Update 1: AG Jeff Sessions sent the following statement to all FBI employees tonight:
The President of the United States has exercised his lawful authority to remove James B. Comey, Jr., as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. By operation of law and effective immediately, Deputy of law and effective immediately, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe assumed the position of Acting Director of the FBI.
As you well know, the FBI is an exceptional law enforcement and intelligence agency. It is made so by you, the devoted men and women who work tirelessly to keep our country safe. Thank you for your steadfast dedication and commitment during this time of transition.
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The initially amicable, then increasingly more controversial, contentious and, finally, rancorous relationship between President Donald Trump and FBI Director James Comey has just ended with a bang and with the utterance of Trump's two favorite words: 'You're fired."
According to a statement issued by the White House, the firing of Comey comes at the recommendation of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Below is the full statement from the White House:
Today, President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office. President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
"The FBI is one of our Nation's most cherished and respected institutions and today will mark a new beginning for our crown jewel of law enforcement," said President Trump.
A search for a new permanent FBI Director will begin immediately.
Below is the letter from Sessions to Trump recommending Comey's termination.
In the letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he cites the handling of Comey's Clinton investigation, and says that Comey was wrong to cite his conclusions about the Clinton email probe in July of 2016: "I cannot defend the Director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken," Rosenstein wrote.
Rosenstein was referring to Comey's decision to announce in July last year that the probe of Hillary Clinton should be closed without prosecution, but then declared - 11 days before the Nov. 8 election - that he had reopened the investigation because of a discovery of a new trove of Clinton-related emails. Democrats say the decision cost Clinton victory.
Rosenstein also identified several areas in which he said Comey had erred, saying it was wrong of him to "usurp" then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch's authority by announcing the initial conclusion of the email case on July 5.
Comey "announced his own conclusions about the nation's most sensitive criminal investigation, without the authorization of duly appointed Justice Department leaders," Rosenstein wrote. Comey also "ignored another longstanding principle" by holding a news conference to "release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation."
In a separate letter to Comey, Trump said that "you are not able to effectively lead" the FBI, new leadership is needed to restore trust.
More from Trump's letter to Comey:
"... you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately. While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgement of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau."
Full Trump letter to Comey below, where amusingly Trump notes that the FBI director told him " on three separate occasions" that he wasn't under investigation.
Comey's firing comes days after he testified on Capitol Hill about the FBI's investigation into Russia's election meddling and possible connections between Russia and Trump's campaign.
Republican Lindsay Senator Graham said after Comey was fired that he believes a "fresh start" will serve the FBI and the nation well and that he encouraged the President "to select the most qualified professional available..."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley also applauded Trump's decision saying "The effectiveness of the FBI depends upon the public trust and confidence. Unfortunately, this has clearly been lost."
Meanwhile, fellow Republican John McCain criticized the firing of the FBI director saying "Comey is a man of honor and integrity, & he has led the FBI well in extraordinary circumstances." McCain added that "The president's decision to remove the FBI Director only confirms the need and the urgency" for a special committee on Russia.
Others were similarly critical, with Sen. Mark Warner, vice chairman of Senate Intelligence Cmte, saying in a statement that “It is deeply troubling that the president has fired the FBI director during an active counterintelligence investigation into improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia,” and adding that “the President’s actions today are shocking."
“Now more than ever, it is vital that our ongoing investigation is completed in a credible and bipartisan way” he said, adding that "we also need to hear directly” from former Director James Comey “about the FBI investigation and related events.” Like McCain, Warner said a special counsel must be appointed.
“That’s the only way the American people will be able to trust the results of any DOJ investigation”:
Elsewhere, Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat on Senate Judiciary Committee, said Trump's actions are “nothing less than Nixonian” and that “given that the Attorney General supposedly recused himself from the Russia investigation, he should not have played any role in removing the lead investigator from his duties."
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Will Trump's termination of Comey be perceived as retribution? It's very likely: recall that two months ago Comey announced that the FBI was investigating alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Getting rid of Comey would certainly be perceived as one way of putting any FBI probe on indefinite hold. Case in point, the first accuastion of political interference by Trump in the Bureau's work came from none other than Edward Snowden.
Set aside politics: every American should condemn such political interference in the Bureau's work. https://t.co/hROwSMg1vd— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) May 9, 2017
This FBI Director has sought for years to jail me on account of my political activities. If I can oppose his firing, so can you. https://t.co/zUp5kquy8q— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) May 9, 2017
Others, like Rep Brad Sherman have immediately called for a Special Counsel to investigate Trump and Russia to answer what's "Trump is trying to hide."
Former FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan was even more concise: "Independent Commission Now!"
Independent Commission Now!— Ali H. Soufan (@Ali_H_Soufan) May 9, 2017
Bernie Sanders chimed in too:
Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey raises serious questions about what his administration is hiding.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 9, 2017
It is clear that whomever President Trump handpicks to lead the FBI will not be able to objectively carry out the Russia investigation.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 9, 2017
We need an independent investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 9, 2017
As for Comey's replacement, he or she will need to be confirmed by the Senate, and will only need 51 votes to be confirmed.
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Shortly after the news broke, Former President Barack Obama's White House photographer Pete Souza posted a photo on his Instagram page which included James Comey, and captioned "Every person in this photograph is a patriot." The photo includes Obama, Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Lisa Monaco, former Obama chief Homeland Security and Counterterrorism advisor.
Putting a comical twist on the day's events, even Richard Nixon was trolling Trump, when the @NixonLibrary twitter account revealed that "FUN FACT" that "President Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI #FBIDirector #notNixonian"