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Democrats Denounce Trump's Firing Of FBI Director James Comey

May 9, 2017
Originally published on May 9, 2017 7:31 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

And the news surprised lawmakers on both sides of the aisle today. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is at the Capitol, and she has been talking to some of them. And she is with us now. Hi there, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So we know that Democrats have been very quick to denounce this move by President Trump. What are you hearing from Republicans, from members of the president's own party?

DAVIS: For the most part, top Republicans have lined up behind the president's decision, although they are the first to say they were also surprised by it. I ran into John Cornyn. He is the No. 2 Republican in the Senate. He is a Republican from Texas, and caught him coming out of his office to get his reaction on the firing. And this is what he had to say.

JOHN CORNYN: My recollection is that Democrats have called for his resignation because of what happened before the election and the Hillary Clinton emails. So obviously he's been the focus of a lot of controversies. And I think it is important that we have an independent director.

DAVIS: Cornyn went on to say that he has confidence that the president will appoint a fair and independent-minded director and that they will get a thorough vetting from the Senate.

MCEVERS: But Democrats have been saying this is catastrophic to the investigation that's been going on of Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. Have people been reacting to that? Have Republicans been reacting to that?

DAVIS: For the most part, no. I've only found one Republican - House Republican Justin Amash from Michigan - who sent out a tweet saying he was considering legislation that would call for an independent commission to investigate Russian meddling. He is the lone voice on that so far. For the most part, Republicans say they have confidence in the FBI to continue this investigation. And they have confidence, remember, in the Senate intelligence committee, which is conducting its own investigation. I also ran, in the hallways, into Marco Rubio. He is a member of the Senate intelligence committee. And this is what he had to say.

MARCO RUBIO: The intelligence committee is doing its work. I'm pleased with its pace and scope. It's a massive undertaking, involves multiple topics beyond the topic you've discussed. There are important ongoing issues for the country with regards to active measures on behalf of the Russians. That's an important of our - part of our inquiry as well, so all these things take time. We want to do it right.

DAVIS: So you can hear from Rubio - sort of the sound of his voice - that there's not a lot of rush to change the course as it is right now. Leave it with the FBI, and leave it with the Senate intelligence committee is the broad reaction from Republicans.

MCEVERS: The White House has said that this decision was driven by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein - he's a former career prosecutor - and that the decision is because of how Comey handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation. What are Democrats making of that explanation?

DAVIS: Well, it is interesting because prior to this evening's firing, there had been a ton of criticism of Comey by congressional Democrats, in both the House and the Senate, for that very handling. Now, though, their concern is not necessarily about the handling of the emails - although they very much still have an issue with that - is that having an acting FBI director removed by a president whose administration and senior administration officials may be under some terms of investigation over Russian influence. One of the reactions we've heard from Democrats repeatedly this evening is the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions apparently played a role in the firing of Comey. Particularly because Sessions has had to recuse himself from any Russian investigation, we're going to be hearing a lot more about that.

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer tonight said - called for an independent commission or a special counsel to take over that investigation. That view has been echoed by top Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee. Democrats are much more inflamed about what this means for the Russian investigation, although yes, they have been very critical of Comey for his handling of other matters.

MCEVERS: And of course, Comey's replacement would have to be confirmed by the Senate. Does that give Democrats some leverage in how this goes forward?

DAVIS: Not necessarily because remember, senators are no longer capable of filibustering nominees. You only need a simple majority to get anybody through the Senate. So whoever the new FBI director is going to be will only need 51 votes. There are, of course, 52 Republican senators. I would say I think they're seeing some initial reaction. And we're hearing chatter that Trump could put in someone who is more compliant or more complacent towards his administration.

I would caution that Senate Republicans have said that whoever the nominee is is going to get a very thorough vetting. And the Senate - you know, the Senate Judiciary Committee is not going to just roll over on any kind of Trump nominee. It's going to be - have to - someone that is going to have to go through a very thorough vetting process on Capitol Hill.

MCEVERS: Comey recently testified on Capitol Hill. I mean, is there any sense that that testimony, you know, led to his firing, anything he said there?

DAVIS: Yes, it's certainly possible. And I can tell you this, people still want to hear from James Comey (laughter). He was scheduled to come back up to Capitol Hill. It is very likely that he will be asked to still do that.

MCEVERS: All right. That's NPR's Susan Davis at the Capitol. Thanks so much.

DAVIS: You bet.

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