President Trump has abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, removing the man leading the bureau’s probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.
“You are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately," the president wrote to Comey in a letter released Tuesday evening by the White House.
"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," Trump said.
The president cited Comey’s handling of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails from her stint as secretary of state as a reason for Comey's dismissal.
Last week, the former Democratic presidential nominee said Comey’s public announcement in October that the FBI was re-opening a probe into her electronic correspondence had cost her the election.
But Trump’s criticism of Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation carries a heavy dose of irony since he benefited greatly from the brouhaha over her emails. During the campaign, he repeatedly led supporters in fevered chants of “Lock Her Up!” indicating she should be imprisoned for sending government emails from a private internet server.
Democrats wasted no time in publicly decrying Trump’s dismissal of Comey, saying the firing was a flagrant misuse of power.
“This is Nixonian,” said Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, referring to President Richard Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre" on Oct. 20, 1973, in which he fired Watergate independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, prompting the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus.
New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said he had told Trump, “You’re making a very big mistake” during a Tuesday afternoon phone call.
The president didn’t respond, Schumer said.
"This investigation must be run as far away as possible from this White House and as far away as possible from anyone President Trump has appointed,” he said of the FBI's Russian inquiry.
Calls for a special prosecutor were also repeated Tuesday night.
"While the President has the legal authority to remove the Director of the FBI, I am disappointed in the President's decision to remove James Comey," Republican Sen. John McCain said.
The Arizona congressman cited his earlier demands for a special congressional committee to “investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.”