After a day of saying nothing publicly about it, Speaker Paul D. Ryan is defending President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey, saying it was entirely within the president’s authority.
Ryan spent the first 24 hours after Comey’s termination keeping quiet on the matter despite several House and Senate Republicans expressing concern over the decision and its timing.
It wasn’t until an appearance on Fox News’ Bret Baier show Wednesday evening that Ryan addressed the extraordinary turn of events — and he did so by sticking with the president’s decision through and through.
“Firing an FBI Director is no small thing and quite a serious matter,” Ryan said.
“The truth is James Comey, who is a worthwhile and dedicated public servant, I think he had just basically lost the confidence of a lot of Republicans, a lot of Democrats based upon his conduct, his actions and some of the comments that he had made and most importantly, he lost the confidence of the president and it is entirely within the president’s role and authority to relieve him and that’s what he did,” the Wisconsin Republican added. Such comments largely comport with the White House's messaging on the issue.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who stayed mum on the subject for most of Wednesday, also defended Trump's decision while also emphasizing the president could have done so when he assumed power in January.
“No matter when you made this decision, it probably would have been better had he made the decision during the administration change, if you lose trust, you got to change,” McCarthy said during a public appearance in San Francisco Wednesday evening. “I know there’s no perfect time for it.”
Trump fired Comey Tuesday evening, less than one week after he told the Senate Intelligence Committee the agency was investigating alleged ties between Trump’s campaign associates and the Russian government.
The morning after Comey’s termination, Trump hosted Russian officials at the White House. That, too, did not seem to phase Ryan, who kept the focus on the fact that a wide-ranging investigation into possible Russian connections would continue.
“The president lost patience and I think people in the Justice Department lost confidence in Director Comey himself,” Ryan said. “The president was looking at a situation where you had senior Justice Department officials losing confidence. He does not want to see the FBI in disarray.”
The decision to dismiss Comey came at the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House officials said.
Sessions had previously recused himself from the investigation that had been led by Comey after undisclosed meetings between the former senator and a top Russian diplomat became public. That recusal did not prevent Sessions from weighing in on the matter.
Ryan said Trump made “an important command decision” after losing the confidence of so many officials.
“Clearly his superiors in the Justice Department felt that way,” Ryan said. “The president made a presidential decision and removed him.”
Ryan said calls for a special prosecutor to take over the investigation were “not a good idea” citing investigations by the House and Senate Intelligence committees, in addition to the work of the FBI on the matter.
“These three investigations are the way to go,” Ryan said. “Let’s get them done, let’s see them through, lets go where the facts may lead.”
When asked if Trump's decision politicized the FBI, McCarthy put that sort of blame on Comey.
The former FBI director made several unexpected announcements during the 2016 presidential election that included not recommending charges against Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information in emails during her tenure as secretary of State and then telling Congress he was reopening that investigation 11 days before the election.
Comey also publicly stated for the first time last week before a Senate Intelligence Committee that the agency was probing possible connections between Trump campaign officials and the Kremlin.
“Some of those past decisions have moved him into a different place. I would argue that Comey made the FBI political and that’s probably not the place to be,” McCarthy said. “I’m not saying for good or bad – I’m just thinking we probably need a new direction.”