WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump’s surprise firing FBI Director James Comey ground Washington to a halt Wednesday as lawmakers and the White House grappled with the fallout.
Following Comey’s firing Tuesday night, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the president told her he let the FBI director go to fix the “mess” at the agency.
This immediately inspired Democrats to charge that Trump was attempting to hinder the agency’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi threatened to use a parliamentary maneuver to force a vote on a bill that would create an independent panel to investigate possible contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Pelosi said in a letter Wednesday to House Democrats that they’ll file a discharge petition if Speaker Paul Ryan doesn’t call up the legislation “immediately upon our return next week.”
The House is on recess this week.
A discharge petition allows a measure to be brought straight to the floor, bypassing consideration by committee. But successes are rare through this approach because a majority of House members must sign the petition.
Pelosi says the “fireworks at the Department of Justice demand that we remove the investigation from the Trump-appointed Justice Department leadership.”
The White House has denied the Democrats’ claims of malfeasance, saying Trump removed Comey after a number of missteps going back to his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.
During a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had been considering firing Comey ever since taking office, but that he didn’t make the move until Tuesday because he wanted to give Comey “a chance.”
Trump told White House pool reporters on Wednesday that he fired Comey because “he wasn’t doing a very good job.”
Sanders insisted Comey’s removal was not motivated by the desire to bury the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Look, the bottom line is that any investigation that was happening on Monday is still happening today,” Sanders said.
She said the president is considering a visit to FBI headquarters to “boost morale.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Trump met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the man whose 2016 meetings with high-profile members of the Trump campaign has caused the administration continued grief.
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lost his job due to his failure to disclose meetings with Kislyak, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the Russia probe investigation due to his own contacts with the Russian.
Trump also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who at an earlier meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joked about Comey’s firing.
“Was he fired? You’re kidding. You’re kidding,” Lavrov told reporters who asked about the move.
The story of Comey’s firing and its impacts shifted multiple times during the whirlwind day. The New York Times reported Comey had asked for more money for the Russia investigation shortly before his firing while the Senate Intelligence Committee reportedly had asked Comey to speed up his inquiry.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who sits on the committee said she had not heard about Comey’s request for more money, which the Justice Department has disputed.
“I never heard that before and I know the Justice Department apparently has denied that happened, so that’s something I would want to know the answer to, but I just don’t know,” Collins told reporters Wednesday.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has invited Comey to appear before the committee next week. He was originally set to appear before the committee on Thursday to discuss law enforcement matters before being fired.
Republicans have largely defended Comey’s dismissal and continue to insist that only the House and Senate Intelligence Committees conduct investigations into Russia’s possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
The Democrats want more.
“If there was ever a time when the circumstances warranted a special prosecutor, it is right now,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been one of the few Republicans to say more than the traditional intelligence committees should look into Russia’s influence on the election, saying he is “disappointed” by Trump’s decision to fire Comey.
“I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election,” McCain said in a statement. “The president’s decision to remove the FBI director only confirms the need and urgency of such a committee.”
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said additional investigations would only serve to slow down the inquiries already underway in the House and Senate.
“Today we’ll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation, which would only serve to impede the current work being done to not only discover what the Russians may have done, but also to let this body and the national security community develop counter-measures and war-fighting doctrine to see that it doesn’t occur again,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
Democrats stalled action in the Senate on Wednesday in protest of the Comey firing, objecting to a normally routine request that allows committees to meet beyond two hours after the Senate convenes.
This meant a number of hearings either scheduled for Wednesday afternoon or that were expected to go beyond 11:30 a.m. had to be postponed.