James Brien Comey Jr. (born December 14, 1960) is an American lawyer who served as the seventh Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from September 4, 2013 until May 9, 2017. Comey was a registered Republican for most of his life, but has recently described himself as unaffiliated.
Comey was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from January 2002 to December 2003, and subsequently the United States Deputy Attorney General from December 2003 to August 2005 in the administration of President George W. Bush. Comey appointed Patrick Fitzgerald to be the Special Counsel to head the grand jury investigation into the Plame affair after Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself.
In August 2005, Comey left the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and became general counsel and senior vice president of Lockheed Martin, based in Bethesda, Maryland. In 2010, he became general counsel at Bridgewater Associates, based in Westport, Connecticut. In early 2013, he left Bridgewater to become a Senior Research Scholar and Hertog Fellow on National Security Law at Columbia Law School. He served on the board of directors of HSBC Holdings until July 2013.
In September 2013, Comey was appointed Director of the FBI by President Barack Obama. In that capacity, he was responsible for overseeing the FBI's investigation of the Hillary Clinton email controversy. His role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, particularly with regard to his public communications, was highly controversial. His decisions are viewed by some analysts as having possibly cost Clinton the election.
Comey was dismissed by President Donald Trump on May 9, 2017. Statements from Trump and the White House suggested that he had been dismissed to ease the "pressure" Trump was under due to the Russia investigation. On May 16 Comey made public a personal memo he had written after a February 14 private meeting with the president. It said Trump had asked him to end the FBI's investigation into Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor. The dismissal, the memo, and Comey's subsequent Congressional testimony were interpreted by some commentators as evidence of obstruction of justice and became part of a widening investigation by Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel appointed to probe Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Comey was born in Yonkers, New York, where his parents, Joan Marie Comey (née Herald) and J. Brien Comey, lived. His grandfather, William J. Comey, was an officer and later commissioner of the Yonkers Police Department. The family moved to Allendale, New Jersey, in the early 1970s. His father worked in corporate real estate and his mother was a computer consultant and homemaker. Comey is of Irish heritage. He attended Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale. Comey graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1982, majoring in chemistry and religion. His senior thesis analyzed the liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and the conservative televangelist Jerry Falwell, emphasizing their common belief in public action. He received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Chicago Law School in 1985.
Early career (1985–1993)
After law school, Comey served as a law clerk for then-United States District Judge John M. Walker Jr. in Manhattan. Then, he was an associate for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in their New York office. He joined the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, where he worked from 1987 to 1993. While there, he served as Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division and helped prosecute the Gambino crime family.
Clinton administration (1996–2001)
Assistant U.S. Attorney
From 1996 to 2001, Comey served as Managing Assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of the Richmond Division of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. In 1996, Comey acted as deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee. He also served as the lead prosecutor in the case concerning the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. While in Richmond, Comey served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Richmond School of Law.
Bush administration (2002–2005)
He was the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, from January 2002 to the time of his confirmation as Deputy Attorney General on December 11, 2003. Among his first tasks was to take over the investigation into President Bill Clinton's controversial pardon of Marc Rich. In November 2002, he led the prosecution of three men involved in one of the largest identity fraud cases in American history. The fraud had lasted two years and resulted in thousands of people across the country collectively losing well over $3 million. He also led the indictment of Adelphia Communications founder John Rigas for bank fraud, wire fraud, and securities fraud. Rigas was convicted of the charges in 2004 and in 2005, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. Adelphia Corporation was forced to file for bankruptcy after it acknowledged that it took $3.3 billion in false loans. It was "one of the most elaborate and extensive corporate frauds in United States history".
In February 2003, Comey led the prosecution of Martha Stewart, who was indicted on the charges of securities fraud, obstruction of justice, and lying to an FBI agent. She sold 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems, making $227,824. The next day, the Food and Drug Administration refused to accept the company's application for Erbitux. In March 2003, he led the indictment of ImClone CEO Samuel Waksal, who pleaded guilty to avoiding paying $1.2 million in sales taxes on $15 million worth of contemporary paintings. The works were by Mark Rothko, Richard Serra, Roy Lichtenstein, and Willem de Kooning. In April 2003, he led the indictment of Frank Quattrone, who allegedly urged subordinates in 2000 to destroy evidence sought by investigators looking into his investment banking practices at Credit Suisse First Boston. In November 2003, he led the prosecutions in "Operation Wooden Nickel", which resulted in complaints and indictments against 47 people involved in foreign exchange trading scams.
