It’s disappointing that in his first public statement on the matter, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell resorted to partisan sniping to give cover to President Donald Trump’s suspiciously timed firing of FBI director James Comey.
If anything has ever demanded that congressional leaders rise above political gamesmanship, it’s the investigation of a foreign power’s covert interference in the election of a United States president.
But, despite his position of leadership, McConnell on Wednesday barely rose above echoing Trump’s tweets.
Eager to head off calls for an independent investigation or special prosecutor, Republican McConnell called out Democrats for first criticizing Comey for his mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and demanding Comey’s firing but now criticizing Trump for firing him.
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But it’s not just Democrats voicing concerns. Some Republicans also are, as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr described himself, “troubled by the timing and reasoning” of Comey’s termination.
McConnell warned that another investigation “could only serve to impede the current work being done to not only discover what the Russians may have done, but also to let this body and the national security community to develop the countermeasures and war-fighting doctrine to see that it doesn’t occur again.”
Surely, McConnell understands that Trump’s firing of Comey is reasonably viewed by many as an attempt to impede the FBI investigation.
Consider: In March, Comey publicly confirmed for the first time that the FBI is investigating whether the Trump campaign coordinated (perhaps unknowingly) with the Russian effort to influence the election and debunked Trump’s claim that Trump Tower had been wiretapped. Also in March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation after it was revealed that he had failed to disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
In the last two weeks, Comey asked the Justice Department for more resources to support the investigation into Russian interference.
On Tuesday, the day that Trump fired Comey, it was reported that a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas seeking business records from associates of Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser who was fired for lying about a conversation with the Russian ambassador, but only after The Washington Post reported it.
And now Sessions is interviewing candidates for FBI director to oversee the investigation from which Sessions supposedly removed himself.
The other investigation McConnell wants to protect — one by the Senate Intelligence Committee — appears to be floundering and hampered by a lack of staff. Two staffers were recently added, bringing the total to nine, far fewer, for example, than the 46 who staffed a House investigation of the Benghazi terrorist attack.
McConnell is right about the need to develop ways to defeat future attempts to interfere in our elections, but Americans also need to know what happened in the last election. Maybe investigators will find no fire behind all the smoke, but Trump’s dismissal of Comey has only thickened the smoke.
And what McConnell said in response does little to reassure Americans that the Senate’s top leader will put the good of the nation above his own partisan political goals.