Updated throughout with details: President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday afternoon.
In a statement, Trump’s White House said Comey was informed he has been “terminated and removed from office” based on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein.
“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,” the statement said.
Comey’s firing, in the third year of his 10-year term, took TV news outlets by surprise, Comey being considered untouchable while he was heading the investigation into Russian meddling during the election. The FBI had confirmed in July it was engaged in a criminal investigations of improper connections between Trump associates and Russia – an investigation that continues.
Comey was informed of his ouster via a letter hand delivered to his office. In that letter Trump said “you are hereby terminated and removed from office effective immediately.”
The letter also says:
“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. It is essential that we find new leadership in the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”
Yes, Donald Trump thanked Comey for exonerating him, in a letter informing Comey he was fired.
Tragically, Trump’s carefully crafted letter, hand delivered to Comey’s Washington FBI office, did not convey to Comey the sad news he’d been given the old heave ho. Comey was in Los Angeles for a recruiting event set to happen Tuesday night at the DGA:
While Comey had been speaking to field agents in the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, news of his ouster broke on TV. Comey found out he’d been sacked via TV.
Comey, understandably, bailed on that event, and was seen on TV news outlets boarding his plane at LAX around 5:55 PM PT and taking off at 6:03 PM, to return to Washington.
By which time, “Comey” was the top trending topic on Twitter, worldwide. “FBI Director” also was among the big trenders worldwide.
Explaining the firing, Trump cited the recommendations of Sessions and Rosenstein. That’s the same Sessions who had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because of his own contacts with Russians that he initially failed to disclose. According to some TV news reports, Trump had been mulling the move since Rosenstein’s appointment was confirmed a couple weeks ago.
And, turns out, they recommended Comey be sacked because of the way he handled public statements about the investigation, and then a re-opening of the probe, into Hillary Clinton’s emails during the election – moves that had delighted then-candidate Donald Trump, though Clinton has said caused Trump to win the electoral college vote.
So, Donald Trump fired Comey because he made Trump president.
And faster than you can say “where’s those clips,” TV news outlets dredged up clips of candidate Trump, in October days before the election, praising Comey for something that, on May 9, he fired him for. Back then, Trump said “it took guts ,” that Comey had restored his reputation and “did the right thing.”
That queued up talk among news outlets Trump in reality is trying to get out from under the FBI’s Russia investigation, with more than one TV pundit describing Trump’s rationale for the firing as a decision searching for a reason.
Among the strong reax in TV News punditry, CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin called it a thing that “happens in non-democracies” and comparing it closely to October 20, 1973 when President Nixon fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. That move – the only other time a POTUS has fired an investigator who is investigating the POTUS – led to Nixon’s resignation.
“This is not normal, this is not politics as usual. This is something completely outside how American law is supposed to work,” Toobin said.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews called it “a little whiff of fascism.”
And, Sen. Elizabeth Warren told MSNBC, “Comey was not fired because of Hillary. Comey was fired because of the Russians.”
“The timing makes this, I think, entirely clear,” she insisted. “All during the campaign, Donald Trump kept citing Comey, and using Comey — once he was elected, he embraced Comey — and now to turn around months later and say, ‘Oh yeah, that was just terrible.’ There’s nobody left in America who believes Donald Trump fired James Comey because James Comey was mean to Hillary Clinton.”
NBC News’ Justice correspondent Pete Williams, meanwhile, reported on MSNBC that senior FBI officials “had no idea this was coming” and “they are in shock there.”
Over on Fox News, Bret Baier interviewed Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia. The Democrat, misidentified in the onscreen graphic as (R-Va.), said: “I was flabbergasted, to say the least. I think this president’s action is outrageous. I think the fact that we have now seen the FBI director fired, the acting attorney general fired, the current attorney general having to recuse himself – this is from an administration that says there’s no ‘there’ there in terms of our Russia investigation. To me it means we have to redouble our efforts. We need a special prosecutor, and we need everybody in both parties to step up and say, ‘Now more than ever we have to get to the bottom of where the facts lead us.’”
The stunning development comes the same day reports emerged that a grand jury had issued subpoenas in the FBI’s Russia investigation, to associates of ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. TV political pundits said the subpoenas represent a significant escalation of activity in that probe.
The firing also comes the same day Comey, an Obama appointee, came under fire for misstating in recent testimony that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin had forwarded thousands of emails to her then-husband Anthony Weiner. Comey, who Hillary Clinton recently credited with costing her the 2016 election, also is known for having knocked down Trump’s Twitter claim he’d been wiretapped by Obama.
The stunning news comes one day after former acting AG Sally Yates, previously fired by Trump, gave testimony about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn that was embarrassing to Trump’s White House.
Among those reacting, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement, “I have tremendous respect and admiration for Jim Comey. This is a tremendous loss for the FBI and for the nation.”
And Sen. Chuck Schumer, in a hastily called presser wondered why, if Trump had objections to the way Comey handled the FBI’s Clinton investigation, he had not fired Comey when he took office. “They did not fire him then. Why did it happen today?” the Senate minority leader asked, rhetorically. He called the move a “big mistake.”
Noting the House is probing Russian interference into the presidential election, Senate is doing same, and the FBI has been looking into whether Trump campaign associates colluded with Russian operatives during the election, Schumer asked “were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?” called it “troubling” that AG Sessions, who had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, played a role today in firing the man leading that investigation.
To which Trump responded Tuesday night via Twitter:
Julian Assange, meanwhile, gleefully pounced on the news:
Erik Pederson and Dominic Patten contributed to this report
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