McConnell defends Trump decision to fire Comey

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRand's reversal advances Pompeo After Dems stood against Pompeo, Senate’s confirmation process needs a revamp Overnight Cybersecurity: Senators eye path forward on election security bill | Facebook isn't winning over privacy advocates | New hacks target health care MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday morning defended President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey.

McConnell noted that Democrats had fiercely criticized Comey in recent weeks because of his role in the 2016 election. He also pointed out that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who recommended Comey’s dismissal, won Senate confirmation by a strong bipartisan vote and was praised by Democrats only a few weeks ago.

“Our Democratic colleagues [are] complaining about the removal of an FBI director whom they themselves repeatedly and sharply criticized,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “That removal being done by a man, Rod Rosenstein, who they repeatedly and effusively praised.”

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McConnell was followed by Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerCan Mueller be more honest than his colleagues? Throwing some cold water on all of the Korean summit optimism House Republicans push Mulvaney, Trump to rescind Gateway funds MORE (D-N.Y.), who sharply criticized the firing and renewed his call for McConnell to agree to a special investigator to look into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties between Moscow and Trump's campaign. 

The rest of the Democratic caucus sat at their desks behind Schumer, an action meant to underline the gravity of the moment, from that party's point of view. 

“There is little reason to think that Mr. Rosenstein’s letter is the true reason that President Trump fired Director Comey,” he asserted, arguing that if the president really had an objection to the outcome of the Clinton investigation he should have fired him at the start of his term in January.

“But he didn’t fire Director Comey then. The question is, why did it happen last night?” he said.

Schumer reminded reporters that Rosenstein had promised in testimony before the Judiciary Committee to appoint a special prosecutor at the appropriate time.

“That time is right now,” Schumer said. “The American people’s trust in our criminal justice system is in Mr. Rosenstein’s hands.”

McConnell dismissed calls by Democrats — joined by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainManchin, Donnelly back Pompeo This week: Senate barrels toward showdown over Pompeo Romney forced into GOP primary for Utah Senate nomination MORE (R-Ariz.) — for the appointment of a special prosecutor or independent commission to investigate Russia’s influence in the Trump campaign, which the FBI is now investigating.

He argued that the Senate Intelligence Committee is already reviewing the matter, as is the FBI, and empowering another investigative authority could hamper their work.

“Today we’ll do 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 [but] also to let this body and the national security community develop countermeasures and war-fighting doctrine to see that it doesn’t occur again,” McConnell said. 

McConnell argued that that Rosenstein recommended the president replace Comey for some of the same reasons that Democrats criticized the FBI director, specifically the handling of an investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Pompeo clears Senate panel, on track for confirmation | Retired officers oppose Haspel for CIA director | Iran, Syria on agenda for Macron visit George H.W. Bush in intensive care GOP chairmen say they have deal with Justice on documents MORE that Clinton herself says likely cost her the election.

He reminded colleagues that Rosenstein was confirmed to his post by a vote of 94 to 6 and that Schumer recently praised his independence and integrity.