DONALD Trump decision to abruptly fire FBI Director James Comey has ignited a fearsome political firestorm in the United States.
“Today, President Donald J. Trump informed Mr Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office,” the White House revealed in a statement, which said Mr Trump had acted on the advice of his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.
“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.
“A search for a new permanent FBI Director will begin immediately.”
The White House statement did not elaborate on the reason for Mr Comey’s dismissal, though Mr Sessions’ recommendation to the President stated the government needed to “reaffirm its commitment” to “the integrity and fairness of federal investigations and prosecutions”.
In his termination letter to Mr Comey, obtained by the media, the President was strikingly blunt.
“You are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately,” Mr Trump wrote.
“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 effectively lead the Bureau.
“It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission. I wish you luck in your future endeavours.”
Earlier this week, Mr Comey testified to Congress about the FBI’s investigation into potential links between Russia and Mr Trump’s campaign team. He first confirmed the existence of that investigation back in March.
During that appearance before Congress, Mr Comey also covered the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, and misstated several facts.
The backlash against Mr Trump’s decision to fire Mr Comey has been swift and severe.
“It’s a grotesque abuse of power by the President of the United States,” said CNN’s senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
“This is the kind of thing that goes on in non-democracies. That when there is an investigation that reaches near the President of the United States or the leader of the non-democracy, they fire the people in charge of the investigation.
“I have not seen anything like this since October 1973, when President Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor ... that firing led indirectly, but certainly, to the resignation of President Nixon.
“This is something that is completely outside how American law is supposed to work.”
As you’d expect, the President’s political opponents also raised the spectre of Richard Nixon, who resigned from office in disgrace during the 1970s.
“This is Nixonian,” said senior senator Bob Casey. “Trump firing Comey shows how frightened the administration is over the Russia investigation,” added Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential nominee, Tim Kaine.
Edward Snowden — no friend of the FBI — also lined up to slam Mr Trump.
“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,” Mr Snowden said. “Every American should condemn such political interference in the Bureau’s work.”
The dominant reaction, however, was shock. Even the FBI’s employees were caught off guard by the sudden announcement. Some of them texted reporters to find out whether the news was real.