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Donald Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey In Midst Of Russia Probe

There's one really weird line in the letter.

10/05/2017 08:33 BST | Updated 10/05/2017 09:05 BST

Donald Trump has fired James Comey, the head of the FBI who was leading the investigation into links between the president’s associates and Russian interference in the election.

Here’s a rundown of the seven most salient points.

1) The Stated Reason

In a letter to Comey, Trump said the firing was necessary to restore “public trust and confidence” in the FBI.

Comey has come under intense scrutiny in recent months for his public comments on an investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email practices, including two letters he sent to Congress on the matter in the closing days of last year’s campaign.

Clinton has said the comments cost her the election.

This obviously benefitted Trump in his race to the White House and he has not been critical of Comey in the past - in fact he praised his “guts” for pursuing the matter and said he did “the right thing”.

In a tweet last October Trump even said Comey should have acted sooner.

2) The Real Reason?

Many commentators believe the motive behind the firing is obvious and The New York Times were made it perfectly clear in an editorial:

Mr. Comey was fired because he was leading an active investigation that could bring down a president. Though compromised by his own poor judgment, Mr. Comey’s agency has been pursuing ties between the Russian government and Mr. Trump and his associates, with potentially ruinous consequences for the administration.

3) The Inspiration

The recommendation for the shock move came from Attorney General Jeff Sessions who in March had to recuse himself from the same investigation for failing to disclose two meetings with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in 2016.

4) The Timing

Comey was addressing FBI colleagues in Los Angeles when the news of his firing aired on a TV news channel playing in the room. 

He initially though it was a “fairly funny prank” until frantic staff ushered him into a side room and he was handed the letter written by the President.

5) The Weird Bit

The full letter reads:

Dear Director Comey:

I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.

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 the public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.

I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. Donald J. Trump

What is odd is the line: “... I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation”.

The White House could not elaborate on when these three occasions were and Comey has not said anything publicly to that effect.

He has however, confirmed an FBI investigation “that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government”.

The purposeful inclusion of the line betrays Trump’s ongoing obsession with the scandal and the lengths he will go to to deflect attention away from it, as seen in recent tweets.

6) The Historical Echoes

Democrats slammed Trump’s action, comparing it to President Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” decision to fire the independent special prosecutor overseeing the Watergate investigation in 1973, which prompted the resignations of the Justice Department’s top two officials.

Bettmann via Getty Images
President Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

“This is Nixonian,” Senator Bob Casey, declared on Twitter. “Outrageous,” said Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, calling for Comey to immediately be summoned to testify to Congress about the status of the Trump-Russia investigation. Representative Adam Schiff of California, top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said the White House was “brazenly interfering” in the probe, reports the Associated Press.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said Congress must form a special committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the election.

7) The Fallout

It will be huge. It already is. 

Representative John Conyers, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said: “Today’s action by President Trump completely obliterates any semblance of an independent investigation into Russian efforts to influence our election, and places our nation on the verge of a constitutional crisis.

“Today’s actions reek of a cover up and appear to be part of an ongoing effort by the Trump White House to impede the investigation into Russian ties and interference in our elections.”

Democrat Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, said yesterday he had told Trump personally that the firing was a “big mistake”.

Trump’s announcement Tuesday flouts decades of presidential deference to the nation’s top law enforcement agency and its independence. It earns Trump the dubious distinction of being the first president since Nixon to fire the official overseeing an investigation involving the commander in chief. And it cements a clear pattern of a man willing to challenge - in dramatic fashion - the institutions created to hold the president accountable.

Comey was four years into a customary ten-year role.

That’s why this is unprecedented,” said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian. “He’s showed signs of not having a great deal of respect for the system by which this investigation has been operating.”

Yet Trump faces plenty of risk. If he intended to defuse the FBI investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia in last year’s election, firing Comey may well have the opposite effect. Outraged Democrats swiftly called for an independent prosecutor, and some apprehensive Republicans said they, too, were disturbed by the president’s decision.

Trump attained his White House goal after a decades-long career in business during which he was accountable to few people other than himself. Thus, he has chafed at the constitutionally mandated constraints on the presidency. Within days of taking the oath of office, he suddenly fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates - a career Justice Department official - after she refused to defend the White House’s controversial travel and immigration ban. When the federal courts blocked that measure as well, Trump aggressively castigated individual judges as political actors and challenged the court’s role in curbing a president’s policies.

No matter which president originally appoints them - Comey was tapped by Barack Obama in 2013 - almost all FBI directors are allowed to serve out their full 10-year terms under successor commanders in chief. Bill Clinton is the only other president to fire an FBI chief, amid questions about the director’s use of FBI aircraft for personal purposes.

The Trump White House cited Comey’s handling of last year’s investigation into Clinton’s email practices as the cause for the firing, and, to be sure, Comey left himself vulnerable.

He was widely criticised for heavy-handed and high-profile decisions in the case, particularly when he sent a letter to Congress 10 days before the election saying the bureau was looking at new information related to the inquiry. He said at the time that the new information related to emails found on a laptop belonging to the husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin, the disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner.