Ryan backs Trump, cautions against ‘rush to judgment’

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House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., followed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chair of the Republican Conference, finishes a news conference Wednesday at Republican National Committee Headquarters in Washington. Ryan said Congress “can’t deal with speculation and innuendo” and must gather all relevant information before “rushing to judgment” on President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. | J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan declared Wednesday that he retains confidence in President Donald Trump and cautioned against “rushing to judgment” over the cascading revelations coming out of the White House.

Ryan insisted Congress will exercise its oversight role and gather more information before reaching any conclusions about the president’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, as well as reports Trump shared sensitive information with the Russians and urged Comey to drop an investigation of a former adviser.

In remarks to reporters, Ryan, R-Wis., endorsed ongoing investigations by House committees, and declined to call for a special prosecutor or select committee, as Democrats and some fellow Republicans have demanded.

KINZINGER: Illinois congressman one of first in GOP to call for outside inquiry

And he adopted a skeptical tone toward the reports that have the White House in chaos and lawmakers scrambling to respond.

“We need the facts. It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president,” Ryan said. “But we have an obligation to carry out our oversight regardless of which party is in the White House and that means before rushing to judgment we get all the pertinent information.”

Addressing news first reported by the New York Times that Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Ryan said: “I’m sure we’re going to want to hear from Mr. Comey about why if this happened as he allegedly describes, why he didn’t take action at the time. So there are a lot of unanswered questions.”

Asked on his way out of the news conference whether he still retained confidence in Trump, Ryan replied: “I do.”

Ryan endorsed the House Oversight committee’s request for the FBI turn over all documents and recordings that detail communications between Comey and Trump.

Ryan’s comments after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans came as lawmakers grappled with a series of damaging developments out of the White House over the past week.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said late Tuesday that the developments had reached “a point where it’s of Watergate size and scale.”

“I think we’ve seen this movie before,” the Arizona Republican said at a dinner to receive the International Republican Institute’s Freedom Award. “The shoes continue to drop, and every couple days there’s a new aspect.” His comments were reported by The Daily Beast.

Yet despite the anxiety and displeasure voiced by McCain and a handful of other prominent GOP lawmakers, Republicans did not appear poised to abandon a president who remains critical to their goals of acting on health care and tax legislation. Several came to his defense and sought to close ranks.

Leaving their meeting Wednesday, a number of conservative House Republicans said they and their constituents remained firmly supportive of the president, and they questioned why there are so many leaks coming out that are hurtful to Trump.

“I’m convinced that the president did nothing that he thought was outside the best interest of the country,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.

“A lot of times he’s the victim of not being a career politician,” Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said of Trump.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia said he and the majority of House Republicans remain behind the president and his voters “definitely” do.

Democrats and a number of Republicans said they wanted to hear from Comey, who was fired last week a day before Trump met in the Oval Office with the Russian diplomats.

“Let’s get to the bottom of what happened with the director. And the best way to get to the bottom of it is for him to testify … I’m not going to take a memo, I want the guy to come in,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Democrats badgered Republicans to stand up to the president, and demanded access to the transcripts of Trump’s meeting last week with two Russian diplomats. After the news broke of the Comey memo, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., stood in the chamber and said, “I say to all of my colleagues in the Senate — history is watching.”

Democrats pointed out that Ryan had called for Democrat Hillary Clinton to be denied classified briefings after Comey concluded last year that she was careless in how she handled classified information over her email accounts. Ryan’s aides countered that in the same July 2016 opinion piece, Ryan also said those classified briefings could resume if Clinton were actually elected.

Associated Press writers Richard Lardner, Alan Fram, Matthew Daly and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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