The two reasons why FBI head James Comey was fired

  • 11/05/2017

There's a growing divide over the motives behind the abrupt firing of former FBI director James Comey, with a CNN source citing two explanations completely different to the White House's story.

When announcing Mr Comey's termination from his 10-year post on Tuesday (local time), Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein said it was because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

But a source close to Mr Comey told CNN host Jake Tapper it was because he didn't pledge allegiance to President Donald Trump, and an investigation into links between Russia and the Trump campaign were gathering pace.

The firing was unanticipated by many, including Mr Comey himself, who found out as the news flashed on a television screen as he addressed staff in Los Angeles.

There was no permanent replacement lined up, with Mr Trump saying the search for his successor would start immediately.

The White House is steadfast in its story about why Mr Comey was fired, but there's growing evidence the Clinton investigation excuse is a red herring.

Comey asked to expand Russia probe

Days before Mr Trump fired him, Mr Comey sought to expand his agency's probe into possible collusion between Mr Trump's presidential campaign and Russia to sway the 2016 US election, a congressional source told Reuters.

With the Republican President facing a storm of criticism from many Democratic lawmakers and some in his own party, the Trump administration accused Mr Comey of "atrocities" on the job and denied his firing was related to the FBI's Russia investigation.

Trump, who met Russia's Foreign Minister at the White House on Wednesday (local time), lashed out at critics, calling Democrats "phoney hypocrites", and defended his decision to abruptly oust Mr Comey from the law enforcement post he held since 2013.

Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (Getty)
Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (Getty)

Democrats intensified accusations that Mr Comey's removal was intended to undermine the FBI probe and demanded an independent investigation into the alleged Russian meddling, with some calling the firing an attempt to cover up wrongdoing related to Russia. Some of Mr Trump's fellow Republicans called the action troubling.

The firing stunned Washington and plunged Mr Trump deeper into a controversy over his campaign's alleged ties with Russia that has dogged the early days of his presidency, while also threatening to hinder his policy goals.

"He wasn't doing a good job, very simply," the Republican President said of Mr Comey during a meeting with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the White House Oval Office.

A congressional source with knowledge of the matter said Mr Comey told lawmakers within the past few days he had asked the Justice Department for additional resources - mainly more staffing - for the Russia probe.

Mr Comey informed lawmakers of that request after the Senate intelligence committee, conducting its own investigation, had asked the FBI to speed up its Russia inquiry, the source said.

Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said in an email that claims more resources were asked for was "totally false".

Meanwhile, the US Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a subpoena demanding documents related to Russia from Mr Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, ramping up its months-long investigation of Moscow's alleged meddling in the US election.

It's the first subpoena announced by the committee.

US intelligence agencies concluded in a January report that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an effort to disrupt the 2016 election that included hacking into Democratic Party emails and leaking them, with the aim of helping Mr Trump.

Russia has denied any such meddling. The Trump administration denies allegations of collusion with Russia.

Trump considered firing Comey 'since the day he was elected'

White House officials said Mr Trump's anger at Mr Comey had been building for months but a turning point came when the FBI chief refused to preview for top Trump aides his planned testimony to a May 3 Senate hearing on the Clinton email issue, an act Mr Trump and his aides took it as an act of insubordination.

Mr Trump had been considering letting Mr Comey go "since the day he was elected" in November, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Meanwhile, the US Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a subpoena demanding documents related to Russia from President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, ramping up its months-long investigation of Moscow's alleged meddling in the 2016 US election.

Many Democrats have criticised Mr Comey's management of the Clinton investigation, but they questioned the timing of his dismissal, given that Mr Trump could have acted soon after taking office on January 20 and that he has repeatedly criticised the FBI and congressional probes into Russia's role in the election.

In a flurry of Twitter posts, Mr Trump said Mr Comey had "lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike".

Some Democrats compared Mr Trump's move to the 'Saturday Night Massacre' of 1973, in which President Richard Nixon ordered the firing of an independent special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal that eventually led Mr Nixon to resign.

Reuters / Newshub.