WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, ousting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the midst of an investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had ties to Russia’s election meddling.
In a statement, Trump said Comey’s firing came at the recommendations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy and “will mark a new beginning” for the FBI.
The White House said the search for a new FBI director will begin immediately.
Comey has come under intense scrutiny in recent months for his role in an investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s email practices, including a pair of letters he sent to Congress on the matter in the closing days of last year’s election.
BREAKING: WH statement. Letter from Trump to Comey. And AG Sessions recommendation. pic.twitter.com/BPjIJ4MVvH
— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) May 9, 2017
Trump made no mention of Comey’s role in the Clinton investigation, but the president did assert that Comey informed him “on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation.”
But in announcing the firing, the White House circulated a scathing memo, written by deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton probe, including the director’s decision to hold a news conference announcing its findings and releasing “derogatory information” about Clinton.
In his letter to Comey, Trump wrote that while he appreciates the information, “I nevertheless concur with the judgement 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,” Trump added.
The firing of an FBI director is exceedingly rare. Democrats slammed the move, comparing it to President Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” decision to fire the independent special prosecutor overseeing the Watergate investigation, prompting the resignations of the Justice Department’s top two officials.
“This is Nixonian,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., declared on Twitter. “Outrageous,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, calling for Comey to immediately be summoned to testify to Congress about the status of the Trump-Russia investigation
Trump has ridiculed the FBI investigation, as well as concurrent congressional investigations, as a “hoax” and has denied that his campaign was involved in Russia’s election meddling.
The White House said in a statement Tuesday that “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.”
Comey’s firing comes days after he testified on Capitol Hill about the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s election meddling and possible connections between Russia and Trump’s campaign.
In his recommendation letter to Trump, Sessions said the FBI needed a “fresh start” and should be led by “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.”
In early March, Sessions had recused himself from the investigation over accusations he misrepresented the nature of conversations during the campaign with the Russian ambassador to the US.
Comey, 56, was nominated by former US President Barack Obama for the FBI post in 2013 to a 10-year term.