Why did Trump fire James Comey? The main reasons explained

Mr Comey was an Obama administration appointee who received bipartisan support

Alexandra Wilts
Washington DC
Wednesday 10 May 2017 11:23 BST
Why did Donald Trump fire James Comey?

President Donald Trump has fired FBI director James Comey over the way he handled the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, based on documents provided by the White House.

Mr Comey, an Obama administration appointee who formerly received bipartisan support, was also leading a probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and alleged links between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

“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,” Mr Trump said in a letter to Mr Comey.

“It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission,” Mr Trump added.

Senator Dick Durbin said on the Senate floor that the firing of Mr Comey raises questions “as to whether the Russian interference in the last presidential election... will also be investigated by the FBI.”

Mr Durbin called on the White House to clarify whether the investigation will continue, adding that any attempt to stop or undermine the FBI probe would “raise grave constitutional issues”.

In announcing the president’s decision, the White House said Mr Trump acted based on the recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“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 in the Department,” Mr Sessions wrote in a letter to Mr Trump. “Therefore, I must recommend that you remove Director James B Comey, Jr and identify an experienced and qualified individual to lead the great men and women of the FBI.”

Clinton email investigation

In a memo to Mr Sessions, Mr Rosenstein said he could not defend Mr Comey’s “refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken” in his handling of the email investigation.

Appearing before a Senate committee last week, Mr Comey said it made him “mildly nauseous” to think that his decision to disclose the probe may have impacted the election, but that he stood by his choice.

Mr Comey sent a letter on 28 October to congressional leaders saying the FBI would continue investigating whether Ms Clinton sent additional classified emails from a private email server while she was Secretary of State. In July, he had recommended that no charges be filed against Ms Clinton or her aides, effectively closing the email inquiry.

“The Director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution,” Mr Rosenstein wrote. “It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement. At most, the Director should have said the FBI completed its investigation and presented its findings to federal prosecutors.”

Mr Comey told the senators last week he had not done this because he believed that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict, after she had privately met with former President Bill Clinton while Ms Clinton was running for president.

Regarding Mr Comey’s letter to Congress in October, Mr Rosenstein said the FBI Director during the Senate hearing cast his choice between whether he could ‘speak’ about his decision to investigate the newly-discovered email messages or ‘conceal’ it.

“‘Conceal’ is a loaded term that misstates the issue,” Mr Rosenstein wrote. “When federal agents and prosecutors quietly open a criminal investigation, we are not concealing anything; we are simply following the longstanding policy that we refrain from publicising non-public information. In that context, silence is not concealment.”

Mr Comey’s handling of the email probe has been sharply criticised by Democrats. Now top-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Charles Schumer told Bloomberg in November before the election that he no longer had confidence in Mr Comey.

Ms Clinton said last week that she takes responsibility for her election loss but believes the FBI email investigation played a key part.

“If the election had been on October 27, I would be your president,” the former Secretary of State said.

Possible perjury

Hours before Mr Comey was fired, the FBI Director was accused of making a false claim while under oath during his Senate testimony about Ms Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin.

Mr Comey had said that Ms Abedin “forwarded hundreds and thousands of emails” from then-Secretary of State Clinton to husband and disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner. But lawyers for Ms Abedin said she did not know how the emails got onto his laptop.

The FBI was allegedly preparing a letter to correct the record to be sent to the Senate. However, ProPublica reports that the agency is now “undecided about what to do”.

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