Comey a “game-changer” in that effort.

“Before yesterday, there were a few Republicans who thought that was a good idea,” Cardin said. However, the Maryland Democrat thought public outcry would force them to yield. “I expect that there’s going to be a public reaction demanding that we have that independent investigation.”

Asked what Democrats could do to bring Republicans on board, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said they “must go along”.

“Our democracy is at stake here,” the Democratic senator said.



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