Trump Fires FBI Director Comey

Trump Fires FBI Director Comey
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President Trump late Tuesday fired Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey.

The abrupt announcement came shortly after the FBI corrected information Comey had given to Senate investigators last week when he overstated the number of emails Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin had sent to her husband’s laptop. 

Comey had been leading the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election.

Trump, accepting the “clear” recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, informed Comey, 56, that he was terminated as of Tuesday, prompting outrage from Democrats on Capitol Hill -- even those who had been highly critical of Comey.

Comey, a target of condemnation by all sides of the political spectrum during the last year, had been serving a 10-year term that began in September 2013.

Sen. Richard Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, blasted the Trump administration, demanding clarification about whether the administration’s Russia probe would continue. He said Trump’s decision raised “grave” constitutional concerns. 

“The termination and removal of James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation raises the critical question as to whether the FBI investigation of Russian interference in the last presidential campaign will continue and as to whether the investigation of any collusion or involvement by the Trump campaign will also be investigated by the FBI,” Durbin said.

Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Casey called the firing “Nixonian” and joined Durbin and other Democrats in calling for an independent counsel to investigate Russia’s role in trying to help Trump win the White House and any Moscow ties to the president’s current or former advisers.

Trump has said he has no business or financial ties with Russia and he maintains that probes of possible collusion between Russia and his campaign are a “ruse.” He has said former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador, was doing his job, but he said he fired Flynn on Feb. 13 because he had lied about those conversations to Vice President Mike Pence. 

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who informed a crush of reporters about the president’s decision shortly before 6 p.m. while standing in a West Wing doorway, said he believed Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe has become acting director while Trump’s search for Comey’s replacement takes place.

“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 a written statement.

“While I greatly appreciate your informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau,” the president informed Comey in a four-paragraph letter released by the White House.

Sessions and Rosenstein, in written critiques dated May 9, made no explicit mention of the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference with the U.S. election. But they faulted Comey for his handling of and announced conclusion of the government’s probe examining former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and her handling of classified information as a member of President Obama’s Cabinet.

They accused Comey of attempting to “assume command of the Justice Department” and defying former Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year in publicly presenting the FBI’s findings and his decision not to recommend prosecution of Clinton. In making the bureau’s findings public and discussing them with the news media, the director presented “a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do,” Rosenstein wrote.

Comey testified last week that he was “mildly nauseous” to think he and the FBI might have influenced the outcome of the presidential election, but told Congress he would make the identical decisions, even with the benefit of hindsight.

‘‘Lordy, has this been painful,’’ Comey told lawmakers. ‘‘I’ve gotten all kinds of rocks thrown at me and this has been really hard, but I think I’ve done the right thing at each turn.’’

Former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden, wanted by the Justice Department for leaking National Security Agency secrets to the media and now living in exile in Russia, tweeted his condemnation of the Comey firing as “political interference."

Trump saluted Comey just two days after the inauguration, calling out to him during a Blue Room reception for law enforcement personnel. “He’s become more famous than me,” the president said before the two men shook hands and Trump pulled Comey closer to whisper a few words as cameras rolled. Less than four months later, the president soured on the director, who he accused of undermining public trust and confidence in the FBI and failing “to effectively lead.”

On Tuesday, the FBI sent a letter to Capitol Hill to correct Comey’s sworn testimony last week tied to the bureau’s decision, announced weeks before the November election, to briefly reopen its case examining Clinton emails found on a laptop owned by Abedin and her ex-husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner. Comey misstated as “hundreds of thousands” the number of classified Clinton email threads found on Abedin-Weiner-owned devices. The correction stated only “a small number” were found, and none was new to the FBI.

Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation and his silence last year about the existence of the bureau’s probe into Russia’s interference with the election and possible Trump campaign ties to Russia enraged Clinton and her campaign team, as well as fellow Democrats.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a brief written statement that Trump phoned her at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to say he was firing Comey.

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

The White House distributed quotes to reporters from Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, critical of Comey.

The former FBI director, who served during President George W. Bush’s administration as acting attorney general and deputy AG, was scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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