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Washington • Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, requested on Wednesday that the Department of Justice's inspector general investigate President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey.
The Utah Republican released a letter he sent to inspector general Micheal Horowitz urging him to look into "the facts and circumstances surrounding the removal of Director Comey."
Chaffetz, who earlier in the day had declined comment to The Salt Lake Tribune, released his letter to Horowitz and became the sole member of Utah's all-Republican delegation to publicly question the appropriateness of the Comey's abrupt firing in the midst of the FBI investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. He has come under criticism previously for failing to aggressively investigate the Trump White House.
Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee on Wednesday defended Comey's firing, though they questioned how Trump did it and the timing.
A Hatch spokesman dismissed questions about upending the FBI probe into Russian interference in the election, saying Hatch "believes that the Senate Intelligence Committee and FBI investigations will continue unabated."
Lee did not address questions about the firing mid-investigation.
The Utah senators are members of the Judiciary Committee that oversees the Department of Justice and the FBI.
Chaffetz's Oversight Committee, however, has broad authority to investigate "any matter." In his statement released Wednesday evening, Chaffetz noted the inspector general's ongoing review of Comey's actions during last year's election in publicly disclosing and notifying Congress about the progress of the FBI's investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server and handling of classified documents. The review is aimed at determining whether Comey's public disclosures violated Justice Department and FBI policies and procedures.
Chaffetz said his request was to expand that review to include the firing of Comey, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended because of Comey's disclosures in the Clinton email investigation.
Trump, in his letter firing Comey, said his decision was based on those recommendations, but went out of his way to thank Comey for "informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation" in the FBI probe of Russian ties to Team Trump.
Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock noted that the seven-term Utah senator has known Comey for years and respects him.
"But under the troubling circumstances of the last several months, the senator believes it is time for new leadership at the FBI," Whitlock said. "While he wishes this had been handled differently, he trusts the president will nominate an effective replacement with a strong law enforcement background and broad bipartisan support."
The White House argued that the director's actions with regard to the investigation of Clinton had damaged the FBI's reputation.
"He wasn't doing a good job," Trump said Wednesday. "Very simply. He was not doing a good job."
Lee also backed Comey's firing, arguing that a fresh start was necessary.
"Director Comey had become the issue and even he would acknowledge that that is never good," Lee said in a statement. "I don't know if the timing of the announcement was right, but the timing for things like this are always tough. The real test now is finding a candidate that can restore trust in the FBI."
Hatch once was one of Comey's most enthusiastic cheerleaders.
When Comey came before the Judiciary Committee in 2013 as President Barack Obama's FBI director nominee, Hatch hailed the selection, expressing his hope that he would receive unanimous Senate confirmation.
One of the traits the Utah Republican singled out in the former deputy attorney general who stood up to top officials in the George W. Bush administration in refusing to authorize a surveillance program he believed unconstitutionally broad was his willingness to be above partisanship.
"The FBI director also needs to be fiercely independent from the political pressures that, as we have seen, can affect even the Justice Department," Hatch said at the time.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah and a member of the House Intelligence Committee, issued a statement that avoided substantive comment on the firing, but he wished Comey well.