Trump Fires Comey Amid Russia Inquiry

In Governing and the Cabinet, NATIONAL SECURITY -- articles only, New York Times Editorial, RUSSIA -- articles only On
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WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday fired the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, abruptly terminating the top official leading a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The stunning development in Mr. Trump’s presidency raised the specter of political interference by a sitting president into an existing investigation by the nation’s leading law enforcement agency. It immediately ignited Democratic calls for a special counsel to lead the Russia inquiry.

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Republicans Join Calls for Independent Investigator

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s decision on Tuesday to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, immediately fueled calls for an independent investigator or commission to look into Russia’s efforts to disrupt the election and any connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government.

Calls to appoint an independent prosecutor have simmered for months, but until now, they had been voiced almost entirely by Democrats. Mr. Comey’s insistence that he was pressing ahead with the Russia investigation, and would go wherever the facts took him, had deflected those calls — especially because he was in such open defiance of a president who said the charges were “fake.”

Mr. Comey’s firing upended the politics of the investigation, and even Republicans were joining the call for independent inquiries.

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Safeguarding an Inquiry: Here Are Some Options

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s firing of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, on Tuesday escalated calls among Democrats to appoint a special counsel to oversee the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, especially given Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who is overseeing that investigation, was also the face of Mr. Trump’s decision to fire Mr. Comey: The administration released a lengthy memo from Mr. Rosenstein recommending that Mr. Comey be removed, citing the way he handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Late on Tuesday, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said Mr. Rosenstein “now has no choice but to appoint a special counsel.”

“His integrity, and the integrity of the entire Justice Department, are at stake,” Mr. Leahy continued.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating the Trump-Russia question, called it “deeply troubling” that Mr. Trump had fired Mr. Comey during an active counterintelligence investigation. He said the move had made it “clear to me that a special counsel also must be appointed.”

The developments have heightened interest in several related legal issues.

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A Flashback to a Director’s Firing in 1993, and to the Saturday Night Massacre in 1973

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was established in 1908 when the Justice Department created an agency to conduct investigations for it. The first leaders of the F.B.I., known then as chief examiners, were appointed by the attorney general. That custom remained until 1972, when the F.B.I. director, J. Edgar Hoover, died in office after overseeing the bureau for 48 years.

In the years before Hoover’s death, a new confirmation process for the F.B.I. director was developed. After Hoover, the director was nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. In 1976, it became law that the director would be limited to a 10-year term.

In its 109-year history, only one F.B.I. director had been fired — until Tuesday, when President Trump fired James B. Comey. In July 1993, President Bill Clinton fired William S. Sessions, who had been nominated to the post by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. Mr. Clinton said his attorney general, Janet Reno, reviewed Mr. Sessions’s leadership and concluded “in no uncertain terms that he can no longer effectively lead the bureau.”

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A Complex Relationship Has an Abrupt Ending

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s decision on Tuesday to fire James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director who had been leading an investigation into possible ties between his campaign and Russia, came in a bombshell announcement that left Washington reeling.

But it had been a long time coming.

Whatever the stated reasons, Mr. Comey’s ouster was the abrupt culmination of a toxic dynamic between him and Mr. Trump that had unfolded slowly over more than a year.

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Breaking Down the Case Against Comey

WASHINGTON — When President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director on Tuesday, the White House made public a memorandum from Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, recommending the dismissal. The firing was highly fraught because the F.B.I. is investigating contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russia.

Mr. Rosenstein, who served as the United States attorney in Maryland under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has a reputation as a by-the-book, nonpartisan prosecutor. In his memo, Mr. Rosenstein focused on the continuing fallout of Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Here are some excerpts from the memo, with comments by The New York Times.

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The Firing of James Comey

The American people — not to mention the credibility of the world’s oldest democracy — require a thorough, impartial investigation into the extent of Russia’s meddling with the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump and, crucially, whether high-ranking members of Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded in that effort.

By firing the F.B.I. director, James Comey, late Tuesday afternoon, President Trump has cast grave doubt on the viability of any further investigation into what could be one of the biggest political scandals in the country’s history.

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Comey’s Dismissal May Turn the Anti-Trump Wave Into a Tsunami

This will not stand.

President Trump performed his latest impersonation of a Third World strongman, firing FBI Director James B. Comey late Tuesday in ham-handed fashion as it was becoming clear that the FBI probe into Trump’s ties to Russia, which Comey was overseeing, was becoming a bigger problem for Trump while new testimony exposed dubious behavior by the president himself.

The sacking brought immediate outrage and obvious comparisons to President Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, when the scandal-engulfed president ordered the Watergate prosecutor fired in a doomed attempt to keep that probe from ensnaring him. Trump, like Nixon, will fail, for a simple reasons: The institutions he is assaulting daily are stronger than he thinks. His autocratic instincts have been checked every step of the way. Trump will, inevitably, be spanked again.

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