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White House Announces Trump Has Fired FBI Director James Comey

May 9, 2017
Originally published on May 9, 2017 9:31 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Trump has fired FBI Director James Comey. The White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, says this is effective immediately. NPR's Mara Liasson is with us now from the White House. And Mara, what do you know so far about why this happened?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, this was a complete surprise and a shock. And just today, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked if the president still had confidence in Comey. He said yes. But then just a few minutes ago, we get the statement from the press secretary that Director Comey has been terminated. He has been fired. The president wrote Comey a letter saying that he had received the recommendation from the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and the deputy attorney general recommending his dismissal. And he said in this letter, while I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I concur with the judgment...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

LIASSON: ...Of the DOJ, and you are going to be fired. And you can no longer effectively lead the bureau. And the other amazing thing is that the White House put out a piece of paper where they quoted all sorts of Democrats who were very unhappy with Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, calling on him to resign as if he is being fired for mishandling the investigation into Clinton...

SIEGEL: Well, there is - yes.

LIASSON: ...When in fact he is investigating the president and his campaign for possible collusion with the Russians during the campaign.

SIEGEL: The administration has also released a memorandum from the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, the former U.S. attorney in Baltimore, which he had sent to the attorney general recommending Comey's dismissal. And he says the current FBI director, while articulate and a persuasive speaker and deserves appreciation for his role - he says, 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 - that is Comey's - to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes.

LIASSON: Yes, and he said that - I have the letter, too. He said, compounding the error, the director ignored another longstanding principle. We do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation. This is quite extraordinary because they're saying they're firing him for mishandling the investigation into Clinton where Democrats are saying he's really being fired because he was leading an investigation into the president's campaign and possible...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

LIASSON: ...Collusion with the Russians.

SIEGEL: Well, he's also - at least judging from the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy AG - being fired for what he did on July 5 of last year.

LIASSON: Yes.

SIEGEL: That was when he held the news conference about...

LIASSON: Yes, and this is going...

SIEGEL: ...The Clinton case.

LIASSON: ...To be the subject of a lot of controversy. We don't have a lot of reaction from Capitol Hill. We don't know if this will encourage them to conduct their own investigation into the possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russians. But I think that you're going to hear Democrats calling again for a special committee to do that.

SIEGEL: Mara, first of all, the president is - he's within his authority to do this, isn't he...

LIASSON: Absolutely. The...

SIEGEL: ...To fire the FBI director.

LIASSON: Yes, absolutely. The FBI director serves at the pleasure of the president. He does serve for a 10-year term. It's staggered so that he is supposed to be immune from political pressure, but he absolutely serves at the pleasure of the president. We do now have at least one reaction from Dianne Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee. She said President Trump called me at 5:30 p.m. and indicated he would be removing Director Comey, saying the FBI needed a change. She goes on to say the next FBI director must be strong and independent and will receive a fair hearing in the Judiciary Committee.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mara Liasson at the White House discussing the news not only of the hour but I suspect of at least the week, which is that President Donald Trump has fired FBI Director James Comey. We'll bring you more as we learn more. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.