WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey 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 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 role in an investigation into Democrat 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.
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.''
James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty)
The White House said the search for a new FBI director was beginning immediately.
Tuesday's stunning announcement came shortly after the FBI corrected a sentence in Comey's sworn testimony on Capitol Hill last week. Comey told lawmakers that Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, had sent "hundreds and thousands'' of emails to her husband's laptop, including some with classified information.
On Tuesday, the FBI said in a two-page letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that only "a small number'' of the thousands of emails found on the laptop had been forwarded there while most had simply been backed up from electronic devices. Most of the email chains on the laptop containing classified information were not the result of forwarding, the FBI said.
Letters from Trump, Sessions, and Rosenstein on James Comey pic.twitter.com/msc7QBV3xL— Allan Smith (@akarl_smith) May 9, 2017
Comey, 56, was nominated by President Barack Obama for the FBI post in 2013 to a 10-year term. Praised for his independence and integrity, Comey has spent three decades in law enforcement and has been no stranger to controversy.
Before the past months' controversies, Comey was perhaps best known for a remarkable 2004 standoff with top officials in the George W. Bush administration over a federal domestic surveillance program.
As the deputy attorney general, Comey rushed to the hospital bed of Attorney General John Ashcroft to physically stop White House officials in their bid to get his ailing boss to reauthorize a secret no-warrant wiretapping program.
A copy of the termination letter to FBI Director James Comey from US President Donald Trump is seen at the White House on Tuesday. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)
Comey described the incident in 2007 testimony to Congress, explaining that he believed the spy program put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks was legally questionable.
When he learned that Andrew Card, the president's chief of staff, and Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel, were heading to Ashcroft's hospital room despite Ashcroft's wife's instructions that there be no visitors, Comey told Congress, Comey beat them there and watched as Ashcroft turned them away.
"That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life,'' Comey said.
Here's the full statement from the White House Press Secretary:
Today, President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office. President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and 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,” said President Trump.
A search for a new permanent FBI Director will begin immediately.
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