Primary Source: Twin State Democrats Want Special Prosecutor in Wake of Comey Firing

  • Valley News political columnist and news editor John Gregg in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 20, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Twin State Democrats are raising major concerns with President Donald Trump’s decision to fire former FBI director James Comey.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to say the firing, as Comey also investigated Russian meddling in the U.S. election and possible links to the Trump campaign, was “so inappropriate that it is difficult to know where to begin.”

“Our nation is at a precipice. There is a counterintelligence investigation into the campaign and administration of a sitting president. There is evidence that that campaign colluded with a foreign adversary to sway our presidential election. And now the president has fired the lead investigator, FBI Director Comey, under absurd and false pretenses, ” Leahy said. “… None of this is normal. And we cannot treat it as such.” Leahy also called Trump’s actions “authoritarian” and said the appointment of an independent special counsel to investigate was crucial, a point dozens of other Democrats also pressed.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said in a statement that a “dark cloud” has descended over the Trump administration, and the only “credible way” to remove it is “through the appointment of an independent prosecutor or a nonpartisan commission appointed by the Congress. We need to follow the facts and get to the bottom of this mess.”

And U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., issued a statement late Tuesday that said a special prosecutor and “thorough Congressional investigation” were needed “to get to the bottom of Russia’s interference and any connection to President Trump’s campaign in order to ensure complete confidence in our democratic institutions.

“It is essential that the next FBI director be able to demonstrate true independence from the political influence of this Administration and commit to following the facts of any ongoing or future investigations, no matter where they lead,” Hassan said.

Speaking of which, chatter on conservative news outlets Wednesday suggested that former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire Republican Hassan narrowly defeated in November, might be a candidate to become the next FBI director. Ayotte is a former attorney general in Concord and prosecuted the Vermont teens who murdered Half and Susanne Zantop in their Hanover home. But she’s no James Comey.

Although Ayotte helped introduce Neil Gorsuch to her former Senate colleagues after he was nominated to the Supreme Court by Trump, she also wasn’t totally on the Trump train last fall. After that notorious tape of Trump talking about sexually assaulting women surfaced, Ayotte in October said she wouldn’t vote for him and would instead write-in Mike Pence for president.

Historic Vote on Marijuana

Here’s the rundown on how Upper Valley lawmakers voted on Wednesday’s momentous 79-66 Vermont House vote to legalize marijuana.

Voting yes were state Reps. John Bartholomew, D-Hartland; Paul Belaski, D-Windsor; Susan Buckholz, D-Hartford; Annmarie Christensen, D-Perkinsville; Chip Conquest, D-Newbury; Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford; Sandy Haas, P-Rochester; Jay Hooper, D-Brookfield; Ben Jickling, I-Brookfield; Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock; Gabrielle Lucke, D-Hartford; and Jim Masland, D-Thetford.

Voting no were state Reps. David Ainsworth, R-Royalton; Tim Briglin, D-Thetford; Kevin Christie, D-Hartford; Bob Frenier, R-Chelsea; Rodney Graham, R-Williamstown; and Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden.

Lucke voted against legalization last year, saying at the time that she has served as a board member for Second Growth, an Upper Valley nonprofit that provides services and counseling for children, and which regards marijuana as a potential “gateway” drug.

But Lucke explained her yes vote on the House floor on Wednesday by saying, “My vote today supports a year of intentional planning in Vermont as marijuana legalization takes root in our region of the country and Canada.”

Rebecca Kelley, a spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Scott, said he will review the bill, but remained noncommital of whether he would sign or veto it. “On the issue of legalizing marijuana, the governor has said he is not philosophically opposed, but we must ensure certain public safety and health questions are answered,” she said via email.

Passage was celebrated by former Windsor County State’s Attorney Bobby Sand, who has long advocated for decreasing police prosecution of minor marijuana activity. Sand posted a photograph of a running tally of the House vote, with the word “History.”

Briefly Noted

Dartmouth-Hitchcock has informed employees that a search committee is down to two finalists to replace outgoing CEO James Weinstein. They’ll be coming to Lebanon for a variety of interviews “with a broad range of colleagues,” and a decision by the D-H board is expected around June 23.

Pomfret independent Scott Woodward has been appointed deputy secretary of the newly created Agency of Digital Services by Gov. Scott. Woodward, who ran for Vermont Senate last year, has more than 25 years of experience in the consulting and information-technology field.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.