WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and the majority leader, on Wednesday defended President Donald Trump’s firing of the director of the FBI, James B. Comey, resisting Democratic calls to challenge the president and support a broader inquiry of Russian interference in the election.
“Today we’ll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, “which can only serve to impede the current work being done.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, frontally questioned Trump’s stated rationale for dismissing Comey and renewed a call for the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor.
Since the day Trump was elected, a prevailing theory was that congressional Republicans, especially in the Senate, would be a check and balance on his potential excesses and missteps.
McConnell has largely avoided that test.
As the Senate chamber opened Wednesday morning, Democrats filed in one by one to listen to McConnell’s remarks, which began with a long criticism of the health care law. Democrats listened, stone faced, as they waited for the leader to address Comey. Schumer took notes.
McConnell has long resisted calls for a special prosecutor, arguing that any investigation could be handled largely through the inquiry being conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
But in both chambers of Congress, particularly the House, investigations by two intelligence committees have been consumed at times by conspicuous partisanship. (Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., was eventually forced to step away from the House investigation he was leading amid questions about his contacts and closeness with the Trump administration.)
With the exception of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, most Republicans have resisted embracing the installation of an independent investigator or commission.
Speaking after McConnell, Schumer also demanded that his counterpart call a closed “and, if necessary, classified” briefing for all senators with the attorney general and deputy attorney general.
Schumer ticked off questions he hoped to ask, including whether Trump had indeed been searching for reasons to fire Comey for weeks.
“Was this really about something else?” Schumer asked. “No doubt we’ll have an opportunity to question Mr. Comey, now a private citizen, about what happened. But we need to hear from this administration about what happened and why and what is going to happen next.”
He ended his remarks with a direct challenge to McConnell.
“I remind him,” Schumer said, turning to the majority leader, “and my Republican friends that 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.”
On Tuesday evening, Schumer said the White House must have no fingerprints on any investigation into ties between Trump’s orbit and Russia.