The director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, has been fired.
President Donald Trump, in a blunt letter to Comey Tuesday, told him: “You are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.” The president added that Comey “is not able to effectively lead the bureau.”
FBI directors are appointed for a single 10-year term. Comey was appointed four years ago. He was in California when he was informed by staff of his firing.
So far, he has not made any public statement.
The reasons for Comey’s dismissal were outlined in two separate letters written by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein. They essentially accused Comey of taking the law into his own hands.
Comey “made serious mistakes” handling the conclusion of the investigation of emails of Trump’s general election opponent Hillary Clinton, wrote Rosenstein, accusing the FBI director of usurping the attorney general’s authority when Comey concluded there should be no prosecution of the former secretary of state.
It is not clear why President Trump took the action now concerning events that occurred months before he won last November’s presidential election.
The surprise move drew immediate strong reaction Tuesday evening along party lines in Congress.
Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he is “troubled by the timing and reasoning” of the Comey firing. He called the dismissal “a loss for the bureau and the nation.”
A Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, said “given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well.”
John McCain, a Republican who sits on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee, said of Comey’s firing “the president does have that authority. I respect that.”
Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee called Trump’s action “Nixonian” – a reference to President Richard Nixon’s firing of officials investigating him during the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s.
Democratic Party senators are calling for appointment of a special prosecutor to continue the Justice Department’s investigation into alleged ties between Trump’s presidential campaign last year and Russia.
On the Senate floor, Dick Durbin, a Democrat who is a member of the Judiciary Committee, said any attempt to halt or undermine the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the presidential campaign “would raise grave constitutional issues.”
House Minority Leader Schumer said he told Trump “you’re making a very big mistake” by firing Comey, amid various investigations connected to the president’s 2016 campaign.
“Why now?” added Schumer. “Are people going to suspect coverup? Absolutely.”
The Rosenstein memorandum is based on long-standing principles governing criminal investigations, but the timing – that is so problematic and concerning,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told VOA.
“This is an important move to restore public confidence in the fair administration of justice at the federal level,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Mr. Comey did not seem to understand some of the laws he was asked to investigate and unfortunately politicized his sensitive position as the FBI director. President Trump took the right step in cleaning house at the FBI.
Earlier Tuesday, the FBI notified Congress that Comey overstated a key finding in the investigation of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails during his congressional testimony last week. It said Comey erred when he told a congressional investigative panel that a Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, had sent “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton’s emails from the 2009 to 2013 period she was the U.S. secretary of state to Abedin’s estranged husband, disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner. The actual number was far fewer, officials said.
Comey, played a pivotal role in last year’s U.S. presidential election, in which Trump defeated Clinton.
Last July, Comey said Clinton was “extremely careless” in her handling of national security emails while she was the country’s top diplomat, but that no criminal charges were warranted.
Then, in late October, just before the election, Comey said he was reopening the investigation because the FBI had discovered the Clinton emails on Weiner’s computer.
Clinton blamed Comey’s reopened probe so close to Election Day on November 8 as one of the reasons she lost the election. Two days ahead of the election, the FBI director said that after investigators reviewed the new batch of emails it had found nothing new and upheld its original finding that no criminal charges should be filed against Clinton.
VOA’s Pete Heinlein contributed to this report.