President Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, a move that stunned the nation's capital and comes at a time when the bureau is in the midst of an investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during last year's presidential election.
"President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement. "President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions."
The sudden dismissal of the director comes less than two months after Comey testified to Congress that the bureau was "investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election," as well as "whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts." In March, Sessions recused himself from any involvement in inquiries into whether Russia interfered with U.S. elections after it was revealed he had not disclosed interactions with Russia's ambassador.
The stated reason for Comey's dismissal was his handling of Hillary Clinton's email investigation, particularly his statement in July announcing the end of the probe during which the FBI announced charges were "not appropriate in this case." A memo from Rosenstein also cited Comey's letter to Congress stating the FBI was examining new emails from Clinton just 11 days before the presidential election.
Both of those actions are widely thought to have hurt Clinton's candidacy and helped Trump win the election. On October 31, Trump praised Comey for having the "guts" to announce the FBI was examining new evidence in the Clinton email scandal. Now President Trump's Justice Department is arguing that Comey treated Clinton improperly.
"I cannot defend the Director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of secretary Clinton's emails, and I do not understand [Comey's] refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken," wrote Rosenstein in a memo to Sessions.
Clinton herself would likely agree. Just last week, she criticized Comey for sending the letter to Congress so late in the campaign and said that she would have "almost certainly won" if he hadn't taken that action. Comey defended himself the day after in front of the Senate. He argued he would have made the same decision again because he had to choose between two bad options: speak or conceal.
Rosenstein cited that defense in his memo as evidence that Comey refused "to admit his errors" and "cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions." But this stated rationale flies in the face of Trump's "lock her up" campaign last year.
Democrats immediately questioned whether the Trump administration was using the Clinton email case as an excuse to fire the man overseeing the investigation into his campaign's connections with Russia.
"Donald Trump's decision to fire [Comey] now, in the midst of an investigation into Trump associates and their ties to Russia, is outrageous," Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said in a statement and called for Comey to immediately testify before Congress.
Wyden, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee that is probing Russian interference in last year's election, added that "the president would do well to remember that in America, the truth always comes out."
Congressional Republicans, however, have backed up Trump so far. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has been a frequent Trump critic, said in a statement: "Given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well."
Here's Trump's letter firing Sessions:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recommendation that Comey be dismissed:
The deputy attorney general's recommendation: