In recent days, Comey again came under fire for his handling of the investigation into Clinton’s private email server. Many Democrats believe that his announcement that he was re-opening the probe 11 days before the election cost the former secretary of state the presidency.
Comey learned of his dismissal from televisions tuned to the news, as he was addressing the workforce at the FBI office in Los Angeles, law enforcement sources said. The source said he made a joke about it to lighten the mood and called his office to get confirmation.
In a signed letter released by the White House, Trump informed Comey that he was “hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately,” explaining that he reached the conclusion that Comey is “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,” Trump told Comey in the letter. “I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, sandwiched in the dark between a gaggle of reporters and a large shrub on the White House driveway, described Trump’s decision as arriving only after a long memo from the deputy attorney general, which Spicer said was delivered Tuesday, detailing Comey’s shortcomings on investigating Clinton’s emails.
But multiple White House officials said Trump had been considering firing Comey for at least a week before he made Tuesday’s decision. Indeed, Trump revealed his anger in a string of late-night messages on Twitter May 2, exactly a week before his final decision was made public.
At the center of Rosenstein’s rationale for recommending Comey’s firing was the director’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s private server, namely his decision to recommend no charges be filed and the news conference he held to explain his reasoning.
Rosenstein accused Comey of attempting to “usurp the attorney general’s authority” by publicly announcing why he felt the case should be closed without prosecution.
“Compounding the error, the director ignored another longstanding principle: We do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation,” Rosenstein argued in his memo.
“We should reject the departure and return to the traditions (of the bureau),” Rosenstein said. “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 trust until it has a director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them.”
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he told Trump on the telephone that he had made a terrible mistake.
“Were these investigations getting too close to home for the President?” Schumer asked.
And in a sign of possible trouble for the administration, Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who is leading an Senate intelligence committee probe into alleged Russian influence on the election, expressed disquiet at the firing of Comey, which he described as a “loss for the bureau and the nation.
“I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination. I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee,” Burr said.
As Democrats renewed their demands for a special counsel, arguing that the Trump Justice Department could not be trusted to oversee the case, Republicans insisted that one was not needed.
“I think Rod Rosenstein, the new deputy attorney general is competent to lead that effort,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the GOP leadership.
But Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee said that though Rosenstein’s rationale for removing Comey was sound, it, would “raise questions.”
Sen. John McCain added: “While the President has the legal authority to remove the director of the FBI, I am disappointed in the President’s decision to remove James Comey from office.”
The Arizona senator renewed his request for a special congressional committee to review the Russia allegations.