President Donald Trump has fired FBI Director James Comey.
In his letter to Comey, Trump said the move was recommended by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“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,” Trump said.
The White House says the firing is effective immediately, and that it’s already searching for a new FBI director.
A longer memo from Rosenstein (who, like Sessions, was nominated for his current role by Trump) criticizes Comey’s handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails while she was Secretary of State — specifically, Comey’s decision to hold a press conference where he said he would not be recommending charges against Clinton. Instead, Rosenstein said Comey should have presented his findings to federal prosecutors and let them make the decision. (Attorney General Loretta Lynch had previously said that in order to avoid questions of conflict of interest, she would accept the FBI’s recommendations.)
“The way the Director handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong,” Rosenstein wrote. “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 to never repeat them.”
Rosenstein’s memo does not mention Comey’s October announcement that the FBI had found new emails related to the Clinton investigation, an announcement that’s widely believed to have contributed to (or even been the deciding factor in) Trump’s victory. Nor does it mention the FBI investigation into possible links between the Russia government and the Trump campaign.
Not surprisingly, the firing has already drawn criticism.
“I have been long been a critic of Director Comey, for his views about surveillance and torture, his stance on secret law and his conduct during the investigation into Secretary Clinton,” said Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (a Democrat) in a statement. “But Donald Trump’s decision to fire him now, in the midst of an investigation into Trump associates and their ties to Russia, is outrageous. Director Comey should be immediately called to testify in an open hearing about the status of the investigation into Russia and Trump associates at the time he was fired.”
A US president has only fired the FBI director once before — when President Bill Clinton fired William Sessions in 1993.
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