WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — The White House said Wednesday that President Donald Trump had considered firing FBI Director James Comey since “the day he was elected.”
“The president had lost confidence in Director Comey and frankly he’d been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected,” Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders Huckabee said during a press briefing Wednesday.
Meanwhile, as CBS2’s Jessica Moore reported, Comey issued a letter late Wednesday.
“I have long believed that a President can fire an FBI Director for any reason, or for no reason at all. I’m not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed. I hope you won’t either,” Comey wrote in the letter. “It is done, and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply.”
Comey encouraged the recipients of the letter to go on with their mission and said he would miss it, and added that working for the FBI has been “one of the great joys of my life,” CBS News reported.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, the White House said Trump asked for something in writing when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended the firing on Monday. Trump dropped the axe on Tuesday.
On Wednesday morning, Trump said he fired Comey because he “wasn’t not doing a good job.”
Trump made the remarks to reporters in the Oval Office with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger after a closed meeting with Russia’s foreign minister.
“Very simply he was not doing a good job,” Trump said in his first in-person statement to the press since Comey’s firing Tuesday.
The president tweeted earlier Wednesday morning that Republicans and Democrats will soon “be thanking me” for the firing, saying Comey “lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike.”
The president made it sound like a straightforward decision. After all, both parties had piled onto Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe.
Comey criticized, but cleared Clinton of criminality in July, but then reignited the controversy with a letter to Congress 12 days before the election.
At the time, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said, “The President ought to fire Comey immediately.”
But six months later, Nadler and other Democrats portrayed the firing as a dire moment for America.
“A looming constitutional crisis that is deadly serious,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)
But White House spokeswoman Sanders said Clinton also surely would have fired Comey if she had been elected president.
“If Hillary Clinton had won, she would have fired Comey immediately. And the very Democrats that are criticizing the president today would be dancing in the streets celebrating,” Sanders said, “so I think it’s the purest form of hypocrisy.”
Trump himself also attacked Democrats critical of his firing of Comey, saying that Democrats “have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired, but now they play so sad!”
On Wednesday afternoon, Trump issued another tweet calling Democrats “phony hypocrites.”
In another tweet, he said Comey “will be replaced by someone who will do a far better job, bringing back the spirit and prestige of the FBI.”
The surprise decision to fire the FBI director came amid the law enforcement agency’s investigation into whether Trump’s presidential campaign was connected to Russian meddling in the election.
Critics insisted that the Comey firing was an attempt to cripple the probe.
Comey had met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last week to “resources, energy and attention” for the Russian investigation, a U.S. official confirmed to CBS News.
He then informed two leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee of the request Monday, CBS News reported.
A Justice Department spokesman said the report about Comey requesting more resources “is totally false,” CBS News reported.
In his letter to Comey, Trump said the firing was necessary to restore “public trust and confidence” in the FBI.
The administration paired the letter with a scathing review by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of how Comey handled the investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email practices, including his decision to hold a news conference announcing its findings and releasing “derogatory information” about Clinton.
Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday the “president made the right decision at the right time,” adding that the administration is looking for a new person to lead the agency.
Pence also insisted that the firing of Comey had nothing to do with the Russia investigation.
“That’s not what this is about,” Pence said. “There is no evidence of collusion between our campaign and any Russian officials.”
Sanders said the loss of confidence in Comey was across the board.
“Bipartisan members of congress made it clear they had lost confidence in director Comey, and most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost in confidence in their director,” she said.
The last point was disputed by former FBI agent Manny Gomez.
“I have talked to numerous people in the rank and file in the FBI, Gomez said. “One hundred percent see this as a political firing, and they are totally behind Director Comey.”
Democrats want a special prosecutor appointed — a call that so far Congressional Republicans have ignored.
“What does Donald Trump know, and when did he know it?” said U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn). “He’s hiding something from the American people.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday asked that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy appear before the Senate to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding Comey’s firing.
“I’ll be requesting that the majority leader call a closed and, if necessary, classified all senators briefing with the attorney general and the deputy attorney general separately at which they can be asked questions,” he said on the Senate floor.
