Trump fires FBI Director James Comey; Democrats question timing

"This smacks of an obstruction of justice," Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday.
By Doug G. Ware  |  May 9, 2017 at 5:59 PM
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May 9 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James B. Comey Tuesday on recommendations from the top two officials in the U.S. Department of Justice.

"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 in a letter to Comey.

The president said he acted on the "clear" advice of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

"I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately," Trump's letter stated. "It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors."

The White House said the search to replace Comey, the bureau's chief since 2013, will begin immediately.

Sessions and Rosenstein each sent letters to Trump on Tuesday recommending that he fire Comey. Sessions said he felt "a fresh start" was needed at the bureau.

"The director of the FBI must be someone who follows faithfully the rules and principles of the Department of Justice and who sets the right example for our law enforcement officials and others," Sessions wrote.

In his memorandum, Rosenstein said the FBI has taken damage to its reputation and credibility over the last year.

Comey's dismissal followed the revelation Tuesday that he made a mistake while testifying in Congress last week. He incorrectly testified that former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin had forwarded "hundreds of thousands" of emails relevant to the bureau's investigation to the laptop of her estranged husband, former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner.

The FBI corrected the error in a letter to Congress earlier Tuesday, addressed to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

"Most of the emails found on Mr. Weiner's laptop computer related to the Clinton investigation occurred as a result of a backup of personal electronic devices," the letter read.

The FBI noted the clear distinction between manually forwarding emails and having them uploaded via standard backup processes. The bureau said of nearly 50,000 emails on Weiner's computer that were pertinent to the Clinton investigation, it found that only two with classified information were forwarded manually by Abedin and 10 were sent via the backup process.

"That is deeply troubling," Rosenstein wrote in his recommendation to Trump. "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 judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes."

Rosenstein's letter also criticized Comey, 56, for announcing last July that no charges should be filed against Clinton.

"It is not the function of the director to make such an announcement," he wrote. "The FBI director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department.

"The way the director handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong."

Democrats have criticized Comey for six months over the decision to announce potential new evidence in the Clinton email investigation just 10 days before the U.S. presidential election -- an extremely unusual move that violated government guidelines. Democrats, particularly Clinton, have said that decision was a major factor in the party's electoral loss to Trump on Nov. 8. Rosenstein also said in his recommendation that Comey's pre-election announcement was inappropriate.

Comey's firing shocked Democrats, many of whom questioned its timing -- and whether it might be aimed at the Justice Department's Russia investigation.

"Why did it happen today?" Senate minority leader Charles Schumer asked, saying the administration has known about Comey's handling of the Clinton case for nearly a year. "We know the House is investigating Russian interference in our elections that benefited the Trump campaign. We know the Senate is investigating. We know the FBI has been looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians.

"Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president? ... This is part of a deeply troubling pattern from the Trump administration."

Trump fired back on Twitter: "Cryin' Chuck Schumer stated recently, 'I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer.' Then acts so indignant."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said Comey's dismissal "smacks of an obstruction of justice."

"It's clearly part of a cover-up, and it's part of a pattern -- he fired Yates, he fired [U.S. Attorney] Preet Bharara, and now he fires Comey," he added.

"The president cannot appoint and fire and appoint his own investigator. That's the key here. This is the same as when Nixon fired Archibald Cox. You can't control your own investigator."

In the 1973 Cox episode, now known as the "Saturday Night Massacre," Nixon fired the special Watergate prosecutor in a move that also led Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to resign.

Nixon's presidential library in California commented on Comey's firing.

"Fun fact: President Nixon never fired the director of the FBI," the library said in a tweet.

Republicans have railed against Comey in recent weeks, particularly for his leadership in the Justice Department investigation into Russian links to the Trump campaign. Comey was also criticized by the administration for effectively debunking Trump's claims that his Manhattan headquarters had been wiretapped by former President Barack Obama.

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