5 reasons why Donald Trump's sacking of FBI Director Comey is such a big deal
The FBI was investigating Trump’s ties to Russia when Comey was sacked.
Donald Trump’s removal of FBI director James Comey has been met with shock, bemusement and anger.
Here are all the reasons why Trump’s decision to sack the FBI director is so controversial.
1. Director of the FBI is not your usual political post.
The FBI is America’s top law enforcement agency. Its ability to investigate the commander-in-chief makes it one of America’s most powerful tools in holding the president to account.
For Trump to sack the director is an abnormal use of presidential power which flouts the convention of deference to the agency – the only other time an FBI director has been sacked was by Bill Clinton in 1993 over alleged ethical improprieties.
Christopher Phelps, associate professor of American History at Nottingham University, told the Press Association: “The controversy is that one would like the law to be above politics so that it’s not subject to anybody’s interference except on the basis of whether legality has been followed.
“You would like this to be a kind of detached civil service position that doesn’t get monkeyed around by political power and that just does its job neutrally.”
2. Comey was investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The FBI is investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to influence the outcome of last year’s presidential election.
Phelps said: “It’s quite possible that this is obstruction of justice, that the reason Comey has been removed is that he was proving unwilling to drop this investigation or modify it or conciliate the Trump administration on it. He wasn’t controllable.
“In which case it undermines the rule of law.”
Democrats have also suggested Comey’s removal could be because of the investigation – in a press conference, US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said: “Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?
“This does not seem to be a coincidence.”
Even Republicans have criticised Trump – Senator John McCain tweeted that Comey’s removal “only confirms the need” for the formation of a Congressional select committee to investigate Kremlin interference in the election.
3. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was involved.
AG Sessions lied under oath about meetings with Kislyak. One way to exert control after recusal is by getting rid of FBI Director. Chilling.— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) May 9, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was leading the investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia, recused himself from the probe in March.
He relinquished himself from the responsibility after it was revealed he neglected to tell his confirmation committee that he had met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign.
Sessions was one of the key advisers who recommended to Trump that he sack Comey – and critics have said Sessions’ involvement betrays his promise to step back from the inquiry.
In a statement, Californian Democratic representative Ted Lieu said: “The recommendation by Attorney General Sessions to fire Comey and the President’s action of firing Comey suggest evidence of a massive cover up.
“In addition, Attorney General Sessions violated his own recusal terms by taking part in removing the head of the FBI who was leading a counter-intelligence investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.”
4. The move has echoes of Richard Nixon’s era.
Trump has now become the first president since Richard Nixon to fire the official overseeing an investigation involving the commander in chief – in 1973, Nixon fired the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal, Archibald Cox.
This is Nixonian. Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein must immediately appoint a special prosecutor to continue the Trump/Russia investigation.— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) May 9, 2017
While the move has been described by some, including Democratic Senator Bob Casey, as Nixonian, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library was quick to draw a distinction.
5. Some see the explanation given by the Trump administration as problematic.
The White House said Comey was sacked because of the way he handled the Hillary Clinton email saga.
It circulated a memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in which he said: “I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails.”
For example, on Tuesday the FBI had to correct parts of Comey’s testimony on Clinton’s emails which were inaccurate.
Comey was also criticised for the timing of his investigation – just days before the presidential election he reopened the inquiry into Clinton’s use of a private server after finding new emails.
After looking at the emails, he reaffirmed his position that Clinton should not face criminal charges, but her supporters have claimed that reopening the inquiry so close to the tight election race could have influenced the result in which the former secretary of state actually won the popular vote.
But was that the reason Trump sacked Comey? Phelps called it a “flimsy excuse”.
He said: “The reasoning that was provided by the Department of Justice is reasoning that Trump himself has rejected all along.”
As a key critic of Clinton’s use of emails, Trump was pleased with Comey’s decision to reopen the investigation before the election – at a campaign rally he said it “took guts”.
Hillary and the Dems loved and praised FBI Director Comey just a few days ago. Original evidence was overwhelming, should not have delayed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2016
Attorney General Sessions, who recommended Comey be dismissed, had also previously sung his praises.
Jeff Sessions in November on Fox News: "FBI Director Comey did the right thing when he found new evidence. He had no choice" pic.twitter.com/9fMc7FPgCm— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) May 10, 2017
The timing of Comey’s dismissal also led to critics such as Senator Jeff Flake saying the move wasn’t about Clinton’s emails at all – if Trump truly thought Comey mishandled the investigation, he could have fired him upon becoming president almost five months ago.
I've spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing. I just can't do it.— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) May 10, 2017