BOSTON (State House News Service) – Republican Gov. Charlie Baker is backing an independent investigation into Russia’s alleged intrusion into the 2016 election following President Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, while a leading GOP contender to challenge Sen. Elizabeth Warren next year wholeheartedly backed the president’s action.
The issue puts Baker once again at odds with some national leaders of his party as well as the state Republican Party’s leading figure so far to challenge U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2018 when Baker is also expected to seek re-election.
“I was shocked by it, I guess, as I think many people were,” Baker told reporters about Comey’s firing, just two months after the controversial FBI chief was at Boston College joking that “you’re stuck with me for about another six and a half years.”
“What this says to me is there still needs to be some investigation, probably independent, into whether or not Russia in fact meddled in our elections, and I think it’s really important that that investigation go forward and that it be done by a credible person or a credible body,” Baker said.
Trump on Tuesday fired Comey, citing the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein over Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private server for classified emails while serving as secretary of state.
“He wasn’t doing a good job. Very simply. He was not doing a good job,” Trump told reporters Wednesday, according to the pool report.
Comey’s dismissal by the White House caused an uproar among Democrats and some Republicans from Capitol Hill to Beacon Hill Wednesday as members of the state’s congressional delegation accused the president of trying to stymie an investigation into his campaign.
More locally, some state elected officials expressed disbelief at the state of national politics. “Can you believe what’s happening on the national stage?” Sen. Linda Dorcena Forrry asked on a State House elevator, looking up from her phone where she was reading the latest headlines.
“This is horrendous. People should be afraid,” Forry said, expressing bewilderment that Trump reportedly called Democratic senators with a heads-up thinking they would support his decision.
But Rep. Geoff Diehl, a Republican state lawmaker from Whitman who is weighing a challenge to Warren next year, said Comey’s firing “should be something we can have a united position on.”
Diehl, a high-profile surrogate for Trump’s campaign in Massachusetts, called the timing of President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey “irrelevant,” backing the ouster as the “correct” decision after he said Comey went too far to insert himself into politics.
“I think the timing is irrelevant,” Diehl told the News Service. “I think the decision was correct, however, in that clearly the director had been injecting himself into politics well beyond the scope of the agency’s work.”
Democrats have questioned why Trump would fire Comey now, after initially saying he had full confidence in the director, at a time when the FBI is investigating potential collusion between the president’s campaign and Russia.
Warren said Trump should not be believed that he fired Comey over his treatment of Clinton in the email investigation. “We need a real, independent prosecutor who (Donald Trump) can’t fire, Sessions can’t intimidate, & Congress can’t muzzle. We need it now,” Warren posted on Twitter.
Diehl suggested Democrats like Warren were being hypocritical after blasting Comey for injecting himself into the election when he announced days before the November vote that the FBI had reopened its probe into Clinton’s emails.
“Even our senior senator from Massachusetts, who was against Comey before, now is claiming that this is a bad decision. This was an opportunity for the Democratic Party to agree with the president, because I think it was very clear the director had lost the confidence of his agency, but Elizabeth Warren wants to grandstand off this issue.”
Warren, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and other members of the state’s Congressional delegation have renewed their call for a bipartisan commission and a special prosecutor to continue the Russia investigation in the wake of Comey’s firing.
Baker agreed with the state’s Congressional Democrats. “I certainly think this issue at this point, given where it sits, requires an independent investigation of some kind that can get all the facts together and provide the American people with the comfort that they need that elections are on the up and up,” he said.
Baker has found himself opposing Trump on multiple fronts since the Republican president took office in January. From the White House’s proposed travel ban to its health care reform efforts, the governor has struggled at times to defend the actions of his party’s leader, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday also dismissed calls for a independent investigator.
Diehl said he would wait to see who the next director will be, and what he or she recommends.
“If that means a special commission, then so be it. But right ow we’ve seen clearly, as evidenced by testimony from Democrats down in D.C. that there is no evidence of any connections between the Trump campaign and these Russian links that are supposedly out there,” he said.
Asked about reports Wednesday morning that Comey was fired days after requesting additional funding for the Russia investigation from the Justice Department, Diehl said he didn’t think that was the “overriding reason” Trump decided to dismiss the director.
“I think it was clear from the testimony provided recently that the director was taking personal consideration into account whether determining whether guilt is intended or not on key security issues, and at the same time I think it was clear that both parties felt he had injected himself into this last election cycle in a way that was unprecedented,” he said.
Markey called it an “alarming precedent” for the president to fire the head of the F.B.I. as investigations into his campaign are ongoing, drawing parallels to President Richard Nixon’s firing of the special prosecutor overseeing the investigation into the Watergate break-in.
And Attorney General Maura Healey tweeted: “The only choice now is between an independent prosecutor and a constitutional crisis. #comey”
U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton said the only way to get a full accounting of Comey’s firing and the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia during the election is with a bipartisan commission and a special prosecutor.
“What happened last night should concern every American. Trump has now fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, and FBI Director James Comey, all of whom were investigating Trump and his allies’ ties to Russia. It’s no secret what’s going on here — just look at any autocratic regime across the world,” Moulton said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Lynch, a South Boston Democrat, said Comey’s actions in the closing days of the presidential election reflected a “deep failure in judgment,” but still did not defend his firing. Lynch raised questions about the president’s decision and the ability of the Justice Department to “carry out its mission” of impartial enforcement of the law.
“The American people deserve answers and a comprehensive, transparent, and accountable investigation into reports that a foreign government deliberately interfered with our most sacred democratic institution. We also need to reassure all Americans that the rule of law is being followed, and that the President, Attorney General, and Deputy Attorney General are not trying to thwart justice,” Lynch said.