Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday resisted calls for a special prosecutor or congressional committee related to Russian meddling in the 2016 election, following the surprise Tuesday firing of FBI Director James Comey.
On the Senate floor, McConnell claimed that a push for a new probe could derail the current ones at the FBI and in the Senate. Many Democrats — and a few Republicans — have questioned the timing of President Donald Trump's decision to remove Comey amid the Russia probe. The White House says his conduct in the probe into Hillary Clinton's handling of classified information last year led to his firing.
"Partisan calls should not delay the considerable work of [Senate Intelligence Committee] Chairman [Richard] Burr and Vice Chairman [Mark] Warner. Too much is at stake," McConnell said. He also highlighted some Democrats' criticism of Comey when the FBI director sent an October letter to Congress that they say helped to swing the presidential election.
Trump on Tuesday fired Comey, who reportedly found out at around the same time the news broke on television. Trump, who received recommendations to do so from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, said he wants to "find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission."
Speaking after McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer again questioned the timing of Comey's ouster, asking, "why did it happen last night?"
"The appointment of a special prosecutor will be a welcome step in the right direction but it is not the only step that should be taken," Schumer said.
He also called for McConnell to hold a closed, all-senators briefing with Sessions and Rosenstein, where they can explain the decision. The White House released memos from both Justice Department officials last night in which they told Trump why Comey should be fired.
While many of Schumer's Democratic colleagues joined him in slamming Trump's decision, some Republicans also criticized it. Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said he was "troubled by the timing and reasoning" of the firing.
Burr told reporters Wednesday that the timing and reasoning "incites people to believe that there's something that's being covered up." However, he said he does not personally believe Trump wants to cover anything up with the firing.
He said that Comey's firing could temporarily slow the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation.
GOP Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska called the timing of Comey's ouster "very troubling" and said he has contacted Rosenstein to "clarify his rationale." Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he "just can't" find "an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing."
The Trump administration said the FBI's Russia probe was not a factor in the FBI director's dismissal. During the final days of the election, Trump had praised Comey's announcement about the Clinton probe. Comey announced the FBI found new emails potentially related to the Clinton