As the House Intelligence Committee huddled behind closed doors in the basement of the Capitol Tuesday night to get briefed by the head of the CIA on the last Trump scandal—revelations that he revealed highly classified information to Russian officials—a new scandal broke.
The New York Times published a report, confirmed by a host of other news outlets, that Trump had pressured former FBI Director James Comey to drop his investigation of former White House national security adviser Mike Flynn—who the Justice Department believed to be compromised by the Russians. Notably, Comey had written a reportedly detailed memo about the Oval Office encounter with the President.
As lawmakers scrambled to make sense of the news, calls for Comey to testify before Congress grew louder, from Republicans as well as Democrats.
I hope that we can get Comey to come up here and testify,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the chair of the House Republican Conference.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, agreed.
“We know enough to bring the Director back to testify, ideally in open session, before our committee, and share what he knows about the president’s conversations with him about any of the Russia investigations,” he told reporters following the closed-door intelligence briefing.
Schiff also called for Congress to subpoena both the memos Comey reported wrote immediately following each of his meetings with Trump, as well the “tapes” Trump claimed to possess of their encounters.
“The president may have engaged in some interference or obstruction of the investigation,” Schiff said. “Enough is enough. Congress really needs to get to the bottom of this.”
Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), the chairman of the House Democrats, said Democrats will attempt to force a vote on Wednesday on a bill to create an independent commission to investigate Trump and Russia. That plan was already in the works before Tuesday night’s news broke, but Crowley said the new revelation “gives us more oomph in terms of ammunition as to why we need to do this.”
“We need to restore confidence in this government, because it’s been shaken,” he said. “At the very least, this is an abuse of power. And, if this is true, it could be much worse than that.”
Though Capitol Hill Republicans have been largely hesitant to comment or act on on the endless drip of revelations over the past few weeks about the various investigations into Trump and Russia, the new reports of a Nixonian attempt to squash an FBI inquiry prompted some to step forward.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chair of the Oversight Committee, penned a letter to FBI Tuesday night demanding they turn over to Congress all memos, notes, summaries, and recordings relating to communications between Comey and Trump by May 24.
Chaffetz received official support in this endeavor from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who released the terse statement: “It is appropriate for the House Oversight Committee to request this memo.”
A few rank-and-file Republicans, including Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), backed Democrats’ call for the establishment of a select committee to investigate the widening scandal.
“The administration needs to be held accountable, and in order to do that we need to have all the facts, know exactly what’s going on, so we can decide on an appropriate course of action,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I hope our leaders realize that a select committee is the best vehicle through which to get to the bottom of all of this. A select committee would have an independent staff and all the resources necessary to investigate, ask questions.”
Curbelo added that Comey should “absolutely” testify before Congress, “the sooner the better.”
“This weekly scandal, weekly controversy is unhealthy for the country,” he said. “It’s bad for Congress and bad for the psyche of every American.”
But many other Republican lawmakers said they were less concerned, some claiming not to have read the report, others dismissing the damning description of the Comey-Trump conversation as “fake news,” and a few defending Trump for intervening on Flynn’s behalf.
“If the president was trying to protect a friend from unfair attacks, then I don’t think it’s a problem,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), adding: “I would be shocked beyond words if the New York Times hasn’t distorted this in a profound way.”
Pushing his way through a swarm of reporters and into an elevator, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) only grumbled “sounds like fake news” and refused to answer questions.