The Senate's top Republican and top Democrat used their opening remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday morning to cast the abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump in starkly different terms that also revealed the partisan lenses through which both side are viewing Trump's move.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended the termination, noting how harshly Democrats criticized Comey's handling of the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server.
"Last year, the current Democratic leader said it appeared to be an appalling act," McConnell said. "One that he said goes against the tradition of prosecutors at every level."
The Kentucky Republican's comment echoed the reasoning from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that Trump relied up in reaching the decision to remove Comey from office.
"The FBI Director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department," Rosenstein wrote in a memorandum to Attorney General Jeff Sessions which was then forwarded to the president.
Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, however, tried to shift the focus away from the Clinton email investigation and onto the current FBI investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
"There is little reason to think that Mr. Rosenstein's reason is the true reason that President Trump fired Director Comey," Schumer said Wednesday morning. "Why? Because if the administration truly had objections to the way Director Comey handled the investigation they would have had them the minute the president got into office. But he didn't fire Director Comey then.
"The question is: Why did it happen last night?"
Schumer continued a near-universal call from Democrats for a special prosecutor to take over the FBI's Russia investigation, but McConnell called the suggestion unnecessary and said a new investigation would "impede the current work being done" by the FBI and by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The comments by McConnell and Schumer weren't the only reaction in Washington Wednesday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in the nation's capital on a previously scheduled trip. During a photo-op with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a reporter yelled out a question about whether Comey's firing "casts a shadow" on Lavrov's visit. Lavrov scoffed and waved his hand dismissingly before walking away.
"Was he fired? Was he fired?" Lavrov said. "You're kidding!"
Reporter: Does the Comey firing cast a shadow over your talks?
Lavrov: "Was he fired? You're kidding." https://t.co/EA1e2llZNx
— CNN (@CNN) May 10, 2017
And prior to McConnell's and Schumer's remarks on the Senate floor, the president was predictably on Twitter sounding off about his decision to get rid of the FBI director. "Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike." Trump tweeted, "When things calm down, they will be thanking me!"
Later Wednesday Trump met at the White House with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak — who spoke with Michael Flynn, Trump's short-lived national security adviser, during the transition late last year and also had contacts with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions during the campaign. Those contacts with Kislyak played a role in Flynn's ultimate resignation from his job at the White House and in Sessions' decision to recuse himself from overseeing the FBI's Russia investigation.