Deputy Attorney General
NSA domestic wiretapping
In early January 2006, The New York Times, as part of its investigation into domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency, reported that Comey, who was Acting Attorney General during the March 2004 hospitalization of John Ashcroft, refused to certify the legality of central aspects of the NSA program. The certification was required under White House procedures in order for the program to continue.
In March 2004, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert S. Mueller III and Comey threatened the Bush administration with their resignations if the White House overruled the DOJ finding that the domestic wiretapping under the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) was unconstitutional, if such were done without a court warrant. On March 10, 2004, United States Attorney General (USAG) John Ashcroft was being visited by his wife as he was treated in the intensive care unit at the George Washington University Hospital. She solicited Mueller and Comey to join them, and shortly after their arrival, they were joined by Jack Goldsmith of the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel and Patrick Philbrin. In Goldsmith's 2007 memoir, he said Comey had come to the hospital to give Ashcroft support in withstanding pressure from the White House. None of the four visitors wanted the TSP reauthorized. After the quartet's arrival, Ashcroft refused to give his consent to its extension, despite being pressured at the hospital soon afterward by Andrew H. Card Jr., White House Chief of Staff, and Alberto R. Gonzales, then-White House counsel and future Attorney General. The two were requesting that Ashcroft waive the DOJ ruling and permit the domestic warrantless eavesdropping program to continue beyond its imminent expiration date. Ashcroft additionally informed the pair that due to his illness, he had delegated his powers as USAG To Comey. Comey later confirmed these events took place (but declined to confirm the specific program) in testimony to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee on May 16, 2007. FBI director Mueller's notes on the March 10, 2004, incident, which were released to a House Judiciary committee, confirms that he "Saw (the) AG, John Ashcroft in the room (who was) feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed."
Enhanced interrogation techniques
In 2005, as Deputy Attorney General, Comey endorsed a memorandum approving the use of 13 enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, for use by the CIA when interrogating suspects. Comey objected to a second memorandum, drafted by Daniel Levin and signed by Steven G. Bradbury, that these techniques could be used in combination. Comey was one of the few members of the Bush administration who had tried to prevent or limit the use of torture.
Comey later stated during his 2013 confirmation hearing that even though his personal opinion was that waterboarding is torture, the United Nations Convention against Torture was "very vague" and difficult to interpret as banning the practice. Even though he considered the practice to be legal at the time, he strongly disagreed with the techniques and opposed implementing them on policy grounds, objections that were ultimately overruled by the National Security Council.
Private sector (2005–2013)
In the fall of 2005, Comey announced that he was leaving the Department of Justice. In August 2005, it was announced that Comey would enter the private sector, becoming the General Counsel and Senior Vice President for Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Department of Defense's largest contractor. Comey's tenure took effect on October 1, 2005, serving in that capacity until June 2, 2010, when he announced he would leave Lockheed Martin to join the senior management committee at Bridgewater Associates, a Connecticut-based investment management firm. On February 1, 2013, after leaving Bridgewater, he was appointed by Columbia University Law School as a Senior Research Scholar and Hertog Fellow on National Security Law. He was also appointed to the board of directors of the London-based financial institution HSBC Holdings, to improve the company's compliance program after its $1.9 billion settlement with the Justice Department for failing to comply with basic due diligence requirements for money laundering regarding Mexican drug cartels and terrorism financing. Since 2012, he has also served on the Defense Legal Policy Board.
Testimony before congressional committees
|Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy|
In May 2007, Comey testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the House Judiciary subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law on the U.S. Attorney dismissal controversy. His testimony contradicted that of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who had said the firings had been due to poor performance on the part of some of the dismissed prosecutors. Comey stressed that the Justice Department had to be perceived as nonpartisan and nonpolitical to function.