Schumer continued, “All we are seeking is some assurance is the subject of this investigation is not able to influence it, or God forbid, quash it.”
Schumer said Sessions and Rosenstein should discuss why Sessions participated in the decision to fire Comey despite recusing himself and whether Rosenstein acted on his own when recommending Comey’s dismissal or whether he was order to do so by the White House.
Schumer also repeated his own call for a special counsel to investigate ties between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
“If there was even a time when circumstances warranted a special prosecutor, it is right now,” he said.
He also said the administration should answer why the president didn’t wait until the Justice Department’s inspector general issued a report on Comey’s much-criticized actions regarding the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
On Tuesday, Schumer said he told the president he was “making a big mistake” in his firing of Comey, calling it “part of a deeply troubling pattern from the Trump administration.”
Trump fired back with a tweet exclaiming Tuesday night: “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer stated recently, ‘I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer.’ Then acts so indignant.”
Other Democrats likened the firing to President Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” and have also renewed calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
“This is Nixonian,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) said. “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must immediately appoint a special counsel to continue the Trump/Russia investigation.”
“It was brazen, one of the most staggering, stunning acts of a president compromising an investigation,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Wednesday. “If there was any question about the need for a special prosecutor, there is none now.”
“I believed this before and I called for it months ago, the urgent need then for an independent special counsel,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said.
Added Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.): “It feels like the dragnet tightening on the Russia investigation. I believe that’s why he let Comey go.”
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Russia investigation should continue with no special prosecutor.
“Two investigations are currently ongoing,” he said on the Senate floor. “The Senate Intelligence Committee’s review of Russian active measures and intelligence activities and the FBI investigation disclosed by Director Comey.”
Overall, Republican congressional reaction is mixed.
“While the President has the legal authority to remove the Director of the FBI, I am disappointed in the President’s decision to remove James Comey from office. James Comey is a man of honor and integrity, and he has led the FBI well in extraordinary circumstances,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) “I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The president’s decision to remove the FBI Director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee.”
And Arizona’s Jeff Flake said on Twitter: “I’ve spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of comey’s firing. i just can’t do it.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning” behind Comey’s firing.
He said the dismissal “further confuses an already difficult investigation” by his panel and called it “a loss for the bureau and the nation.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he doesn’t believe a special prosecutor should be considered unless the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible connections to Russia becomes a criminal matter.
It’s now a counterintelligence investigation.
Graham said if it becomes “a criminal investigation where the Trump campaign may be exposed to criminal charges, then that’s the time to have that conversation.”
Senate Judiciary Commission Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said Comey had broken trust in the FBI.
“The handling of the Clinton email investigation is a clear example of how Comey’s decisions have called into question the trust and political independence of the FBI,” he said.
Former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell the president certainly has the authority to fire Comey, but it just smells bad.
“He’s trying to take away the person who has shown to be completely independent,” she said.
Congress will continue to look into the Russia connection, but Rogers said that’s not good enough.
“Congress doesn’t have the tools to look into this the way the FBI does,” she said.
However, U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan, (R-N.Y.) said he disagrees.
“Though there’s partisanship in Washington. There is bipartisanship on both sides of those committees,” he said.
Meanwhile, CBS News caught up with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a charity hockey game in Russia. He skated past a question about Trump firing Comey.
“President Trump is acting in accordance with his competence and in accordance with his law and constitution,” Putin said.
CBS News reported Comey requested more “resources, energy and attention” for the Russia probe before he was fired. The Justice Department said that was “totally false.”
Meanwhile, speculation now turns to Comey’s replacement. Names include former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former FBI agent and retired congressman Mike Rogers, and former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly – who is now 75.
Donovan said Kelly has “unimpeachable credentials and a career of independence. U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) agrees.
“Someone like Ray Kelly for instance, or someone like that — a person who nobody would question his credentials, nobody would question his independence, or her independence,” King said.
FBI directors typically serve ten-year terms. Comey was four years into his tenure and is only the second FBI director to ever be fired in the history of the agency.
Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe will take over the director position until a replacement is named.
Comey has been invited to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee next Tuesday behind closed doors.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)