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Alice Ollstein

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.

Articles by Alice

As Capitol Hill continued to reel Wednesday from the news that President Donald Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey, Democrats scrambled to respond to what some of them are calling a constitutional crisis.

Calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation Comey was leading grew louder from Democrats and a small handful of Republicans, who say it’s the only way to prevent the inquiry from being compromised going forward. And while they’re in the minority in the Senate as well as the House, Democrats decided to flex their muscle with a series of procedural moves to grind the upper chamber’s work to a halt—canceling or delaying all committee meetings for the rest of the day.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said the aim of the tactic was to force lawmakers from both parties to come together for an emergency meeting on the future of the FBI’s probe into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russian officials.

“We need to fight for the integrity of our system of government,” he told TPM. “We need to come together in the very near future for an executive session of the Senate to have a heart-to-heart discussion on how to defend our democratic republic. We need to reach an agreement on a strategy to ensure a fully-funded, aggressive investigation of not just Russian activity but any coordination or collaboration by any members of the Trump campaign. If there was such coordination that would be a treasonous crime.”

But such bipartisan talks have yet to materialize, and some Republicans were openly frustrated by the Democrats’ stalling tactics.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) complained on the Senate floor that a hearing on aging Americans had been postponed.

I am baffled by this,” she said. “This has nothing to do with the firing of Jim Comey. It has nothing to do with the intelligence committee’s ongoing and successful investigation of Russian influence on our election. It has nothing to do with the health care debate that is roiling this Congress. This is a hearing that has to do with the health and well-being of America’s seniors. It is not political in any way.”

An hour later, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) joined the chorus of protest, lamenting that a Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on rural water systems had fallen victim to the work stoppage.

“They’re choosing to play politics and prevent scheduled meetings from occurring,” he said of Democrats, noting that some of the committee’s scheduled witnesses had traveled thousands of miles to attend.

But Democrats argued that desperate times call for desperate measures.

“Today is certainly not business as usual,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) told TPM. “There should be a drumbeat building for a bipartisan call for a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of Russian interference in our democracy—their attempts to screw our democracy.”

“I should think that Republicans would care. I’m sure in their heart of hearts they do,” she added.

Senate Democrats have not yet revealed if they plan to continue their delay tactics in the days and weeks ahead, potentially holding up votes on dozens of bills and nominees for various agency positions.

“I can’t say it’s an ongoing strategy,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, told the Washington Post. “It certainly is for the day.”

Hirono was similarly coy about future tactics. “Let’s just take it one day at a time,” she told TPM.

But Merkley and other Democrats talked openly about the need to escalate going forward if Republicans refuse to collaborate.

“If we don’t have a briefing by early next week, if we don’t have an executive session, if we don’t reach an agreement on the vision for a special prosecutor, we’re going to have to crank up the pressure,” he said.

 

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Amid widespread suspicion that the official reason for FBI Director James Comey’s firing—his handling last year of an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server—was not the true reason for the ouster, several news outlets reported Wednesday morning that Comey had recently requested more funding and personnel for the bureau’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The Washington Post, New York Times, and NBC confirmed that Comey had just days ago asked the Justice Department’s second in command, Rod Rosenstein, for more resources to support the inquiry into whether members of President Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government last year. Rosenstein wrote the memo, made public on Tuesday, recommending Comey be terminated.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had few words Tuesday night on the bombshell news that President Donald Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey. While saying nothing about the decision to fire the man overseeing the intelligence community’s investigation into alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, McConnell noted that he was looking forward to confirming his replacement.

“Once the Senate receives a nomination, we look forward to a full, fair, and timely confirmation process to fill the Director position,” his statement read. “This is a critical role that is especially important as America faces serious threats at home and abroad.”

Other Republicans were much more critical of the sudden firing of Comey, calling it “troubling” and expressing concern that it would hurt the investigation going forward.

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The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), released one of the most critical statements yet from any member of his party on Tuesday’s shocking announcement that President Donald Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey.

Burr, who is leading the Senate’s investigation into alleged coordination between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government, called Comey a “public servant of the highest order,” and said his firing was “a loss for the Bureau and the nation.”

Burr said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination,” and noted that he “has been more forthcoming with information than any FBI Director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intel committees.”

Like many other lawmakers, Burr expressed concern about the future of the investigation into Russian influence in the U.S. election that Comey was leading at the time he was fired.

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In the wake of Tuesday night’s bombshell news that President Donald Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey, most Republican members of Congress either remained silent or released statements supporting the President’s decision.

But Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, announced Tuesday that he and his staff are considering a bill that would establish an independent commission to take up the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contact with the Russian government that Comey was overseeing.

Following Comey’s dismissal and allegations that the House and Senate committees investigating the Russia ties have been starved of resources and stymied by partisanship, calls from both sides of the aisle for an independent prosecutor or independent commission to take up the matter are growing louder.

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters Tuesday night that if the Justice Department does not appoint a special prosecutor to take over the investigation into Russian interference on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 election, it will indicate that FBI Director James Comey’s sudden termination was “part of a cover up.”

“Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?” he asked.

Schumer says he questions both the timing of Comey’s firing as well as the reason given by the Justice Department—the mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails last summer and fall.

“Why now? Why did it happen today?” Schumer asked, noting that if the Clinton missteps were the true reason, the Trump administration could have dismissed him in January.

The leader of the Senate Democrats also expressed fears that the decision would create a chilling effect for next FBI director, who could fear getting fired if they “run afoul of the administration.” He also questioned why Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who publicly recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation in March, “played a role in firing the man leading it.” Schumer called the decision part of a “deeply troubling pattern,” noting the recent firings of two other top officials involved in investigating the Trump administration: U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara and Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

Schumer was one of a small handful of officials Trump called personally earlier on Tuesday to give a heads up about Comey’s firing.

“I told him, ‘Mr. President, with all due respect, you are making a big, big mistake,'” Schumer said. “He didn’t really answer.”

Like many of his Democratic colleagues, Schumer is now demanding the appointment of a special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation Comey was leading at the time of his termination.

“The only way the American people can have faith in this investigation going forward is to have a fearless, independent special prosector,” he said.

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In the wake of the news that President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) called on the administration to allow a special prosecutor to take over the investigation of the administration that Comey was leading.

Harris, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee currently investigating the connections between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government, said the shocking news underscores the importance of appointing a special prosecutor to ensure a fair and impartial investigation going forward.

Other Senate Democrats, including Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), echoed this demand Tuesday night.

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Soon after learning that President Donald Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) took to the Senate floor to voice concerns that the investigation Comey was leading into the Trump campaign’s alleged coordination with the Russian government during the 2016 election will end with his dismissal.

“The termination and removal of James Comey as the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation raises the critical question as to whether the FBI investigation into the Russian interference in the last presidential campaign will continue, and whether the investigation into any collusion or involvement  by the Trump campaign will also be investigated by the FBI,” he said. “Any attempt to stop or undermine this FBI investigation would raise grave constitutional issues. We await clarification by the White House as soon as possible as to whether this investigation will continue and whether it will have a credible lead, so we know it will have a just outcome.”

 

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Moments after the news broke late Tuesday that President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, a top Senate Democrat called for Comey to be immediately called to publicly testify.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee currently investigating the connections between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government, noted that Comey was in the midst of leading his own investigation into that same matter at the time of his dismissal.

 

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