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  • In this Wednesday, May 3, 2017, photo, then-FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • Banks

Saturday, May 13, 2017 1:00 am

Banks wants answers on Comey firing

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, said Friday that President Donald Trump still has not adequately explained his reasons for firing FBI Director James Comey.

“It's being handled very poorly, and that has continued today,” Banks said about Trump's morning series of tweets regarding Comey's dismissal Tuesday.

“I think the American people are owed a better explanation than what they've received so far, and I hope that the president can more carefully and in a better way articulate the timing,” Banks told local news media after he spoke to a meeting of the Summit City South Rotary Club at The Summit campus on Rudisill Boulevard.

He made similar remarks in an interview broadcast Wednesday by NPR's “All Things Considered.” On Thursday, Trump contradicted earlier statements by White House officials about Comey's firing by telling NBC News that it was linked to “this Russia thing.”

Trump reportedly had been unhappy with Comey's role in the FBI investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian intelligence agencies that were trying to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election last year.

Asked whether he thought Comey was canned because of that investigation, Banks replied: “I don't know. But those are questions that the president could more carefully answer and address. Unfortunately, he hasn't done that adequately yet.”

Trump wrote Friday morning on Twitter, “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” In the next tweet, he said canceling White House media briefings and issuing written statements “Maybe the best thing to do.”

Trump then tweeted, “James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Trump's implication that he might have secretly recorded conversations with Comey “certainly raises more questions. I don't understand the motivation behind his tweet,” Banks told reporters.

The freshman lawmaker from Columbia City said Comey's firing “has been justified for months, but the timing is what is suspect and raises a number of questions that have yet to be answered.”

Banks said Comey should have been fired by President Barack Obama after last year's election because Comey “highly politicized his job and his role” as the FBI investigated the use of a private email server by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state.

“But since then more missteps have piled up that would, I think, lead any president to the point that President Trump got to, to fire and replace Director Comey,” Banks said.

“We'll see in the days ahead of how the president handles the situation. I think he could handle it better, and I hope that he does,” he said.

Banks said the uproar over Comey's firing has distracted from the House Republican agenda for overhauling the federal health care law, income tax code and regulatory climate and beefing up the military.

Asked by a reporter whether he has joined Congress at “a bizarre time” in Washington, the former state senator responded, “This is an interesting time indeed to be a new member of Congress.”

Banks answered questions on other issues during his appearance before the Summit City South Rotary Club, including:

• Bitter partisan divisions in Congress.

Banks said the House Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs committees of which he is a member “are great examples of two very bipartisan committees where Republicans and Democrats together recognize that we have problems that we are working together to solve.”

He said members of both parties agree they should expand health care options for veterans and reverse recent reductions in military funding, equipment and troop levels.

“I tend to believe that there is probably a great deal more of bipartisan work that's accomplished in politics … than what most acknowledge or realize,” he said.

• The House-passed American Health Care Act, which would replace the Affordable Care Act.

Banks called the GOP legislation “truly a rescue mission” for “a failing system with more and more Americans who are paying substantially more for their health insurance premiums that what they were paying before the ACA was passed.”

Banks said he likes provisions of the ACA replacement bill that would give states more flexibility in administering Medicaid insurance for low-income residents, double the cap on personal investments in health savings accounts and permanently repeal the medical device tax.

• U.S. diplomacy overseas.

Banks said he opposes Trump's proposed cuts in fiscal 2018 funding for the State Department and the Foreign Military Financing program, which provides grants and loans to nations that buy American-made weapons.

Curtailing diplomatic efforts “would be a dangerous step forward,” he said.

About 35 people attended the Rotary meeting.

bfrancisco@jg.net