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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer
Thursday, May 11, 2017
DemoBrats: Give Us What We Want, or Else!
Democrats slam brakes on Washington business after Comey’s firing, suggest impeachment
Washington ground to a halt Wednesday as Democrats exploded over the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, laying out a list of demands they said must be met before President Trump and Congress regain a sense of normalcy.
Several Democrats and liberal activists raised the prospect of impeachment, but most lawmakers set their sights lower, saying they wanted to at least preserve and protect the ongoing FBI probe into Trump campaign figures’ dealings with Russia.
Convinced that Mr. Comey’s firing was an attempt to kneecap that probe, Democrats said they want the decision on naming an independent prosecutor stripped from politics. They said the top career attorney at the Justice Department would be able to make the right call free from Mr. Trump’s meddling.
“All we are seeking is some assurance that the subject of this investigation is not able to influence it or, God forbid, quash it,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Mr. Trump said Democrats had long complained about Mr. Comey yet now were lionizing him because of the Russia investigation. “Phony hypocrites!” he said on Twitter.
Administration officials defended the shock firing. Despite the president’s praise at times for Mr. Comey, his concerns dated back to the election and grew over time, they said.
They gave a more complete timeline of Mr. Trump’s decision-making, saying the president became “strongly inclined to remove him” after Mr. Comey testified to Congress on May 3, defending his handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s secret emails.
But the final decision was made only after newly minted Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein came forward this week and said it was time to oust the longtime lawman, the White House said.
“He wasn’t doing a good job. Very simply. He was not doing a good job,” Mr. Trump told reporters.
All eyes will turn to the Senate on Thursday as acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe appears before the Select Committee on Intelligence to testify about global security threats. The hearing, however, is almost certain to feature pointed questions about Russia’s role in other countries’ elections and the FBI probe.
Moscow’s long shadow continued to play out as the Senate intelligence committee issued a subpoena demanding that former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn turn over documents concerning his dealings with Russian government figures.
The committee said it had requested the documents in an April 28 letter but Mr. Flynn, through his attorney, declined to cooperate.
In 2015, after retiring from the Defense Intelligence Agency, Mr. Flynn traveled to Moscow to participate in an anniversary celebration for Russia Today — commonly referred to as a Kremlin propaganda mouthpiece. He received roughly $33,000 for a 60-minute presentation.
On Monday, Obama-era acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates told congressional investigators that she told Trump administration attorneys weeks before the security adviser’s ouster that Mr. Flynn was at risk of Russian blackmail.
Democrats say the growing questions, and Mr. Trump’s counterattacks against those who ask them, are souring business in Washington.
On Wednesday, they began to erect roadblocks to regular business in the Senate.
Democrats flexed a rarely used rule to shut down most committee business, canceling work on cybersecurity, border security and oversight of the Veterans Affairs Department’s efforts to improve its services.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, linked the shutdown to “the decision last night by the president of the United States to terminate the director of the FBI.”
Later in the day, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, said he would block the nominee to head anti-terrorism efforts at the Treasury Department until the Trump administration turns over information on Russia and any financial dealings with the president and his associates.
In the House, a couple of Democrats raised the specter of impeachment. Rep. Al Green, Texas Democrat, told a local radio station that impeachment would be appropriate if Mr. Comey’s firing was traced to Russia.
Republicans were split in their reaction to Mr. Comey’s firing, with most of them saying it was Mr. Trump’s prerogative and others saying it was troubling. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, chairman of the intelligence committee, said the firing could set back congressional investigations.
The White House has tried to deflect blame for the firing, saying Mr. Trump was acting on the advice of Mr. Rosenstein, who was confirmed to his post two weeks ago in a 94-6 vote.
A White House spokeswoman said Mr. Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions approached Mr. Trump on Monday and recommended the firing, and the president told them to write out their justification. Those memos were filed Tuesday, and Mr. Trump then sent a termination letter to Mr. Comey.
Democrats said Mr. Rosenstein’s memo crossed lines and wasn’t the work of a thoughtful lawyer. They also pointed to news reports in The New York Times and on CNN suggesting that Mr. Comey had recently asked Mr. Rosenstein for more resources for his Russia investigation. The deputy attorney general was now tainted, they said.
“That might be the reason [Mr. Comey] was fired — because he was pursuing the investigation in an accelerated way,” Mr. Schumer said.
The Justice Department vehemently denied the reports of requests for more resources. Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores called them “totally false.”
On May 4, members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence held a closed-door briefing to question Mr. Comey and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers about their investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
Democrats continued to cite the reports, though, saying they should force Mr. Rosenstein to remove himself from the decision on whether to appoint a special prosecutor to head the Russia investigation. Mr. Schumer said that role should fall to the top career official, who would be free of political taint.
“It should not be a political appointee who makes such a decision,” he said.
• Dan Boylan, Dave Boyer, S.A. Miller and Andrea Noble contributed to this report.