FBI Director James Comey was fired Tuesday.
FBI Director James Comey was fired Tuesday.
Nearly a year into an FBI investigation into potential collusion between Russian operatives and members of the Trump administration and just a week after James Comey appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee looking into that collusion, President Trump sacked the FBI director ostensibly for the way he handled the probe into Hillary Clinton's email and on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

While Trump thanked the FBI chief for confirming "on three separate occasions" that he wasn't under investigation, the president said, "I nevertheless concur with the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau."

Comey's firing immediately set alarms clanging among lawmakers and watchdog groups, who questioned Trump's motivation, Sessions's involvement even after he recused himself from the Russia investigation, and the ability of the FBI to function as an independent investigatory body going forward. 

Jo Comerford, campaigns director for MoveOn.org Civic Action, said in a statement that the U.S. faces "a constitutional crisis. Donald Trump just fired the one man in America who was leading the most thorough and long-lasting investigation of Donald Trump."

Saying that “the independence of the FBI director is meant to ensure that the president does not operate above the law," American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement that "for President Trump to fire the man responsible for investigating his own campaign's ties to the Russians imperils that fundamental principle." 

John Dean, former White House Counsel for Richard Nixon, told MSNBC that Comey's firing was "as ham-handed" as Nixon's firing in 1972 of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating Watergate. in what came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

The ACLU's Romero noted that “the terms of FBI directors were purposefully structured to span across sitting presidents to ensure the FBI's independence and insulate the bureau from partisan politics," so "Trump's dismissal of Comey raises questions about the administration's inappropriate meddling in bureau operations — precisely at a time when the bureau appears to be investigating the president, his advisors, and his campaign for potential collusion with Russian agents in our last election.”
But reports out of the White House said that Comey's firing had been in the works for several days as the Justice Department built its case. Indeed, in the past year, the FBI Director had drawn criticism from all sides. 

The GOP, including then-candidate Trump, had slammed Comey for recommending that Clinton not be prosecuted for her use of a private email server and subsequent handling of sensitive emails. Democrats were equally vexed that Comey, just 11 days before the presidential election sent Congress a letter saying that the bureau had renewed the Clinton probe after finding additional emails during an unrelated probe on a computer belonging Clinton assistant Huma Abedin's husband, Anthony Weiner. 

And just last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey stumbled again when he overstated the number of emails - and their level of sensitivity -- that Abedin had forwarded to her Weiner to print out. 

"The hole Director Comey dug for himself started as an offhand closing remark in his testimony exonerating Secretary Clinton from criminal wrongdoing (after excoriating her for shoddy cyber hygiene).  In what seemed at the time to be a throw-away closing to the Congressional Committee after advising them that he was ending the investigation, he promised to advise lawmakers if he came across evidence that would cause him to reopen the investigation," Robert Cattanach, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney said. 

"But once he took himself out of that protective cone of silence, Comey was doomed.  If he stayed mum, he would break his promise to Congress.  If he came forward, the bombshell revelation could impact the election," Cattanach said. "He was in a lose-lose situation, all of his own making, starting with an ill-advised initial disclosure to Congress that ended with what he surely thought was an innocuous let's-stay-in-touch line.  His latest flub made it easy for the President to do something that arguably should have been done before President Obama left office," 

Schumer, though, took issue with what he seemed to characterize as attempts by the White House to justify Comey's firing. “Why now? Why did it happen today?” he asked, contending that if the handling of Clinton's emails was cause from Comey's firing, then Trump should have taken action when he assumed office in January.

Trump's dismissal of Comey "is part of a deeply troubling pattern," said Schumer. "First, he fired Sally Yates. Then Preet Bahara, now James Comey. The three people investigating Trump are the three people he fired; this doesn't seem like an accident."

The White House's actions renewed calls for a special prosecutor. "We must have a special prosecutor. If not, every American will rightly suspect that President Trump's decision to fire Director Comey was part of a cover-up," said Schumer.

“It should now be wildly clear that anything other than a fully independent investigation will be compromised. With Comey's firing, Trump removed the only government head leading such an investigation—and Trump did so on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who, himself, had to recuse himself from investigations because he lied under oath about his own conversations with Russian officials," said MoveOn's Comerford. “Members of Congress—of both parties—who care about the security of our democracy and the well-being of our nation must not waste another second in calling for a full, bi-partisan, independent investigation to look into Russia's known hacking of the 2016 U.S. election to benefit Donald Trump, as well as into Donald Trump and his associates' potential collusion with Russia."