In a stunning turn of events, FBI Director James Comey has been fired. In a letter informing Comey of his termination, President Donald Trump wrote that he made the decision on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and newly minted deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation,” Trump wrote to Comey, “I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.” The president concluded his letter by noting, “I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.”
Comey, who was himself the deputy attorney general of the United States under George W. Bush, has been the director of the FBI since 2013, when he was appointed to the position by President Obama. Comey became embroiled in controversy during the 2016 presidential campaign, when his agency was placed in the extraordinary position of investigating both members of the Trump campaign for possible involvement in Russian efforts to interfere with the election and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, for her handling of classified information stored on a private email server.
The investigation into Clinton’s emails was closed in July, with Comey recommending no criminal charges. But on Oct. 28, just days before the election, Comey sent a letter to Congress indicating the investigation had been reopened because of the potential discovery of new emails related to the probe. The FBI reported a week later that it had found no evidence of wrongdoing, but Comey’s decision to send the letter is thought to have been a decisive factor in Clinton’s defeat in November. In recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey said, “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election, but honestly, it wouldn’t change the decision.”
In a memo to Sessions titled “Restoring Public Confidence in the FBI,” Rosenstein argues that “the FBI’s reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage” in the past year under Comey’s stewardship. In the memo, which can be read in full here via NBC’s Katy Tur, Rosenstein states he “cannot defend” Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation—including his decision to publicly announce in July that he was not recommending charges be brought against her—and does “not understand [Comey’s] refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.”
In a White House press release, Trump is quoted as saying, “The FBI is one of our Nation’s most cherished and respected institutions and today will make a new beginning for our crown jewel of law enforcement.”