The White House disclosed that President Donald Trump had been considering dismissing FBI Director James Comey since November 2016. During a press briefing, deputy White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders went so far as to state that Comey committed "basic atrocities."
On May 9, Trump dismissed Comey from the FBI, igniting controversy in Washington, D.C.
Comey had been heading an FBI investigation into whether members of Trump's campaign had colluded with Russian intelligence officials to subvert the 2016 presidential race. The official reason given for Comey's dismissal was that he mishandled the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.
On May 10, Sanders took questions from reporters, filling in for White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Queried on the timing of Comey's dismissal, Sanders asserted that it had been a long time coming.
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"The president has lost confidence in Director Comey and, frankly, he'd been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected," Sanders said, reports CNN.
On May 3, Spicer had stated the exact opposite.
"The president has confidence in the director," Spicer said shortly after Trump blasted Comey for not recommending charges against Clinton, according to CNN.
Sanders told reporters that Comey was fired specifically for his July 2016 press conference, when he criticized Clinton's conduct but said he would not recommend charges against her.
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"Director Comey made a pretty startling revelation that he had essentially taken a stick of dynamite and thrown it into the Department of Justice by going around the chain of command," Sanders said.
The deputy press secretary added that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had expressed no confidence in Comey during with a meeting with Trump on May 8, following up with a memo laying out reasons to fire the FBI director on May 9.
Sanders said Rosenstein's letter outlined Comey's "basic atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice."
Critics of the decision accused Trump of attempting to quash the FBI probe into Russia. Several congressional officials said Comey informed them days before his firing that he had requested Rosenstein to provide more Department of Justice resources for the investigation.
"I'm told that as soon as Rosenstein arrived, there was a request for additional resources for the investigation and that a few days afterwards, he was sacked," Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois told The New York Times.
"We know Director Comey was leading an investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, a serious offense," said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, reports Reuters. "Were those investigations getting too close to home for the president?"
On May 10, Trump told reporters that he fired Comey because "He wasn't doing a good job, very simply."