Sacking FBI director, Trump sparks storm
US President met Russia foreign minister amid Comey controversy
13 May, 2017
President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on 9 May, saying he had lost confidence in his ability to manage the bureau. In a shock move drawing comparisons to the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon, Trump told Comey the FBI needed new leadership.
Under Comey’s leadership, the FBI concluded that President Vladimir Putin approved a multi-faceted campaign to tilt the vote in Trump’s favor. His snap dismissal sparked rare criticism from Republicans and allegations of a cover-up from seething Democrats who demanded an independent inquiry. Trump’s decision to fire the FBI director is virtually unprecedented - only one director has previously been fired in the bureau’s century-long history.
Since the start of Trump’s presidency, the FBI chief had increasingly appeared to be a thorn in the President’s side. He recently confirmed the agency was investigating Russian interference in last year’s presidential election and notably Moscow’s possible collusion with Trump’s campaign. During testimony to Congress last month, Comey overtly challenged the President, flatly rejecting his explosive claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor. And despite Trump’s dismissal of suggestions his team colluded with Moscow as "fake news", it had become increasingly clear that Comey had set his sights on the issue of Russia’s election meddling, which has stalked Trump’s presidency from the start.
In a letter circulated by the White House, Trump tries to distance himself from the ever-deepening scandal over Russia’s involvement in the election. "I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation," he wrote. The officials said Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein backed the President by citing FBI Director’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was serving as Secretary of State. The White House said the search for a new FBI director was to begin right away.
FBI directors are appointed for a single 10-year term. The 56-year-old Comey, who is popular among rank-and-file agents, was appointed four years ago.
Only hours after dismissing the man in charge of investigating links between his campaign and Russia, the US president met with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, at the White House. No reporters were allowed in to ask questions.
Earlier, when the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson greeted his Russian counterpart in the diplomatic reception room on the seventh floor of the State Department, a reporter shouted a question about whether Comey’s dismissal “cast a shadow” on the meeting. Russia's top diplomat, known for a puckish sense of humor, shot back: “Was he fired? You’re kidding! You’re kidding!” He then disappeared into Tillerson’s office.
“I never thought I’d have to answer such questions, all the more in the United States of America, with your greatly developed democratic and political system,” he said, a tinge of sarcasm in his voice.“ “How can a great nation, a great country, succumb to this and think in such categories?”
He offered no thoughts on whether the United States should participate in “de-escalation zones” in Syria, part of a proposal by Russia to designate certain regions as safe areas for refugees.