FBI chief fell foul of Trump by probing Russian links
Comey unwilling to drop investigation into presidential campaign's ties with Putin
For a man made on show business, it was perhaps the mightiest compliment he could muster.
Donald Trump, on his second day as president, ushered in a group of senior legal and police figures. Signalling to the 6ft 8in man at the back, he brought him to the fore.
"He's become even more famous than me," the president said of a somewhat reluctant-looking James Comey, pulling him close, smiling, to whisper in his ear.
But Mr Comey, a supremely-experienced prosecutor, would have been well aware of the menace lurking beneath Mr Trump's compliment. The two have known of each other for all their professional lives.
Mr Trump (70) was born in New York City; Mr Comey (56) in New York state.
And while Mr Trump set about building Manhattan, Mr Comey began taking apart its criminal networks - going after the Gambino crime family as a prosecutor in the 1980s, leading the high profile southern district of New York, and ultimately rising to Washington, becoming deputy attorney general. He was even rumoured, in 2009, to be considered for a role on the Supreme Court.
Mr Comey was appointed to the 10-year position as head of the FBI by Barack Obama, in September 2013. Mr Trump launched his presidential campaign a little less than two years later.
The pair began sparring when Mr Comey announced, on July 5, 2016, that there would be no charges against Hillary Clinton over her handling of emails - despite describing her as "extremely careless".
Mr Trump was furious, accusing the FBI director of "letting her get away with it" and demanding further investigation - with rabble-rousing chants of "lock her up".
Mr Comey, aware of the political sensitivities, insisted that he had always acted with utmost transparency. "You can call us wrong, but don't call us weasels," he told a House committee.
A month later, on October 28, Mr Comey made the bombshell announcement that further emails relating to Mrs Clinton's investigation had been found. Within days it was confirmed that the emails were not significant - but Mr Trump was gleeful, realising the damage that had been done.
"I have to tell you, I respect the fact that Director Comey was able to come back after what he did," said Mr Trump at a rally in Phoenix in October. "I respect that very much."
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mr Trump said: "It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had. I was not his fan," he said at the time. "But I'll tell you what: what he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back."
But, as ever with the mercurial billionaire, that soon changed.
On January 10, Buzzfeed published a dossier of scandalous claims about Mr Trump and his connections to Russia. The unverified allegations came from Christopher Steele, a British former MI6 agent who had been based in Moscow, but now had his own intelligence firm. He had been hired last year by Democratic consultants, and produced 17 memos replete with incendiary allegations.
Mr Comey briefed Mr Trump that the dossier was being circulated, shortly before it was published. Mr Trump was enraged that news of the briefing was leaked: that, he insisted, was the real scandal - not possible Russia contact.
"The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security 'leakers' that have permeated our government for a long time," Mr Trump tweeted on February 24. "They can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on US. FIND NOW."
It got worse. Mr Trump, on March 4, accused Mr Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower before the election. Mr Comey was angry, and demanded that the department of justice issue a statement denying the claim. They refused - but the president was left fuming that the FBI chief would not back him up. On March 20 Mr Comey struck again, testifying before a senate committee that he had been investigating the Trump campaign since July, and publicly dismissing Mr Trump's accusation of wiretapping.
"I have no information that supports those tweets," he added, referring to Mr Trump's wiretapping claim, "and we have looked carefully inside the FBI."
The bureau has also antagonised the president by resisting Mr Trump's calls to prioritise leak investigations over the Russia matter.
"The administration has been putting pressure on the FBI to focus more on the leaks, and wasn't satisfied with the results,'' said a former senior US official, speaking to the 'Washington Post'. A current official said administration figures have been "very aggressive'' in pressuring the FBI.
Now the writing appeared to be on the wall for Mr Comey.
Trump administration insiders said on yesterday that Mr Comey's testimony last week - in which he spoke of feeling "mildly nauseous" that he may have influenced the outcome of the election - likely irked the president and played a role in the surprise firing.
"Trump is notoriously thin-skinned," a source told 'The Washington Examiner'. "He probably took it the wrong way and probably thought it was directed at him. He watches this stuff very closely and he takes it very seriously and he probably thought Comey was 'mildly nauseous' about his election."
The 'New York Times' reported that aides said on Tuesday senior officials at the White House and the justice department had been charged with building a case to justify Mr Comey's firing since at least last week, and that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, had been tasked with coming up with reasons to fire him. (©Daily Telegraph, London)