Donald Trump Fired FBI Director James Comey
Published Using Press This.
The New York Times. Written by MICHAEL D. SHEAR and MATT APUZZO
WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday fired the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, abruptly terminating the leader of a wide-ranging criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
The stunning development in Mr. Trump’s nascent presidency drew comparisons to President Richard M. Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre,” in which Nixon purged the Justice Department in the middle of the Watergate investigation. Mr. Trump’s move immediately ignited Democratic calls for an independent prosecutor to lead the Russia probe.
Mr. Trump explained the firing by citing Mr. Comey’s controversial handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, even though the president was widely seen to have benefited from that inquiry. Mr. Trump had also once praised Mr. Comey for being “gutsy” in pursuit of Mrs. Clinton during the campaign.
“While I greatly appreciate you 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,” Mr. Trump said in a letter to Mr. Comey dated Tuesday.
Mr. Comey, who is three years into a 10-year term at the helm of the F.B.I., learned from news reports that he had been fired while addressing bureau employees in Los Angeles. While Mr. Comey spoke, television screens in the background began flashing the news. Shortly after, a letter was delivered to F.B.I. Headquarters in Washington.
The abrupt firing raised questions over whether Mr. Trump was trying to influence the Russia investigation. But the president said he was following recommendations from the Justice Department, which criticized how Mr. Comey concluded the investigation into Mrs. Clinton.
“It is essential that we find new leadership for the F.B.I. that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission,” Mr. Trump wrote.
Mr. Comey’s firing came hours after the F.B.I. corrected his testimony last week about how classified information ended up on the laptop of the disgraced former congressman Anthony D. Weiner.
Mr. Comey had told the Senate Judiciary Committee that during the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state, officers uncovered evidence that her aide, Huma Abedin, had “forwarded hundreds and thousands of emails, some of which contain classified information” to Mr. Weiner, her husband.
But the F.B.I. told Congress that only a few of the emails had been forwarded and that the vast majority were simply backed up to Mr. Weiner’s laptop.
Mr. Comey broke with longstanding tradition and policies by publicly discussing the Clinton case last July and chastising her “careless” handling of classified information. Then, in the campaign’s final days, Mr. Comey announced that the F.B.I. was reopening the investigation, a move that earned him widespread criticism.
Yet many of the facts cited as evidence for Mr. Comey’s dismissal were well known when Mr. Trump kept him on the job. And both Mr. Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had praised Mr. Comey back then as “gutsy.”
Under the F.B.I.’s normal rules of succession, Mr. Comey’s deputy, Andrew G. McCabe, a career F.B.I. officer, becomes acting director. The White House said the search for a new director will begin immediately.
The firing puts Democrats in a difficult position. Many had hoped that Mrs. Clinton would fire Mr. Comey soon after taking office, and blamed him as costing her the election. But under Mr. Trump, the outspoken and independent-minded Mr. Comey was seen as an important check on the new administration.
“Any attempt to stop or undermine this F.B.I. investigation would raise grave constitutional issues,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois. “We await clarification by the White House as soon as possible as to whether this investigation will continue and whether it will have a credible lead so that we know that it’ll have a just outcome.”
Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, praised Mr. Comey’s service but said new leadership at the F.B.I. “will restore confidence in the organization.”
“Many, including myself, have questioned his actions more than once over the last year,” Mr. Blunt, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
But the president’s firing of Mr. Comey was far more consequential. Ms. Yates was a holdover, and would only have served in the Trump administration for a matter of days or weeks. By contrast, Mr. Comey was in the midst of his term as director of the bureau.
The White House said Mr. Sessions and the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, pushed for Mr. Comey’s dismissal.
“I cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails,” Mr. Rosenstein wrote in another letter that was released by the White House, “and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.”
A longtime prosecutor who served as the deputy attorney general during the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Comey came into office in 2013 with widespread bipartisan support. He has essentially been in a public feud with Mr. Trump since long before the presidential election.
In a Twitter message this week, Mr. Trump accused Mr. Comey of being “the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton,” accusing him of giving her “a free pass for many bad deeds.”
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a post on Twitter that Mr. Comey “should be immediately called to testify in an open hearing about the status of Russia/Trump investigation at the time he was fired.”
During his daily briefing, Mr. Spicer was asked — as he frequently is — whether Mr. Comey still has the confidence of the president. Instead of saying yes, Mr. Spicer danced around the question.
“I have no reason to believe — I haven’t asked him,” Mr. Spicer said. “I have not asked the president since the last time we spoke about this.”
A reporter noted that Mr. Spicer had previously indicated that the president did have confidence in Mr. Comey, but asked whether recent revelations about Mr. Comey’s misstatement during testimony on Capitol Hill would change that.
“In light of what you’re telling me, I don’t want to start speaking on behalf of the president without speaking to him first,” Mr. Spicer said.
The president’s decision to fire Mr. Comey appeared to be the culmination of the bad will between the men that intensified in early March, when the president posted Twitter messages accusing former President Barack Obama of wiretapping his office.
The next morning, word spread quickly that Mr. Comey wanted the Justice Department to issue a statement saying that he had no evidence to support the president’s accusation. The department did not issue such a statement.
That set up a remarkable dynamic — an F.B.I. director directly contradicting a sitting president at the same time that the bureau was pursuing a possible criminal investigation into the president’s aides.