President Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey pitted Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) against herself.
The ranking Judiciary Committee member on Tuesday issued a milquetoast statement after the news.
“Anytime a significant controversy comes up, both sides play their base for the most part.”
“President Trump called me at 5:30 p.m. and indicated he would be removing Director Comey, saying the FBI needed a change,” she said in the statement. “The next FBI director must be strong and independent and will receive a fair hearing in the Judiciary Committee.”
It did not take long, as politics rushed into the matter, for Feinstein to strike a harder line. She released a follow-up statement Wednesday calling for a special counsel to investigate possible Trump campaign collusion with Russian agents during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“If Director Comey was fired to stifle the FBI’s Russia investigation — and the timing of this action makes that a real possibility — that simply can’t be allowed to happen,” she stated.
Feinstein added that Americans must have faith in the Justice Department’s independence.
“I can’t yet say whether what the president told me is all there is to this, but I can say the Russia investigation was broad and far underway, and it must be allowed to continue,” she said.
Feinstein’s about-face came after progressives expressed frustration with her original statement.
One Twitter user wrote, “The honorable Dianne Feinstein … do you care to revise your BS statement on FBI Director Comey getting fired by president Trump. MAGA.”
Another tweeted, “Feinstein’s lost it. THIS is her statement???”
One progressive took to Twitter Wednesday to praise Feinstein’s new tone: “Yesterdays statement was embarrassingly weak. This is better.”
Christopher Devine, a political science professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio, said Feinstein’s initial and revised reactions indicate that left-wing activists are in no mood for moderation toward Trump.
“Anytime a significant controversy comes up, both sides play their base for the most part,” he said. “Maybe she was holding off and waiting to see what the reaction was. We’ve seen what the reaction is.”
Feinstein’s statement contrasts sharply with California’s junior Democratic senator, Kamala Harris, who immediately renewed her call for a special prosecutor.
“What we see is somebody who’s not going to run for higher office again and somebody who wants to run for president,” Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson told San Francisco’s PBS station, KQED News, on Tuesday.
Levinson added: “We see someone who’s winding down her career and may have to wind down because she’s been so unemotional about things people want to see her fired up about.”
Devine told LifeZette that it is puzzling that both Feinstein and the Trump administration apparently misjudged the reaction among Democrats.
“Perhaps they thought that Comey was so controversial and discredited on both sides of the aisle that it would be greeted as welcome news,” he said.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the upper chamber’s most conservative Democrat, downplayed the significance of Comey’s firing on Tuesday. He told CNN, “To call it a massacre, I don’t think you do that.”
On the very day he offered that reaction, though, he drew a primary challenge from the Left. Paula Swearengin, a coal miner’s daughter and environmental activist, announced plans to run against Manchin in the Democratic primary last year. A supporter of universal, government-run health care and free tuition for public university students, she has the backing of Brand New Congress, a group formed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s self-described democratic socialist.
It is a reminder that even moderate Democrats — perhaps even especially moderate Democrats — have as much or more to fear from the Left as they do from the general electorate.