News

Trump Fires FBI Director

The surprise move comes days after James Comey testified before the U.S. Senate

May 10, 2017
BAO DANDAN—XINHUA/GETTY IMAGES

FBI Director James Comey testified before the U.S. Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., on May 3. Comey defended his decision to announce a new investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails while staying quiet on the Trump-Russia one prior to the 2016 U.S. elections.

President Donald Trump has fired Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey, the White House said in a statement Tuesday evening. The FBI is a government organization in charge of investigating federal crimes.

"Today President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office," press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement. The decision was based on recommendations from the top officials in the Justice Department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

"It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission," President Trump wrote in a letter to Comey.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, reacts to questions on the firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, early Wednesday, May 10.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE—AP
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, reacts to questions on the firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, early Wednesday, May 10.

A Controversial Decision

Although press secretary Spicer insisted that plans to fire Comey had not been in the works for a long time, the decision was controversial. Both Democrats and Republicans questioned the political motives behind the decision, particularly as it related to the Russia investigation. Comey testified in March that the FBI was investigating possible ties between associates of the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

After the announcement, calls for an independent prosecutor into the investigation immediately increased, mostly from Democrats, but also from some Republicans. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer spoke in favor of a special investigation, saying he thought that attorney general Sessions and deputy attorney general Rosenstein should answer questions from the Senate about the decision to fire Comey. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell disagreed with this idea, saying it would “impede the current work being done.”

Trump's decision means that the bureau is conducting that investigation without a permanent head. Andrew McCabe is the former deputy director of the agency. He will take Comey's place for the time being. The White House said a search for a new director will begin "immediately." Trump now has the ability to choose whom he will appoint in Comey’s place.

Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, holds a news conference on May 9 at the U.S. Capitol following the firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump. Schumer said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must now appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

CHIP SOMODEVILLA—GETTY IMAGES
Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, holds a news conference on May 9 at the U.S. Capitol following the firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump. Schumer said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must now appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Explanations for the Change

Comey received much attention during the 2016 presidential race. In July of that year, he announced that then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would not be charged with any crimes for her use of a private email server to conduct business when she served as secretary of state. Then, just 11 days before the election, he sent a letter to Congress stating that the FBI had found more of Clinton’s emails. An investigation into those emails later revealed no new information about the case. But critics claim his letter had already influenced the election.

The recommendation by deputy attorney general Rosenstein to fire Comey centered on Comey's decision not to charge Clinton for her use of a private email server. "I cannot defend the Director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgement that he was mistaken," Rosenstein wrote Tuesday.

At most, Rosenstein argued, Comey should have said the FBI completed its investigation and handed it over to federal prosecutors.

The announcement of Comey’s firing came shortly after the FBI acknowledged that he had misspoken during his testimony last week. Comey had said that Clinton aide Huma Abedin forwarded thousands of emails to her husband, former Congressman Anthony Weiner. The FBI sent a letter explaining that most of the emails were backed up on Weiner’s computer, not forwarded by Abedin.

"There were thousands of Secretary Clinton' s emails on that device, including what they thought might be the missing emails from her first three months as Secretary of State," Comey said last Wednesday. "If there was evidence she was acting of bad intent, that's where it would be."

With reporting from Zeke J. Miller


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