Timing of FBI Director James Comey’s firing raises the question: Why now?

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent

The decision to fire FBI director James Comey was made by the White House and senior Justice Department officials based on actions by Comey that had been publicly known for months — and without waiting for the conclusion of a Justice Department inspector general review of his conduct that was far from complete, a department official confirms to Yahoo News.

“Our review is ongoing,” said John Lavinsky, a spokesman for inspector general Michael Horowitz, adding that the review announced by Horowitz in January is expected to take up to a year to complete.

The disclosure that the inspector general’s review is ongoing, and far from finished, raises further questions about why Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein chose to recommend Comey’s firing now, before any official findings by department investigators. There were immediate questions about whether the action was triggered by Comey’s role in investigating Russian meddling in last year’s election — and into whether there were links between Trump campaign associates and the Kremlin.

“Given that Director Comey was responsible for the Russia investigation, it’s extremely concerning that the president would decide to fire him where there has been no indication he has done anything to justify it,” said Matt Olsen, a former senior Justice Department official under President Obama.

“The president’s actions today are shocking,” said Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, that is itself investigating the Russian issue. “It is deeply troubling that the president has fired the FBI director during an active counterintelligence investigation into improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.”

The inspector general’s review is focused on a number of issues relating to last year’s presidential election, including Comey’s public statement last July laying out his reasons not to recommend a prosecution of Hillary Clinton over her use of private email server, and the letter he sent in October informing Congress that the bureau was revisiting the issue.

Those factors were cited by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in a memo released Tuesday night, calling Comey’s conduct a violation of long-standing department principles. “The way the director handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong,” Rosenstein wrote. “As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them.”

Comey had sought to defend his conduct in Senate testimony last week. When the bureau discovered the existence of Clinton emails on a laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner, husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin, Comey said he had to decide whether to speak about the new evidence or conceal it from Congress despite his pledge to inform committees of any new developments in the case. In his memo, Rosenstein took strong exception to Comey’s explanation, writing that “‘conceal’ is a loaded term that misstates the issue. When federal agents and prosecutors quietly open a criminal investigation, we are not concealing anything, we are simply following long-standing policy that we refrain from publicizing nonpublic information.”

Comey also testified last week that he had already been interviewed by the inspector general’s investigators and expected to be again. But sources familiar with the probe say other key players involved in the controversy — including senior Justice Department officials — had not even been interviewed for the probe.

Whether Trump’s support from Congressional Republicans holds in the wake of Comey’s ouster remains to be seen. Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning” behind Comey’s firing and that his dismissal “further confuses an already difficult investigation by the committee.”

 

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