U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is considering whether to recommend that the Department of Justice appoint a special counsel to take over the FBI’s probe into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign in the wake of the president’s firing of James Comey as director of the FBI.

Collins has full confidence in the official now overseeing the investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, spokeswoman Annie Clark said via email Wednesday evening, but was concerned “that the timing of the president’s decision could affect the public’s confidence in the DOJ investigation, even though she believes we have an ideal person overseeing it.”

As a result, Clark said, Collins was reviewing the Justice Department’s guidelines for appointing a special counsel, “but has not yet reached a conclusion as to whether she believes such an appointment would be necessary.”

Earlier Wednesday, Maine’s other senator, Angus King, floated the idea that Comey should be hired to lead the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Trump-Russia investigation.

As FBI director, Comey was overseeing that agency’s investigation into the same matter, until the president abruptly fired him Tuesday afternoon, shaking Washington.

Speaking on CNN’s “New Day” program Wednesday morning, King said he had come to the “fun idea in the middle of the night,” but that it made sense for Comey to lead the investigation.

“Already got his clearances, knows the subject, man of integrity,” King told host Chris Cuomo. “I’m going to float that today and see what kind of reaction I get” among members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Asked if hiring Comey for the job would be permissible, King said: “I don’t know why not. He is a free man as of today. Doesn’t have a job.”

King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also reiterated his call Tuesday night for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the administration’s ties to Russia, which ideally would be done by congressional action.

CNN chief legal analyst Jeffery Toobin then asked King what he thought of the idea of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein appointing a special counsel to oversee the FBI’s probe. The task falls to Rosenstein because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia investigation after it was revealed he had failed to disclose his own contacts with the Russian ambassador.

“He could legally,” King said, “but I don’t know if it rises to the level of restoring public confidence in the process, particularly as he has his fingerprints on this deal.”

Rosenstein wrote one of the memos the White House released Tuesday afternoon justifying Comey’s dismissal.

Reached by telephone Wednesday afternoon, King said that his television remarks about hiring Comey were only half-serious when he made them, but after sharing the idea with Senate colleagues, he’s warmed to the possibility.

“It was really half-facetious. I threw it out this morning on CNN and it’s taken on a life of its own,” King said. “Everybody thinks it’s humorous, but the more I think about it, you know, why not? Let’s float it. Let’s talk about it.”

King and Collins both serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, widely seen as the only viable congressional probe of Russia-Trump ties. Both senators and most of their committee colleagues have made considerable effort to project confidence to the public that their probe will be conducted in a professional and bipartisan manner that, in Collins’ words, “gets to the bottom” of the issue.

But while the chairman of the committee, Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, has said he is “troubled by the timing and reasoning” of Comey’s termination, and said it would hamper the committee’s probe, Collins, who championed Sessions’ candidacy for attorney general, has downplayed fears that Trump is acting to subvert the FBI’s investigation in order to shield himself.

“Any suggestion that today’s announcement is somehow an effort to stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s attempt to influence the election last fall is misplaced,” Collins said in a written statement Tuesday. “I have every confidence that the FBI will continue to pursue its investigation.”

Wednesday afternoon, Collins told the Press Herald she was mystified by King’s television statement and assumed he made it in jest, especially as Comey has appeared before the committee. “You don’t have a witness be the person running the investigation,” she said.

Columnist Bill Nemitz contributed to this report.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at:

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