WASHINGTON — Just an hour after President Donald Trump announced his decision to abruptly fire FBI Director James Comey, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer publicly called upon the Justice Department’s second in command to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the inquiry into Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections.
Comey testified earlier this year that the FBI was investigating potential links between the Russian government and members of the Trump campaign as part of a broader counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from that inquiry owing to his role on Trump’s campaign and his own contacts with the Russian ambassador. Any decision to appoint a special prosecutor will rest with his deputy, Rod Rosenstein.
“It is troubling that Attorney General Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia investigation, played a role in firing the man leading it,” Schumer told reporters. “Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein sat in the judiciary committee and promised to appoint a special prosecutor at the appropriate time. That time is right now. The American people’s trust in the criminal justice system is in Mr. Rosenstein’s hands.”
Schumer appealed to the former U.S. attorney directly: “Mr. Rosenstein, America depends on you to restore faith in our criminal justice system, which is going to be badly shattered after the administration’s actions today,” he said.
Democratic senators asked Rosenstein repeatedly to commit to appointing a special prosecutor on Russia during his confirmation hearing in March. He refused, saying he considered it a matter of “principle” not to commit to handling specific cases a certain way.
“Senator, I believe you and I are on the same side,” Rosenstein said at one point. “If the Russians interfered with the American elections, I’m on the Americans’ side.”
Trump cited both Rosenstein and Sessions in his brief letter firing Comey, in which the president also stressed that Comey told him he’s not under FBI investigation. The White House later released a memo drafted by Rosenstein that argued Comey overstepped his authority last year in his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Comey first held a press conference explaining his decision to close the investigation, and later sent a letter to Congress flagging potential new information in the case. As “supplementary information,” the White House also released summaries of news articles of Democrats criticizing Comey in the past.
Schumer also questioned why Trump fired Comey now, and not months ago, if his problem with the director had to do with how he handled Clinton’s investigation. “We know the FBI has been looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, a very serious offense,” Schumer said. “Were these investigations getting too close to home for the…