A political firestorm has erupted over President Trump’s firing this week of FBI Director James Comey.
Democrats called for a special prosecutor into the investigation of Russian influence in the November U.S. presidential election, while Republican leaders brushed off the idea as unnecessary.
Trump has said Comey was not doing a good job leading the FBI. But critics said they think Trump was trying to disrupt the FBI’s investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russia.
Trump is the first president since Richard Nixon to fire a law enforcement official overseeing an investigation with ties to the White House. In 1973, Nixon ordered the firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.
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“While it is fair to ask questions about the sudden firing, it would be unfair to ignore the broad consensus criticizing Comey’s poor performance in his job,” U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, whose 6th Congressional District includes Bartholomew County, said late Wednesday, a day after Comey’s firing. “In today’s world, we all need to hit the pause button and make sure we get the facts before jumping to any conclusions.”
Just hours before the FBI director was fired, the Republican congressman from Greensburg was in Columbus for a program at Northside Middle School.
“The history of those independent investigations is that they always turn political,” Messer said during a Tuesday afternoon interview at the school. “It’s very hard to look back at a big, independent panel in the last couple of decades and say ‘I’m really glad that happened.'”
While Democrats say a GOP-dominated Congress can’t be trusted to investigate a Republican president, Messer cited former acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ testimony before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Monday as evidence that those Democrats are wrong.
“As long as we’re getting to the facts, let’s let the process play out,” Messer said. “Let’s not unnecessarily spend taxpayer dollars on a process that history tells us is highly likely to get politicized.”
Reactions from other elected officials serving Indiana in Congress fell largely upon party lines.
“There are serious questions about the president’s decision to dismiss Director Comey, while he was at the center of one of the most important FBI investigations in recent memory,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana.
“The American people deserve answers regarding Russia’s interference in our election. This action should not change the pace or the extent of the investigation, and it’s clearly time to appoint a special prosecutor,” Donnelly said.
Another Democrat, U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, a Democrat from Indianapolis representing the 7th District, said: “This raises a lot of questions. Firing the man investigating Russian hacking – with no explanations. We need answers.”
Republicans representing other parts of Indiana in the U.S. House of Representatives saw the FBI director’s firing differently.
“Comey lost the trust of both Republicans and Democrats. Our next FBI director must be non-partisan and widely respected,” said Rep. Jim Banks of Columbia City, a Republican who represents the 3rd District in northeastern Indiana.
“There is nothing unprecedented, or exceptional, about President Trump’s decision,” said U.S. Rep Todd Rokita, a Republican from Brownsburg who represents the 4th Congressional District in central and northwestern Indiana. “It’s unfortunate to see many who turned a blind eye to Hillary Clinton’s scandals and demanded Comey’s firing back then now feign outrage and demand investigations to advance their political agenda.”
Messer on other matters
During his visit to Columbus, Messer explained his votes last week on two other high-profile matters.
Messer was one of three Indiana Republican House members who voted May 3 against a resolution that would fund the U.S. government through the remainder of the fiscal year.
Nevertheless, the $1.2 trillion spending bill was approved on a 309-118 vote.
The bill had a few good provisions that Messer said he liked, including increased military spending.
“But unfortunately, I thought it was a status-quo budget that didn’t reflect the priorities that voters asked for in the 2016 election,” Messer said.
The bill “kicked the can down the road” with no spending cuts, no reduction in the size of government, and with insufficient funding to secure the country’s border, Messer said.
The congressman said he would have also preferred a spending bill that helped stop the growth of the Affordable Care Act, known better as Obamacare, Messer said.
The other two Indiana Republicans who also voted against House Resolution 244 were Trey Hollingsworth and Jim Banks.
One day after voting against the spending bill, Messer on May 4 voted in favor of House Resolution 1628, which would repeal and replace Obamacare.
While the measure passed the House on a party line vote of 217-213, there were 20 GOP defections.
But Messer said a vast majority of Hoosiers have made it clear for the past six years they don’t like the Affordable Care Act.
Constituents have been complaining about premiums spikes from $500 to $1,500 a month, as well as a deductible between $10,000 and $12,000, Messer said.
“So now, a middle class family has spent $30,000 before they even get to their health insurance,” Messer said. “That path isn’t sustainable.”
Messer says he wants to replace the Affordable Care Act with a “market-oriented, patient-centered approach that reduces hundreds of millions in taxes, reduces the size of government by hundreds of millions, and empowers families.”
The congressman also insists Republicans want to keep pre-existing condition protections in their bill.
Although it appears a 13-member U.S. Senate working group will take several months to craft their own repeal-and-replace measure, Messer said that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
“I said on the House floor right before the debate that this is race time in Indiana,” Messer said. “The bill that came out of the House was really a green flag, not a checkered flag. It will continue to improve and get better in the Senate.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.