President Trump fires FBI Director James Comey, raising questions about Russia investigation

Thursday, May 11, 2017

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed James Comey from his position as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Officially, Comey was fired for mishandling the issue with former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's alleged misuse of private email servers, but Senate Democrats and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have raised concerns over whether the real reason may have been that Comey was leading the investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia and possible tampering with the election that placed Trump in high office.

James Comey with predecessor Robert S. Mueller and then-President Barack Obama.
Image: US Federal Government.

CNN reports a source within the White House told CNN reporter Dana Bash the President's office gave this reason intending to avoid controversy because many Democrats have also criticized Comey for mishandling the Clinton case, and some have blamed him for Clinton losing the election. Specifically, recently confirmed Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein released a memo criticizing Comey's statements in a July 2016 press conference, in which he called Hillary Clinton "extremely careless" for using private email servers to transmit government information but said she would not be charged with a crime. "The director was wrong to usurp the attorney general's authority on 5 July 2016, and announce his conclusion that the [Clinton] case should be closed without prosecution. [...] Compounding the error, the director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation," wrote Rosenstein.

"It simply defies logic that President Trump, who made the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails a centerpiece of his campaign, would all of the sudden convert to the view that Clinton was treated unfairly," said Democratic Senator Christopher S. Murphy. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin rejected it as "absurd." He went on to compare it to the dismissal of Archibald Cox during the Watergate scandal.

Anthony Romero of the ACLU also expressed concern: "The independence of the FBI director is meant to ensure that the president does not operate above the law. For President Trump to fire the man responsible for investigating his own campaign's ties to the Russians imperils that fundamental principle."

Most Republicans agreed with Trump's decision. Senator Chuck Grassley said, "The handling of the Clinton email investigation is a clear example of how Comey's decisions have called into question the trust and political independence of the FBI." However, Republican Representative Justin Amash referred to the rationale behind the dismissal as "bizarre" and said that he and his staff would look into laws that might allow the establishment of an independent commission to continue the Russia investigation. Such a commission has also been called for by Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Bob Casey.

Minority leader Chuck Schumer said, "If deputy attorney general Rosenstein does not appoint an independent special prosecutor, every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire director Comey was part of a cover-up."

Schumer was one of several Senate Democrats to ask for a special prosecutor or special counsel. Others, expressing themselves both by Tweet and traditional television interviews, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Cory Booker of New Jersey. However, special prosecutors are appointed by the U.S. Attorney General, in this case Jeff Sessions who recused himself from any further involvement in the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. According to ABC News chief legal analyst Dan Abrams, the responsibility would then fall to a deputy, who would be unlikey to act except in response to pressure from Congress.

President Trump responded, as is his custom, via tweet: "Cryin' Chuck Schumer stated recently, 'I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer.' Then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp" and "The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired, but now they play so sad!"

Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is to serve as acting head of the FBI until a replacement is confirmed.