Congressional Republicans are divided over Trump’s decision to fire Comey from the FBI

President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing an investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia, has caused a rift among congressional Republicans.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., attend a news conference in the Capitol on January 10, 2017.
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., attend a news conference in the Capitol on January 10, 2017.

Those keeping in line with the administration's messaging find themselves in an unusual place: They have to suddenly and publicly agree with a complaint Democrats have had for months — that Comey's handling of Hillary Clinton's email investigation was not just bad, but so bad that he deserved to be fired for it.

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More skeptical Republicans, meanwhile, generally haven't yet joined some Democrats in calling for a special prosecutor, but they still raised concerns about the president's decisions and its timing.

For months, Democrats have claimed that Comey's infamous letter to Congress about newly discovered emails threw the presidency to Trump. Clinton herself cited the letter as one of the primary reasons behind her loss.

Until now, most Republicans have brushed off the claim as just another excuse after a devastating election for Democrats. But now some Republicans are using that very incident to defend Trump's decision to fire him.

"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," Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.

Quite a few Republicans are on board with Comey's firing

Several Republican senators who didn't publicly question Comey's handling of the Clinton email investigation during the election or in the immediate aftermath put out statements Tuesday night that sounded like they suddenly found it a topic of great concern.

"Over the course of the last several months, Director Comey's decisions on controversial matters have prompted concern from across the political spectrum and from career law enforcement experts," Grassley said in his statement. "The effectiveness of the FBI depends upon the public trust and confidence, and unfortunately his has been lost."

Just last week, Trump and the White House came to Comey's defense. But after Trump's decision to fire Comey, several key Republicans argued that the president was justified.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte had essentially the same reaction as Grassley, raising the importance of having the "trust of the American people."

"The FBI is the premier law enforcement agency in the world and it is critical to have a director who holds the trust of the American people. It is clearly the President's prerogative to remove the FBI Director, as was recommended by the top two officials at the Department of Justice," he said in a statement.

"I know this was a difficult decision for all concerned," Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a statement. "Given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well. I encourage the President to select the most qualified professional available who will serve our nation's interests."

John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who also sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, added that Comey's firing doesn't mean the investigation into Trump's Russia ties needs a special prosecutor.

A lot of Republicans are skeptical of the timing

But some Republicans sounded a bit more skeptical.

  • Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said the timing of Trump's decision "will raise some questions."
  • Sen. Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, was in agreement: "I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey's termination," he said in a statement.
  • Sen. John McCain, a longtime Trump skeptic, took it even further, saying he was "disappointed in the President's decision to remove James Comey from office."

"I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election. The president's decision to remove the FBI Director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee," McCain said in a statement.

  • Sen. James Lankford, who sits on the Senate Committee for Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said he still wants answers, asking for "clarity" and an "explanation" for the firing:

  • In light of the news, Rep. Justin Amash, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said he and his staff "are reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia." Amash added that parts of Trump's letter to Comey were "bizarre," citing a paragraph in which Trump thanked the former FBI director for assuring him, on three occasions, that the FBI was not investigation Trump himself.