News of James Comey’s shock firing as FBI Director today apparently came as a surprise to Comey himself who, according to the New York Times, first thought it was part of a prank.
Comey was addressing FBI staff in Los Angeles when he noticed a television in the background announcing that he had been fired.
He initially laughed and said he thought it was a joke until he was told by staff to step into a nearby office where it was confirmed he had in fact been fired.
However, he had not heard from the White House prior to this and he only received President Donald Trump’s letter, which had been delivered to the FBI headquarters, a short time later.
— NYT Politics (@nytpolitics) May 10, 2017
Trump’s decision to abruptly fire Comey ignited a fearsome political firestorm in the United States.
“Today, President Donald J. Trump informed Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office,” the White House revealed in a statement, which said Trump had acted on the advice of his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.
“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.
“A search for a new permanent FBI Director will begin immediately.”
— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) May 9, 2017
The White House statement did not elaborate on the reason for Mr Comey’s dismissal, though Mr Sessions’ recommendation to the President stated the government needed to “reaffirm its commitment” to “the integrity and fairness of federal investigations and prosecutions”.
In his termination letter to Comey, obtained by the media, the President was strikingly blunt.
“You are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately,” Trump wrote.
“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.
“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 luck in your future endeavours.”
Earlier this week, Comey testified to Congress about the FBI’s investigation into potential links between Russia and Trump’s campaign team. He first confirmed the existence of that investigation back in March.
During that appearance before Congress, Comey also covered the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, and misstated several facts.
Wow. letter from the WH notifying Director Comey of his immediate dismissal from office. pic.twitter.com/PXv5ILL5QH
— Pwn All The Things (@pwnallthethings) May 9, 2017
In a stinging editorial, the New York Times said Mr Trump’s action drew obvious parallel’s with Richard Nixon’s ordering the firing of the special prosecutor investigating Watergate in 1973.
The so-called Saturday Night Massacre sparked the resignation of the attorney general and his deputy.
The Times also said the American people deserved a thorough investigation into the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“By firing the FBI director, James Comey, late Tuesday afternoon, President Trump has cast grave doubt on the viability of any further investigation into what could be one of the biggest political scandals in the country’s history,” the editorial reads.
While acknowledging Mr Comey had bungled the investigation it stated this wasn’t the reason he was fired.
“Comey was fired because he was leading an active investigation that could bring down a president,” it reads.
Comey wouldn’t be the first to be fired by Trump since taking office.
In January the President fired Attorney-General Sally Yates over her refusal to support a ban on Muslim immigration.
In a statement the White House labelled the Obama Administration appointee “weak” and said she had “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.”
Her sacking was almost immediately followed by the dismissal of Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Daniel Ragsdale who was replaced by Thomas Homan.
In March a prominent prosecutor claimed the Trump administration fired him after he refused to quit.
New York US Attorney Preet Bharara’s defiant exit was announced over Twitter.
He said Trump had asked him to stay in his post in November and he refused to resign when asked to do so by the Justice Department but was fired in March.
Bharara is a political appointee who can be replaced when a new president takes office.
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