Reaction pours in over sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey

Last Updated May 9, 2017 11:05 PM EDT

FBI Director James Comey was fired by President Trump, the White House announced on Tuesday.

Mr. Trump said in a letter to Comey released Tuesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had recommended his dismissal.

Reaction was swift as news spread of the president's decision -- including a tweet from Mr. Trump late Tuesday night.

President Trump

Democratic Response

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York: "Earlier this afternoon President Trump called me and informed me he was firing Director Comey. I told the president, 'Mr. President with all due respect you are making a big mistake.' The first question the administration has to answer is why now? If Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein does not appoint an independent special prosecutor every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire Director Comey was part of a coverup."

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: "The White House was already covering up for Michael Flynn by refusing to provide a single document to Congress, and now the President fired the one independent person who was doing the most to investigate President Trump and his campaign over allegations of coordination with Russia. It is mindboggling that the Attorney General -- who claimed to have recused himself --  was directly involved in the decision to fire Director Comey according to the White House itself."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California: "The President's sudden and brazen firing of the FBI Director raises the ghosts of some of the worst Executive Branch abuses. We cannot stand by and watch a coverup of the possible collusion with a hostile foreign power to undermine American democracy. The interests of justice demand Congress act immediately to create an independent, bipartisan commission to pursue the Trump-Russia investigation free from the Administration's attempts to silence it."

Sen. Richard Burr, D-North Carolina, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: "I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey's termination. I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee. In my interactions with the Director and with the Bureau under his leadership, he and the FBI have always been straightforward with our Committee.  Director Comey has been more forthcoming with information than any FBI Director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intelligence committees.  His dismissal, I believe, is a loss for the Bureau and the nation. 

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence: "The decision by a President whose campaign associates are under investigation by the FBI for collusion with Russia to fire the man overseeing that investigation, upon the recommendation of an Attorney General who has recused himself from that investigation, raises profound questions about whether the White House is brazenly interfering in a criminal matter. While I had deep reservations with the way Director Comey handled the investigation into the Clinton emails which I made clear at the time and since, to take this action without addressing the profound conflict of interest of the President and Attorney General harkens back to a similarly tainted decision by President Nixon. The same President who has called the investigation into the Russian hacking of our democracy and the potential complicity of his campaign a 'fake,' cannot pretend to have made such a decision uninfluenced by his concerns over Comey's continued involvement in the investigation. It is more imperative than ever that an independent prosecutor be appointed to restore a modicum of public confidence -- now completely lacking -- that the criminal investigation will continue without further interference by the White House."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee: "President Trump called me at 5:40 p.m. and indicated he would be removing Director Comey, saying the FBI needed a change. The next FBI director must be strong and independent and will receive a fair hearing in the Judiciary Committee."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut: "The need for a special prosecutor is now crystal clear. President Trump has catastrophically compromised the FBI's ongoing investigation of his own White House's ties to Russia. Not since Watergate have our legal systems been so threatened, and our faith in the independence and integrity of those systems so shaken. The only way to restore faith in a non-political, non-partisan FBI is to appoint an independent special prosecutor."

Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Michigan, Ranking Member of the House Committee on the Judiciary: "Today's action by President Trump completely obliterates any semblance of an independent investigation into Russian efforts to influence our election, and places our nation on the verge of a constitutional crisis. There is little doubt that the President's actions harken our nation back to Watergate and the "Saturday Night Massacre." This decision makes it clear that we must have an independent, non-partisan commission to investigate both Russian interference in the U.S. election and allegations of collusion between the government of Vladimir Putin and the Trump campaign. Today's actions reek of a cover up and appear to be part of an ongoing effort by the Trump White House to impede the investigation into Russian ties and interference in our elections.

"I am particularly concerned that President Trump fired Director Comey based in part on the recommendation of Attorney General Sessions -- who was forced to recuse himself from the underlying investigation based on his own actions and misconduct. This shocking decision by the President is beyond the pale and itself warrants independent inquiry and hearings, and reinforces the need for the Attorney General himself to step down given his own obvious and ongoing conflicts.

"Though we may not have always agreed with James Comey, he was critical to overseeing the ongoing investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election. The Administration's after-the-fact efforts to rationalize this blatantly self-serving political firing -- by complaining about the manner Director Comey handled the investigation into Secretary Clinton's emails-is too cute by half and does not even pass the smell test."

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland: "Firing FBI Director Comey has the foul stench of an attempt to stop an ongoing investigation into collusion between the Trump administration and the Russians. We know that the Russians interfered in our election. We know that every intelligence agency concluded that Russia interfered on behalf of Donald Trump. And we know that Director Comey was investigating potential collusion between Donald Trump's associates and Russia. While I've long had concerns about Director Comey, it's shocking that the Justice Department and the White House would blatantly interfere in an ongoing and very active investigation by firing him. Congress must continue its work to investigate possible collusion, but the timing of Director Comey's firing requires that the Justice Department immediately appoint a special prosecutor in order to reinstall confidence in our justice system and in our intelligence agencies."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregont: "Donald Trump's decision to fire him now, in the midst of an investigation into Trump associates and their ties to Russia, is outrageous."

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania: "This is Nixonian. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must immediately appoint a special counsel to continue the Trump/Russia investigation."

Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Virginia, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: "The President's actions today are shocking. It is deeply troubling that the President has fired the FBI director during an active counterintelligence investigation into improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. The President's actions today make it clear to me that a Special Counsel also must be appointed. That's the only way the American people will be able to trust the results of any DOJ investigation. The only way this Administration can begin to demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law, which has so far been sorely lacking, is to cooperate fully with the ongoing congressional investigations and to support the appointment of an independent special counsel."

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, the Ranking Member of the CIA Subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence: "President Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey -- who less than two months ago told the House Intelligence Committee that the President and his Administration were the subject of criminal and counterintelligence investigations regarding their close personal, political and financial ties to Russia and Russia's active interference in our 2016 presidential election on Trump's behalf -- should send a chill down the spine of every American, no matter who they voted for. This is not what an innocent person would do; this is an abuse of power, and shows a consciousness of guilt."

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California:

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia:

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii:

Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey:

Republican Response

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina: "I know this was a difficult decision for all concerned. Given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well. I encourage the President to select the most qualified professional available who will serve our nation's interests."

Sen. John McCain, R-Nevada: "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. 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." 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky: "Once the Senate receives a nomination, we look forward to a full, fair, and timely confirmation process to fill the Director position. This is a critical role that is especially important as America faces serious threats at home and abroad."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa: "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. In my efforts to get answers, the FBI, under Comey's leadership, has been slow or failed to provide information that Comey himself pledged to provide. The FBI Director serves at the pleasure of the president. Under these circumstances, President Trump accepted the recommendation of the Justice Department that the Director lacked the confidence needed to carry out his important duties."

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri: "Director Comey has served the country well in a number of different roles. Many, including myself, have questioned his actions more than once over the past year. I believe new leadership at the FBI will restore confidence in the organization and among the people who do the hard work to carry out its mission." 

Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma: "James Comey had an incredibly difficult job in his role as FBI Director and I am grateful for his service. The issues that our law enforcement, intelligence community, and congressional committees deal with each day are very sensitive and have life or death implications. Director Comey has been the public face representing thousands of committed law enforcement officers and civil servants within the intelligence community. In the days ahead, the American people need clarity and deserve an explanation for his immediate firing. It is unfortunate that over the past year the Director had lost the trust of so many people on both sides of the aisle. It is now important that the Senate confirm the next FBI Director with a thorough and fair process."

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida:

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee: "While the case for removal of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey laid out by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein was thorough, his removal at this particular time will raise questions," said Corker. "It is essential that ongoing investigations are fulsome and free of political interference until their completion, and it is imperative that President Trump nominate a well-respected and qualified individual to lead the bureau at this critical time."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida: "The FBI will continue to function ... The FBI is staffed by thousands of highly qualified professionals committed to their job and that work will continue. And the president will nominate a new director and that person will go through the confirmation process. And I'm confident it'll be someone of the highest standing and the highest caliber.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia:

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich:

FBI Response

CBS News' Pat Milton spoke with more than half a dozen FBI agents in various field offices across the country including the New York FBI the flagship office.

Each agent expressed shock at the news of director Comeys firing. All spoke on condition of anonymity.

"I think he got rid of him because of the Russian investigation. They are trying to circle the wagons," one agent told CBS News. "He wants his own man on there."

Another veteran agent said, "Everyone is stunned. Talk about shock waves through the bureau. He is such a good man and a great leader. He didn't deserve this."

Another told CBS News: "You need cause to remove an FBI Director. He is apparently using his mishandling of the email investigation. He misspoke after an exhaustive four hours of testimony. That was the straw. Trump says he can't be trusted."

A current special agent at the FBI expressed thoughts about Trump's firing of Comey:

"I am not happy ... We are living in partisan times. Both sides criticized the director; that's why he should still be in the job. The vast majority of the bureau is in favor of Director Comey. He is one of the first leaders to really care about our people and the institution. He talks about ideals and he believes in those ideals; he is the real deal. This is a total shock. This is not supposed to happen. [Trump] should not have fired this man."

Additional Statements

Attorney General Jeff Sessions emailed the following to the FBI:

The President of the United States has exercised his lawful authority to remove James B. Comey, Jr., as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. By operation of law and effective immediately, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe assumed the position of Acting Director of the FBI. As you well know, the FBI is an exceptional law enforcement and intelligence agency. It is made so by you, the devoted men and women who work tirelessly to keep our country safe. Thank you for your steadfast dedication and commitment during this time of transition.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: "I have immense respect and admiration for James Comey. This is a tremendous loss for both the FBI and the nation."

Former acting Attorney General Donald Ayer (under former President George H.W. Bush): "I view the firing based it seems entirely on Comey's mishandling of the Clinton investigation by making various inappropriate public statements as a sham. At the time, Mr. Trump was supportive of the most incorrect things that Comey did -- editorializing about the facts of the then ended investigation and later announcing that the investigation had been reopened. The Deputy should realize that his correct assessment of those mistakes is now being used to justify firing for a very different reason."

Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign manager Robby Mook weighed in:

Former Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta:

Alec Baldwin tweeted the following:

What's Next

The White House released several documents after Comey's firing, including from Mr. Trump, Sessions and Rosenstein.

Comey was scheduled to testify Thursday on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, responded to the news by saying, "It's not going to imperil our investigation as far as the Intel committee. We're still looking forward to having James Comey come before us, same as Sally Yates."

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the search for a new FBI director will begin immediately.

"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," Spicer said in a statement.