GOP senators split over Trump’s decision to fire Comey

GOP senators were split Tuesday over President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, with many Republicans appearing to be caught off guard by the announcement.
Several Senate Republicans voiced concern about the decision, which comes as the FBI investigates possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, while others offered support for Trump, saying he was within his authority to remove Comey.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, told reporters he was “surprised” by the news but said that Comey served “at the pleasure of the president.”
“Obviously he’s been the center of controversy both among Democrats and Republicans at different times. … It sounds to me from reading the president’s letter that he lost confidence in him,” Cornyn told reporters.
A number of other senators including GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Susan Collins (Maine) and James Lankford (Okla.) backed Trump’s decision, suggesting Comey had lost credibility with the public.
Both Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Collins, a member of the Intelligence Committee, also pointed to Comey’s handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s private email server.
“The handling of the Clinton email investigation is a clear example of how Comey’s decisions have called into question the trust and political independence of the FBI,” asserted Grassley, who will be responsible for shepherding Comey’s successor through the Senate committee.
Collins said while Comey’s handling of the Clinton case last year was “well intentioned,” Trump’s decision was the “inevitable conclusion” of the lingering fallout. 
“It embroiled Director Comey into political controversies that unfortunately continued to this day,” Collins argued.
Not every GOP senator immediately supported Trump’s decision, the timing of which raised eyebrows across Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sidestepped weighing in on the dismissal at all, instead pledging in a statement that the Senate would work to confirm a successor.
“Once the Senate receives a nomination, we look forward to a full, fair, and timely confirmation process to fill the Director position. This is a critical role that is especially important as America faces serious threats at home and abroad,” he said in a statement. 
The decision also drew a cool response from a trio of influential Republican committee chairmen.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning” of Trump’s announcement. 

“I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the committee,” Burr said in a statement.

Burr is leading the Senate’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the White House race and any potential contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow. 

Comey has met with the committee several times since the start of that investigation and Burr praised the former FBI director on Tuesday calling him a “public servant of the highest order.” 

A spokesman for the North Carolina senator didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about when Burr found out about Trump’s decision. Comey was scheduled to testify this week during an annual open hearing on worldwide threats. 

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he was was “disappointed” by Trump’s decision, adding that this “only confirms the need and urgency” for a special committee to investigate the 2016 election. 

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the Department of Justice reasoning for firing Comey was “thorough” but “his removal at this particular time will raise questions.” 

“It is essential that ongoing investigations are fulsome and free of political interference until their completion,” Corker said in a statement.

“Regardless of how you think Director Comey handled the unprecedented complexities of the 2016 election cycle, the timing of this firing is very troubling,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said.

“… In the midst of a crisis of public trust that goes well beyond who you voted for in the presidential election, the loss of an honorable public servant is a loss for the nation.”

He added that he’s reached out to the deputy attorney general in his capacity as chairman of the Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee for “clarity on his rationale for recommending this action.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) tweeted that he’d spent “several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey’s firing. I just can’t do it.”

The FBI is investigating possible ties between Trump’s team and Russia, which the intelligence community concluded had meddled in the presidential election to hurt Clinton and help Trump. Democrats argued Comey’s firing showed that the FBI was making headway on its probe.

Trump argued in a letter to Comey that the FBI needs a new leader so it can restore “pubic trust and confidence.” 

Trump fired Comey based on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters.

The Department of Justice cited Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation in recommending his dismissal.

Comey closed the Clinton probe last summer without recommending charges against the then-Democratic presidential candidate.

Though GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) appeared to get a heads up on the situation Tuesday, other GOP senators appeared to be caught off guard.

Asked how he found out about the firing, Cornyn said he saw the news while he was in another meeting in his office.

Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) also declined to weigh in on Trump’s decision, noting they were just finding out about Comey’s firing. 

Rubio was presiding over the Senate when the announcement was made, saying he had been “incognito” while the news was breaking. 

“I honestly don’t have any information on the circumstances,” he told reporters.

Updated: 10:14 p.m.

Tags Bob Corker Chuck Grassley Jeff Flake Jeff Sessions John Cornyn John McCain Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Richard Burr Susan Collins Ted Cruz

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