WASHINGTON ― Hours after President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, top intelligence leaders disagreed on the need for an independent investigation into the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russian officials who interfered in the 2016 election.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it’s “clear” that it’s time for an independent prosecutor to oversee the FBI’s probe of possible Trump-Russia ties. Now that Comey, who had been investigating Trump and his associates, is out, Warner said an outside counsel would reassure the public that the government can carry out a fair, impartial probe.
“That’s the only way the American people will be able to trust the results of any DOJ investigation,” Warner said Tuesday night. “The only way this administration can begin to demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law, which has so far been sorely lacking, is to cooperate fully with the ongoing congressional investigations and to support the appointment of an independent special counsel.”
He took it a step further on Wednesday, telling reporters the special prosecutor should be appointed by career officials at the Justice Department, not by Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
“I don’t have faith in the political appointees,” Warner told reporters. “So it should be appointed by the senior-most career people at the Justice Department.”
I think this made our task a little more difficult. But the investigation will run its course. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
But Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the Intelligence Committee chairman, said there’s no need for a special prosecutor because his committee is perfectly capable of carrying out its own investigation.
“I think the burden has always been on our committee, because we own the jurisdictional responsibility for the legislative branch to carry it out,” Burr told reporters on Wednesday. “I’ve intended from the beginning, regardless of the hurdles that have been thrown, to finish this investigation. I hope to do it in a bipartisan way.”
If Trump was trying to ward off investigations into his campaign activities by firing Comey, it is already backfiring. Senate Republicans are now warming to the idea of an independent probe, which Democrats have been demanding.
Even Burr conceded that Comey’s firing was bizarre. He expressed concern that it may incite people to believe there’s a coverup going on, which he doesn’t believe. Still, he said his committee should continue taking the lead.
“The timing of this and the reasoning for it doesn’t make sense to me,” Burr said. “I think this made our task a little more difficult. But the investigation will run its course.”
Laura Barrón-López and Michael McAuliff contributed reporting.