Question of special prosecutor splits Congress in wake of Comey firing

Reaction to Comey firing

WASHINGTON -- President Trump's "showboat" comment regarding ousted FBI Director James Comey in his NBC News interview got immediate pushback Thursday from the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"I trusted Jim Comey," said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee's vice chairman.

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"I found him to be one of the most ethical, upright straight-forward individuals that I have had the opportunity to work with," said North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman.

Comey's firing has consumed the Capitol, prompting rare bipartisan agreement.

"I do have questions about the rationale and the timing. Certainly I've communicated that to the White House," said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

But the two sides still part ways over the need for a special, independent prosecutor. "We need the support of Republicans in Congress," said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin.

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"Every time there's a controversy around here, they want to have a special prosecutor. We have a Justice Department, it's very capable," said Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Ultimately, the decision isn't up to Congress. It's up to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who wrote a memo critical of Comey which the White House initially used to justify his firing.

Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer sent Rosenstein a list of 27 questions Thursday, including whether Mr. Trump or anyone else directed him to write that memo.

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Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein  AP

Rosenstein met with the Intelligence Committee leaders Thursday behind closed doors.

When asked about whether they discussed Rosenstein's alleged threat to resign over the handling of the Comey firing, Burr said, "We didn't ask him about, he didn't share it. We were focused on deconfliction."

The term "deconfliction" refers to their efforts to make sure the Russia investigations being conducted by the Senate and the FBI don't interfere with each other.

Late Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invited Rosenstein to come back next week to brief the entire Senate behind closed doors.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.