President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey amid the agency’s investigation of Russian interference in last year’s election, saying the bureau needed new leadership to restore “public trust and confidence.” Trump’s decision Tuesday means that he will get to nominate Comey’s successor while the agency is deep into the Russia inquiry, including whether any of Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election. Democrats condemned Comey’s dismissal, calling it an effort to cut short the Russia probe and demanding the appointment of a special prosecutor to carry it forward. According to the White House, though, it wasn’t the Russia investigation that led to Comey’s dismissal. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Comey was fired because of his handling of the probe into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server — even though the facts of that inquiry were well-known at the time Trump took office and asked Comey to stay on the job.
Comey had announced in July that the Clinton case would be closed without prosecution, a move that prompted a furious reaction from Republicans including Trump. Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions both recommended Comey’s dismissal, the White House said in a statement.
A memo from Rosenstein made no direct mention of the Russia probe, though Trump alluded to it in a letter to Comey: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”