U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver called President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey a victory for Vladimir Putin.
Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, said he was leaving his district office Tuesday when he receive a phone call from a constituent “who was apoplectic — I could hardly understand him, that’s how angry he was — and he said, ‘Turn on the radio,’ and so I did.
“Every channel, every network was running the story,” Cleaver said. “So I immediately began to panic, and it hasn’t completely left me yet, my state of panic.”
Trump’s decision to fire Comey comes as the FBI is investigating links between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.
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“The winner today, the biggest winner is Vladimir Putin,” Cleaver said. “He’s the big winner today. When I heard that announcement, I told my staff — everyone’s running to the televisions — I said, ‘Look, there’s not American winners today. Vladimir Putin is seeing the fruits of his work, and this confirms for him and the people of Russia that this democracy thing isn’t as great and honest and pure as you’ve been led to believe.’ ”
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, voiced support for Trump’s decision.
“Director Comey has served the country well in a number of different roles,” Blunt, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “Many, including myself, have questioned his actions more than once over the past year. I believe new leadership at the FBI will restore confidence in the organization and among the people who do the hard work to carry out its mission.”
Comey was scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, issued a nuanced statement that neither supported nor condemned Comey's firing. He called for the Trump administration to offer more information about the decision:
“The American people deserve more information about the circumstances of Mr. Comey’s dismissal. The next FBI Director must be an impartial law enforcement professional dedicated to carrying out the Bureau’s critical mission of protecting the U.S. and its citizens."
Comey, who was appointed FBI director in 2013, faced criticism from both parties for his handling of an investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of private email as secretary of state. Republicans criticized the July decision not to charge Clinton, while Democrats blamed an October announcement that the investigation had be reopened for tipping the election in Trump’s favor.
Jeff Lanza, a retired FBI special agent, called Comey “a man of integrity who was well-liked and respected by the agents” but called his decision to comment on the Clinton investigation in July unusual, explaining that the agency normally doesn’t comment on an investigation unless there’s a charge.
“Everything else that happened, I believe he had a reason for doing it and even as a retired agent, I stood behind with those reasons,” said Lanza.
Lanza, who served as a special agent in the Kansas City office from 1988 to 2008, noted that Comey’s firing came after the agency had to correct testimony he gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, in which he said that Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin had forwarded “hundreds and thousands” of emails to the laptop of her husband, former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner.
The FBI clarified Tuesday that only a small number of emails had been manually forwarded. Others were on the laptop as a result of an electronic backup.
Lanza said that mistake could have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” He was hesitant to tie the decision to the ongoing Russia investigation.
“It really depends on who he picks to succeed him as a director and how independent they are,” Lanza said. “If the public perceives he’s hiring someone who’s not really going to investigate that matter, that’s going to be a problem for the FBI director and the whole administration.”
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, told The Star in April she was confident that the investigation would reveal the truth about whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia.
“My sense is, from people I know in and around the Justice Department and the FBI, is, ‘It’s all hands on deck, and they’re really trying to get to the bottom of it,’ ” McCaskill said at the time. She did not immediately respond for a request for comment Tuesday evening.
U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, Republicans from Kansas, were also unavailable to comment.
Eric Pahls, the spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, a freshman Republican who represents western Kansas, said the congressman was “gathering available information tonight, and looks forward to hearing more details as to the President’s decision.”
Cleaver compared the situation to the “Saturday Night Massacre,” which took place in 1973 when President Richard Nixon’s decision to dismiss a special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of the attorney general and deputy attorney general.
“I mean, it smells. There’s a horrible odor coming from the letter Donald Trump wrote,” Cleaver said.