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Trump fires FBI director Comey

Julie Pace
Associated Press

Washington — President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey Tuesday, dramatically ousting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the midst of an FBI investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had ties to Russia’s meddling in the election that sent him to the White House.

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 a pair of letters he sent to Congress on the matter in the closing days of last year’s campaign.

Trump made no mention of Comey’s role in the Clinton investigation, which she has blamed in part for the election result. But in announcing the firing, the White House circulated a scathing memo, written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton probe, including the director’s decision to hold a news conference announcing its findings and releasing “derogatory information” about Clinton.

Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the bureau’s Trump-Russia probe, Rosenstein, his deputy, has been in charge.

Trump, in a letter to Comey informing him of his dismissal, said he had accepted the recommendation. He added that he “greatly appreciate(d) you informing me on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”

Rep. Justin Amash, a Grand Rapids area Republican, in a tweet called parts of Trump’s letter “bizarre” and said his staff is “reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia.”

This is only the second firing of an FBI director in history. President Bill Clinton dismissed William Sessions amid allegations of ethical lapses in 1993.

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.

“This is Nixonian,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must immediately appoint a special counsel to continue the Trump/Russia investigation. This investigation must be independent and thorough in order to uphold our nation’s system of justice.”

Comey was scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. It was unclear whether that appearance would take place.

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

Democrats expressed deep skepticism about the stated reasons for Tuesday’s firing, raising the prospect of a White House effort to stymie the investigations by the FBI and congressional panels.

Trump will now appoint Comey’s successor. The White House said the search for a replacement was beginning immediately. Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe, takes over in the interim.

Trump has ridiculed the investigations as a “hoax” and has denied that his campaign was involved in Russia’s meddling.

Tuesday’s stunning announcement came shortly after the FBI corrected aspects of 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 told 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.

Some lawmakers did welcome news of the dismissal.

“Given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well,” said Republican Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, chairman of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee investigating the Russian campaign interference.

Comey, 56, was nominated by President Barack Obama for the FBI post in 2013 to a 10-year term, though that appointment does not ensure a director will serve the full term.

Praised frequently by both parties for his independence and integrity, Comey has spent three decades in law enforcement.

But his prominent role in the 2016 presidential campaign raised questions about his judgment and impartiality. Though the FBI did not recommend charges against Clinton for mishandling classified information, Comey was blisteringly critical of her decision to use a personal email account and private internet server during her four years as secretary of state.

Comey strongly defended his decisions during the hearing last week. He said he was “mildly nauseous” at the thought of having swayed the election but also said he would do the same again.

Clinton has partially blamed her loss on Comey’s disclosure to Congress less than two weeks before Election Day that the email investigation would be revisited.

McClatchy Washington Bureau, Chicago Tribune and Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.