U.S. Sen. Angus King said his quip about hiring recently ousted FBI Director James Comey to head the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was meant as a joke — mostly.
“When I first mentioned it, it was half in jest,” King said in a Wednesday interview. “But I have talked to other committee members and everyone has the same reaction: At first they laugh, and then they say, ‘Well, that would make some sense.’”
Whether or not Comey is hired, the independent senator has serious concerns about what motivated President Donald Trump to suddenly fire him from the FBI on Tuesday.
The president’s stated reason for the dismissal, which has upended American law enforcement and raised concerns about political interference in an ongoing investigation, is that Comey mishandled the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.
On the campaign trail, however, Trump praised the FBI director’s decision to break with bureau policy and make a public announcement about the investigation, saying Comey had “guts” and had “brought back his reputation.”
The timing of the firing also struck King as questionable.
“If [the FBI investigation of Clinton] was the problem, he could have been fired on Jan. 21,” King said, referring to the first full day of Trump’s presidency. “It’s been almost five months since the president has been in office and suddenly the firing taking place in the midst of the investigation certainly raises a series of questions about what was really the motivation.”
On the other hand, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who also serves on the intelligence committee, said in a statement Tuesday that Comey’s firing was “likely the inevitable conclusion” of his speaking publicly about the Clinton investigation.
“Any suggestion that today’s announcement is somehow an effort to stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s attempt to influence the election last fall is misplaced,” Collins, a Republican, said. “The president did not fire the entire FBI; he fired the director.”
In late March, Comey took the unusual step of telling the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI had open investigations into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election.
King said that, even though it’s unlikely the Senate Intelligence Committee will hire Comey, he believes that getting to the bottom of the firing will be one of the goals of the committee’s investigation, which is separate from the FBI’s efforts.
Both Maine Senators expressed confidence that the Senate’s investigation will move forward.
On Wednesday, the Senate committee ordered Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, to turn over records of any emails, phone calls, meetings and financial dealings with Russians, according to the New York Times. But Comey’s testimony, which had been scheduled for Thursday, has been postponed, King said.
King also raised questions about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ apparent role in Comey’s firing.
Sessions, who supported Trump during the election, recused himself from the investigation of Russian meddling after it was revealed that he twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign and did not disclose that to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing. But Trump’s letter informing Comey that he had been fired states that Sessions recommended the dismissal.
“I don’t understand [Sessions] being involved in that at all and was very surprised to see a letter from him as part of this process,” King said. “He said he would recuse himself from any and all aspects of the investigation. … For him then to turn around and recommend the firing of the principal leader of the investigation himself strikes me as a rather egregious breach of the idea of recusal.”