International desk – US President Donald Trump has fired the director of the FBI over his handling of the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails, the government said.
The White House shocked Washington by announcing that James Comey “has been terminated and removed from office”.
But Democrats said he was fired because the FBI was investigating alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to BBC report.
The move came as it emerged Comey gave inaccurate information about Hillary Clinton’s emails to Congress last week.
President Trump wrote in a letter to Comey that he agreed with US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recommendation that “you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau”.
Sessions said the Department of Justice was “committed to a high level of discipline, integrity, and the rule of law”, and “a fresh start is needed”.
The White House said the search for a successor would begin immediately.
Comey was addressing FBI agents in Los Angeles when he was handed a note by one of his team informing him he had just been fired.
The 56-year-old – who was four years into his 10-year term as FBI director – reportedly laughed, thinking it was a prank.
Many have expressed surprise that Comey should be fired for his handling of the Clinton emails investigation, given that Trump once praised the FBI director’s conduct in the matter.
In the final days of the presidential campaign, Trump told a rally it “took guts” for Comey to reopen the inquiry. “What he did brought back his reputation,” Trump said.
But on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said he “cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgement that he was mistaken”.
“Almost everyone agrees the Director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.”
He said Comey had been wrong to “usurp” the previous attorney general in July 2016 to announce the Clinton emails inquiry should be closed without prosecution.
The deputy attorney general said Comey compounded his error by “gratuitously” releasing “derogatory information” about Clinton.
Democrats swiftly suggested that Trump had fired Comey to influence the FBI inquiry into whether members of the Trump election campaign colluded with the Kremlin.
The House of Representatives and Senate intelligence committees are looking into the same allegations.
“Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked a Tuesday evening press conference.
“This does not seem to be a coincidence,” he added.
Trump retorted on Twitter: “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer stated recently, ‘I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer.’ Then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp”.
The firing is drawing comparisons with the so-called Saturday Night Massacre of 1973, when President Richard Nixon fired an independent special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.
But President Trump has repeatedly insisted the Russia allegations are “fake news”.