'Fresh Start' or 'Nixonian'? Trump's Firing of Comey Roils Washington

Senator Lindsey Graham welcomes Trump's decision to fire FBI chief James Comey, Sen. Feinstein says Trump informed her of move in advance, Rep. Jerry Nadler blasts Trump

A combination photo shows FBI Director James Comey (L) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. on July 14, 2016 and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 1, 2017.
JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

U.S. President Donald Trump's decision on Tuesday to fire FBI Director James Comey sent shockwaves through Washington and drew strong reactions from senior politicians on both sides of the aisle, with some - among them Republicans - calling for an independent investigator to look into ties between Russia and the president's associates.

>> READ IN FULL: Trump's Letter to Comey Informing Him of His Termination as FBI Chief >>

One of the first to respond was Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who released a statement thanking Comey for his years of service, but also saying that the FBI could use a "fresh start." Graham chaired a heated discussion just a day earlier on Russian involvement in the last US election, an issue that is currently under FBI investigation. 

"I know this was a difficult decision for all concerned. I appreciate Director Comey’s service to our nation in a variety of roles," Graham said. "Given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well. I encourage the President to select the most qualified professional available who will serve our nation’s interests.” 

On the Democratic side, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said that the president called her shortly before the news of Comey's sacking became public and informed her of his intention. "President Trump called me and indicated he would be removing Director Comey, saying the FBI needed a change. The next FBI director must be strong and independent and will receive a fair hearing in the Judiciary Committee," Feinstein said.

>> WATCH: Comey's last speech before Trump sacked him: 'Power must be overseen and constrained' >>  

Senator Chuck Schumer went to the Senate floor and criticized Trump's decision, questioning its motives. "Were the investigation getting too close to home for the president?" Schumer asked rhetorically, referring to the probes into alleged ties between the Trump election campaign and Russia.

Schumer said that Trump informed him ahead of his decision, and that he replied it was "a big mistake" on the president's behalf.

Trump, who hasn't commented publicly on Comey's firing, took to Twitter to attack Schumer. "Cryin' Chuck Schumer stated recently, "I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer." Then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp," Trump tweeted Tuesday night.

Senator John McCain was the first Republican to slam Trump, saying that he was disappointed by the decision. "James Comey is a man of honor and integrity and he has led the FBI well in extraordinary circumstances. I have long called for a special Congressional committee to investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election. The President's decision only confirms the need and urgency of such a committee," he said in a statement.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, said in a statement he was "troubled by the timing and reasoning" of Comey's termination. It “further confuses an already difficult investigation by our committee,” he added. 

Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) joined the small group of Republicans who criticized Trump, by stating that the timing of Comey's firing was "very troubling." Sasse added that "the loss of an honorable public servant" such as Comey, is "a loss to the nation."

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) also questioned the firing. "I've spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing. I just can't do it," he tweeted.

Senator Tim Kaine, who was the Democratic nominee for vice president in the last election, tweeted that "Trump firing Comey shows how frightened the Admin is over Russia investigation." Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a similar message and declared that "Comey should be immediately called to testify in an open hearing about the status of Russia/Trump investigation at the time he was fired."

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) who has become a leading voice on the Trump-Russia investigation said that while he had "deep reservations" over how Comey dealt with the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, Trump's decision to fire the man who is currently in charge of investigating his campaign's ties to Russia "harkens back to a similarly tainted decision by President Nixon."

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said that Comey's firing was a direct result of the progress of the investigation into Russia's involvement in the last election on behalf of Trump. 

"Don't be fooled, this is about Comey investigating #TrumpRussia. Trump's justification is nothing but pretext to stop investigation," he wrote. 

A harsh reaction came from Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) who called Comey's firing "Nixonian" and called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel immediately to examine the Trump-Russia investigation and its' connection to Comey's abrupt departure. 

Prof. Richard Painter, who was the chief ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush White House, wrote that "Trump certainly did not fire Comey over the Clinton emails or for handing him the election. It's about Russia." He added that Trump "should be allowed to fire the man investigating him."