May 14, 2017

The Democratic plan to exploit Comey controversy

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

On CNN's "State of the Union," Jake Tapper asked Chuck Schumer whether he'd refuse to vote on the nomination of a new FBI director to replace James Comey until a special prosecutor is appointed. Schumer said yes; but that's only the beginning of the pressure Democrats plan to exert.

Here's what they'll do in the coming days, per a senior Senate aide:

  1. Establish a litmus test for Republicans who care about the integrity of the Russia investigation: to appoint a special prosecutor.
  2. Call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from deciding Comey's replacement, given the new FBI director will be overseeing the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the election.
  3. Extract a full explanation from Rod Rosenstein about his role in Trump's firing of Comey. The deputy attorney general will brief senators this week and they'll have a chance to grill him.
  4. Urge Republicans to support Democrats' calls for Comey to testify before a congressional committee.

Around the corner: Watch for Dems to use their demands on the Russia probe as leverage to justify even more aggressive obstruction of the Republicans' legislative agenda. "If they [Republicans] don't cooperate on what we view as requests that should be bipartisan and reasonable," the senior Senate aide said, "I don't think any Democrat would be in the mood to conduct business as normal."

Bonus Comey thing: the most insightful thing I've heard or read about Comey in a week of nonstop coverage is a Slate podcast interview with the former FBI boss' longtime friend Benjamin Wittes. Stressing he had no inside knowledge of his friend's plans, Wittes predicted Comey — "maybe the only completely subtext-less person in Washington" — would publicly tell his full story and probably in a congressional hearing. Wittes had these ominous words for Trump: "One of the problems that Trump created for himself in removing Jim Comey is that he dramatically increased the list of things that Jim Comey is now allowed to talk about."

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