FBI Director James Comey requested additional money and staffing from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election just days before his firing, according to two sources, including Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and a U.S. official with knowledge of the situation.
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News of the request, first reported by The New York Times, came as Trump administration officials claimed that Comey's termination was unrelated to the investigation. Comey briefed some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the request on Monday, according to the U.S. official.
Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Flores denied Wednesday morning that such a request to the Justice Department, saying that it is "100 percent false" and "it didn't happen."
She added that the denial came directly from Rosenstein, who wrote a letter to Trump on Tuesday recommending Comey's dismissal.
Later Wednesday, Flores said that the last meeting between Comey and Rosenstein was on May 1. During that meeting they "talked about issues unrelated to what is being reported," she said, and resources for Russia probe were not discussed.
"There is no kernel of truth" to the allegations, said Flores.
But Durbin shared a different set of events with The New York Times today.
“I’m told that as soon as Rosenstein arrived, there was a request for additional resources for the investigation and that a few days afterwards, he was sacked,” he told the paper.
“I think the Comey operation was breathing down the neck of the Trump campaign and their operatives and this was an effort to slow down the investigation."
ABC News confirmed with Durbin's spokesperson his quotes were accurate.
In a Wednesday night interview with Fox News' Bret Baier, House Speaker Paul Ryan said firing Comey was a "serious matter," but that he had "basically lost the confidence of a lot of Republicans and a lot of Democrats. ... Most importantly, he lost the confidence of the president."
What's more, Ryan added, confidence in Comey had been eroding even within the agency.
"I think the president lost patience and I think people in the Justice Department lost confidence in Director Comey himself," Ryan said. "The president was looking at a situation where you had senior Justice Department officials losing confidence."
Ryan said he doesn't think a special prosecutor is necessary because the three investigations going on in the House, Senate and FBI "are the way to go," and that there's "no evidence presented in any of the stages of this that suggests that collusion occurred" between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The nation's capital was thrust into political turmoil on Tuesday with the unexpected firing. Rosenstein's letter made the case that Comey be removed because senior Justice Department administration officials believed he treated Hillary Clinton unfairly in last year's investigation of her emails and damaged the credibility of the bureau and the Justice Department as a result.
But the timing of the announcement shocked politicians on both sides of the political aisle, in part because of the ongoing FBI investigation, which Comey was leading, into possible contacts between Russia and Trump associates before and after the 2016 presidential election.
Trump administration's rationale
According to the White House, Comey lost his job because of his handling of the FBI's investigation of Clinton's emails.
"I have received the attached letters from the attorney general and deputy attorney general of the United States recommending your dismissal as the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," Trump wrote in letter to Comey on Tuesday. "I have accepted their recommendation, and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately."
The White House released the letters from Trump, Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Sessions wrote in his letter, "I have concluded that a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI. It is essential that this Department of Justice clearly reaffirm its commitment to longstanding principles that ensure the integrity and fairness of federal investigations and prosecutions. The director of the FBI must be someone who follows faithfully the rules and principles of the Department of Justice and who sets the right example for our law enforcement officials and others in the department."
Rosenstein's letter credited Comey with being "an articulate and persuasive public speaker about leadership" but went on to note that he "cannot defend the director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken."
"Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes; it is one the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives," Rosenstein wrote.
His letter went on to allege that Comey was wrong to later "hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation."
Typically when the FBI decides not to bring charges against someone, it does not discuss its decision-making. When Comey held a July 5 news conference explaining why he did not recommend pressing charges against Clinton but at the same time criticizing her email practices, he cited "intense public interest" as the reason for the exception.
Trump praised Comey last October, saying "it took guts" for him to announce that the FBI would be reviewing emails in the previously closed investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
Despite the Trump's administration's rationale for Comey's firing, talk around Washington swirled about the timing, given the ongoing FBI investigation into possible Russian contacts with Trump associates.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a press conference Tuesday evening that he told Trump that firing Comey was a "big mistake" because it raises suspicions about whether the administration is trying to purge the Justice Department of top officials investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.
"This is part of a troubling pattern from the Trump administration. They fired Sally Yates. They fired Preet Bharara. And now they fired Director Comey, the very man leading the investigation. This does not seem to be a coincidence," Schumer said, adding that there should be a special prosecutor to investigate ties between Russia and Trump associates because it is the "only way to restore the American people's faith."
While testifying in front of the House Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, Comey took the rare step of confirming that the FBI was investigating Russian interference in the election and "any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts."
In Trump's letter to Comey on Tuesday, he seemed to refer to that probe.
"While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau."
Others expressed befuddlement that Sessions appeared to have a say in the decision to remove Comey, since Sessions earlier said he would recuse himself from overseeing any investigation into possible Russian contacts with Trump associates, after failing to disclose meetings he had with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.
"AG Sessions lied under oath about meetings with Kislyak," tweeted Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. "One way to exert control after recusal is by getting rid of FBI Director. Chilling."
Republicans were generally more muted in their reaction to Comey's firing, with some supporting the decision.
But a number nonetheless joined their Democratic colleagues in questioning the decision or the timing.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee's Oversight Subcommittee, said in a statement Tuesday night, "Regardless of how you think Director Comey handled the unprecedented complexities of the 2016 election cycle, the timing of this firing is very troubling."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the firing, while within the president's authority, showed the need for an independent committee to lead the Russian investigations.
"I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election," McCain said in a statement Tuesday evening. "The president's decision to remove the FBI director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee."
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said he and his staff were "reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia," calling it "bizarre" that the president expressed appreciation to Comey for allegedly telling Trump that he wasn't under investigation.