White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News Tuesday night that Comey’s firing wouldn’t affect the Russia investigations by either Congress or the FBI. “But I think the bigger point on that is, when are they going to let that go?” she then added. “It's been going on for nearly a year. Frankly, it's kind of getting absurd. There's nothing there.”
Later on Tuesday, CNN reported that federal prosecutors in Virginia have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was fired by President Trump in February. Flynn’s ouster came after news broke that he had spoken with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, in December despite multiple denials.
The White House instead linked Comey’s firing to his conduct during the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server last year. In a separate letter, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein chastised Comey for holding a press conference last summer to announce the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton.
The Director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General's authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution. It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement. At most, the Director should have said the FBI had completed its investigation and presented its findings to federal prosecutors. The Director now defends his decision by asserting that he believed Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict. But the FBI Director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department. There is a well-established process for other officials to step in when a conflict requires the recusal of the Attorney General. On July 5, however, the Director announced his own conclusions about the nation's most sensitive criminal investigation, without authorization of duly appointed Justice Department leaders.
But the explanation fell flat among congressional Democrats, who immediately demanded an independent investigation into Russian election interference after the news broke. Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Comey’s dismissal “raises profound questions about whether the White House is brazenly interfering in a criminal manner.” Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz went further, calling the episode a “full-fledged constitutional crisis.”
The FBI director’s role in the Clinton investigation had already been in the news before Thursday’s dismissal. Hours before his firing, Comey sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee clarifying erroneous testimony he had given the previous week about the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Comey told the committee that Huma Abedin, a top Clinton aide, had forwarded thousands of emails to her husband Anthony Weiner, some of which included classified material. But on Tuesday, he clarified that Abedin had only forwarded a smaller number of messages, including two email chains to her husband that contained classified information, and that the remainder came from her phone’s backed-up files on the laptop.