Georgia Sixth: Handel says Comey’s firing was ‘probably overdue’

Republican Karen Handel applauded President Donald Trump’s decision to abruptly fire the director of the FBI amid a criminal probe into whether his campaign colluded with the Russian government, saying in a statement Wednesday that James Comey’s ouster was “probably overdue.”

Her support for the president’s stunning move to fire Comey came a day after her opponent in the 6th District runoff, Democrat Jon Ossoff, called for a special prosecutor to “investigate Russian interference” in last year’s vote.

In her statement, Handel makes no mention of the calls from Democrats, and a growing number of Republicans, for an independent investigation into whether Russia tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. She said Comey had squandered the trust of the American people.

“It’s been clear for some time that FBI Director Comey has lost the confidence of Republicans, Democrats and broader institutions, and his removal as FBI Director was probably overdue,” she said. “I hope that the president will quickly nominate a strong, independent leader as the next director of the FBI and that the Senate will consider the nomination as quickly as possible.”

Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, sought to sidestep Trump’s controversies throughout her campaign for the seat. But since her No. 2 finish in the April 18 vote, she has more aggressively embraced the president, who has assailed Ossoff in tweets and hosted a fundraiser for her.

Democrats hope Comey’s firing will spark more support for a probe of Trump’s ties to Russia and give them an advantage in Georgia’s special election, considered a must-win for Republicans. The race for the suburban district, for decades held by the GOP, has become the nation’s premier 2017 political contest.

Other Georgia Democrats quickly pounced on Comey’s firing. Rep. Hank Johnson, Ossoff’s mentor and former boss, said the timing suggests “an effort to cover up wrongdoing.” Fulton County Commission chair John Eaves, a candidate for Atlanta mayor, said it “reeks of tyranny, not democracy” and labeled it Watergate 2.0.

And Democratic Party of Georgia head DuBose Porter invoked Trump’s firing of Sally Yates, a former Georgia prosecutor who was briefly the acting U.S. Attorney General, in condemning Trump’s decision and echoing the calls for a special prosecutor.

“Our national security is at stake and these demands must be met immediately,” he said. “We cannot trust Donald Trump to investigate himself. We just cannot trust Donald Trump.”

Handel was among the first prominent Georgia Republicans to comment on Comey’s firing. Most of the state’s GOP establishment had no public comment on the development in the hours after it was announced.

Trump linked his decision to fire Comey to his handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state. But his termination letter to Comey invoked the Russia inquiry, mentioning “three separate occasions” where he said the FBI chief told him he wasn’t under investigation.

The decision led to widespread bipartisan criticism in Washington. Several GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, said they support an independent inquiry into Russia’s ties to Trump’s campaign. And Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, suggested Trump fired Comey as part of a cover-up.

More recent AJC coverage of the 6th District race:

How the 6th District went from red to purple

A U.S. House record: Georgia’s 6th race costs $30M and counting

Paul Ryan to campaign with Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th race

A 6th District rift over the House healthcare plan in Tom Price’s old turf

Ossoff takes aim at disgruntled Republicans in Georgia’s 6th

Update: Democrats celebrate 6th District voter registration ruling

Ahead of Georgia’s Sixth District contest, a May 16 test vote

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