The Department of Justice, in my view, is run by political appointees of the President. The U.S. attorneys are political appointees of the President. But once they take those jobs and run this institution, it's very important in my view for that institution to be another in American life, that—because my people had to stand up before juries of all stripes, talk to sheriffs of all stripes, judges of all stripes. They had to be seen as the good guys, and not as either this administration or that administration.
Supreme Court considerations
Politico reported in May 2009 that White House officials pushed for Comey's inclusion on the short list of names to replace Associate Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court. Politico later reported liberal activists were upset about the possibility of Comey's name being included. John Brittain of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law stated, "[Comey] came in with the Bushies. What makes you think he'd be just an inch or two more to the center than [John] Roberts? I'd be greatly disappointed."
In May 2013, it was reported, and in June 2013 it was made official, that President Barack Obama would nominate Comey to be the next Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, replacing outgoing director Robert Mueller. Comey was reportedly chosen over finalist Lisa Monaco, who had overseen national security issues at the Justice Department during the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.
Comey was confirmed by the Senate on July 29, 2013, for a full ten-year term running the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was sworn in as FBI director on September 4, 2013. President Donald Trump fired him on May 9, 2017.
Police and African Americans
In February 2015, Comey delivered a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., regarding the relationship between police and the African American community. He said that, "At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo – a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups", mentioning as an example his own Irish ancestors, who he said had often been regarded as drunks and criminals by law enforcement in the early 20th century. He added: "The Irish had some tough times, but little compares to the experience on our soil of black Americans", going on to highlight current societal issues such as lack of opportunities for employment and education which can lead young black men to crime. Comey stated:
Police officers on patrol in our nation's cities often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color. Something happens to people of good will working in that environment. After years of police work, officers often can't help be influenced by the cynicism they feel. A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible.
In October 2015, Comey gave a speech raising concerns that body worn video results in less effective policing, contradicting the President's public position. Days later, President Obama met with Comey in the Oval Office to address the issue. In an October 23 speech at the University of Chicago Law School, Comey said:
I remember being asked why we were doing so much prosecuting in black neighborhoods and locking up so many black men. After all, Richmond was surrounded by areas with largely white populations. Surely there were drug dealers in the suburbs. My answer was simple: We are there in those neighborhoods because that's where people are dying. These are the guys we lock up because they are the predators choking off the life of a community. We did this work because we believed that all lives matter, especially the most vulnerable.
Comments on Poland and the Holocaust
In April 2015, Comey spoke at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, arguing in favor of more Holocaust education. After The Washington Post printed a version of his speech, Anne Applebaum wrote that his reference to "the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary" was inaccurately saying that Poles were as responsible for the Holocaust as Germans. His speech was also criticized by Polish authorities, and Stephen D. Mull, United States Ambassador to Poland, was called to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Applebaum wrote that Comey, "in a speech that was reprinted in The Post arguing for more Holocaust education, demonstrated just how badly he needs it himself".
Ambassador Mull issued an apology for Comey's remarks. When asked about his remarks, Comey said, "I regret linking Germany and Poland ... The Polish state bears no responsibility for the horrors imposed by the Nazis. I wish I had not used any other country names because my point was a universal one about human nature."
Hillary Clinton email investigation
On July 10, 2015 the FBI opened a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State. On June 29, 2016 Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton met aboard her plane on the tarmac of the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, leading to calls for her recusal. Lynch then announced that she would "fully" accept the recommendation of the FBI regarding the probe. On July 2, FBI agents completed their investigation by interviewing Hillary Clinton at FBI headquarters, following which Comey and his associates decided there was no basis for criminal indictments in the case.
Release of information about the investigation
On July 5, 2016, Comey announced the FBI's recommendation that the United States Department of Justice file no criminal charges relating to the Hillary Clinton email controversy. During a 15-minute press conference in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, Comey called Secretary Clinton's and her top aides' behavior "extremely careless", but concluded that "no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case". It was believed to be the first time the FBI disclosed its prosecutorial recommendation to the Department of Justice publicly. On July 7, 2016, Comey was questioned by a Republican-led House committee during a hearing regarding the FBI's recommendation.
