President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, a shocking dismissal that removes the top federal law-enforcement official overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In a statement announcing the removal, the White House said Trump had “acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”
“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.
The firing comes less than a month after Comey told a congressional committee that the FBI is investigating whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russian intelligence services to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 presidential election. Trump and his associates have repeatedly denied any coordination or wrongdoing.
Comey’s dismissal is likely to raise questions about whether the White House is interfering in that investigation. In a letter from Trump informing Comey of his firing, the president suggested Comey had privately assured Trump he was not being scrutinized.
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgement of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau,” Trump said.
In a separate letter, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein chastised Comey for holding a press conference last summer to announce the FBI would not recommend charges against Hillary Clinton.
The Director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General's authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution. It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement. 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. There is a well-established process for other officials to step in when a conflict requires the recusal of the Attorney General. On July 5, however, the Director announced his own conclusions about the nation's most sensitive criminal investigation, without authorization of duly appointed Justice Department leaders.
Hours before his firing, Comey sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee clarifying erroneous testimony he had given the previous week about the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Comey told the committee that Huma Abedin, a top Clinton aide, had forwarded thousands of emails to her husband Anthony Weiner, some of which included classified material. But on Tuesday, he clarified that Abedin had only forward two email chains to her husband, and that the remainder came from her phone’s backed-up files on the laptop.
Barack Obama nominated Comey to head the nation’s preeminent federal law-enforcement agency in 2013. While FBI directors serve at the pleasure of the president, they serve 10-year terms to avoid the influence of partisanship.
Comey is scheduled to testify before an open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday. It’s unclear whether he will still participate after his dismissal.