Democrats are voicing strong misgivings about President Trump’s reported decision to keep James Comey atop the FBI.
Comey infuriated Democrats in October when he announced an extended investigation into presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNo Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way The dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE’s use of a private email server days before the election.
Many Democrats now view Comey as more of a partisan operative than a straight shooter, and they doubt his willingness to lead any investigation into possible links between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.
“I can’t speak for Democrats, but I can speak for myself, and I think that James Comey needs to fade away into oblivion,” said Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Democrats confront rising retirements as difficult year ends Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 MORE (D-N.C.), former head of the Congressional Black Caucus. “He embarrassed this nation, he possibly influenced the outcome of a presidential election, and he should not hold any position of trust, whatsoever, in our government.”
The Democrats are particularly indignant because, in contrast to the Clinton case, Comey has refused to say publicly if the FBI is examining potential ties between Trump and the Kremlin. They have called that a politically motivated double standard, a charge the FBI director has rejected outright.
Democrats are in a tricky spot, however, because removing Comey would empower Trump to pick a replacement. Indeed, some critics think that Comey — once hailed by liberals for refusing to endorse President George W. Bush’s surveillance programs — is a safer bet to maintain the FBI’s independence.
“I don’t believe that Director Comey conducted himself during the election in a way that was impartial and beneficial to the country. I have concerns about that,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), vice chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus.
“But I also have concerns about: Who would the replacement be?” she quickly added. “Would the replacement be hand-picked by the president, and somebody that would be more invested in the success of the president than in the organization or the country?
“Those are the fears that we have.”
Trump’s decision to retain Comey, as reported Tuesday by The New York Times, suggests the minority Democrats are stuck with him, in any event.
Former President Obama tapped Comey, a Republican, in 2013 to serve the traditional 10-year term of the FBI director — an incumbency designed to insulate the head of the nation’s top law enforcement agency from political pressures. But last year was a tumultuous one for Comey.
In July, he sparked outrage among Republicans — including Trump — when he declined to indict Clinton after a lengthy investigation into her use of a personal email server while she was secretary of State. While the FBI concluded that Clinton had mishandled classified material, her actions did not merit criminal charges, Comey said.
In October, just 11 days before the presidential election, the FBI director was back in the headlines when he announced that the agency had discovered new emails and was extending the investigation. That second review ultimately revealed no criminal wrongdoing.
This time, it was the Democrats’ turn to howl. Comey’s “October surprise,” they charged, was designed to sink Clinton’s presidential chances by shifting the headlines away from Trump’s own untimely scandals.
Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday there’s no doubt Comey’s move “was a contributing factor in this election.” With Trump in the White House, Crowley added, no federal investigation into Russia’s influence is reliable.
“I have concern about any investigation that will go forward now, given now that he is the president of the United States,” Crowley said.
With that in mind, House Democrats are calling unanimously for the creation of an independent commission to investigate the Kremlin’s hacking of Democratic campaign offices, as well as other cyber mischief that might have swayed the election.
“I’m focused on what Congress needs to do, irrespective of who the FBI director is,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. “I don’t want to have to rely on the president to ensure that this investigation continues and is seen through to the end.”
Separately, the Justice Department’s inspector general has launched an investigation into the FBI’s actions leading up to the election. Some Democrats have said they’ll wait for the results of that probe before casting final judgment on Comey’s performance.
Still others said Comey’s reputation in the eyes of Democrats will hinge on his commitment to probing any links between Trump and Russia.
“Comey has a responsibility … to assure the American people through careful and intense investigation of allegations of contact between the Russians and the Trump campaign. I think he has a constitutional responsibility and his oath of office to do just that,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, told reporters Tuesday in the Capitol.
“If he compromises it — and I don’t necessarily believe he’s going to compromise it — but if he compromises it, he will compromise his oath.”