WASHINGTON — Six days after FBI Director James Comey briefed senators on his agency’s ongoing criminal investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, and defended his handling of Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, President Trump fired him.
Comey, a former deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, was appointed to lead the FBI in 2013 for a 10-year term. He was scheduled to testify in an open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday.
The White House said Comey was canned “on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”
The director’s termination came less than 24 hours after Trump tweeted, “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”
The letter telling Comey he was being fired was hand-delivered to the FBI by Keith Schiller, Trump’s security guard, but Comey was out of town in California. Rank-and-file FBI reportedly learned about the termination from news reports instead of any internal notification.
Press secretary Sean Spicer said a “search for a new permanent FBI Director will begin immediately.” Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who has been with the FBI since 1996, takes the interim reins.
“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 in a statement.
Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that he felt “mildly nauseous” at any thought that his actions in the Clinton email investigation could have handed the election to Donald Trump, but he’d make the same decision again.
Comey was also tight-lipped in response to any probing questions about the progress of the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, refusing to answer when Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked if President Trump was among the campaign figures ruled out in the investigation. “Not going to comment on anyone in particular,” Comey told the senator.
It was revealed Monday that Comey overstated the amount of Hillary Clinton’s emails Huma Abedin forwarded to Anthony Weiner to print. The FBI was reportedly seeking to correct Comey’s testimony, in which he said Abedin “forwarded hundreds and thousands of emails, some of which contain classified information.”
The director confirmed publicly in March that the FBI has been investigating potential Trump-Russia ties since July.
The day after testifying to the Senate hearing last week, Comey gave a closed-door update on the Russia investigation to the House Intelligence Committee, at which he reportedly revealed few new details on the probe.
The White House released what it said was the letter Trump sent to Comey, in which the president claims Comey told him “on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation.”
Comey’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s emails was cited by administration officials in the decision to fire Comey. “The Director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s [Loretta Lynch] authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution,” Rosenstein wrote in a memo released by the White House detailing their reasoning.
The administration did not wait for an inspector general’s report into how the Bureau handled the investigation and public announcements.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who led last week’s hearing, said in a statement that “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,” Graham said.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) slammed the firing as “Nixonian,” demanding that Rosenstein “immediately appoint a special prosecutor to continue the Trump/Russia investigation.”
This story was updated at 7:20 p.m. EST