Former FBI Director Comey asked for additional resources in Russian probe days before firing
(KTVU and AP) -- The Senate Intelligence Committee has invited recently fired FBI Director James Comey to testify on the Russia election meddling investigation next Tuesday behind closed doors with no media present. The move comes as Democrats and some Republicans are raising questions about President Trump's motives and timing in firing Comey abruptly Tuesday.
President Trump defended his firing of FBI Director James Comey, citing memos from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a 3-page letter from Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein detailing a loss of confidence in Comey by both Democrats and Republicans. Those memos were requested by President Trump on Monday, when he met with Sessions and Rosenstein at the White House and reportedly asked them for their views on Comey, in writing.
U.S. officials said Wednesday that the firing came after Comey had requested more resources just last week, to pursue his investigation into Russia's election meddling and the possible involvement of Trump associates. That os fueling concerns that Trump was trying to undermine a probe that could threaten his presidency.
It was unclear whether word of the Comey request, put to deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, ever made its way to Trump. But the revelation intensified the pressure on the White House from both political parties to explain the motives behind Comey's stunning ouster.
Democrats quickly accused Trump of using Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation as a pretext and called for a special prosecutor into the Russia probe.
The top senate Democrat said a special prosecutor would be beyond reach of White House influence.
"The special prosecutor would have much greater latitude in who he can subpoena, which questions they ask, how to conduct an investigation," said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer(D-NY).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is threatening to use a parliamentary maneuver to force a vote on a bill that would create an independent panel to investigate possible contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Pelosi says in a letter Wednesday to House Democrats that they'll file a discharge petition if Speaker Paul Ryan doesn't call up the legislation "immediately upon our return next week." The House is on recess this week.
A discharge petition allows a measure to be brought straight to the floor, bypassing consideration by committee. But successes are rare through this approach because a majority of House members must sign the petition.
Pelosi says the "fireworks at the Department of Justice demand that we remove the investigation from the Trump-appointed Justice Department leadership."
Bay area congressman Eric Swalwell has sponsored a bill that calls for a 12-member bipartisan committee to investigate.
But poltical analyst Brian Sobel says a special prosecutor or commission is not without problems.
"The question is do you go out have a three judge panel appoint a special judge to look at it or you go out and get a commission to look at it. All of these things involve time, money and not necessarily a conclusion the proponents are looking for," said Sobel.
Republican leaders brushed off idea as unnecessary.
"Frankly, he'd been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, a sharply different explanation from the day before, when officials put the emphasis on new Justice complaints about Comey.
"An administrator of his level shouldn't make those kind of mistakes. What he did last July, dead wrong. What he did in October, dead wrong. All of these things, were we just going to let him go on and do more errors?" said Tom Del Beccaro, Former Chair of the California Republican Party.
Trump is the first president since Richard Nixon to fire a law enforcement official during an investigation into the White House. Trump's daring decision to oust Comey sparked comparisons to Nixon, who fired the special prosecutor running the Watergate investigation that ultimately led to his downfall. And Trump's action left the fate of the Russia probe deeply uncertain.
The investigation has shadowed Trump from the outset of his presidency, though he's denied any ties to Russia or knowledge of campaign coordination with Moscow.
Trump, in a letter to Comey dated Tuesday, contended that the director had told him "three times" that he was not personally under investigation. The White House refused Wednesday to provide any evidence or greater detail. Former FBI agents said such a statement by the director would be all but unthinkable.
Outraged Democrats called for an independent investigation into the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia's election interference, and were backed by a handful of prominent Republican senators. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with the support of the White House, brushed aside those calls, saying a new investigation would only "impede the current work being done."
The White House appeared caught off guard by the intense response to Comey's firing, given that the FBI director had become a pariah among Democrats for his role in the Clinton investigation. In defending the decision, officials leaned heavily on a memo from Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, that criticized Comey's handling of the Clinton investigation.
But Rosenstein's own role in Comey's firing became increasingly murky on Wednesday.
Three U.S. officials said Comey recently asked Rosenstein for more manpower to help with the Russia investigation. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that while he couldn't be certain the request triggered Comey's dismissal, he said he believed the FBI "was breathing down the neck of the Trump campaign and their operatives and this was an effort to slow down the investigation."
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores denied that Comey had asked Rosenstein for more resources for the Russia investigation.
Trump advisers said the president met with Rosenstein, as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on Monday after learning that they were at the White House for other meetings. One official said Trump asked Rosenstein and Sessions for their views on Comey, then asked the deputy attorney general to synthesize his thoughts in a memo.
The president fired Comey the following day. The White House informed Comey by sending him an email with several documents, including Rosenstein's memo.
It's unclear whether Rosenstein was aware his report would be used to justify the director's ouster.
White House and other U.S. officials insisted on anonymity to disclose private conversations.
The Senate intelligence committee has subpoenaed former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn for documents related to the panel's investigation into Russia's election meddling.
Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman, and Sen. Mark Warner, the committee's Democratic vice chairman, say the panel had first requested the documents from Flynn on April 28. They say Flynn's lawyer declined to cooperate with the request.
Flynn was fired by Trump after less than a month on the job. The White House said he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his communications with Russia's ambassador to the United States.
Flynn's Russia ties are also being scrutinized by the FBI as it investigates whether Trump's campaign was involved in Russia's election interference.
The president kept a low profile Wednesday, relying largely on Twitter to defend his actions. In a series of morning tweets, he said both Democrats and Republicans "will be thanking me."
In an awkward twist of timing, the only event on the president's public schedule was a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office. Among those participating in the meeting were Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, whose contacts with Trump advisers are being scrutinized by the FBI, and Henry Kissinger, who served as Nixon's secretary of state.
In brief remarks to reporters, Trump said he fired Comey because "he wasn't doing a good job. Very simply. He was not doing a good job."
Trump's assessment marked a striking shift. As a candidate, he cheered Comey's tough stance on Clinton's use of a personal email and private internet server during her tenure as secretary of state. He also applauded the director's controversial decision to alert Congress of potential new evidence in the case 10 days before the election -- an announcement Clinton and other Democrats blame in part for election results that put Trump in the White House.
Sanders attributed Trump's shift to the difference between being a candidate and president. She said Trump became concerned about Comey's efforts to work outside the Justice Department's chain of command during the Clinton investigation, citing congressional testimony from last week that provided more details of his actions last year.
Yet as recently as last week, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump had "confidence" in Comey.
Trump is only the second president to fire an FBI director, underscoring the highly unusual nature of his decision. President Bill Clinton dismissed William Sessions amid allegations of ethical lapses in 1993.
The White House said the Justice Department was interviewing candidates to serve as interim FBI director while Trump weighs a permanent replacement. Sanders said the White House would "encourage" the next FBI chief to complete the Russia investigation.
"Nobody wants this to be finished and completed more than us," she said.