Today will mark a new beginning for our crown jewel of law enforcement,’ Trump says in a statement.
President Donald Trump has fired FBI Director James Comey—a move that comes as the FBI is probing contacts between Trump’s campaign aides and Russian officials ahead of last year’s presidential election.
“The president has accepted the recommendation of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general regarding the dismissal of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
The extraordinary dismissal of the FBI director by a president whose own campaign is the focus of an ongoing FBI investigation is sure to produce a torrent of criticism that Trump is interfering with the independence of law enforcement.
In a letter to Comey, Trump seemed eager to inoculate himself against the certain outcry that Comey’s firing was intended to impede that high-profile inquiry.
“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 wrote. “It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”
Letters released by the administration indicated that Trump’s decision rested on a surprising predicate: that Comey acted improperly last July when he publicly announced the closing of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email account and again in October when he informed Congress that the probe was being reopened.
Those actions were sharply criticized by former Justice Department officials as unwise departures from the agency’s usual policies for handling investigations. The White House sought to pre-empt criticism of Comey’s firing by circulating quotes from top Democratic lawmakers saying they had lost confidence in Comey over those actions.
What was puzzling about the White House’s approach was that during the presidential campaign last year, Trump repeatedly cited Comey’s public castigation of Clinton for being “extremely careless” with classified information.
“Just look at what the FBI director said about her — her misconduct is a disgrace and embarrassment to our country,” Trump said shortly after Comey’s announcement last July, while complaining that Clinton should have been charged with a crime.
When Comey re-opened the inquiry in October, Trump also praised that move. Before Tuesday, he had given no hint that he was concerned with Comey’s public statements on the issue.
A White House statement issued Tuesday quoted the president as saying he wanted “a new beginning” for the FBI.
“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,” Trump said.
There was no immediate comment from Comey, who was appointed FBI director by former President Barack Obama in 2013. By law, FBI directors enjoy a ten-year term that is intended to span at least two presidencies and insulate the director from political pressures.
The White House statement said a search for a replacement for Comey “will begin immediately.”
Word of the firing came just minutes after the FBI sent Congress a letter clarifying testimony Comey gave to a Senate panel last week suggesting that former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin forwarded thousands of potentially sensitive emails to her husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner.
A top FBI official sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday saying that the bulk of the transfer of data Comey mentioned “occurred as a result of a backup of personal electronic devices, with a small number a result of manual forwarding by Ms. Abedin to Mr. Weiner.”
Comey also backed away from a claim that Abedin had a “regular practice” of forwarding messages to Weiner for him to print out.
The FBI letter says Abedin “manually forwarded” two email chains containing classified information to Weiner’s account. It does not say how sensitive the information was or whether it was classified at the time it was sent.
Comey’s dismissal is not entirely without precedent. In 1993, President Bill Clinton fired FBI Director William Sessions, citing a Justice Department report that found various ethical lapses involving his taxes and the installation of a fence at his home at government expense.