May 9, 2017 9:50 pm
Updated: May 9, 2017 10:13 pm

How and why Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey

In this Dec. 9, 2015 file photo, FBI Director James Comey prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
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On Tuesday night, U.S. President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

In a letter to Comey, Trump explained he decided to terminate him on the recommendation of his Attorney General Jeff Sessions – but was vague on the details.

Sessions, in a letter to Trump, based his decision on the “evaluation and reasons expressed by the Deputy Attorney General.”

For his part, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggested Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server was a major concern.

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“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’s letter read, according to the Guardian.

He also listed Comey’s conclusion to not prosecute Clinton as well as his pre-election press conference on Clinton as reasons.

READ MORE: FBI director says it would have been ‘catastrophic’ to keep Congress in dark about Hillary Clinton email investigation

Comey was recently under fire after an Associated Press report said he exaggerated the number of emails sent by aide Huma Abedin to her husband’s laptop. Earlier Tuesday, the FBI corrected his sworn testimony to say it was only a “small number” of emails, not “hundreds and thousands,” as Comey said.

Clinton has partially blamed her loss on Comey’s disclosure to Congress less than two weeks before Election Day that the email investigation would be revisited. He later said the FBI, again, had found no reason to bring any charges.

But others are worried the decision to fire the FBI director was based on the Russian probe, in which Comey testified last week.

WATCH: Surprise and concern after Trump fires FBI Director James Comey

Sen. Richard Burr, who is leading the investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, says he’s “troubled by the timing and reasoning” behind President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Burr, who chairs the Intelligence committee, said he found Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal “further confuses an already difficult investigation” by his panel.

Burr said Comey was the most forthcoming with information of any FBI director that Burr could recall.

The North Carolina senator called Comey’s firing “a loss for the bureau and the nation.”

Tim Kaine, Clinton’s 2016 running mate and Democratic Virginia senator, said the termination shows how scared the Trump administration is of the Russia probe.

Justin Amash, a Republican representative for Michigan, said he was “reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia. The second paragraph of this letter is bizarre.”

Is it a ‘grotesque abuse of power’?

Political pundits condemned the firing almost immediately, calling the incident “bizarre” and terrifying.

“It’s a grotesque abuse of power,” CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said. “This is the kind of thing that goes on in a non-democracy.”

Edward Snowden called for Americans to condemn the action.

“This FBI Director has sought for years to jail me on account of my political activities. If I can oppose his firing, so can you,” he wrote on Twitter.

But the President of the United States has the authority to fire the FBI director.

“The Director’s ability to serve a full term depends upon retaining the confidence of the President,” Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center wrote in a blog post in March.

WATCH: Sean Spicer asked about Trump’s confidence in FBI Director James Comey just prior to firing 

Comey’s firing isn’t the first time this has happened, either.

Former president Bill Clinton dismissed former FBI director William Sessions in 1993 after it was revealed Sessions was using government resources for personal reasons.

But he said there could be ramifications following Comey’s dismissal.

“Removing an FBI Director, either through executive or legislative branch action, is politically risky,” he wrote. “Back in 1993, Sessions’ dismissal drew protests from some members of Congress.”

Bomboy also explained the Senate has the authority to fire the director.

More questions remain

Going forward, there will be many things to figure out as the fallout continues.

First, Comey’s replacement will need to be found; the White House says they will begin the search immediately. He/she will need to be confirmed by the Republican-led Senate.

Comey is also the third high-profile Obama-era executive fired by the Trump administration: Sally Yates, the former attorney general, and New York Attorney General Phreet Bharara.

READ MORE: Both Republicans and Democrats troubled by Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey

And questions about Sessions’ involvement in Comey’s firing will need to be addressed, since, as Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post points out: “If Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, how and why did he make the recommendation to fire Comey?”

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