Republicans steadfast in defence of Trump after president’s sudden dismissal of FBI director
WASHINGTON — The political earthquake touched off by U.S. President Donald Trump’s sudden firing of an FBI director investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia left only the slightest, most subtle cracks in the partisan wall that protects him.
The immediate aftermath saw the vast majority of Republicans defending their president, shrugging off the dismissal of James Comey as a non-issue and not the strongman-style, institution-squashing gesture depicted by opponents.
That prevailing attitude was reflected on Trump’s favourite morning TV show. A Fox News segment presented the story as a partisan skirmish, Democrats versus Republicans, blown out of proportion by the president’s enemies, with an on-screen headline that read: “Media Meltdown — Networks Slam President For Firing Comey.”
Yet the potential for trouble ahead was planted in Tuesday’s soil.
It wasn’t so much the protesters outside the White House, where several hundred people gathered for a noon-hour demonstration, brandishing signs with slogans like “Special Prosecutor Now” and “Impeach Trump.”
It was about signs lawmakers investigating Trump’s campaign are raising new questions. Some involve money. A senatorial committee has demanded documents from a Treasury Department unit that tracks foreign money-laundering.
There was also an invitation to Comey to testify next week behind closed doors; multiple reports Comey was fired right after demanding more money for his investigation on the Russia ties; Democratic threats to block business in the Senate; and the grumbling of some GOPers — all of which suggests this episode isn’t over.
Republicans quickly brushed off calls for a special prosecutor.
Any new investigations would only impede the current work being done, said Senate leader Mitch McConnell. Two investigations are already underway, he said — one in the Senate and by the FBI, although both answer to Republican politicians.
Trump’s vice-president dismissed the idea his boss fired Comey to save the president.
“That’s not what this is about,” Mike Pence said.
“President Donald Trump showed strong and decisive leadership to restore the trust and confidence of the American people in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I’m grateful for the action the president has taken.”
Democrats called such explanations surreal.
Trump has suggested he fired Comey for being unfair to Hillary Clinton. He said he also acted on the advice of a newly-installed deputy attorney general — although reports said the president had been looking for reasons to fire Comey earlier.
Equally surreal, according to Democrats, is the notion the president could turf the investigator investigating his own inner circle. Comey recently confirmed an intelligence investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
“Were those investigations getting too close to home for the president?” top Democrat Chuck Schumer wondered aloud in the Senate. “If there was ever a time when circumstances warranted a special prosecutor, it is right now .... Nothing less is at stake than the American people’s faith in our criminal justice system and the integrity of the executive branch of our government.”
But there are small cracks in the closed ranks. Members of the Senate intelligence committee have started to hint their investigation is entering a new avenue — leading to Trump’s financial relationships.
As it happened, Russia’s foreign minister was visiting the State Department on Wednesday. In a joint media appearance with Rex Tillerson, Sergei Lavrov was asked whether the firing cast a shadow over the visit.
“Was he fired?” a mock-stunned Lavrov asked. Yes, came the reply.
“You are kidding,” Lavrov answered, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “You are kidding.” He then went to meet Trump. “He wasn’t doing a good job,” Trump said in his first public statements on why Comey was fired. “Very simply, he was not doing a good job.”
Demonstrators protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI boss James Comey, outside the White House, with some calling for his impeachment.