President Donald Trump shocked the political world late Tuesday night by firing FBI Director James Comey.
Trump’s White House made the announcement about 5:45 p.m., an unexpected move that stunned the media.
Soon after, the White House released the letter it gave to Comey. In it, Trump made a point of saying Comey had told him multiple times that Trump himself was not under investigation.
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“While I greatly appreciate you informing 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 wrote to Comey. “It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”
“I know this was a difficult decision for all concerned,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “I appreciate Director Comey’s service to our nation in a variety of roles. 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.”
CNN commentators, of course, freaked out.
“This is a grotesque abuse of power,” said Jeffrey Toobin, CNN legal analyst and a liberal pundit known for scolding conservatives.
Toobin said the firing reminded him of former President Richard Nixon’s firing of a special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was looking into the Watergate break-in scandal.
“I mean, what kind of country is this?” Toobin asked.
But CNN also reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, recommended the firing. Rosenstein, in particular, is widely respected as an apolitical figure by the legal community and lawmakers of both parties.
Part of the rationale, ironically, was how Comey treated Democrat Hillary Clinton. The Justice Department said Comey should not have held a July press conference detailing Hillary Clinton’s non-indictment.
Trump’s firing of Comey was odd for several reasons.
For one, Comey was praised by Trump in the White House only a few days after the January 20 inauguration. At that meeting on January 23, in front of cameras, Trump told Comey he was “more famous than me.”
Comey then shook Trump’s hand and hugged him.
Comey reportedly frustrated the White House by refusing to flatly end speculation fueled by Democrats’ constant charges that Russia coordinated election hacking efforts with Trump advisers. Trump takes the charges as a personal insult. Neither investigators nor the media have produced one iota of proof that Trump’s campaign or associates colluded with Russian hackers to target Clinton in the 2016 election.
Comey also helped seal his fate with a series of recent fumbles in congressional testimony. Comey told Congress during testimony on May 4 that former Clinton aide Huma Abedin sent “hundreds and thousands” to her residence, to have her husband, disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), print them out.
ProPublica reported that the number was likely far fewer than that, and that the FBI thinks the emails turned up on Weiner’s computer because of backup programs.
The other problem with Comey’s testimony about Abedin’s computer habits was about the materials themselves. Comey said the emailed documents were classified. But it appears they were not classified at the time. The FBI is reportedly in the process of correcting Comey’s testimony to Congress.
Rank-and-file agents at the FBI, too, have long been reported to be unhappy with Comey.
Comey violated FBI and Justice Department protocols by holding a July news conference to announce he would not be recommending an indictment in the investigation into Clinton’s email server scandal.
Republicans and, reportedly, many FBI agents were incensed. Several media reports suggested rank-and-file agents felt Clinton had clearly broken the law in her handling of classified information.
Joseph diGenova, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia under President Ronald Reagan, was so angry over the incident, he told LifeZette last fall that Comey was a “dirty cop.”
But then Comey shocked Democrats by issuing a bombshell October 28 letter to Congress. In the letter, Comey said that newfound emails on Abedin and Weiner’s computers meant the FBI had to reopen the investigation into Clinton’s email scandal.
Clinton promptly denounced the decision. But then Comey, mindful he had just affected the election, promised to examine the emails before Election Day. Just two days before November 8, Comey said the investigation found nothing. He again closed the books on Clinton — once again irking Republicans.
For Trump, the final straw was likely Comey’s recent testimony about Russian hacking that did not make plain Trump wasn’t a target of the investigation.
Trump and Sessions subsequently decided they wanted to be rid of the unpredictable Mr. Comey.