The White House announced Tuesday afternoon that FBI Director James Comey was fired.
“Today, President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement. “President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”
The search for a new director will begin immediately, Spicer added.
“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.
In a letter sent to Comey, Trump said he accepted the recommendation of Sessions and Rosenstein, which was to fire Comey. His termination is effective immediately.
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau,” Trump wrote. “It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”
Rosenstein, in his letter to Sessions, pointed to Comey’s July public announcement of his recommendation regarding the investigation into then-presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state. The deputy attorney general said Comey was “wrong to usurp the attorney general’s authority” by going public with the FBI’s recommendation to not bring charges forth against Clinton for her use of the server.
“It is not the function of the director to make such an announcement,” Rosenstein wrote. “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.”
Rosenstein wrote that the FBI suffered “substantial damage” to its credibility in the past year as a result of Comey’s actions related to the Clinton investigation. the deputy attorney general added that he does not “understand [Comey’s] refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken” in his handling of the Clinton email investigation.
“Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives,” he said.
He called the July press conference a “textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”
Rosenstein additionally criticized Comey’s handling of his October 28 letter to Congressional leaders announcing a reopening of the Clinton investigation based on emails recovered from disgraced New York City politician Anthony Weiner’s computer. Weiner was married to top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who forwarded some emails onto his computer for printing purposes.
Citing Comey’s testimony last week, Rosenstein said Comey made a false assertion that his only choice was to either “speak” on or “conceal” what he uncovered, which later turned out to not be sufficient to move forward with the investigation and led to a subsequent FBI announcement days before the November election that the investigation would remain closed.
“When federal agents and prosecutors quietly open a criminal investigation, we are not concealing anything; we are simply following the longstanding policy that we refrain from publicizing non-public information. In that context, silence is not concealment.”
Rosenstein additionally cited past DOJ officials who agreed with his assessment of Comey.
Sessions, in his letter to Trump, said he “concluded” it was time for a “fresh start” at the FBI after reviewing Rosenstein’s letter.
“It is essential that this Department of Justice clearly reaffirm its commitment to longstanding principles that ensure the integrity and fairness of federal investigations and prosecutions,” Sessions said. “The director of the FBI must be someone who follows faithfully the rules and principles of the Department of Justice and who sets the right examples for our law enforcement officials and others in the department.”
“Therefore, I must recommend that you remove Director James B. Comey, Jr. and identify an experienced and qualified individual to lead the great men and women of the FBI,” he continued.
Comey becomes the second FBI director in history to be fired from the post. In 1993, President Bill Clinton fired FBI Director William S. Sessions, who was a holdover from the prior administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.
One of the most controversial government figures, Comey was blasted by both the left and the right for his handling of the Clinton email investigation and the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possibly collusion with Russian officials to swing the election.
In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in March, Comey publicly announced the existence of the FBI’s investigation into possible ties between Trump associates and Russian officials making an effort to influence the presidential election.
Trump has repeatedly called the Russia-related controversy casting a cloud over his administration a “total hoax,” which he repeated as recently as Monday following former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and ex-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s testimony before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee.
Comey came under fire Monday night for misstating the amount of email forwarded by Abedin to Weiner’s computer in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. ProPublica published that the FBI was scrambling to figure out how to respond after Comey incorrectly stated that Abedin had forwarded “hundreds” and “thousands” of emails to Weiner. The FBI then issued a clarification to Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley Tuesday afternoon, just before Comey was ousted.
In a statement shortly after the announcement, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called the move “a difficult decision for all concerned.”
“I appreciate Director Comey’s service to our nation in a variety of roles,” he said in the 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.”
Via Allan Smith, Business Insider