WASHINGTON — President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, the latest fallout from an election-year saga that found the FBI director at the center of political controversies ranging from Trump's connections to Russia to Hillary Clinton's handling of classified e-mails.
Trump's decision to fire Comey was based on the "clear recommendations" of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
“The FBI is one of our nation’s most cherished and respected institutions and today will mark a new beginning for our crown jewel of law enforcement,” Trump said in a statement.
A search for a new permanent FBI director will begin immediately, Spicer said.
The firing came just after the FBI confirmed Comey provided erroneous testimony to a Senate panel about how Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin handled classified emails.
A career prosecutor, Comey, held top Justice Department posts in the George W. Bush administration before being appointed FBI director by President Barack Obama in 2013.
He is only the second director fired in the 82-year history of the FBI. President Bill Clinton fired FBI Director William Sessions in 1993 amid ethics problems. While FBI directors are appointed to 10-year terms in order to make them nominally non-partisan, they can still be fired by the president.
Comey's firing calls into question the future of the investigation into Russian hacking of the 2016 presidential election.
The FBI is currently in the midst of a full-blown counterintelligence inquiry, exploring charges of possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials.
Democrats are already questioning whether Comey's firing is an effort to stymie the Russia investigation. Brian Fallon, a former spokesman for the Obama Justice Department and the Clinton campaign, tweeted: "I'm not shedding any tears for Comey personally – he hurt FBI's reputation – but I do worry whether we ever get to the bottom of Russia now."
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., called Trump's move to fire Comey "Nixonian," and demanded that Rosenstein appoint a special counsel to investigate Russian election interference.
But Comey has also found himself at odds with Democrats, who blamed his Oct. 28 announcement that he was re-opening an investigation into Clinton's emails for her loss in the election 11 days later.
Rosenstein, confirmed by the Senate two weeks ago as Comey's day-to-day supervisor, faulted Comey for his July 5 news conference saying no charges would be filed against Clinton, and for announcing that he had re-opened the case so close to the election.
In a memo to the attorney general, Rosenstein said he did not understand Comey's refusal to acknowledge his problems.
"Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of different perspectives," Rosenstein wrote.
Comey, 56, succeeded Robert Mueller, the longest serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover. Mueller served for 12 years before leaving the bureau.
A former chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan and former deputy attorney general, Comey won plaudits for his independence as a key player in one of the most dramatic moments during the George W. Bush administration.
With then-Attorney General John Ashcroft hospitalized in 2004 with acute pancreatitis, Deputy Attorney General Comey rushed to his boss’ bedside at George Washington Hospital when he learned that then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card were trying to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize a controversial warrantless eavesdropping program.
Since taking office, Comey has staked out the highest profile of any director since Hoover.