As Donald Trump continues his search to replace fired FBI Director James Comey, Capitol Hill remains up in arms over the firing, which some said occurred because the ousted top cop refused to drop a potentially damaging investigation of the president.
Congressional Black Caucus Chair Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana) said the American people deserve to know the truth.
“I call on Republicans to put patriotism before party and join Democrats in creating an independent, bipartisan commission so we can get to the truth,” Richmond said in a statement. “If they don’t, then they’ll be aiding and abetting collusion and cover-up.
“The out-of-the-blue ouster of FBI Director James Comey is more proof that we need an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate any and all ties between the Trump administration and Russia,” he said. “When the attorney general, who supposedly recused himself from the Russia investigation after it was revealed that he lied under oath about conversations with Russians, recommends firing the only person at the Department of Justice leading that investigation, then there is no one at the department who can be trusted to investigate. As ranking member [Elijah] Cummings has said, there is now a crisis of confidence at the Department of Justice. This administration can’t be trusted to investigate itself.”
D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said an independent, bipartisan commission like what was formed to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks should strongly be considered to investigate Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections — a probe that’s led to Comey’s ouster.
“The 9/11 commission consisted of five Democrats and five Republicans,” Norton said.
Nearly four months after assuming office, and after praising Comey for his investigation of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s abrupt and questionable firing of the FBI director, who recently testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI was investigating Russian interference and potential links to the Trump campaign, has only increased the urgency of an independent commission, Norton said.
“President Trump’s decision to abuse executive power to remove the man leading the investigation into Russian interference in our elections, including hacking of the Democratic National Committee and possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, has created the ingredients for a constitutional crisis,” she said.
The controversy surrounding the firing has escalated to questions of whether the president has committed impeachable offenses or, at the least, tried to influence a federal probe.
The New York Times this week reported that Trump had called Comey just weeks after the president took office and asked him when federal authorities were going to put out word that Trump was not personally under investigation.
The newspaper cited as its sources two individuals who were briefed on the call.
Comey told the president that if he wanted to know details about the bureau’s investigations, he should not contact him directly but instead follow the proper procedures and have the White House counsel send any inquiries to the Justice Department, according to those people.
After explaining to Trump how communications with the FBI should work, Comey believed he had effectively drawn the line in the sand after a series of encounters he had with the president and other White House officials that he felt jeopardized the FBI’s independence. At the time, Comey was overseeing the investigation into links between Trump’s associates and Russia.
Those interactions included a dinner in which associates of Comey say Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty and a meeting in the Oval Office at which Trump told him he hoped Comey would shut down an investigation into Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.
Trump has denied making the request.
The day after the Flynn conversation, Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, asked Comey to help push back on reports in the news media that Trump’s associates had been in contact with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign.
Comey described all his contacts with the president and the White House — including the phone call from Trump — in detailed memos he wrote at the time and gave to his aides.
Comey has spoken privately of his concerns that the contacts from Trump and his aides were inappropriate, and how he felt compelled to resist them, the Times reported.
“He had to throw some brushback pitches to the administration,” Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Comey’s, said in interviews.
Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, the editor in chief of the Lawfare blog and a frequent critic of Trump, recalled a lunch he had with Comey in March at which Comey told him he had spent the first two months of Trump’s administration trying to preserve distance between the FBI and the White House and educating it on the proper way to interact with the bureau.
He said Comey described encounters with the president that had troubled him.
One of those occurred at the White House on Jan. 22, just two days after Trump was sworn in. That day, Trump hosted a ceremony to honor law enforcement officials who had provided security for the inauguration.
Wittes said Comey told him that he initially did not want to go to the meeting because the FBI director should not have too close a relationship with the White House. But Comey went because he wanted to represent the bureau.
The ceremony occurred in the Blue Room of the White House, where many senior law enforcement officials had gathered.
Trump spotted Mr. Comey and called him out.
“Oh, and there’s Jim,” Trump said. “He’s become more famous than me.”
With an abashed look on his face, Comey walked up to Trump.
“Comey said that as he was walking across the room he was determined that there wasn’t going to be a hug,” Wittes said. “It was bad enough there was going to be a handshake. And Comey has long arms so Comey said he preemptively reached out for a handshake and grabbed the president’s hand. But Trump pulled him into an embrace and Comey didn’t reciprocate. If you look at the video, it’s one person shaking hands and another hugging.”