Timeline: How the Comey saga played out at the FBI

Timeline: How the Comey saga played out at the FBI
© Greg Nash

President Trump created a political earthquake Tuesday afternoon when the White House announced that he had fired FBI Director James Comey.

Trump acted on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsDem lawmaker: Trump should fire Sessions Tillerson says he's 'not going anywhere' LA mayor vows to defy Trump administration on immigration: report MORE and his deputy, who pinned the decision on Comey’s handling of the bureau’s investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonFalse advertising: How the Democrats attempt to rewrite history OPINION | Democrats: Time to wish Hillary Clinton good luck and goodbye House Intelligence Republican: Claims Gowdy acted as second lawyer for Kushner 'horses---t' MORE’s use of a private email server while secretary of State.

Yet Trump’s firing of the FBI director also comes at a time when the agency is investigating possible ties between members of Trump's presidential campaign and Russia. Comey’s dismissal creates uncertainty for the future of that probe.

Here is a timeline of the events that led up to Comey’s firing.

July 5: Comey says FBI won’t recommend charges in Clinton email probe

Comey delivered a rare press conference to address the bureau’s investigation into Clinton’s use of personal email account at the State Department.

He faulted Clinton, who was then the Democratic nominee for president, and her aides for being “extremely careless” in their handling of highly classified information but ultimately did not recommend the Justice Department pursue charges in the case. The disclosure allowed allies of Clinton — who had been dogged by the controversy over her use of a private server for more than a year — to breathe a sigh of relief.

The announcement rankled Republicans, who had seized on the controversy to argue against Clinton’s fitness for the Oval Office.

Comey’s remarks came days after former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonOPINION | Democrats: Time to wish Hillary Clinton good luck and goodbye Eric Trump: ‘Disheartening’ to watch ‘nonsense Russia investigations’ Boos for Obama as Trump speaks at Boy Scout jamboree MORE and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch met privately on an airport tarmac in Phoenix, which spurred outcry among Republicans.

Oct. 28: FBI announces review of new emails in Clinton server case

It turned out that Comey’s July announcement did not mark the end of the Clinton email investigation. In late October — just more than a week before Election Day — the FBI director sent a letter to Congress saying that the bureau was assessing new emails “pertinent” to the case.

The new emails had been discovered in connection with a federal investigation into former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), the now-estranged husband of longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin, for allegedly sending sexually explicit messages to a minor.

At the time, Comey said in a letter to Congress that he had decided the bureau should “take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information” after being briefed by his team.

The announcement made Comey an enemy of Democrats, who were infuriated at the eleventh-hour disclosure before voters headed to the polls. Members of the Clinton campaign — including Hillary Clinton herself — have at least partially blamed the announcement for her loss.

“If the election had been on Oct. 27, I would be your president,” Clinton said in an interview with CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour at a Women for Women International event last week.  

Oct. 31: Trump praises Comey’s ‘guts’

Then-Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFalse advertising: How the Democrats attempt to rewrite history OPINION | Democrats: Time to wish Hillary Clinton good luck and goodbye Judge upholds ,000 fine against Kobach for 'misleading' claims MORE lauded Comey for having the “guts” to reinvigorate the Clinton email investigation. 

"That was so bad what happened originally, and it took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution,” Trump said during a Michigan campaign rally. 

“It took a lot of guts.”

Nov. 7: Comey clears Clinton — again

One day before the majority of American voters headed to the polls, Comey again cleared Clinton by saying that the bureau had not changed its conclusions based on the new emails reviewed.

“Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July,” the FBI director wrote in a letter to Congress. 

Trump immediately took issue with the announcement on the campaign trail, claiming that it would be impossible for the FBI to review the reported 650,000 emails that were turned up on devices owned by Weiner in such a short time.

“You can’t review 650,000 new emails in eight days. You can’t do it, folks,” Trump said at a rally.

Jan. 6: Intelligence community releases Russia report

The intelligence community in mid-January released its unclassified report into Russian election interference, concluding that the Russian government conducted an influence campaign against the U.S. presidential election that involved hacking and coordinating the release of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

The goals of the influence campaign, the intelligence community concluded with high confidence, were to undermine American democracy and damage Clinton. The intelligence community also assessed that the Russian government had established a preference for Trump.

The assessment was a result of work between the CIA, FBI and NSA and was released by the director of national intelligence.

Trump has repeatedly expressed skepticism of the findings. Though he admitted in January that Russia was likely behind the DNC hack, he implied that China could have been the culprit as early as last month.

March 20: Comey reveals FBI probe into Russian election interference 

Comey stepped back into the shadows for some time following the presidential election, emerging briefly in January to deliver testimony alongside intelligence officials ahead of the release of an assessment into Russia’s activities in the presidential election.

But he launched himself back into the spotlight in March, revealing in public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee that the bureau was investigating Russian election interference — including any links or coordination between associates of Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

“Our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters, but in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so as Justice Department policies recognize,” Comey said. “This is one of those circumstances.”

As part of its counterintelligence mission, Comey said, the FBI “is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” 

The announcement infuriated Republicans, who expressed frustration with Comey for putting a “cloud” over the new administration. 

The White House immediately sought to undermine the disclosure, saying that there has been “no evidence” produced showing that Trump associates colluded with Russia to interfere in the election. 

May 3: Comey testifies before Senate Judiciary Committee 

Comey appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee just last week, his first public testimony since announcing the investigation into possible ties between associates of Trump and Russia.

The meeting was billed as a general oversight hearing of the FBI, but Comey faced scrutiny from both parties on his decisions related to the Russia investigation and the announcements about the Clinton email probe.

Comey vehemently defended his decisions in the handling of the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private server.

“I sat there that morning [on Oct. 28] and I could not see a door labeled ‘no action’ here,” Comey told lawmakers. “I could see two doors, and they were both actions. One was labeled ‘speak,’ the other was labeled ‘conceal.’ ”

The FBI director remained mum on the investigation into Russia and Trump associates.

May 9: Comey clarifies Clinton email testimony

On Tuesday, less than an hour before news of Comey’s firing, the FBI was forced to clarify testimony that Comey made to the Senate Judiciary Committee in regards to the Clinton email investigation. 

Comey had told senators that Abedin forwarded “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton’s emails to Weiner’s laptop. 

The bureau said in a letter to the Senate committee that only a “small number” of the relevant 49,000 emails found on Weiner’s device had been manually forwarded. Most of them, the bureau clarified, ended up on the computer as a result of a backup of personal electronic devices.

May 9: Trump fires Comey

The White House announced Tuesday afternoon that Trump had fired Comey based on recommendations from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein, his deputy. Trump wrote in a letter to Comey that it is “essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”

“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to lead the bureau,” Trump wrote.

Rosenstein argued that Comey should be fired based on his handling of the Clinton email investigation, according to a letter released by the White House.

Rosenstein said that he “cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.”

The matter has already created ripples across Washington, with Democrats seizing on the development to renew pushes for a special prosecutor or independent commission to investigate Russian election interference. 

Some Republicans have also expressed concerns over the firing.