Trump fires FBI chief James Comey: Democrats call move a 'big mistake', say it raises serious constitutional issues

(Clockwise, from top left) Democrats Ron Wyden, Patrick Leahy, Adam Schiff, Richard Blumenthal and Ben Cardin.
(Clockwise, from top left) Democrats Ron Wyden, Patrick Leahy, Adam Schiff, Richard Blumenthal and Ben Cardin.PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP
James Comey testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on May 3, 2017.
James Comey testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on May 3, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON-COMEY (BLOOMBERG) - Congressional Democrats reacted furiously to US President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, saying it raises serious constitutional issues because the agency is investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and possible links to Mr Trump's campaign.

"We know the FBI has been looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Tuesday (May 9). "Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?"

Even some Republicans expressed concern.

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, whose panel is investigating the Russia matter, said in a statement, "I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey's termination."

"His dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the committee," said Mr Burr of North Carolina.

Past criticism

Many Democrats had strongly criticised Mr Comey's actions during the campaign in revealing details of the FBI's investigation of Mrs Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server, an action she said helped tip the election to Mr Trump.

Still, because Mr Comey also was overseeing the investigation of Russia and the Trump campaign, Democrats compared his firing to the "Saturday Night Massacre" firing of the special prosecutor leading the Watergate investigation of President Richard Nixon.

Mr Schumer of New York said that when Mr Trump telephoned to tell him he was firing Mr Comey, he responded: "Mr President, with all due respect, you are making a big mistake."

Mr Schumer and other Democrats insisted a special prosecutor be appointed to lead the Russia probe because a new Federal Bureau of Investigation director appointed by Mr Trump can't be trusted to conduct it impartially.

Judiciary Committee Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said on CNN that he would introduce legislation to appoint a special prosecutor.

"President Trump has catastrophically compromised the FBI's ongoing investigation of his own White House's ties to Russia," Mr Blumenthal said in a statement. "Not since Watergate have our legal systems been so threatened, and our faith in the independence and integrity of those systems so shaken."

Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, called the firing "shocking" and "nothing less than Nixonian".

"No one should accept President Trump's absurd justification that he is now concerned that FBI Director Comey treated Secretary Clinton unfairly," Mr Leahy said.

He called that explanation a "fig leaf" and added that Mr Comey was removed "in the midst of one of the most critical national security investigations in the history of our country - one that implicates senior officials in the Trump campaign and administration".

Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is running its own probe into Russia and Mr Trump, called the firing "outrageous".

"Director Comey should be immediately called to testify in an open hearing about the status of the investigation into Russia and Trump associates at the time he was fired," Mr Wyden said in a statement.

Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat on the House intelligence panel that is investigating the Russia matter, said Mr Comey's firing "raises profound questions about whether the White House is brazenly interfering in a criminal matter".

Senate Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland wrote on Twitter: "Remember how often @POTUS praised #Comey and his handling of Hillary Clinton's emails? Now we're supposed to believe he was fired for it?"

'Bizarre' letter

Among Republicans, Senator Susan Collins of Maine defended Mr Trump, saying that any suggestion Mr Comey was fired to halt the Russia investigation is "misplaced".

"The president did not fire the entire FBI; he fired the director," Ms Collins said. "I have every confidence that the FBI will continue to pursue its investigation."

Other Republicans were critical. Arizona Senator John McCain said he was disappointed in Mr Trump's decision to remove Mr Comey. The Republican senator said the firing "confirms the need and urgency" for a special congressional committee to investigate Russian meddling in the election.

GOP Representative Justin Amash of Michigan called for an independent commission on Russia and said the second paragraph of Trump's letter firing Comey was "bizarre".

The president wrote, "While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation," he concluded that Mr Comey could no longer lead the FBI effectively.

GOP Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said that while the administration's reasons for firing Mr Comey were thoroughly explained, "his removal at this particular time will raise questions".

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said new leadership at the FBI "will restore confidence in the organisation."

The Senate's second-ranking Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, warned against a partisan selection and confirmation process for the next FBI director.

"It would be a serious mistake if the White House tries to muscle through an FBI director," Mr Durbin said. "It will look like it's an effort to cover up this investigation and bring it to a close."

"We worry, I worry, that they'll refuse the special prosecutor and we'll never hear again from an FBI investigation," Mr Durbin said.

Representative Eric Swalwell of California, a Democrat and member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement: "This is not what an innocent person would do; this is an abuse of power, and shows a consciousness of guilt."

Several Republicans, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said Mr Trump's move was appropriate and justified.

"The effectiveness of the FBI depends upon the public trust and confidence," Mr Grassley said. "Unfortunately, this has clearly been lost."