James Comey has been fired from his position as FBI director in a surprise move that was apparently influenced by recommendations from senior officials that included Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The official reason for the dismissal cites violations of Justice Department policies and procedures that included publicly discussing the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of sensitive emails and possibly committing perjury during his recent testimony on the same topic before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
James Comey Fired
The FBI had sent the Senate Judiciary Committee a letter stating that Comey had misstated several key facts related to the investigation. These included possibly misleading statements about the chain of custody of several emails that were discovered on Weiner’s laptop.
According to Comey’s testimony, Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, frequently forwarded emails to her then-husband, Anthony Weiner, to print out so that Abedin could deliver them to the Secretary of State. This supposedly would have explained why Weiner had thousands of Clinton-related emails containing classified information on his laptop. Senator Ted Cruz seized upon the opportunity to demand why Abedin did not face charges for this, forcing Comey to backpedal by saying that doing so would have required proof that Abedin knowingly engaged in wrongdoing.
However, according to the letter sent by FBI agents, this allegation is false and the emails on Weiner’s laptop were the result of normal backup activity.
This is not even the first time that Comey made misleading or exaggerated statements during testimony. When discussing a 2014 case in which Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife killed 14 people in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, Comey made statements that implied that the FBI had paid more than $1.3 million for some software that can unlock an iPhone. The figure was actually $900,000, according to FBI employees who are familiar with the case.
An FBI director is normally appointed to a 10-year term and usually isn’t dismissed without just cause. This is meant to make the FBI director less prone to partisan politics and would theoretically allow the director to fairly investigate possible criminal activity without fear of partisan backlash when he must make decisions that might have harmful consequences for a political party or its candidates. However, many conservatives have questioned Comey’s ability to stay neutral in the wake of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, in which he chose to call Clinton’s handling of emails containing classified information “extremely careless” rather than recommend criminal charges.
Even some liberals have criticized Comey’s handling of the scandal, saying that he may have contributed to the defeat of Hillary Clinton by reopening the investigation when emails with classified information were discovered on Weiner’s laptop. This lead to the issuing of a warrant that allowed the FBI to search Weiner’s laptop, even though the search only turned up a dozen emails with classified information that investigators had already seen. Comey stated that although the idea that his decision-making might have impacted the election in any way made him feel “slightly nauseous,” he wouldn’t have done anything differently.
Trump himself accused Comey of letting Clinton get away with “many bad deeds”, partly by mishandling the Clinton email investigation. However, even after Comey’s apparent perjury in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, President Trump gave no hints that Comey’s job was in jeopardy. The seemingly sudden firing may indicate that he plans to do some housecleaning in the FBI and restore its credibility as an organization that investigates crime without giving anyone what Trump describes as “a free pass”. Until a new FBI director is chosen, Deputy Director Andrew G. McGabe will serve as acting director.