On October 26, 2016, two weeks before the presidential election, Comey learned that FBI agents investigating an unrelated case involving former Congressman Anthony Weiner had discovered emails on Weiner's computer between his wife, Huma Abedin, and Hillary Clinton. Believing it would take months to review Weiner's emails, Comey decided he had to inform Congress that the investigation was being reopened due to new information. Justice Department lawyers warned him that giving out public information about an investigation was inconsistent with department policy, but he considered the policy to be "guidance" rather than an ironclad rule. He decided that not to reveal the new information would be misleading to Congress and the public. On October 28, Comey sent a letter to members of Congress advising them that the FBI was reviewing more emails. Members of Congress leaked the information to the public within minutes. Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as the Clinton and Trump campaigns, called on Comey to provide additional details.
The Clinton campaign and numerous former officials and other commentators criticized his decision to announce the reopened investigation. Law professor Richard Painter filed complaints with the United States Office of Special Counsel and the United States Office of Government Ethics over Comey's letter to Congress.
The investigators received additional resources so they could complete their review of the new emails before Election Day, and on November 6, 2016, Comey wrote in a second letter to Congress that "Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July".
Comey was broadly criticized for his actions from both the right and the left. According to the Clinton campaign, the letters effectively stopped the campaign's momentum by hurting Clinton's chances with voters who were receptive to Trump's claims of a "rigged system". Statistician Nate Silver said that Comey had a "large, measurable impact on the race". Other analysts, such as Democratic strategist David Axelrod, said that Comey's public actions were just one of several cumulative factors that cost Clinton the election. On May 3, 2017, Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that "It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election", but that "honestly, it wouldn't change the decision."
On January 12, 2017 the United States Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General announced a formal investigation into whether the FBI followed proper procedures in its investigation of Clinton or whether "improper considerations" were made by FBI personnel.
On July 27, 2017 the House Judiciary Committee decided to request documents related to Comey, including the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton, Comey's conduct during the 2016 election, and his release of his memo to the press. The committee's Republicans also wrote a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to appoint a second special prosecutor to investigate these issues.
In September 2017, top Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee alleged that Comey planned to exonerate Hillary Clinton in her email scandal long before the agency had completed its investigation. Comey had drafted a letter exonerating Clinton, before Clinton had been interviewed by the FBI and before 16 other key witnesses had been interviewed by the FBI.
Russian election interference investigation
The same day as Comey's July press conference, the FBI acquired the Donald Trump-Russia dossier by Christopher Steele. The FBI opened an investigation into the Trump campaign in late July. Comey asked President Obama permission to write an op-ed warning the public that the Russians were interfering in the election, which the President refused. CIA Director John O. Brennan then gave an unusual private briefing to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on the Russians, which Reid then publicly referred to. Comey, however, refused to confirm the Trump Campaign was under investigation, even in classified Congressional briefings. In early October, meetings were held in the White House Situation Room where National Security Advisor Susan Rice argued that they should release the information, while Comey now argued disclosure was no longer needed.
In January 2017, Comey first met Trump when he briefed the President-elect on the Steele dossier. On January 27, 2017, Trump and Comey had dinner alone together at the White House. According to Trump, Comey requested the dinner so as to ask to keep his job and, when asked, told Trump that he was not under investigation. Trump has stated that he did not ask Comey to pledge his loyalty. However, according to Comey's associates, Trump requested the dinner, asked Comey to pledge his loyalty, twice, to which Comey replied, twice, that he would always be honest, until Trump asked him if he would promise "honest loyalty", which Comey did.
On February 14, the day after President Trump fired Michael T. Flynn, Comey met with the President during a terrorism threat briefing in the Oval Office. At the end of the meeting Trump asked the other security chiefs to leave, then told Comey to consider imprisoning reporters over leaks and that "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go". Comey, as is usual, immediately documented the meeting in a memo and shared it with FBI officials. In his Congressional testimony, Comey clarified that he took Trump's comment to be "an order" to drop the Flynn investigation, but "that he did not consider this an order to drop the Russia investigation as a whole."
On March 4, 2017, Comey asked the Justice Department for permission, which was not given, to publicly refute Trump's claim that his phones had been wiretapped by then-President Obama.
On March 20, 2017, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Comey confirmed that the FBI has been investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, and whether any crimes were committed. During the hearing, the White House Twitter account posted "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process", which Comey, when then read the tweet by Congressman Jim Himes, directly refuted. Comey also refuted the President's Trump Tower wiretapping allegations, testifying "I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI".
