A growing number of House Republicans said Wednesday that they are open to an independent investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election after President Donald Trump’s surprise dismissal of FBI Director James Comey.
In carefully couched statements, about a dozen House Republicans indicated that under the right circumstances, they would back a bipartisan select committee of lawmakers or a special prosecutor to take on the investigation. That’s a significant shift within the GOP ranks after months of largely deferring to the FBI and congressional committees.
Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), an ally of Speaker Paul Ryan, said he’d back a special prosecutor if the top members of the House and Senate intelligence committees ask for one.
"If the leaders of these committees together determine that a special prosecutor is warranted, I would support that decision," Tiberi said in a statement.
Others signaled that their determination on an independent investigation hinges on Trump’s pick to succeed Comey at the FBI.
"The President has a duty to put forth an independent and non-political leader at the FBI," said Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.), adding, "Anything less is unacceptable and may be cause for a select committee or special prosecutor."
Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.) agreed that if the next FBI director isn’t someone "of unquestioned integrity and experience, acceptable to both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate … then the only alternative in my view would be the selection of an independent investigator to get to the bottom of this matter once and for all."
Others still said they’d consider an independent investigation only if the House and Senate probes uncover clear evidence that the Trump campaign coordinated with Moscow.
"If the investigation demonstrates evidence of collusion with Russia, I would be supportive of further investigation, including the possibility of some type of special investigation," said Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.). "There are currently a lot of partisan allegations being thrown around, but no evidence."
“Before any independent investigation into Russia and the elections is seriously considered, there would have to be more compelling evidence than what is currently being put forth," added Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.). "Accusations and propensities for belief are one thing. Evidence is another."
The statements followed blunter calls by Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) and Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) for an independent inquiry. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), too, said he’s "reviewing" legislation to establish an independent commission on Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has long sided with Democrats in support of an independent inquiry into Russian meddling.
Most House Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan, remained silent Wednesday as the impact of Comey’s firing rippled through Washington. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) took to Fox News on Wednesday evening to dismiss calls for a special prosecutor, deferring to the intelligence committees and FBI’s ongoing probes. He said Trump was right to fire an FBI director he had lost confidence in.
Other House lawmakers also redoubled support for the House and Senate intelligence committees’ work. They noted that the FBI’s work would continue, even without Comey at the helm.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a member of the House intelligence committee, said Comey’s ouster will "create new concerns around the public trust in the Department of Justice," and he said it highlights the need for the House investigation to continue in a bipartisan manner.
“Despite yesterday’s announcement I continue to have confidence in the ongoing criminal and bipartisan congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election," said Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.).
Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) said the current investigations should continue and that the FBI’s should be taken over by a new director "with unimpeachable credentials." He suggested "somebody like Ray Kelly," the former New York City police commissioner, as a possible replacement for Comey.
Democrats have long called for a special prosecutor, which Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer repeated on Wednesday. But they’ve largely been ignored by Republican leaders.
But Trump’s firing is nudging at least some Republicans to reconsider.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said Comey’s firing would make it "harder to resist" calls for an independent investigation, though he stopped short of calling for one himself. Similarly, other Republicans left their intentions unclear.
"My constituents must have assurances that a non-partisan investigation will yield independent, well-grounded conclusions, and I certainly support that effort," said Rep. Ryan Costello, another Pennsylvania Republican. His office did not immediately clarify whether this represented a call for an independent investigation.