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 bombshell announcement that sent shock and surprise ricocheting through Washington ends the career of the man who was once seen as the unimpeachable and nonpartisan ideal of how a law enforcement officer should behave. But Comey saw his reputation tarnished when he was dragged into the toxic politics of the 2016 campaign. 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.
In recent days, Comey again came under fire for his handling of the investigation into Clinton’s private email server. Many Democrats believe that his announcement that he was re-opening the probe 11 days before the election cost the former secretary of state the presidency. 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.
The source said he made a joke about it to lighten the mood and called his office to get confirmation.