U.S. senators are determined to kick up the intensity of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election following President Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey from the FBI Tuesday night.
When Independent Journal Review twice asked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who should be appointed as the next director of the FBI on Wednesday morning, he said simply, “A select committee.”
In the aftermath of Comey’s sudden firing, lawmakers are less concerned about filling Comey’s role and are opting instead to call on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special prosecutor or a select committee to take over the investigation.
“The priority should be to appoint a special prosecutor,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who was the subject of some of President Trump’s tweets Wednesday morning over his opposition to the White House’s decision. “The burden is now on the deputy attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor,” Blumenthal added.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) echoed Blumenthal’s thoughts. “I haven’t given it any thought,” Murphy said when IJR asked if he had any potential replacements in mind. Murphy added that while he hopes the White House moves forward with a replacement quickly, it isn’t top of mind.
“I want somebody who’s independent, credible, who’s going to continue this investigation,” Murphy told IJR. “I don’t want a partisan hack. I don’t want somebody whose first loyalty is to Trump or to [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions. I started having conversations with my Republican colleagues on the floor now, making sure that’s their priority.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) agreed with that, telling IJR, “It’s self-evident that whoever the next person is has got to be beyond reproach and someone that both Republicans and Democrats have a lot of faith in.” And Corker said he’s given that assessment to the White House.
For now, the focus is trained on Rosenstein, who made the recommendation to the president to fire Comey.
“Frankly, Rosenstein doesn’t have to wait for a replacement at the FBI to empower a special prosecutor,” Murphy said. “If he’s serious about upholding people’s faith in Democratic norms, then he should appoint a special prosecutor as soon as possible.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee conducting the investigation into Russian election interference, told reporters his priority is to “try to get to the bottom of what’s happened in the next 24 hours.”
The most immediate effect of Comey’s firing, Wyden said, is that the Senate investigation will have to pick up the slack on the Russia probe. “I’ve made it clear that we ought to have more open hearings, use subpoena power, audit, have the ability to declassify,” Wyden told IJR after he left the Senate chamber Wednesday morning. He added that he urged Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who chairs the Intelligence Committee, and the ranking member, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a number of times on Tuesday about his request.
Despite Burr’s continued insistence Tuesday that he’s determined to finish the investigation and do it in a bipartisan way, it has been slow-going, and Democratic lawmakers are concerned that the firing will slow it down even more.
But not everyone thinks it was unexpected or that it should throw the Senate off course. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) even downplayed Comey’s firing.
“A lot of people thought he wouldn’t last long anyway, either under a Democratic administration or a Republican,” he said. “His days were numbered. A lot of folks are probably surprised he lasted this long.”