WASHINGTON — The morning after the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Senate leaders sparred on the floor of the upper chamber about the need for special counsel to pick up the investigation into Russia’s campaign 2016 influence operation.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) slammed “our Democratic colleagues complaining about the removal of an FBI director whom they themselves repeatedly and sharply criticized, that removal being done by a man, Rod Rosenstein, whom they repeatedly and effusively praised.”
“Two investigations are currently ongoing: the Senate Intelligence Committee’s review of Russian active measures and intelligence activities and the FBI investigation disclosed by Director Comey,” McConnell noted. “Today, we’ll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation, which could only serve to impede the current work being done to not only discover what the Russians may have done — also to let this body and the national security community develop countermeasures and warfighting doctrine to see that it doesn’t occur again.”
“Partisan calls,” he said, “should not delay the considerable work of Chairman Burr and Vice Chairman Warner” at the Intelligence Committee.
Warner is one of those calling for the appointment of a special counsel as “the only way the American people will be able to trust the results of any DOJ investigation,” the Virginia Dem said Tuesday. Some Republicans have also called for a special committee or counsel.
McConnell said he expects “fair consideration” from senators when an FBI nominee is sent to Congress. “This is a critical role that is particularly important as our country continues to face serious threats at home and abroad.”
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor that “if the administration truly had objections to the way Director Comey handled the Clinton investigation, they would’ve had them the minute the president got into office.”
“But he didn’t fire Director Comey then. The question is, why did it happen last night?” he questioned. “We know Director Comey was leading an investigation in whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, a serious offense. Were those investigations getting too close to home for the president?”
He noted that at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recent confirmation hearing the appointee told senators, “I’m willing to appoint a special counsel whenever I determine that it’s appropriate.”
“If there was ever a time when circumstances warranted a special prosecutor, it is right now,” Schumer argued. “…He needs no congressional authorization. This would simply be a step that he could take as outlined in the Department of Justice guidelines and in a law passed after Watergate to get an independently minded prosecutor who would be insulated from various pressures.”
Schumer said he would be calling on McConnell to schedule “a closed and, if necessary, classified all-senators briefing with the attorney general and the deputy attorney general separately at which they can be asked questions.”
“No doubt, we’ll have an opportunity to question Mr. Comey, now a private citizen, about what happened. But we need to hear from this administration about what happened and why, and what is going to happen next,” he added.
“…I hope the majority leader agrees with me that we need to get to the bottom of this and get a handle on all the facts so that we can grapple with them. I remind him and my Republican friends that nothing less is at stake than the American people’s faith in our criminal justice system and the integrity of the executive branch of our government.”