WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday after Justice Department officials concluded he improperly handled Hillary Clinton’s email probe and while he was overseeing an inquiry of Russia’s role in the election.
Trump said in a letter to Comey, “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.
“It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”
Clinton has blamed Comey’s public statements about FBI investigations over her use of a private server for her emails near the end of the campaign as a reason she lost the election to Trump.
In a Tuesday memo to Attorney General Jeff Session from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Comey’s departure was needed because, “The way the Director handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong. As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trusted until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them.”
Comey abrupt departure raised questions of whether the ongoing FBI investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election would continue.
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Sen. Dick Durbin D-Ill., addressing the Russian probe, said Comey’s “removal 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.
“Any attempt to stop or undermine this FBI investigation would raise grave constitutional issues. Under these circumstances, I renew my call for an independent counsel and a special commission to fully investigate the Russian interference,” said Durbin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, conducting its own Russia probe said in a statement, Trump firing Comey “is a brazen decision taken straight out of the Nixon playbook.”
That’s a reference to former President Richard Nixon’s Watergate-era firing in 1973 of independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Nixon never fired an FBI director.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters about Comey’s dismissal on Tuesday afternoon. Trump sent Comey a letter telling him he was removing him from office, based on, Spicer said the recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Spicer said Comey’s departure is effective immediately.
In a Tuesday memo to Sessions, Rosenstein wrote, “The way the Director handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong. As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trusted until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them.”
Comey was named to a 10-year term on June 21, 2013, by former President Obama. He was confirmed by the Senate on July 29, 2013, and took office on September 4, 2013.
On May 3, Comey appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to defend his October decision to tell Congress the FBI was taking another look into Hillary Clinton’s emails, even though it was just before the election.
“Look, this was terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly, it wouldn’t change the decision,” he said.
A search for a new permanent FBI Director will begin immediately, Spicer said.
Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a 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.”
The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein D-Calif., said in a statement, ““President Trump called me at 5:30 p.m. and indicated he would be removing Director Comey, 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.”
Reaction varied from the right and the left.
From the left, the American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement, “The independence of the FBI director is meant to ensure that the president does not operate above the law. For President Trump to fire the man responsible for investigating his own campaign’s ties to the Russians imperils that fundamental principle.
“Regardless of how one judges the performance of James Comey in either the Hillary Clinton or Russia investigations, President Trump’s dismissal of a sitting FBI director raises serious alarm bells for our system of checks and balances.”
From the right, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton praised Trump dismissing Trump.
“This is an important move to restore public confidence in the fair administration of justice at the Federal level. Mr. Comey did not seem to understand some of the laws he was asked to investigate and unfortunately politicized his sensitive positon as the FBI director. President Trump took the right step in cleaning house at the FBI.”
And in a Twitter post, Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor now living in Russia who the FBI wants to prosecute for massive leaks said, “Set aside politics: every American should condemn such political interference in the Bureau’s work.”
This a developing story. Please check back for more details.