SALT LAKE CITY — There would have been no good time for President Donald Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said Wednesday.
"Had President Trump done this when he first entered office, it would have been viewed as extraordinarily political. If he’d had done it later on as the investigation continued to mature, it would have been viewed as political," Stewart said.
Trump on Tuesday abruptly terminated the top official leading a criminal investigation into whether the president's advisers colluded with the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, allowed that Trump could have used more "discretion" or "tact," but said he wasn't all that surprised at the move given the mood in Washington, D.C.
"There was just no way around the politics of this," Stewart said on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, used the firing to call for an expanded investigation of the FBI and Justice Department by Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
"Today I sent a letter urging IG Horowitz to expand the scope of his review to include the decision to fire Director Comey," Chaffetz said in a news release issued Wednesday afternoon. "I look forward to receiving the IG's findings."
Chaffetz, who leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in his letter "the recommendation (from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein) to remove Comey indeed warrants" more scrutiny of how the FBI and Justice Department handled allegations surrounding the 2016 election and emails involving Hillary Clinton.
A spokesman for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said under the "troubling" circumstances of the past few months that the senator believes it's time for new leadership at the FBI.
"While he wishes this had been handled differently, he trusts the president will nominate an effective replacement with a strong law enforcement background and broad bipartisan support," said Matt Whitlock, Hatch's communications director.
"Further, he believes that the Senate Intelligence Committee and FBI investigations will continue unabated."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, didn't have much to say about Comey's ouster.
"It is still far too early to speak authoritatively about Comey’s firing. Sen. Lee will take his time and address the matter in a responsible and measured manner," according to a Lee spokesman.
Trump told reporters Wednesday that he fired Comey "because he was not doing a good job, very simply. He was not doing a good job."
Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the way Trump dismissed the FBI director won't instill confidence in the American public.
"For him to be fired in this way with so many important investigations underway, it didn’t make people feel like the system is going to get right," he said. "It virtually guaranteed politics are going to stay part of every decision now and every investigation."
Comey's removal won't end the investigation but make it more difficult and politically complex to find answers, Perry said on "The Doug Wright Show."
Trump must appoint a replacement who looks beyond politics and restores independence to the FBI, not just someone who is loyal to him, he said.
"It can’t look like a political payout," Perry said.
Stewart said Trump needs to look to someone without political baggage who could restore confidence and credibility to the office for both Republicans and Democrats.
Kirk Jowers, a Republican and former Hinckley Institute director, said Comey's firing likely means a longer wait for Jon Huntsman Jr. to be considered in the Senate for ambassador to Russia.
"I don't think Trump wants to put anyone up in front of the Democrats in a confirmation hearing to talk about Russia. It could be Abraham Lincoln and George Washington reincarnated," he said.
Jowers said that person would be irrelevant because every question would be aimed at making a week or two-week spectacle about the allegations involving Russia, the United States and Trump.