The decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election threw a sudden wrench into lawmakers’ efforts to hold President Trump accountable for sharing highly classified information with Russian officials and end an investigation into his former national security adviser.
Congressional Republicans had spent much of Wednesday increasing pressure on the administration to produce records related to the latest string of controversies involving Trump, amid flagging confidence in the White House and a growing sense that scandal is overtaking the presidency.
As the White House sought to contain the damage from its scandals, leaders of two key Senate committees asked the FBI for documents related to former director James B. Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election before Trump fired him last week.
At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) broke his silence on the Comey affair to say that lawmakers “need to hear from him as soon as possible.”
“I think we need to hear from him about whatever he has to say about the events of recent days, as soon as possible, before the Senate Intelligence Committee, in public,” McConnell said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
The comment came as the Republican chairmen and ranking Democrats on the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees asked the FBI to hand over Comey’s notes about his communications with the White House and senior Justice Department officials related to the Russia investigation.
The Judiciary Committee leaders also asked the White House to provide any records of interactions between Trump officials and Comey, including audio recordings. In a nod to lawmakers’ strong desire to hear from the former director, the Intelligence Committee leaders asked him to testify in both open and closed sessions.
Meanwhile, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has scheduled a hearing for next Wednesday on whether Trump interfered in the FBI’s investigation. Comey is invited to testify.
Chaffetz has also asked the FBI to produce records of communications between Trump and Comey.
Lawmakers’ requests came after news reports revealed Trump’s disclosure of highly classified material to Russian officials and an alleged attempt to shut down an investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. On Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein will brief the full Senate on Comey’s firing.
The collision of the two stories Tuesday night left Republicans reeling, with a senior GOP senator comparing the situation to Watergate, and Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) directing the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to immediately seek records from the FBI.
Ryan was careful to strike an evenhanded tone Wednesday, saying congressional committees would continue to conduct oversight “regardless of what party is in the White House” but seeming to dismiss some concerns that have arisen in the wake of news about a memo by Comey suggesting that Trump had pressured him to drop the Flynn investigation.
Ryan also questioned why Comey didn’t “take action” after his meeting with Trump.
“There’s clearly a lot of politics being played here,” Ryan said. “It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president.”
Republicans have been more candid over the…