WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shrugged off President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday, dismissing Democratic calls for a special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia even as other Republicans voiced concerns.
“Today we’ll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation which could only serve to impede the current work being done,” the Kentucky Republican declared as nearly all Democratic senators looked on, waiting to hear whether the majority leader would make any criticism of Trump after his shocking move.
He didn’t, leading Democrats to accuse him of putting party ahead of country.
“We’ve got to get to the bottom of this. This is too important for politics and I was very disappointed in Sen. McConnell’s comments this morning because it was all about politics,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told the Daily News.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded by reiterating his call for a special prosecutor, and adding a request that McConnell call separate special all-senators briefings with both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to figure out what happened ahead of Trump’s firing of Comey.
“We need to get to the bottom of this and get a handle on all the facts,” he declared. “Nothing less is at stake than the American people’s faith in the justice system and integrity of the executive branch of our democratic government.”
Schumer said Democrats would use “many actions” to force progress on the issue. His party has very few things they can do, as they’re in the minority.
But the Democratic senators who huddled late Wednesday to talk about a path forward said one option they discussed would be to submit a request for the Department of Justice’s independent Office of the Inspector General to investigate whether Sessions had violated the law by getting involved in the firing after recusing himself from any involvement in Russia. Comey had been leading the federal probe, and Sessions recommended his removal to Trump in a letter that was made public Tuesday.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) and committee member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also put “holds” on two of Trump’s nominees for lower-level government positions, effectively forcing Republicans to spend a lot of time to confirm them — an annoying stalling tactic that can sometimes persuade the majority party to cave on other issues.
McConnell used Trump’s talking points to point out that Democrats had been very critical of Comey, while holding up the Senate Intelligence Committee’s current investigation as a reason why a special prosecutor was both unnecessary and unhelpful.
More than a dozen Republicans said they were concerned about Trump’s actions, but none broke ranks to join Democrats in demanding a special prosecutor to look into the Trump-Russia ties. Without bipartisan support, Democrats have almost no power to push things forward.
Comey was scheduled to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, but Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe will now be there in his stead. He and Warner have invited Comey to speak to the committee on Tuesday.
“The timing of this and the reasoning for it doesn’t make sense to me,” Burr told reporters.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Trump and his staff have “created a really difficult situation for themselves,” and said Attorney General Sessions’ involvement in the firing was problematic.
“Jeff’s my friend. It does complicate things,” he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who sits on the Intelligence Committee that’s leading the Senate investigation into Russia, also voiced concern about how and why Comey was fired. But he said he thought his committee should finish its work before an independent investigator is appointed because of his concerns that the Senate could lose access to information because of an ongoing investigation.
“I do have questions about why he was dismissed at this time given his service and his performance,” he said.