Representative Chris Stewart asked Comey in the hearing: “Mr. Clapper then went on to say that to his knowledge there was no evidence of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. We did not conclude any evidence in our report and when I say "our report," that is the NSA, FBI, and CIA with my office, the director of national intelligence said anything – any reflection of collusion between the members of Trump campaign and the Russians, there was no evidence of that in our report. Was Mr. Clapper wrong when he said that?" Comey responded: “I think he's right about characterizing the report which you all have read.” Press Secretary Sean Spicer and a White House tweet then highlighted this testimony as proof that Clapper was "right" there was no evidence of collusion, causing Clapper to release a statement clarifying he had been referring to the evidence as gathered in January and that more investigation is needed.
On May 3, 2017, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey said that Russia is the "greatest threat of any nation on Earth ... One of the biggest lessons learned is that Russia will do this again. Because of 2016 election, they know it worked." He also said that Russia should pay a price for interfering.
In early May, a few days before he was fired, Comey reportedly asked the Justice Department for a significant increase in funding and personnel for the Russia probe. On May 11, 2017 Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe said to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he was unaware of the request and stated, "I believe we have the adequate resources to do it and I know that we have resourced that investigation adequately."
Comey had been scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on May 11, but after he was dismissed on May 9, committee chair Senator Richard Burr said that Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe would appear instead. Comey spoke before the Committee on June 8. His prepared opening statements were pre-released by the Intelligence Committee on their website one day before the official hearings.
President Trump formally dismissed Comey on May 9, 2017, less than 4 years into his 10-year term as Director of the FBI. The White House initially stated the firing was on the recommendation of United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein had sent a memorandum to Sessions, forwarded to Trump, in which Rosenstein listed objections to Comey's conduct in the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. This allowed the Trump administration to attribute Comey's firing to Rosenstein's recommendation about the Clinton email controversy. It was later revealed that on May 8, Trump had requested Sessions and Rosenstein to detail in writing a case against Comey. Rosenstein's memo was forwarded to Trump on May 9 and was then construed as a recommendation to dismiss Comey, which Trump immediately did. In Trump's termination letter to Comey, he attributed the firing to the two letters from Sessions and Rosenstein. On May 10, Trump told reporters he had fired Comey because Comey "wasn't doing a good job".
By May 11, however, in a direct contradiction of the earlier statements by the White House, Vice President Mike Pence, and the contents of the dismissal letter itself, President Trump stated to Lester Holt in an NBC News interview that Comey's dismissal was in fact "my decision" and "I was going to fire [Comey] regardless of recommendation [by Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein]." Trump later said of the dismissal "when I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.'" In the same televised interview, Trump labelled Comey "a showboat" and "grandstander". On May 12, Trump tweeted "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!", which the media, political and legal analysts, as well as opposition politicians, interpreted as a threat to Comey.
On June 22, faced with a subpoena for the tapes that Trump alluded to, Trump issued a tweet stating "I have no idea [...] whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings." Hours later, when asked to clarify the non-denial denial wording of Trump's tweet regarding the tapes, Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that Trump's tweet was "extremely clear" and that she did "not have anything to add". Questions raised for clarification on Trump's tweet centred principally around whether Trump ever had knowledge of said tapes having ever existed and whether he is simply no longer privy to the knowledge of whether said tapes still exist; whether Trump currently has or ever had knowledge of a person or persons other than Trump having made said tapes or recordings, and; whether Trump currently has or ever had knowledge of a person or persons other than Trump currently having or previously having had in their possession said tapes or recordings. U.S. Representative for California, Democrat Adam Schiff, stated that Trump's tweet “raises as many questions as it answers," and that in any event, the tweet did not comply with the 23 June deadline, and that Schiff would move forward with subpoenas for the tapes, adding that “[r]egardless of whether the President intends his tweets to be an official reply to the House Intelligence Committee, the White House must respond in writing to our committee as to whether any tapes or recordings exist."
