The abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey has cast further suspicion over the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Comey is the second FBI director to ever be removed from the position.
According to a letter written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, addressed to the attorney general, the probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server was “the nation’s most sensitive criminal investigation” and he “cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation.”
President Trump and his team have long said Comey did not come down hard enough on Clinton, while Democrats previously slammed the director for his timing of releasing information about Clinton.
The letter points to Comey’s very public discussion of his findings as well as his failure to present his evidence to federal prosecutors. Rosenstein calls Comey’s choice to comment on “derogatory information” at a press conference “a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”
The letter makes no reference to the Russia investigation — which has become a large concern for political leaders from both parties. Rosenstein will now lead the investigation.
Comey’s former deputy, Andrew McCabe, will serve as acting director until an interim director is appointed.
And while Trump said in a separate letter that the firing was essential to restore “public trust and confidence” in the FBI, it has only created more mistrust in Trump’s own administration.
In the letter Trump says the firing came at the recommendation of Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the Russia investigation after it was discovered he had two previously undisclosed conversations with Russia’s U.S. ambassador to Washington.
Sessions’ involvement in the firing of Comey has therefore raised concerns.
“If any doubts remained about the need for a transparent, impartial and independent investigation into the Trump Administration, the firing of Director Comey surely eliminates them,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). “It is not clear why Attorney General Sessions, who previously claimed he would recuse himself from all Russia-related matters, was involved in firing the law enforcement official leading the Russia investigation.”
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) called Sessions’ involvement “a complete betrayal of his commitment to the public that he wouldn’t be involved in the investigation.”
“It is deeply troubling that President Trump just fired the person in charge of investigating his ties to Russia, and the President’s stated reasons for firing Director Comey are difficult to believe,” Franken said. “We know that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election, that they did so to undermine confidence in American democracy and that they wanted Donald Trump to become President. The intelligence community has confirmed that.”
Duckworth called for an independent investigator to take over, as did Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
“The termination and removal of James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation raises the critical question as to whether the FBI investigation of Russian interference in the last presidential campaign will continue and as to whether the investigation of any collusion or involvement by the Trump campaign will also be investigated by the FBI,” Durbin said in a statement. “Any attempt to stop or undermine this FBI investigation would raise grave constitutional issues.”
“President Trump has repeatedly taken steps to kill inquiries into Russia’s involvement in the U.S. election,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who also called for an independent body to investigate. “It is clear that whomever President Trump handpicks to lead the FBI will not be able to objectively carry out this investigation.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the firing “part of a troubling pattern.”
“They fired Sally Yates. They fired Preet Bharara. And now they fired Director Comey, the very man leading the [Russia] investigation,” Schumer said. “This does not seem to be a coincidence.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he is “disappointed” by the president’s sudden decision.
“I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election,” he said. “The president’s decision to remove the FBI Director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee.”
An unnamed former federal prosecutor told the Washington Post that part of the investigation may be put on hold in the interim.
“No big-time decisions will be made until they appoint a new FBI director,” the source said. “It’s just a big thing. The FBI will make a recommendation to the Justice Department as to whether or not to go forward, and you’re going to want an FBI director to make that kind of decision, I would think.”
Even former Clinton staffers said they were disturbed by the timing of Comey’s dismissal.
“I’m suspicious that this has more to do with the FBI’s investigation of Trump than Clinton,” said Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s former communications director.
“Really, he’s doing it to get out from under the Russia investigation,” said Brian Fallon, a former Clinton aide. “The only thing that can happen now is we need a special counsel inside the Justice Department.”
Former Clinton spokesperson Glen Caplin took to Twitter to call for an independent investigation.
I am no Comey fan, but POTUS firing FBI Director conducting investigation into campaign is indefensible. Need independent investigation ASAP https://t.co/YtdtgLA0a6
— Glen Caplin (@GlenCaplin1) May 9, 2017
Flynn out, Sessions had to recuse himself, Nunes had to step aside, Epshteyn shipped out of the WH, Comey fired…notice any similarities
— Glen Caplin (@GlenCaplin1) May 9, 2017
The last FBI director to be fired prior to Comey was William Sessions, who served from 1987 until he was dismissed by former President Bill Clinton in 1993. Sessions’ behavior had raised ethical concerns but he refused to resign, forcing Clinton to fire him. The New York Times reported in 1993:
“The Justice Department report found, among other things, that Sessions had engaged in a sham transaction to avoid paying taxes on his use of an FBI limousine to take him to and from work, that he had billed the government for a security fence around his home that provided no security and that he had arranged business trips to places where he could meet with relatives.”
The Washington Post reported at the time that despite repeated concerns over Sessions’ ethics, his dismissal took a long time and was not a decision made lightly:
“Although a Clinton spokesman immediately described the report as ‘disturbing’ and administration officials concluded within weeks of taking office that Sessions had to be replaced, the White House permitted him to stay on for months — a delay that senior FBI officials say badly demoralized the bureau and exacerbated an already painful rift between the director and top bureau managers.”