Comey "lost the confidence" of FBI employees, says Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Last Updated May 10, 2017 11:16 AM EDT

Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said fired FBI Director James Comey had "lost the confidence" of the "rank-and-file" FBI employees, "politicized" his role and become a "distraction" in explaining the timing of the former director's dismissal.

Sanders, speaking exclusively to CBSN's "Red & Blue" Tuesday night, gave those reasons when asked why Comey was dismissed Tuesday, instead of when Mr. Trump first took office. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein cited Comey's mishandling of the Clinton email investigation as grounds for his dismissal.

The FBI is investigating any ties between Russians and Mr. Trump's associates, so the timing of Comey's dismissal is raising the eyebrows of Democrats and even some Republicans.

"Look, I think that there's been a long list of reasons that Director Comey isn't there," Sanders told CBSN.

Comey was dismissed the same day the FBI acknowledged he gave inaccurate information to Congress about how many sensitive emails Clinton aide Huma Abedin forwarded to her husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner.

Sources told CBS News that while Abedin did occasionally forward emails to Weiner's laptop for printing, the number was far smaller than the "hundreds and thousands" Comey claimed and it wasn't a usual practice. Furthermore, none of the emails forwarded were marked classified, but later, a small number were found to contain classified information.

Sanders said that misstep hurt Comey's credibility, and added to a "constant barrage of mistakes." She emphasized the need to restore "credibility" to the FBI.

Sanders also said she received multiple texts from people within the FBI community praising the White House for firing Comey, although numerous current and former FBI officials told CBS News they were shocked by the decision and that "the vast majority of the bureau is in favor of director Comey."

Any investigation the FBI was conducting into Russian connections to Trump associates "will continue to happen," Sanders said.

The White House released a brief letter from President Trump addressed to Comey that did not elaborate on the reasons behind the decision. 

The letter stated: "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 now find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission."

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Letter from President Trump firing FBI Director James Comey