US President Donald Trump has abruptly dismissed the director of FBI, saying that James Comey was no longer able to effectively lead the law-enforcement agency.
Comey had been leading an FBI investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.
His dismissal on Tuesday is likely to prompt concerns about the integrity of the inquiry and renew calls for an independent investigation.
Comey had been embroiled in a controversy surrounding his investigation into whether Clinton’s use of a private email server while US secretary of state during Barack Obama’s first term as president compromised national security.
“It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission,” Trump said in a letter to Comey released by the White House.
Trump told Comey in the letter he accepted the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he could no longer provide effective leadership. Comey’s term was to run through September 2023.
The decision, announced by Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, in a brief appearance before reporters, caught Washington off guard.
“President Trump’s nearly four months in office have been controversial, but this is almost certainly the most controversial decision yet,” said Al Jazeera’s Washington Editor James Bays, calling the move “a political bombshell that will reverberate for a long time.”
“It doesn’t end here, because a new FBI director has to be confirmed by the Senate, where the Republicans hold a very slim majority.”
Comey had said in July the Clinton email case should be closed without prosecution, but then declared – 11 days before the November 8 election in which Clinton was the Democratic nominee – that he had reopened the investigation because of a discovery of a new trove of Clinton-related emails.
Meanwhile, reports say the sacked FBI director learned of his ouster while addressing agents at the FBI field office in Los Angeles.
Comey was talking to the agents when news of his firing appeared on televisions tuned in to news channels, Fox News reports.
Television screens in the field office began flashing the news of his firing, and Comey initially chuckled at the report but he continued to brief the agents, finishing his speech before heading into a separate office.
Shortly after the speech, President Trump’s letter was given to FBI headquarters in Washington.
Comey was set to be the keynote speaker at an FBI recruitment event in Los Angeles, but his motorcade brought him back to the airport.
He did not comment on his dismissal.