President Donald Trump on Tuesday fired FBI Director James Comey, sweeping away the man who is responsible for the bureau’s investigation into whether members of his campaign team colluded with Russia in its interference in last year’s election.
The Trump administration attributed Comey’s dismissal to his handling of the investigation into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s email server, but Democrats ridiculed that notion, raising parallels to Watergate-era firings and suggested Comey was getting too close to the White House with the Russia probe.
In any case, senior White House officials appeared to have badly misjudged the impact of Trump’s sudden move. A source with knowledge of discussions inside the White House told CNN’s Dana Bash that the thinking was that because Democrats were saying precisely what Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a letter explaining the grounds for Comey’s dismissal there would be no backlash.
What was not thought through apparently was an explanation of why Comey was fired now, at a time when critics would immediately conclude it was because of the Russia probe.
Comey learned of his dismissal from televisions tuned to the news, as he was addressing the workforce at the FBI office in Los Angeles, law enforcement sources said.
In a signed letter released by the White House, Trump informed Comey that he was “hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately,” explaining that he reached the conclusion that Comey is “not able to effectively lead the bureau.”
[…] Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he told Trump on the telephone that he had made a terrible mistake.
“Were these investigations getting too close to home for the President?” Schumer asked
And in a sign of possible trouble for the administration, Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who is leading an Senate intelligence committee probe into alleged Russian influence on the election, expressed disquiet at the firing of Comey, which he described as a “loss for the bureau and the nation.
“I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination. I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee,” Burr said.
CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, was not buying the idea that Comey was sacked over the Clinton investigation, saying it was “absurd.”
Toobin branded the move a “grotesque abuse of power by the President of the United States.”
Senior Justice Department and FBI officials say they were unaware of the Comey decision until the announcement. Officials who spoke to CNN said they are shocked by the development.