As lawmakers in Congress tried to digest President Donald Trump’s surprise firing of the FBI Director, the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections kept expanding on Wednesday, as Congressional subpoenas were issued for documents from a former top Trump aide, and a blizzard of leaks to news organizations raised questions about the stated reason behind the President’s decision to fire James Comey.
Here are some of the highlights:
1. Trump was ready to fire Comey from the start. The FBI Director’s days might have been numbered no matter what he did, as the White House made clear to reporters on Wednesday that President Trump had been thinking about getting rid of Comey for months. “He had been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he took office,” spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said to reporters. “He was not doing a good job,” the President said, in his only public comment on the matter.
2. Russia gets center stage, not Clinton emails. While the White House repeatedly insisted that Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email saga was the reason the FBI chief was sacked, an absolute torrent of leaks to news organizations on Wednesday shined the spotlight on the investigation into links between Trump associates and Russia, and the President’s frustration with that probe, as late reports raised questions about whether the Deputy Attorney General had objected to the White House using his memo about Comey’s shortcomings as the basis for his firing.
3. Russia probe continues to accelerate. Not pleased with how Comey was fired, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee vowed to keep pushing forward on their probe of Russian election meddling, sending out their first subpoenas to former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired over his contacts with Russian officials. Flynn had refused to turn over documents sought by the panel. That same committee also wants to hear directly from Comey about the investigation. This is not an investigation that is slowing down. “I do not have an obligation to do cover up for anybody,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).
4. Chaffetz asks for IG review of Comey firing. The Comey firing also drew red flags from Republicans in the House of Representatives, as Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) asked the Inspector General of the Justice Department to review the President’s decision to oust Comey. The IG is already doing an investigation into how Comey handled the Clinton email matter, but has not finalized that report. You can read the Chaffetz letter here.
5. Trump actions again only spur more interest in Russia. We have now seen two giant examples of where President Trump does something related to the Russia story, and it only increases the scrutiny of the matter. In March, it was Mr. Trump’s tweets about being ‘wiretapped’ by President Obama. That generated a ton of news, elevated hearings in Congress, and resulted in Comey and others publicly differing with the President. Now, the firing of Comey has insured that confirmation hearings for the new FBI Director will be dominated by one major issue – the investigation into Russian election interference, and whether Trump associates had ties to Russia.
6. Comey not going off the radar screen. While the former FBI Director stayed out of public view on the day after his firing, many lawmakers wanted him to come back to Capitol Hill to give his views on the Russia-elections probe. Comey won’t be at a Thursday hearing – instead the Acting FBI Director will present testimony at a hearing on “worldwide threats.” Comey has been invited to testify next week before the Senate Intelligence Committee; it’s unclear if he will agree to that. In a letter to FBI employees, Comey urged agents not to worry about why he was fired.
Stay tuned on this one.