Congressional Democrats reacted fiercely to President Trump’s firing Tuesday of FBI Director James Comey, who is by no means popular in Democratic quarters after his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.
Outraged Democrats accused Trump of a coverup and said the timing of Comey’s termination re-enforced the need for a special prosecutor in the investigation into potential Russian ties to the Trump campaign. More than a few compared the abrupt announcement by the White House, made late Tuesday afternoon, to the tactics President Nixon used to undermine the Watergate investigation.
“For the President to fire the head of a law enforcement agency investigating his own campaign’s ties to a foreign adversary – one proven to have sought to sway the election in his favor – is deeply troubling and raises serious questions,” House Minority Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said in a statement.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said there should emergency hearings that included the testimonies of Comey as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who the White House said both advised Trump to fire Comey.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speculated that the firing could be “part of a cover up,” particularly if the Justice Department does not appoint a special prosector to oversee the investigation into Trump’s campaign affiliates.
“Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?” Schumer asked, at a last minute press conference organized Tuesday evening.
It appears that the Democrats were largely caught of guard by the decision. In a terse statement, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Trump had called her at about 5:30, only a few minutes before the news became public, to inform her of his decision to remove Comey.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a former Senate Judiciary Committee chair, called Comey’s surprise removal “nothing less than Nixonian.”
Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), the ranking Member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, labeled it the “Tuesday Night Massacre” — a reference to the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre” during which Nixon fired the special prosecutor probing the Watergate scandal.
“Today’s action by President Trump completely obliterates any semblance of an independent investigation into Russian efforts to influence our election, and places our nation on the verge of a constitutional crisis,” Conyers said in a statement.
The House and Senate Intel Committees are both in the midst of probes into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Intel Dem overseeing the Senate Russia investigation, called Comey’s removal “deeply shocking.”
“The administration insists there’s no ‘there there,’ yet President Trump has so far fired the acting Attorney General, nearly every U.S. attorney, and now the Director of the FBI,” Warner said. “In addition, this President’s choice for Attorney General has been forced to recuse himself, and the National Security Advisor has resigned, as a result of undisclosed contacts with Russian officials.”
The ranking member of the House committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said Comey’s firing “raises profound questions about whether the White House is brazenly interfering in a criminal matter,” especially given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who vowed to recuse himself of investigations involving the Trump campaign, played a role in the decision.
“It is more imperative than ever that an independent prosecutor be appointed to restore a modicum of public confidence – now completely lacking – that the criminal investigation will continue without further interference by the White House,” Schiff said.