James Comey fired as FBI director

Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images
  • President Donald Trump fired James Comey as director of the FBI
  • Trump said he acted on the recommendation of the attorney general and deputy attorney general
  • The reason given for Comey’s firing was his handling of the Clinton email investigation

President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, the White House said.

“Today, President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement. “President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”

The search for a new director will begin immediately, Spicer said.

“The FBI is one of our nation’s most cherished and respected institutions and today will mark a new beginning for our crown jewel of law enforcement,” Trump said in the statement.

In a letter sent to Comey, Trump said he accepted the recommendation of Sessions and Rosenstein. His termination is effective immediately.

“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau,” Trump wrote. “It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”

Rosenstein, in his letter to Sessions, pointed to Comey’s July 2016 public announcement of his recommendation regarding the investigation into then-presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state. The deputy attorney general said Comey was “wrong to usurp the attorney general’s authority” by going public with the FBI’s recommendation to not bring charges forth against Clinton for her use of the server.

“Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes”

“It is not the function of the director to make such an announcement,” Rosenstein wrote. “At most, the director should have said the FBI had completed its investigation and presented its findings to federal prosecutors. The director now defends his decision by asserting that he believed Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict. But the FBI director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department.”

Rosenstein wrote that the FBI suffered “substantial damage” to its credibility in the past year as a result of Comey’s actions related to the Clinton investigation. The deputy attorney general added that he does not “understand [Comey’s] refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken” in his handling of the Clinton email investigation.

“Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives,” he said.

He called the July press conference a “textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”

Rosenstein also criticised Comey’s handling of his October 28 letter to congressional leaders announcing a reopening of the Clinton investigation based on emails recovered from former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s computer. Weiner was married to top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who the FBI said forwarded two email chains onto his computer for printing purposes. The FBI, hours before Comey’s firing, issued a clarification to Comey’s testimony last week on Abedin, when he said she forwarded “hundreds” and “thousands” of emails to Weiner’s computer.

Citing Comey’s testimony last week, Rosenstein said Comey made a false assertion that his only choice was to either “speak” on or “conceal” what he uncovered. The information later turned out to not be sufficient to move forward with the investigation and led to a subsequent FBI announcement days before the November election that the investigation would remain closed.

“When federal agents and prosecutors quietly open a criminal investigation, we are not concealing anything; we are simply following the longstanding policy that we refrain from publicizing non-public information. In that context, silence is not concealment,” Rosenstein said.

Rosenstein also cited past DOJ officials who agreed with his assessment of Comey.

Sessions, in his letter to Trump, said he “concluded” it was time for a “fresh start” at the FBI after reviewing Rosenstein’s letter.

“It is essential that this Department of Justice clearly reaffirm its commitment to longstanding principles that ensure the integrity and fairness of federal investigations and prosecutions,” Sessions said. “The director of the FBI must be someone who follows faithfully the rules and principles of the Department of Justice and who sets the right examples for our law enforcement officials and others in the department.”

“Therefore, I must recommend that you remove Director James B. Comey, Jr. and identify an experienced and qualified individual to lead the great men and women of the FBI,” he continued.

Just the second FBI director to be ousted

Comey becomes just the second FBI director in history to be fired from the post. In 1993, President Bill Clinton fired FBI Director William S. Sessions, who was a holdover from the prior administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

One of the most controversial government figures, Comey was blasted by both the left and the right for his handling of the Clinton email investigation and the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — and whether there was any collusion between Trump associates and Russia.

In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in March, Comey publicly announced the existence of the FBI’s investigation into possible ties between Trump associates and Russian officials making an effort to influence the presidential election. Comey said that investigation began in late July.

Trump has repeatedly called the Russia-related controversy casting a cloud over his administration a “total hoax,” something he repeated Monday following congressional testimony from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and ex-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

In a statement shortly after the announcement, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called the move “a difficult decision for all concerned.”

“I appreciate Director Comey’s service to our nation in a variety of roles,” he said in the statement. “Given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well. I encourage the president to select the most qualified professional available who will serve our nation’s interests.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Trump called her at 5:30 p.m. ET to alert her of the firing, “saying the FBI needed a change.”

“The next FBI director must be strong and independent and will receive a fair hearing in the Judiciary Committee,” Feinstein said.

Democrats invoke Nixon, Watergate

Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, who has gained prominence as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, blasted Trump for his decision to oust Comey and called it the “Tuesday Afternoon Massacre.” He was referencing the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” during President Richard Nixon’s term in office, when Nixon fired the independent special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal, which led to subsequent resignations from his attorney general and deputy attorney general.

“President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey — who less than two months ago told the House Intelligence Committee that the president and his administration were the subject of criminal and counterintelligence investigations regarding their close personal, political and financial ties to Russia and Russia’s active interference in our 2016 presidential election on Trump’s behalf — should send a chill down the spine of every American, no matter who they voted for,” he said in a statement. “This is not what an innocent person would do; this is an abuse of power, and shows a consciousness of guilt.”

Like Swalwell, a number of prominent Democrats made comparisons to Nixon and the Watergate scandal. Many called for the appointment of a special prosecutor, suggesting to the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign was the reason for Comey’s ouster, not the Clinton-related rationale outlined by the Trump administration.

“No matter what the Trump propaganda machine puts out there, the president just fired the man in charge of investigating his campaign,” Jason Kander, the 2016 Democratic Senate nominee in Missouri, said in a tweet. Sen Dick Durbin of Illinois said “any attempt to stop or undermine this FBI investigation would raise grave constitutional issues.” And Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said the firing “catastrophically compromised the FBI’s ongoing investigation of his own White House’s ties to Russia.”

“Not since Watergate have our legal systems been so threatened, and our faith in the independence and integrity of those systems so shaken,” he said in a statement. “The only way to restore faith in a non-political, non-partisan FBI is to appoint an independent special prosecutor.”

“He’s become more famous than me”

Trump and Comey have had a complicated relationship. In January, two days into his presidency, Trump gave Comey a hug during a meeting with law enforcement and security officials at the White House.

“He’s become more famous than me,” Trump said, jokingly.

During the campaign, Trump at times expressed praise for Comey while at others expressing disdain for his handling of the email investigation. Trump’s feelings on Comey swayed with the director’s moves on the investigation.

“Hillary and the Dems loved and praised FBI Director Comey just a few days ago,” Trump tweeted after Comey sent his October letter to Congressional leaders. “Original evidence was overwhelming, should not have delayed!”

Just last week, Trump said Comey was great to Clinton.

“FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds!” he tweeted. “The phony … … Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?”

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