On May 19, the New York Times published excerpts of an official White House document summarizing Trump's private meeting in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, the day after firing Comey, where Trump appeased the top Russian foreign operatives with his firing of Comey. He confided to them, "I just fired the head of the FBI... I faced great pressure because of [the investigation into collusion with] Russia. That's taken off." [by his firing of Comey]. "He was crazy, a real nut job," he explained to the diplomatic duo. According to reports, Trump had been openly talking to aides about finding a reason to fire Comey for at least a week before both the dismissal and the requesting of memoranda from Sessions and Rosenstein the day prior to the dismissal. Trump was angry and frustrated when, in the week prior to his dismissal, Comey revealed in Senate testimony the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia's effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He felt Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to internal leaks to the press from within the government. Shortly before Comey was fired, Comey had requested additional money and resources to further expand the probe into Russian interference into the Presidential election. Trump had long questioned Comey's loyalty to Trump personally, and Comey's judgment to act in accordance to a loyalty to Trump. Moreover, Trump was angry that Comey would not support his claim that President Barack Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped.
Comey's termination was immediately controversial. It was compared to the Saturday Night massacre, President Richard Nixon's termination of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who had been investigating the Watergate scandal, and to the firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates in January 2017. Many members of Congress expressed concern over the firing and argued that it would put the integrity of the investigation into jeopardy. Critics accused Trump of obstruction of justice.
In the dismissal letter, Trump alleged that Comey had told Trump "on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation." Fact checkers reported that while they have no way of knowing what Comey may have told Trump privately, no such assertion is on the public record of Comey directly stating that Trump is not personally under investigation. In Congressional testimony, Comey confirmed that on three occasions, he volunteered to Trump that the latter was not personally under FBI investigation.
Comey first learned of his termination from television news reports that flashed on screen while he was delivering a speech to agents at the Los Angeles Field Office. Sources said he was surprised and caught off guard by the termination. Comey immediately departed for Washington, D.C., and was forced to cancel his scheduled speech that night at an FBI recruitment event.
On May 10, Comey sent a letter to FBI staff in which he said, "I have long believed that a President can fire an FBI director for any reason, or for no reason at all. I'm not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed. I hope you won't either. It is done, and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply."
According to Comey associates interviewed by news organizations, Trump had asked Comey in January to pledge loyalty to him, to which Comey demurred, instead offering him "honesty". Comey has indicated he is willing to testify about his dismissal in an open hearing. He declined an invitation from the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify before a closed-door session.
In the absence of a Senate-confirmed FBI director, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe automatically became Acting Director. On May 11, McCabe testified before the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that "Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does" and that "the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey". This contradicted White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said she had heard from "countless" FBI agents in support of the firing.
In August 2017, Macmillan Publishers' Flatiron Books announced that it had acquired the rights to Comey's first book, to be released in spring 2018, in which he will discuss ethics, leadership, and his experience in government. Several publishers had submitted bids in an auction conducted by literary agency Javelin.
Government surveillance oversight
In his July 2013 FBI confirmation hearing, Comey said that the oversight mechanisms of the U.S. government have sufficient privacy protections. In a November 2014 New York Times Magazine article, Yale historian Beverly Gage reported that Comey keeps on his desk a copy of the FBI request to wiretap Martin Luther King Jr. "as a reminder of the bureau's capacity to do wrong". After Comey's letter to Congress in October 2016, CNN and Irish Central pointed out the similarities between Comey and J. Edgar Hoover in "influencing" elections.
He and his agency were criticized for their request to Apple Inc. to install a "back door" for U.S. surveillance agencies to use. Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden stated: "Jim would like a back door available to American law enforcement in all devices globally. And, frankly, I think on balance that actually harms American safety and security, even though it might make Jim's job a bit easier in some specific circumstances."
Comey, speaking at a cybersecurity conference in 2017, told the audience, "There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America; there is no place outside of judicial reach."
Although Comey was a registered Republican for most of his life, he disclosed during Congressional testimony on July 7, 2016, that he was no longer registered with any party. Comey donated to Senator John McCain's campaign in the 2008 presidential election and to Governor Mitt Romney's campaign in the 2012 presidential election.
Comey and his wife, Patrice Failor, are the parents of five children. They have also been foster parents. He is of Irish descent and was raised in a Roman Catholic household. Comey subsequently joined the United Methodist Church, and has taught Sunday school.