Republicans and Democrats demanding answers after Comey memo

"We're going to follow the facts wherever they may lead," Speaker Ryan said.

ByABC News
May 17, 2017, 4:46 PM

— -- The unfolding controversy around former FBI Director James Comey's memo about his meeting with President Donald Trump is creating huge waves and disrupting the normal routine of things on Capitol Hill.

In the memo, which ABC News has not seen, Comey reportedly wrote about a conversation during which Trump asked Comey to end an investigation into the actions of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. In a statement, the White House denied that Trump had made such a request to Comey.

But the memo's release comes on the heels of Trump's decision to fire Comey on Tuesday of last week and the president revealing to NBC News in an interview that aired Thursday that he was thinking about Russia when he decided to fire Comey.

The memo has caused a variety of reactions from lawmakers -- alarm, frustration, and confusion.

Ryan and other House Republicans stand by Trump

House Speaker Paul Ryan warned his fellow Republicans that they "need the facts" before drawing any conclusions.

"It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president," Ryan said during a press conference, reiterating what he told House Republicans in a closed-door meeting.

"We're going to follow the facts wherever they may lead," he added.

Asked on his way out of the press conference whether he still has confidence in Trump, Ryan said, "I do."

"I have a district that was very supportive of Donald Trump. At this point there is a lot of frustration about not letting him do his job," said Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama.

Rep. James Comer, R-Kentucky, downplayed concerns about Trump's alleged comments.

"I've spent time with the president, and he jokes around a lot," said Comer. "This is a guy that doesn't measure everything that he says like most politicians. This is the kind of leader Americans voted for."

One Arkansas congressman lamented that this makes it more difficult for the GOP to push through their agenda.

"Every time we get bogged down on these kinds of issues unrelated to the governing agenda, it serves to delay and sometimes complicate the real job that we have to do for the American people," Rep. Steve Womack, R-Arkansas, told reporters. "I want to make sure we get back on that agenda while at the same time allowing these committees to do their work."

McCain invokes Watergate scandal

PHOTO: Sen. John McCain speaks to the media in a hallway the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2017.
Sen. John McCain speaks to the media in a hallway the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2017.

For Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, however, the longtime GOP politician and former Republican presidential candidate, the newest revelation from the Trump White House has the markings of the scandal led to the impeachment of President Richard Nixon in 1974.

"The only thing I can say is I think we’ve seen this movie before. I think it's reaching the point where it's of Watergate size and scale," McCain told CBS contributor Bob Schieffer during the International Republican Institute Freedoms Dinner on Tuesday night.

McCain reflected on the major headlines that have come out of the Trump White House nearly every day for more than a week.

"It's a centipede where the shoe continues to drop. Every couple days, there is a new aspect of this really unhappy situation," McCain said.

Asked what he would advise Trump to do now, McCain said, "Get it all out."

"It's not going to be over until every aspect of it is thoroughly examined and the American people have made a judgment," McCain argued. "And the longer you make a delay, the longer it's going to last."

Today, McCain elaborated on his comments during the dinner.

"It is a comparison to other of these kinds of crises that have risen -- Iran-Contra, this one, smaller ones, and they do affect the way we do business in Washington," McCain told ABC News today. "It consumes our attention and therefore we are not able to pursue our legislative agenda as effectively as we otherwise would."

Kinzinger calls for a special prosecutor

Another top Republican in Congress is calling for a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of the Comey memo and whether the president obstructed justice in asking the head of FBI to drop a federal investigation.

"It is time that we look at the idea of whether it's an independent commission or a special prosecutor," Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, said in an interview today on CNN's "New Day."

Kinzinger went on to say, "I'm not sure it's the best venue, but I think it is time that we do whatever is necessary so that when this is over, we give the American people the confidence that justice -- either way it goes -- has been served."

The Illinois congressman argued that people are drawing conclusions based on their political affiliations, and "not by the rule of law."

Kinzinger added that he has not lost faith in the congressional investigations into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, but stressed, "We need honest, non-political answers."

Asked by The Hill if Comey's memo would merit impeachment if it proves to be true, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, answered, "Yes."

But Amash, a member of the House Freedom Caucus whom Trump has attacked on Twitter, added, "Everybody gets a fair trial in this country."

Republicans are waiting for more details

Other Republicans are waiting for more information before drawing conclusions.

"If Mr. Comey was alleging the president did something inappropriate, it's an open invitation to come to the Judiciary Committee and tell us about it," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said Tuesday on Capitol Hill. "I don't want to read a memo. I want to hear it from him."

A spokeswoman for Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement Tuesday, "The committee relies on facts to guide the investigation. ... Sen. Burr will follow relevant leads, but the committee has not seen what The New York Times reported. ... It certainly raises questions, and he will follow up on acquiring those facts from credible sources."

On Wednesday morning, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced it had sent two letters -- one to Comey to have him testify and one to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe for any memos or notes written by Comey related to the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

The communications director for Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, who is also on the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement provided to ABC News Tuesday, "Sen. Lankford is concerned about the reports, and would like to see more clarification from the White House."

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, told ABC News that if the suspicions are true, "Republicans can't be OK with this."

Flake said that if Trump pressured Comey to end the investigation and later fired him, Republicans should be concerned.

How the Democrats are reacting

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats are sounding the alarm following last night's developments.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, held back speculation on whether the president committed obstruction of justice, but said it would be troubling if what the memo says is true.

When asked if Trump's alleged request to Comey is simply how the president talks, Warner said, "No one is above the rule of law."

The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee is accusing House Republicans of "ignoring these scandals."

"Speaker Ryan has shown he has zero, zero, zero appetite for any investigation of President Trump," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said today during a press conference on Capitol Hill.

PHOTO: Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 17, 2017.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 17, 2017.

"We're deeply concerned that the continued failure of the House Republicans to take action in the face of this onslaught of allegations will cause significant damage to the faith the American people have in the credibility and the integrity of our committees and the House of Representatives."

Speaking on the House floor this morning, Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, declared, "The president must be impeached."

"For those who do not know, impeachment does not mean that the president would be found guilty," Green said. "It simply means that the House of Representatives will bring charges against the president. It's similar to an indictment but not quite the same thing."

In an interview with MSNBC Wednesday morning, Sen. Angus King, an independent on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he is not ready to call for impeachment.

"I think we've got a long way to go. We've got to slow down and take a deep breath," King said. "This is not something to be done lightly."

ABC News' Arlette Saenz, Benjamin Siegel, Mary Bruce, Dax Tejera, MaryAlice Parks and Gary Westphalen contributed to this report.

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