The White House announced on Tuesday afternoon that FBI Director James Comey was fired.
“Today, President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement.
“President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Spicer added.
It’s only the second time since the US adopted its current procedures around selecting FBI leadership that a director has been fired.
Why can the president fire the FBI director?
The President has held the power to appoint and dismiss the director of the FBI at his or her discretion since 1968.
The current nomination and confirmation process for the FBI director was created by an amendment to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The amendment established that the position of FBI director was to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Congress can also remove an FBI director by impeachment if it so chooses. Under Article II of the Constitution, the Senate can remove any civil officer if it convicts him of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” with a two-thirds vote.
Prior to 1968, the FBI director had been nominally appointed by the attorney general, but it had been run continuously by its founder J. Edgar Hoover since the agency was established in 1924.
While the Senate had tried multiple times to pass a law establishing the FBI director as a presidential appointee, the bill failed in the House. By 1968, Hoover was 73 years old, and likely to retire soon. He served until his death in 1972.
The first FBI director appointed by a president was L. Patrick Gray, who was nominated by Richard Nixon in 1972 as Hoover’s permanent successor. Gray was never confirmed by the Senate however. He resigned as acting FBI Director in April 1973 after admitting to destroying documents related to the Watergate break-in.
In the wake of the Watergate scandal and the FBI’s expansion under Hoover, Congress passed a law limiting appointees to serve one 10-year term as part of the Crime Control Act of 1976.
Is it unusual for a president to fire the FBI director?
Despite presidential powers, it’s extremely rare for a president to fire his FBI director due to the appearance of impropriety.
The first FBI director to be fired was William S. Sessions, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. President Bill Clinton asked Sessions to resign multiple times after reports of ethics violations emerged from an internal watchdog unit at the Department of Justice.
Sessions was reported to have used FBI aircraft to take numerous free trips to visit friends and relatives. His firing was endorsed by then-Attorney General Janet Reno.
Clinton fired Sessions in July 1993.