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Trump bombshell: FBI’s Comey fired

President Trump shocked Washington on Tuesday by firing FBI Director James Comey, the man who had been leading the politically charged investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The remarkable dismissal came in a signed letter from Trump to Comey that said it was time for a “new beginning” at the nation’s “crown jewel of law enforcement.”

“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.

The move sent the political world into a frenzy, sparking outrage from Democrats, who said Trump was attempting to shut down the FBI’s investigation.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Senate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (D-Vt.) and others called the firing “Nixonian,” while Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) called it “Trump’s ‘Tuesday Afternoon Massacre’” and “an abuse of power.”

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Both Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsBeto O'Rourke on impeachment: 'There is enough there to proceed' Rosenstein to appear for House interview next week Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure MORE and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended Comey’s dismissal, citing “substantial damage” to the FBI’s reputation and credibility under his leadership. Specifically, they cited Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublicans bail on Coffman to invest in Miami seat Katy Perry praises Taylor Swift for diving into politics Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue MORE’s private email server that roiled the presidential election last year.

At issue, according to a May 9 memo from Rosenstein to Sessions, were Comey’s remarkable public disclosures about Clinton’s conduct. In July, he took the rostrum — without authorization from the Justice Department — to announce that he would not be recommending charges against the former secretary of State.

“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 to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken,” Rosenstein wrote in the memo.

Sessions has recused himself from the FBI’s Russia investigation over his failure to disclose a meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Rosenstein, who is widely respected on both sides of the aisle, would be responsible for levying any charges in his absence.

The dismissal comes on the heels of Comey’s defiant testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, during which he declared: “I think I’ve done the right thing at each turn” in the Clinton probe.

But Rosenstein argued that Comey had done exactly the opposite. 

The director “was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5 and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution,” Rosenstein wrote, because “it is not the function of the director to make such an announcement.”

“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.”

He also disputed Comey’s characterization of an Oct. 28 letter sent to Congress to announcing that the bureau was investigating newly discovered Clinton emails. Comey last week said that to have stayed silent after informing Congress the investigation was closed would amount to “an act of concealment.”

“When federal agents and prosecutors quietly open a criminal investigation, we are not concealing anything; we are simply following the longstanding policy that we refrain from publicizing nonpublic information,” Rosenstein wrote.

On its face, the memo echoes many of the complaints Democrats have issued about Comey since Clinton’s loss in November. Many, including Clinton, have blamed Comey’s unusual conduct for her defeat.

But while that rage has simmered just under the surface, few were willing to call for Comey’s resignation, fearing whom Trump might choose to replace him.

And on Tuesday, they immediately questioned whether the move was intended to derail the Russian meddling investigation, announced in March with Justice Department authorization.

“No one should accept President Trump’s absurd justification that he is now concerned that FBI Director Comey treated Secretary Clinton unfairly,” Leahy said. “That fig leaf explanation seeks to cover the undeniable truth: The president has removed the sitting FBI director in the midst of one of the most critical national security investigations in the history of our country — one that implicates senior officials in the Trump campaign and administration.”

“Trump firing Comey shows how frightened the Admin is over Russia investigation,” tweeted Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineAmerica’s ball cap industry is in trouble Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist MORE (D-Va.), Clinton’s 2016 running mate.

Trump in the past had praised the very actions the Justice Department cited to justify Comey’s dismissal. 

The president said in the fall that it “took a lot of guts” for Comey to send the Oct. 28 letter to Congress “in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution.”

But since the election, as word of the Russia investigation began to appear in the media, Trump has displayed increasing frustration with his independent-minded FBI chief. 

Trump last week tweeted that Comey “was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds!”

And he has in the past blasted the bureau for being “totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers,’ ” following reports that officials refused to dispute a New York Times story that said agents had uncovered contact between Russian officials and his campaign.

Several Democrats used the firing to reignite calls for a special counsel to continue the investigation.

Meanwhile, several prominent Republicans — including Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Trump calls Saudi explanation for journalist's death credible, arrests 'good first step' MORE (R-S.C.), a frequent critic of Russia — backed Trump’s dismissal of Comey as others questioned the timing.

“While the case for removal of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey laid out by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein was thorough, his removal at this particular time will raise questions,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Schumer: Fight for Senate is 'neck and neck' MORE (R-Tenn.) wrote.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Arizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue McConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms MORE (R-Ariz.) said he was “disappointed” in the move and reiterated his call for a special congressional committee to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election. 

Other Republicans pushed back on concerns that Comey’s dismissal would damage the integrity of the probe.

“He wasn’t personally conducting the investigation,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family The Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Fla.), a former campaign opponent of Trump and a member of the Intelligence Committee. “The FBI staff, with hundreds if not thousands of qualified professionals, committed to our oath, committed to law enforcement on any matter.”

The firing puts an end to perhaps one of the most dramatic Justice Department careers in recent memory. 

Comey, appointed by Obama to head the bureau in 2013, has long been seen as a maverick willing to buck executive authority.

Long before he earned bipartisan ire for his handling of the Clinton probe, he earned bipartisan praise for racing to the hospital bedside of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, in 2004 as deputy attorney general, to block the recertification of a controversial counterterrorism program.

But his reputation had taken a hit on both sides of the aisle over the Clinton and Russia investigations.

Comey suffered one smaller indignity before his firing, when the FBI was forced to correct testimony he made about the Clinton email. Comey had misstated the number of Clinton-related emails forwarded by longtime aide Huma Abedin to her husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). Those messages sparked the Oct. 28 letter but ultimately revealed no new evidence.

A search for a new FBI director would “begin immediately,” according to the White House. 

Jordan Fabian, Mike Lillis, Ben Kamisar, Jonathan Easley contributed.