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Friday, May 12, 2017 3:00 pm

Banks seeks 'better explanation' for FBI chief's firing

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, said today that President Donald Trump has still 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 on 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 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 because of "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 today 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 this 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 might be "the best thing to do."

Trump later 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 local 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 he "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 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 about Comey's firing has distracted from the House Republican agenda for beefing up the military and overhauling the federal health care law, income tax code and regulatory climate.

Asked by a reporter whether he has joined Congress at "a bizarre time" in Washington, Banks responded, "This is an interesting time, indeed, to be a new member of Congress."

For more on this story, see Saturday's print edition of The Journal Gazette or visit www.journalgazette.net after 1 a.m. Saturday.

bfrancisco@jg.net