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Democratic leaders demand a special prosecutor after Comey firing

They say we are approaching a “constitutional crisis.”

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Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Congressional Democrats are calling President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey a national crisis and demanding that a special prosecutor be appointed to continue the bureau’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia.

Comey confirmed the investigation into ties between Trump’s allies and the Russian government in testimony before Congress on March 20. And while Trump’s decision was attributed to the now former director’s handling of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, and the president thanked Comey in his letter for repeatedly saying Trump personally was not under investigation, Democrats immediately connected the stunning news of Comey’s firing to the Russia probe.

“Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters. He said he told Trump he was making “a big mistake” when the president told him Tuesday afternoon that he planned to fire Comey.

Referring to a previous pledge by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special prosecutor at the right time, Schumer said, “That time is now.”

“The American people’s trust in our criminal justice system is in Mr. Rosenstein’s hands,” Schumer said. “This investigation must be run as far away from this White House and as far away as possible from anyone appointed by this president.”

Special prosecutors are appointed to remove conflicts of interest in federal investigations, if the situation would otherwise lead to officials investigating their own superiors. They are supposed to be independent, usually either judges or highly respected attorneys. They would need to be appointed either by the Justice Department or through an act of Congress. Perhaps the most infamous special prosecutor was Archibald Cox, appointed to oversee the Watergate investigation.

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that Trump’s action “make clear to me that a Special Counsel must be appointed.”

“That’s the only way the American people will be able to trust the results of any DOJ investigation,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), another member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that Comey should be called to testify in front of Congress on the status of the Trump-Russia investigation at the time of his firing.

“There can be no question that a fully independent special counsel must be appointed to lead this investigation,” Wyden said. “At this point, no one in Trump’s chain of command can be trusted to carry out an impartial investigation.”

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) called the firing “Nixonian” and urged the Justice Department to “immediately appoint a special counsel to continue the Trump/Russian investigation.”

Saying the news brought the United States close “a constitutional crisis,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) also referenced President Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, when he fired the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal along with the attorney general and his top deputy for refusing to comply.

“We are careening ever closer to a Constitutional crisis,” Markey said in a statement, “and this development only underscores why we must appoint a special prosecutor to fully investigate any dealings the Trump campaign or administration had with Russia.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump’s action “should send a chill down the spine of every American, no matter who they voted for.”

“Nobody recommended by this administration can be trusted to oversee this investigation,” he said, “and so the need for an independent bipartisan commission is now more urgent than ever.”

The chorus continued on social media.

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