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Trump stirs controversy after sacking FBI director James Comey

Sacked FBI chief James Comey was caught off guard, in front of his staff, by the sudden dismissal

LOS ANGELES/WASHINGTON: The TV in the background flashed the news that he had been fired as FBI director James Comey was addressing a group of employees in Los Angeles.

In response, Mr Comey laughed, saying he thought it was a fairly funny prank, reported The New York Times.

After a small commotion among his staff, Mr Comey was asked to step into a nearby office. He stopped addressing the group, shook hands with the people and stepped into the side office, where he confirmed that he had been fired by US President Donald Trump.

No one at the White House had informed him.

It was only after he was taken to the FBI headquarters in Washington that he got the official letter.

The manner of Mr Comey's sacking was just the tip of a rather explosive iceberg.

As news spread of the sudden removal of the man heading a wide-ranging investigation into whether Mr Trump's aides colluded with Russia to sway last year's US election, so did anger among some FBI officials and politicians.

In a shock move that drew comparisons to the Watergate scandal that brought down Mr Richard Nixon, Mr Trump told Mr Comey the FBI needed new leadership and he was being "terminated" with immediate effect, reported AFP.

Under Mr Comey's leadership, the FBI concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a multi-faceted campaign to tilt the vote in Mr Trump's favour.

His snap dismissal, ostensibly for mishandling a probe into Ms Hillary Clinton's e-mail, sparked rare criticism from Republicans and allegations of a cover-up from seething Democrats who demanded an independent inquiry.

The high-stakes gambit also prompted comparisons to the ill-fated firings that sped the collapse of Mr Nixon's presidency. Mr Trump's decision to fire the FBI director is virtually unprecedented, only one director has previously been fired in the bureau's history.

In a letter circulated by the White House, Mr Trump told Comey: "It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission."

Mr Trump also used the letter to distance himself from the deepening scandal over Russia's involvement in the election.

"I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation," Mr Trump wrote.

The White House said the search for a new FBI director was to begin right away. FBI directors are appointed for a single 10-year term. The 56-year-old Comey, who is popular among rank-and-file agents, was appointed four years ago.

Democrat Chuck Schumer said Mr Trump had made a "big mistake".

And unless the administration appoints an independent special prosecutor to probe the Russian meddling, Mr Schumer added, "every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire director Comey was part of a cover-up".

Mr Trump fired back on Twitter: "Cryin' Chuck Schumer stated recently, 'I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer.' Then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp."

Republicans, many of whom have fallen into line behind Mr Trump after initial reluctance, sought to distance themselves from the President.

"I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of director Comey's termination," said Senator Richard Burr.

Republican congressman Justin Amash described parts of the letter as "bizarre".

Comey's year of controversy

US President Donald Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey followed a turbulent year for the latter, in which he became embroiled in controversy over his handling of investigations involving both Mr Trump and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

JULY 5, 2016

Mr Comey announced he had recommended that no criminal charges be filed against Mrs Clinton for her handling of classified information while she was secretary of state, but he called her "extremely careless" for using a private e-mail server.

OCT 28

Less than two weeks before the Nov 8 presidential election, Mr Comey announced in a letter to Congress that the FBI had learnt of the existence of e-mails that appeared to pertain to the Clinton investigation, and they would be reviewed as to whether they contained classified information. The decision upset Democrats, who believed it would harm Mrs Clinton's chances of victory.

JAN 22, 2017

Two days after his inauguration, Mr Trump was at an event in the White House and saw Mr Comey in the audience.

He called out to him and Mr Comey strode up and they warmly shook hands and briefly embraced.

"He's become more famous than me," the US President said with a chuckle.

MARCH 20

Mr Comey, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, said the FBI had been investigating possible coordination between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

MAY 2

Mrs Clinton told a Women for Women event in New York that Mr Comey's announcement threw the election for Mr Trump.

"If the election had been on Oct 27, I would be your president," she said.

MAY 4

Mr Comey, in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it made him "mildly nauseous" to think his announcement of the reopening of an investigation into Mrs Clinton's e-mails affected last year's presidential election, but he had no regrets and would make the same decision again.

MAY 9

White House spokesman Sean Spicer announced that Mr Trump had accepted the recommendation of Attorney-General Jeff Sessions and deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mr Comey. - REUTERS

Moscow: Comey's firing has 'nothing to do with Russia'

MOSCOW: The Kremlin yesterday described the firing of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey by US President Donald Trump as an internal matter that had nothing to do with Russia.

"This is absolutely a domestic matter for the United States, a sovereign decision by the US President which has absolutely nothing to do with Russia and cannot have anything to do with it," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

Mr Trump stunned Washington by firing Mr Comey, the man who leads the agency charged with investigating whether Trump campaign aides colluded with Russia to sway the November elections.

ELEGANT

Asked how the change of leadership would affect bilateral relations, Mr Peskov said "we hope it won't affect them at all".

The head of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian senate Konstantin Kosachev earlier called Mr Trump's firing of Mr Comey "quite elegant" in comments to Interfax news agency.

"He removed a figure who was inconvenient for him using the same accusations that Trump's own opponents had previously presented against the FBI director," Mr Kosachev said.

Mr Trump's rival in the election, Mrs Hillary Clinton, blamed Mr Comey for her defeat after he revealed just before the Nov 8 polls that he was re-opening a probe into Mrs Clinton's use of a personal e-mail server while she was still the US Secretary of State. - AFP

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