FBI agents reacted with shock and alarm after President Donald Trump fired then-director James Comey, according to a newly released trove of internal bureau communications.
The White House claimed afterward that Comey had lost the confidence of the FBI’s “rank-and-file members,” but internal communications published Monday by the Lawfare Blog shows that’s not exactly true.
“I just saw CNN reporting that Director Comey has been fired by President Trump,” wrote David Gelios, the special agent in charge of the Detroit field office, to his staff. “I have no notification from HQ of any such thing. If I receive any information from HQ, I will advise. I’d ask all to stand by for clarification of this reporting. I am only sending this because I want everyone to know I have received no HQ confirmation of the reporting. I hope this is an instance of fake news.”
Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Comey’s and a journalist specializing in law and national security, filed a request in June for FBI documents under the Freedom of Information Act — and he received the first 103 pages of those records over the weekend following a lawsuit against the bureau.
“(The FOIA request is intended) to show conclusively that President Trump and his White House staff are lying about career federal law enforcement officers, their actions, and their attitudes,” Wittes said in the suit.
Those internal communications show many FBI employees learned of the May 9 firing from TV news, and they confirm previous Lawfare reporting that agents reacted with “shock” and “profound sadness.”
“On a personal note, I vehemently disagree with any negative assertions about the credibility of this institution or the people herein,” wrote Amy Hess, the special agent in charge in Louisville.
The assistant director of the International Operations Division described the mood two days afterward as “a whirlwind of shock at the suddenness of the departure of Director Comey and concern with what the future will hold.”
Comey’s deputy Andrew McCabe held a conference call the evening of the firing in one of his first duties as acting director, and he gave FBI management a timeline of the ouster and tried to reassure bureau chiefs of the FBI’s mission.
Multiple emails show that McCabe asked managers to emphasize the FBI’s ongoing mission after the president fired Comey amid the Justice Department’s investigation of Trump campaign ties to Russia.
“The FBI mission remains the same, he said, and neither has the bureau’s responsibility to ‘protect the American people and uphold the Constitution,'” Lawfare reported McCabe as saying.
“Several of the special agents in charge write out this phrase verbatim,” the bloggers pointed out.