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Possible Explanations For James Comey's Firing

Newsweek logo Newsweek 10/05/2017 Julia Glum

FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation" on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 3, 2017.: RTS15WT5 © Kevin Lamarque/Reuters RTS15WT5 Just hours after the FBI sent a letter Tuesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee clarifying his testimony in relation to the Hillary Clinton email scandal, FBI Director James Comey was fired.

"Today, President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement. "President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions."

Trump's letter terminating Comey quickly leaked online.

"While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau," Trump wrote. "It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission."

Here are a few reasons, both stated and possible, Comey may have been canned:

He hurt the FBI's reputation

A memorandum prepared by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommending Comey's termination kicks off with the fact that "over the past year ... the FBI's reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage, and it has affected the entire Department of Justice."

He mishandled the Clinton email investigation

Rosenstein writes that Comey should not have given a news conference last July recommending that Clinton, who used a private email server while secretary of state, not face criminal charges. The deputy attorney general writes that Comey should have turned his findings over to federal prosecutors. He also takes issue with Comey's decision to send a letter just days before the November election revealing newly discovered Clinton emails. "When federal agents and prosecutors quietly open a criminal investigation, we are not concealing anything; we are simply following the longstanding policy that we refrain from publicizing non-public information," the letter states.

He broke with tradition

Rosenstein cites several attorneys general and other authorities who decried Comey's actions as a "departure from the department's widely respected, nonpartisan traditions." Rosenstein writes that "we should reject the departure and return to the traditions."

Trump doesn't like him

Simply judging from his tweets, the president and Comey have had a rocky relationship. As Axios laid out, Trump first criticized the director online in July after that fateful, aforementioned news conference. Trump used the hashtag #RiggedSystem. By October, when he was bringing attention to a new cache of Clinton emails, Trump loved him—but in November, when Comey said he hadn't actually found material that justified charges, the pendulum had swung again.

"You can't review 650,000 new emails in eight days. You can't do it, folks," Trump said at a rally. "Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it, the FBI knows it, the people know it."

Trump is embarrassed by him

The president recently accused his predecessor, Barack Obama, of wiretapping his phones during the campaign. Comey has shut down this allegation, explaining that Obama could not order a wiretap of anyone's phone unchecked. 

"I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI," Comey said in March. "The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets."

He knows something about Russia

Of course, the elephant in the room is the ongoing investigation into whether people associated with Trump's campaign had contact with Russia during the election. Comey confirmed the probe in March.

"We approach this work in an open-minded, independent way and our expert investigators will conclude that work as quickly as they can, but they will always do it well no matter how long that takes," he said, according to a transcript of his remarks. "I can promise you, we will follow the facts wherever they lead."

Clinton's running mate, Tim Kaine, picked up on this after news of Comey's firing Tuesday, tweeting, "Trump firing Comey shows how frightened the Admin is over Russia investigation."

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