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Vice President Mike Pence defended the ouster of FBI Director James Comey as the "right decision, right time" on Wednesday as Democratic lawmakers stepped up their demands for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Pence's first comments on President Donald Trump's move in a brief interview with NBC News stood in contrast to the muted response from most of his fellow Republicans, including some key GOP senators who admitted being troubled by the firing of Comey, who had been leading an investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia.
"The White House timing on this was less than impeccable," Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, a Republican, told NBC News. "The president's selection of a new FBI director might be one of the most important decisions of his presidency."
Breaking News Emails
In an appearance Wednesday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Comey was "a good man but he compromised himself multiple ways."
"Let's start over and get somebody in the FBI that we all can agree is capable of doing the job," he said.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, however, appeared to be following the White House line that Comey was damaged goods and had to go.
“The Director of the FBI needs to be above reproach, with an unquestioned reputation for fairness and impartiality," he said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Mr. Comey had lost the confidence of both Republicans and Democrats, and, frankly, the American people."
Meanwhile, top Judiciary Committee Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday renewed her call for a special prosecutor to oversee the Russian investigation.
"At a minimum, the decision to fire Comey raises questions about the appropriateness and timing of the person in charge of an investigation that could, I won't say would, but could, implicate the administration," Feinstein said.
New York Senator Charles Schumer on Tuesday night used the word "cover-up" when discussing the FBI chief's removal.
"If we don't get a special prosecutor, every American will rightfully suspect that the decision to fire #Comey was part of a cover-up," he added.
Trump, ahead of a scheduled sit down Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, shot back at the Schumer on Twitter.
Lavrov, on a visit to the State Department, responded to NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who asked whether Comey's firing "cast a shadow" over his talks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
"Was he fired? You're kidding?" Lavrov said.
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by the Trump administration in March, said on Twitter that "EVERYONE who cares about independence & rule of law in America should be 'troubled by the timing and reasoning' of Comey firing. Period."
And former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a tweet sent a message of encouragement to the career men and women of the FBI and Justice Department. Holder played a role in the Obama administration selection of Comey as FBI director, it was reported at the time.
Virginia Senator and former Hillary Clinton running mate Tim Kaine took to Twitter to call the firing of Comey a sign of "how frightened the Admin is over Russia investigation."
Some Democrats charged that the sudden ouster by the president of the FBI chief had echoes of Watergate.
"This is Nixonian," Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey said. "Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein must immediately appoint a special prosecutor to continue the Trump/Russia investigation."
Timeline: Comey’s Fall From Grace
New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich added: "President Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director Comey smacks of President Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre. … If this is an effort to stop the investigations into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, it won’t succeed."
Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz said the nation was in "a full-fledged constitutional crisis."
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy called the action and the White House's handling of it "shocking" and labeled it "nothing less than Nixonian."
"No one should accept President Trump's absurd justification that he is now concerned that FBI Director Comey treated Secretary Clinton unfairly," Leahy said. "The president has removed the sitting FBI director in the midst of one of the most critical national security investigations in the history of our country — one that implicates senior officials in the Trump campaign and administration."
And Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal took to Twitter to fire back at Trump.
"His bullying won't silence my calls for an independent special prosecutor," he wrote.
Related: Why Trump Fired the FBI Director
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said the timing of Comey's ouster "will raise questions."
“While the case for removal of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey laid out by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein was thorough, his removal at this particular time will raise questions,” Corker said. “It is essential that ongoing investigations are fulsome and free of political interference until their completion, and it is imperative that President Trump nominate a well-respected and qualified individual to lead the bureau at this critical time.”
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, said he too was "troubled" by the firing.
"I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey's termination," Burr said in a statement. "Director Comey has been more forthcoming with information than any FBI Director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intelligence committees. His dismissal, I believe, is a loss for the Bureau and the nation."
Burr added that Comey's "dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee."
One Democratic staffer on the Hill told NBC News that while few on his side of the aisle are sad to see Comey go, the firing “feels like a Russian novel mixed with a spoof on Watergate.”
The Nixon Library appeared to take issue with the comparison, tweeting: "FUN FACT: President Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI #FBIDirector #notNixonian."