ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Joining me now to share his reaction to the firing of FBI Director James Comey is Maine Senator Angus King. He's an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. And he's a member of the Senate intelligence committee. Senator King, what did you know about this? Were you taken by surprise by the firing?
ANGUS KING: Completely, completely by surprise, Robert. I was in an Intelligence Committee meeting this afternoon, and we were talking about the fact that we're going to spend most - we were going to spend most of the day on Thursday with James Comey.
SIEGEL: The reasons cited by the White House have to do with how he handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. Do you think that - how the way Comey treated that was fireable?
KING: Well, the odd part is the timing. And it looks to me like a rationale, you know, looking for a solution. If it was something that happened last July - he's been in this office now since this president's been in office for almost five months. And to suddenly fire him today in the middle of this investigation and say that it's caused by actions taken last year just doesn't add up.
SIEGEL: By this investigation, I assume you're talking about the probe into Russian meddling in the election last year. Are you concerned about that investigation right now?
KING: I'm very concerned about it because as we know, there is an ongoing FBI investigation into what happened. And I believe, given what's just happened, we have to have an independent prosecutor or an independent counsel to follow up on this. I just don't see how this could be handled within the normal channels in the Justice Department particularly given the attorney general's close connections to the president.
With the - the key here, Robert, is public confidence. We've got to have a process that people feel they can believe in when the results finally become public. And right now, this just throws that awry. And so I think the important thing is a special counsel, special prosecutor - call it what you will - to continue the investigation that we know is underway and that is extremely important.
SIEGEL: Since you said you were meeting with the Intelligence Committee when you learned of this, how would you describe the reaction of your fellow committee members?
KING: Well, we did not hear about it in the meeting.
SIEGEL: I see.
KING: It only hit afterwards. But I have talked to Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the committee. And you know, really shock is the only answer because again, if you were going to fire the guy for something he did last July or last October - and I read through the memo which accompanies Jeff Sessions' letter to the president, and it talks about, you know, not ancient history but some period ago. And again, it just doesn't add up to suddenly decide today that, oh, gee, well, we didn't really think what he did last summer was the right thing.
SIEGEL: So you want to see an independent counsel take over the investigation of Russian meddling in the election. What about your standards for an FBI director? How would you - what would you have to see in a new FBI director?
KING: Well, it would have to be somebody who is on - with a strong law enforcement background, unimpeachable integrity, no particular political leanings and someone - again, we're talking about public confidence here. And you know, this country runs on confidence. Our system is based on people believing in the system and believing in our leadership. And so right now, this is an undermining of public confidence. And we've got to figure out how to restore it.
That's why I think an outside counsel is the way to go. It also - it makes doubly important the investigation that our committee is undertaking. We're not going to suspend that by any manner of means. And we're working on a bipartisan basis to get to the bottom of the facts. But the FBI investigation is also determining whether any laws were broken.
SIEGEL: Does what you've read today leave you with confidence in Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein?
SIEGEL: Would you like to hear from them and the Senate shortly about their memos?
KING: I think it would be certainly appropriate. I absolutely believe it because again, what bothers me about this is the timing. It would be one thing if secretary - I mean if Director Comey said something in the last 24 hours or did something or, you know, something came out that nobody knew. But to suddenly decide that how he handled Hillary Clinton's emails as a firing - that's kind of political jiu-jitsu. It seems to me that, you know, the beneficiary of that (laughter) action is the one who's doing the firing.
SIEGEL: Senator Angus King of Maine, thanks for talking with us.
KING: Absolutely, Robert, any time.
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