(CNN) — The President has fired the FBI director. Here’s everything you need to know about this Washington bombshell.
Donald Trump’s fired a lot of people in his life, but no dismissal is as shocking or has as widespread implications as this one. The President fired FBI Director James Comey, the man leading the investigation into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians who hacked the 2016 election. The Trump administration said it was getting rid of Comey because of the way he handled the Hillary Clinton email probe.
What’s the reaction?
The word shock isn’t strong enough. Only once (Bill Clinton in 1993) has a President fired an FBI director. Democrats — no fans of Comey, mind you — are stunned and outraged. They say Trump’s reasoning for dumping Comey — that he didn’t like how the FBI director treated Clinton during the campaign — is BS. Many note that Trump repeatedly and publicly cheered Comey’s actions during the campaign when it came to Clinton. And they can’t believe the timing: If the President were so upset by what Comey did in the summer and fall of 2016, why didn’t he sack him on January 20? Comey’s Russia investigation was getting too close for Trump’s comfort, Dems say, and that’s why he was let go.
Republicans were more muted. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was troubled by the firing, especially the timing. Political-twin Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham split on the move, with McCain expressing disappointment and Graham saying getting rid of Comey (who was once a registered Republican) was fine with him. Rep. Justin Amash of the House Freedom Caucus tweeted that he wants an independent commission on Russia’s election interference. Other Republicans — we’re looking at you, House Speaker Paul Ryan — were nowhere to be found.
In pundit world, people went off. Our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, called the firing a “grotesque abuse of power” and “the kind of thing that goes on in non-democracies.” Lots of people brought up Richard Nixon and the infamous Saturday Night Massacre (though the Nixon Presidential Library reminded us that even Nixon didn’t fire his FBI director). CNN’s Chris Cillizza said it was Trump’s most unpredictable and dangerous move yet. And of course, the late-night shows weighed in.
We don’t know yet what Comey’s reaction to his firing is, but we do know how he found out. Like the rest of us, he saw it on TV. Comey was talking to FBI agents in Los Angeles when TVs inside the room broke the news that he was fired. Comey reportedly made a joke to lighten the mood, then called FBI headquarters and got official word that he was gone.
What’s the White House saying?
Initially, not much. White House officials insisted the firing was over Comey’s handling of Clinton’s emails, and that was that. But since Trump’s letter didn’t mention that at all (and since the President was reportedly irritated that no one was on TV defending him), the communications dream team of Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders headed out to defend the decision. Spicer said Trump made the decision after getting a memo Tuesday from the deputy attorney general recommending the firing. But several White House officials said Trump had been thinking about firing Comey for at least a week.
We haven’t heard from Trump, other than a tweet (of course) blasting Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer for what the President called the Democrats’ hypocrisy when it comes to Comey. Trump has no public events planned for today, but he is holding a meeting with the foreign minister — of Russia.
Was there other Russia-related news?
Yes, there was. Federal prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of Trump’s ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced out over his Russia ties. The prosecutors want business records. And the subpoenas represent a clear ramping up of activity in the FBI’s Russia investigation. The fact that this happened on the same day that the FBI director was canned was not lost on Trump critics.
Also, Senate Russia investigators sent a request to the Treasury Department’s criminal investigation division (which looks into allegations of foreign money-laundering) asking for any information related to Trump, his top officials and his campaign aides. The move followed news that Graham wants to investigate potential business ties between the Trump Organization and Russia.
The calls for an independent counsel to sort through the Russia mess are sure to get louder. That’s been the rallying cry for pretty much every Democrat that appeared on TV after the news of Comey’s firing broke. The few Republicans who commented don’t want to take it that far yet, but there were a couple of GOP officials who said that may be the best way to deal with this.
We’ll also be waiting to see who the President picks to replace Comey. And that’s going to be a tall order. The person will have to have unusually undisputed credibility and a deep background in law enforcement matters, but he or she will also probably have to have absolutely no ties to Donald Trump to have a prayer of being accepted by Democrats and others suspicious of the President’s motives.