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. He also said, “I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.”
According to the White House, the firing is effective immediately, and 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.”
Regarding 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, Rosenstein criticized Comey for casting the decision as a question of whether he should “conceal” the investigation.
“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,” Rosenstein wrote. “In that context, silence is not concealment.”
Rosenstein’s memo does not mention the FBI investigation into possible links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
The firing has already drawn criticism. Here’s a statement from American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero:
The independence of the FBI director is meant to ensure that the president does not operate above the law. For President Trump to fire the man responsible for investigating his own campaign’s ties to the Russians imperils that fundamental principle.
Regardless of how one judges the performance of James Comey in either the Hillary Clinton or Russia investigations, President Trump’s dismissal of a sitting FBI director raises serious alarm bells for our system of checks and balances.
And here’s another from Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat:
I have 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. 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 U.S. president has only dismissed the FBI director once before — when President Bill Clinton fired William Sessions in 1993.