Bangkok Post

Trump defiant after shock Comey firing

Senate subpoenas Flynn over Russia


WASHINGTON: The White House yesterday slapped down calls for a special prosecutor to investigat­e allegation­s that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, after the US president abruptly fired his FBI director.

Mr Trump’s shock dismissal of James Comey — the man overseeing federal investigat­ions into suspected Kremlin interferen­ce in the 2016 vote — has sparked a political firestorm in Washington and plunged his young presidency in turmoil.

Mr Comey himself was measured about the abrupt turn of events in a letter to FBI agents and colleagues, urging them not to be concerned for him.

“I have long believed that a president can fire an FBI director for any reason, or for no reason at all. I’m not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed. I hope you won’t either,” he said.

“It is done, and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply,” he wrote. “In times of turbulence, the American people should see the FBI as a rock of competence, honesty, and independen­ce.”

Furious Democrats, however, suggested the FBI’s work will now be hopelessly tainted and demanded a special prosecutor akin to those appointed during Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal or the run-up to Bill Clinton’s impeachmen­t.

“We don’t think it’s necessary,” said White House spokeswoma­n Sarah Huckabee Sanders, batting back that demand.

Ms Sanders said the White House wanted the FBI probe — and parallel congressio­nal investigat­ions — to continue and to wrap up their work. “No one wants this to be finished and completed more than us.”

The White House says Mr Comey’s firing was motivated solely by concerns over his handling of the high-stakes probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

A US official said the president had been “losing confidence” in his FBI chief for several months, and that after watching Mr Comey testify before Congress as part of the Russia probe last week Mr Trump was “strongly inclined to remove him”.

The president personally defended his summary dismissal of Mr Comey and rejected suggestion­s it was linked to the Russia investigat­ion.

“He wasn’t doing a good job, it’s very simple, he was not doing a good job,” Mr Trump told reporters as hundreds of demonstrat­ors gathered outside the White House chanting “shame on you!”

Mr Trump’s comments came shortly after he hosted Russia’s top diplomat at the White House, in his highest-level Kremlin encounter since taking office.

Mr Trump described an Oval Office meeting with Sergei Lavrov, the highestpro­file Kremlin official to visit the White House in years, as “very, very good”.

Under Mr Comey, the FBI concluded that Russia tried to sway the election in Mr Trump’s favour through an influence and cyber-hacking campaign. The bureau has been probing whether Mr Trump’s campaign colluded with such an effort — something the president rejects as “fake news”.

Mr Lavrov, who last set foot in Washington in August 2013, dismissed all claims of election meddling as “fabricatio­ns.”

In a sharp new developmen­t, the Senate Intelligen­ce Committee announced yesterday it issued a subpoena to Mr Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn for Russiarela­ted documents, which he had previously declined to provide. Mr Flynn was sacked for lying to Vice-President Mike Pence about his discussion­s with the Russian ambassador to Washington. Mr Trump’s decision to terminate Mr Comey’s tenure, effective immediatel­y, stunned Washington and drew comparison­s to the Watergate scandal that brought down Nixon.

The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, yesterday dismissed calls for a special prosecutor. He said such an individual would only “serve to impede the current work being done”.

But Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said even among Republican­s there was a “growing feeling of disquiet and doubt about the direction that the president is taking”. He raised the prospect that White House stonewalli­ng on a special prosecutor could trigger a drastic congressio­nal response. “I would oppose confirmati­on of a new FBI director until there is support for a special prosecutor,” he told reporters.

A defiant Mr Trump took to Twitter to defend his decision, vowing: “James Comey will be replaced by someone who will do a far better job, bringing back the spirit and prestige of the FBI.

“Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me!”

But White House officials privately expressed surprise at the level of backlash, particular­ly from leading Republican­s. Several members of the president’s own party, including Richard Burr — head of the Senate Intelligen­ce committee — sought to distance themselves from the White House.

“I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of director Comey’s terminatio­n,” he said in a statement. “His dismissal, I believe, is a loss for the Bureau and the nation.”

Before Tuesday only one FBI director had been fired in the bureau’s centurylon­g history. The post is normally considered above politics, with incumbents serving one 10-year term.

Mr Comey played an outsized — and controvers­ial — role on the American political stage over the past year, lobbing one bombshell after another that rankled both parties in Washington. He first angered Republican­s by closing the email probe against Ms Clinton in July, then infuriated Democrats by reopening it days before the November election.

 ?? REUTERS ?? Protesters rally against US President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey outside the White House in Washington, DC, on Wednesday.
REUTERS Protesters rally against US President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey outside the White House in Washington, DC, on Wednesday.
 ??  ?? Comey: ‘It is done, and I will be fine’
Comey: ‘It is done, and I will be fine’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Thailand