Monday 11 December 2017

Five things you need to know about Trump's ousting of FBI director James Comey

US President Donald Trump (L) fired FBI Director James Comey last night
US President Donald Trump (L) fired FBI Director James Comey last night Newsdesk Newsdesk

President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey last night, dramatically ousting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the midst of an FBI investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had ties to Russia’s election meddling.

Here are the five things you need to know:

1) Why was the FBI director fired?

In a letter to Comey, Trump said the firing was necessary to restore “public trust and confidence” in the FBI. Comey has come under intense scrutiny in recent months for his role in an investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email practices, including a pair of letters he sent to Congress on the matter in the closing days of last year’s election.

2) How have people reacted?

Democrats denounced Trump’s move, which some compared to the “Saturday Night Massacre” of 1973, in which President Richard Nixon fired an independent special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.

“Today’s action by President Trump completely obliterates any semblance of an independent investigation into Russian efforts to influence our election, and places our nation on the verge of a constitutional crisis,” said Representative John Conyers, senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Conyers and other Democrats renewed their calls for an independent commission or a special prosecutor to investigate Russian influence in the 2016 election.

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, has said an independent special prosecutor must appointed into the Russia investigation to “restore the American people’s faith” into the country’s justice system.

Mr Schumer said it was important for the country to have faith that an investigation as serious as this one is being conducted impartially “without a shred of bias”.

He said that should Rod Rosentein, the deputy attorney general, fail to appoint a special prosecutor, “every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire director Comey was part of a cover up”.

Mr Schumer said he warned Mr Trump that the decision to fire Mr Comey was a mistake.

He also called it “troubling” that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general who has recused himself from the Russia investigations, had a hand in firing the FBI director who is leading those very investigations.

3) What was Comey's role in the Clinton FBI investigation?

Comey has been embroiled in controversy surrounding his probe into whether Clinton's use of a private email server while US secretary of state during President Barack Obama's first term compromised national security.

He said in July that the case should be closed without prosecution, but then declared - 11 days before the November 8 election - that he had reopened the investigation because of a discovery of a new trove of Clinton-related emails.

It was a decision Democrats believe cost Clinton victory.

Trump made no mention of Comey’s role in the Clinton investigation, which she has blamed in part for the election result that put him in the White House. But in announcing the firing, the White House circulated a scathing memo, written by deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton probe, including the director’s decision to hold a news conference announcing its findings and releasing “derogatory information” about Clinton.

Trump has ridiculed the FBI investigation, as well as concurrent congressional investigations, as a “hoax” and has denied that his campaign was involved in Russia’s election meddling.

In his letter to Comey, he asserted that the FBI director had informed him “on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation.”

4) What was in the memo released by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about Comey's actions?

"I cannot defend the Director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken," Rosenstein wrote.

Rosenstein identified several areas in which he said Comey had erred, saying it was wrong of him to "usurp" then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch's authority by announcing the initial conclusion of the email case on July 5.

Comey "announced his own conclusions about the nation's most sensitive criminal investigation, without the authorization of duly appointed Justice Department leaders," Rosenstein wrote.

Comey also "ignored another longstanding principle" by holding a news conference to "release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation."

5) When will a new FBI director be appointed?

The White House said the search for a new FBI director was beginning immediately.

Donald Trump has to select a replacement for a new 10-year term, and he is likely to reach outside the bureau to find someone to run the law enforcement agency.

Here are some possible candidates:

Ray Kelly - The longest-serving police commissioner in New York City, he was in charge of the force in the years following the September 11 attacks when terror threats were routine. His tough-on-crime stance, including support for provocative tactics like stop-and-search, could make him a natural ally of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr Kelly defended a police operation, exposed by The Associated Press, that conducted secret surveillance of Muslims. He could work with Mr Trump and Mr Sessions on anti-terrorism efforts.

Chris Christie - Though his relationship with Mr Trump has been mixed, the governor of New Jersey has known the president for years and could bring law enforcement experience to the job. He is a former Republican-appointed United States attorney in New Jersey, and he cited that background time and again during his 2016 presidential campaign. His legacy as governor took a hit, however, with a Bridgegate scandal that was investigated by the FBI, prosecuted by the Justice and brought down some of his allies.

David Clarke - A wild-card, but the outspoken and polarising Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, sheriff has been a fierce supporter of Mr Trump and even landed a speaking spot at last summer's Republican National Convention. A conservative firebrand known for his cowboy hat, Mr Clarke has called himself "one of those bare-knuckles fighters" and has been critical of what he called the "hateful ideology" of the Black Lives Matters movement. But he would be a long shot given that a county jury recently recommended criminal charges against seven Milwaukee County jail staffers over the dehydration death of an inmate who went without water for seven days.

Trey Gowdy - The South Carolina Republican led the House committee investigation of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton's actions surrounding the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Mr Gowdy is also a former federal prosecutor who boasts of his work on drug trafficking, bank robberies and child pornography cases. He was among politicians critical of Mr Comey's decision not to prosecute Mrs Clinton over the email server investigation, saying other government officials would have been prosecuted if they handled classified information like she did.

Press Association

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