CAPITOL HILL - Senate Democrats on Wednesday slammed President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey and renewed demands for a special prosecutor to oversee an ongoing Russia investigation, a call that Republicans continued to resist.
"I've known Jim Comey for years. We were classmates at the University of Chicago Law School," said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. "The president's dismissal of the FBI director in the middle of a major investigation into Russian interference in our election raises serious questions."
"If there was ever a time when circumstances warranted a special prosecutor, it is right now," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. "[Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein] must get his investigation far away from the heavy hand of this administration."
Several Republicans accused Democrats of shedding false tears over Comey, noting that it was Democrats who reacted with outrage, with some even calling for Comey's departure, when the FBI director announced the reopening of the Hillary Clinton email probe less than two weeks before the November election.
"The prior Democratic leader [Harry Reid], when asked if James Comey should resign ... replied, 'Of course, yes,' " said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.
McConnell said authorizing a new probe would be disruptive.
"Today we'll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation," the majority leader said. "That 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 develop countermeasures to see that it doesn't occur again."
Under a law passed after the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974, special prosecutors can be named to handle politically sensitive investigations and shield them from Washington's partisan fray.
Democrats argued Trump's actions demonstrate why a special prosecutor is needed.
"The president removed the sitting FBI director in the midst of one of the most critical national security investigations in the history of our country," said Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. "Does anyone really believe that President Trump is interested in getting to the bottom of Russia's interference with our elections?
"A quick review of President Trump's Twitter account, where he does most of his deep thinking, would dispel any such illusion," Leahy added.
The Senate's probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is being handled by the Intelligence Committee, whose chairman, Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, noted that any president is fully empowered to replace the FBI director at any time.
"The president's made the decision. He has the full authority to do that," Burr said. "But it doesn't change the mission of my committee for the task in front of us.
"An interruption in any of the access we [the committee] have to documents and personnel would be harmful to our investigation," the chairman added.
Democrats countered that Americans can have full confidence in the results of the Russia probe only if it is overseen by a figure whose independence from political pressure is beyond question.