A White House spokeswoman said on Wednesday that President Trump fired James Comey after receiving a letter that outlined “atrocities” committed by the FBI director.
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that “one of the big catalysts” for Trump was Comey’s decision to hold a press conference last summer announcing the bureau’s conclusions in its probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails without telling then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch what he was going to say.
“He had essentially taken a stick of dynamite and thrown it into the Department of Justice by going around the chain of command,” Huckabee Sanders said. “That is simply not allowed.”
During testimony to Congress last week, Comey said that Lynch’s controversial tarmac meeting with former President Bill Clinton last June led him to believe that the Justice Department could not by itself “credibly” conclude its investigation.
“That was a hard call for me to make, to call the attorney general that morning and say, ‘I’m about to do a press conference and I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to say,'” Comey testified. “I knew this would be disastrous for me personally, but I thought this is the best way to protect these institutions that we care so much about.”
Comey held that press conference in July, saying that “although we did not find clear evidence” that Clinton or her colleagues “intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
But in October, Trump repeatedly praised the FBI director on the campaign trail. Trump was clearly elated after Comey decided to alert Congress that the FBI had reopened its investigation after the discovery of emails on a laptop belonging to Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s disgraced former husband, Anthony Weiner.
“The president was wearing a different hat at that time,” Huckabee Sanders said. “He was a candidate, not the president, those circumstances certainly change when you become the president and again, when you go around the chain of command in the Department of Justice, when you, like I said before, throw a stick of dynamite into the Department of Justice, that’s a big problem, and one that cannot be ignored.”
Last week, Trump asserted that Comey gave Clinton a “free pass” after she said that October letter was one of the reasons she lost.
The White House announced Comey’s firing on Tuesday night, releasing letters from Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein claiming that Comey’s conduct during the latter stages of the 2016 presidential campaign had sullied the bureau’s reputation.
But the timing of Comey’s dismissal by Trump sent shockwaves through Washington, D.C., with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticizing the move.
Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination.”
“His dismissal, I believe, is a loss for the bureau and the nation,” Burr said.