In widely anticipated remarks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to criticize President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey and instead took aim Wednesday at Democrats for complaining about the dismissal they once demanded.
McConnell’s remarks were notable since neither he nor House Speaker Paul D. Ryan have said much about the stunning firing that has upended Washington. Comey was fired amid an FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible coordination with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
McConnell’s refusal to publicly question the abrupt dismissal put him at odds with other top Republican senators who have expressed alarm and concern over Trump’s action.
The Kentucky Republican rejected calls for an independent investigatory commission, saying it “would only impede” the Senate Intelligence Committee’s current probe into the matter.
“Our Democratic colleagues [are] complaining about the removal of the FBI director that they themselves repeatedly criticized,” McConnell said, after opening remarks first with comments on other topics, including a Kentucky veterans group touring the Capitol and criticism of the Affordable Care Act.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who asked all Democratic senators to be in their seats for the morning session, called on McConnell to quickly convene an all-senators briefing with the attorney general and deputy attorney general — separately — so lawmakers could question their rationale and timing for recommending the firing.
“The question is, why did it happen last night?” Schumer said.
“Were those investigations getting too close to home for the president?”
Schumer said the administration has established a “troubling pattern” after having fired three top officials within the Justice Department, including Sally Yates and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District in New York, Preet Bharara.
“We need to get to the bottom of this,” Schumer said. “Nothing less is at stake than the American people’s faith in our criminal justice system and the integrity of the executive branch.”