WASHINGTON — Starting with Hillary Clinton herself, Democrats have blamed James Comey for her loss to President Donald Trump. And yet when Trump fired the FBI director, those same Democrats rushed to defend him.
“Twilight zone,” Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook wrote on Twitter. “I was as disappointed and frustrated as anyone at how the email investigation was handled. But this terrifies me.”
Behind the apparent Democratic turnabout on Comey: While his pronouncements about his probe into Clinton’s handling of emails infuriated them, he’s also the man who’d been looking into whether Trump’s campaign had colluded with Russians. That left many blasting the firing as an abuse of power, even if as they did not quibble with the reasons the White House put forward as cause.
Comey “inflicted severe damage on the institution of the FBI,” said Brian Fallon, the Clinton campaign’s press secretary, an interview. Still, he said, the timing and manner of his dismissal suggests Trump was “feeling the heat on the ongoing Russia investigation” rather than executing “a well-thought-out response to the inappropriate handling of the Clinton investigation.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s primary opponent, said Trump’s sudden termination of Comey “raises serious questions about what his administration is hiding.”
Republicans were quick to point out the paradox: “Ds were against Comey before they were for him,” tweeted John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican.
Justice Department officials said they recommended that Trump fire Comey citing his handling of the FBI’s review of whether Clinton mishandled her emails while she was secretary of state. Even so, Trump’s letter dismissing Comey held a stark reminder of another matter. He wrote that he appreciated Comey informing him “on three separate occasions” that he’s not under investigation.
Since July, the FBI has been investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in an effort to interfere in the U.S. election.
One week ago, Clinton said during a forum that she was “on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter on Oct. 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off.”
She did not immediately weigh in on Comey’s termination.
Some Democratic lawmakers compared Tuesday to the Nixon-era “Saturday night massacre.” During the Watergate investigation, President Richard Nixon ordered the firing of the independent special prosecutor overseeing the case, forcing the resignations of his attorney general and deputy attorney general who refused to carry out the order.
“This is Nixonian,” tweeted Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
Senator Edward J. Markey, of Massachusetts said in a statement: “This episode is disturbingly reminiscent of the Saturday Night Massacre during the Watergate scandal and the national turmoil that it caused.”
Many renewed calls for a special prosecutor. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he told Trump “you are making a big mistake” when the president called to inform him about the informing. The New York senator called on the deputy attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor, saying: “This investigation must be run as far away as possible” from the president.”
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings said Congress should have immediate emergency hearings, adding that Comey was the one independent person to investigate Russian connections to Trump.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the firing made “clear to me that a special counsel also must be appointed. That’s the only way the American people will be able to trust the results of any DOJ investigation,” referring to the Department of Justice.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said in a statement he’d long been critical of Comey’s FBI tenure.
“But Donald Trump’s decision to fire him now, in the midst of an investigation into Trump associates and their ties to Russia, is outrageous,” he said. “There can be no question that a fully independent special counsel must be appointed to lead this investigation.”