Furious Democrats branded the firing of FBI Director James Comey as “Nixonian,” warning the probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia had been dangerously compromised.
They warned of a possible constitutional crisis, painting a troubling picture of a dictatorial president suddenly dismissing the key investigator into allegations that have raised serious questions about his campaign’s links to Russia.
“This is Nixonian,” said the usually measured Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., recalling President Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” in 1973. Nixon forced the firing of the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate campaign scandal.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., a Senate Intelligence Committee member, made a more direct connection. “President Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director Comey smacks of President Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre. If this is an effort to stop the investigations into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, it won’t succeed,” he said.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., saying “the reasoning and timing behind this firing is absolutely preposterous and unbelievable,” added that “It smacks of a Nixon-esque cover up of President Trump’s Kremlin ties.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he told Trump in a phone call Tuesday afternoon that he was “making a big mistake” in firing Comey. The New York Democrat questioned why Comey was fired now, noting that the FBI, Senate and House are investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
“Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?” Schumer said.
But it was Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who made the biggest impression, going to the Senate floor about an hour after the announcement to clearly outline the stakes..
“Any attempt to stop or undermine this FBI investigation would raise grave constitutional issues,” he told colleagues.
Trump’s sudden action “raises the question as to whether Russian interference in the last presidential campaign by the Trump campaign will also be investigated by the FBI,” Durbin said.
He demanded “clarification by the White House as soon as possible as to whether this investigation will continue.”
Schumer called for a special prosecutor to handle the Trump-Russia probe.
So did Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., an intelligence committee member.
“This cannot wait,” she said.
Republicans control both Houses of Congress and were less insistent, but not unhappy to see Comey go.
“The handling of the Clinton email investigation is a clear example of how Comey's decisions have called into question the trust and political independence of the FBI,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
“In my efforts to get answers, the FBI, under Comey's leadership, has been slow or failed to provide information that Comey himself pledged to provide.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., had kind words for Comey, saying he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination.”
Burr called Comey as “a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the committee.”
In fact, Burr said, Comey “has been more forthcoming with information than any FBI director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intelligence committees. His dismissal, I believe, is a loss for the bureau and the nation.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a Senate Intelligence Committee member, also had some praise, saying Comey “has served the country well in a number of different roles.”
But he added that “ Many, including myself, have questioned his actions more than once over the past year. “
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was more circumspect, saying only that there will be a “full, fair and timely confirmation process for whoever Trump appoints as new FBI director.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also had a quiet response. “Given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well,” he said.
Few were talking about who could emerge as a possible replacement for Comey or even an obvious path forward, and some wanted new committees or commissions.
The Nixon connection was very much on Democrats’ minds.
“While I had deep reservations with the way Director Comey handled the investigation into the Clinton emails which I made clear at the time and since, to take this action without addressing the profound conflict of interest of the President and Attorney General harkens back to a similarly tainted decision by President Nixon,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., top House Intelligence Committee Democrat..
"Like then, this will not stand," added Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash.. “This president’s manipulation of an active investigation is precisely why some of us have called for an independent commission from the beginning."
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., echoed the idea. “Now it is more clear than ever that we need an independent commission to get to the truth of Russia’s interference with our election,” he said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wanted a special congressional committee, saying he was “disappointed” by Comey’s firing.
In the House, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wanted emergency hearings. He wants testimony from Attonrey General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Comey.
And Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., tweeted Comey should be “immediately called to testify in an open hearing about the status of Russia/Trump investigation.”
Sean Cockerham, Stuart Leavenworth, Lesley Clark, Kate Irby, Kevin Hall, Lindsay Wise, Curtis Tate and Michael Doyle, Rob Hotakainen, Katie Glueck and Alex Daugherty contributed