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Wake Up To Politics - May 11, 2017




I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Thursday, May 11, 2017. 544 days until Election Day 2018. 1,272 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Editor's Note First off, I'd like to apologize for my unexplained absence over the past few days: I was on a school trip in the wilderness, without Wi-Fi or access to the news. I was there during the beginning of the firestorm set off by President Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey, and only pieced together what had happened once we returned in range of cell service during the bus ride back. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to report on the controversy as it began, but I'm back now to answer all your questions about what went down and what's to come.

The Latest: What We Know (and Don't Know) About the Comey Firing President Donald Trump dismissed then-FBI director James Comey on Tuesday evening, setting off an avalanche of news about the internal White House decision process and the investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia that Comey had been leading. This marked the second time a President has fired a FBI Director and the first time since Watergate that a President has fired someone investigating them. Having trouble keeping up? Here's some answers...

Why was Comey fired? What the White House says: A timeline relayed from the White House to reporters says that "over the last several months, [the President] lost confidence in Director Comey" and he was "strongly inclined to remove him" after watching his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, in which he said he was "mildly nauseous to think" his October decision to reopen the Clinton email investigation had an impact on the 2016 election. Then, according to the White House, Trump "discussed reasons for removing the Director" with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in a meeting on Monday.

Finally, on Tuesday, "the Deputy Attorney General sent his written recommendation to the Attorney General and the Attorney General sent his written recommendation to the President." Rosenstein's memo to Sessions, which was later released to reporters, criticized Comey on two breaks with FBI protocol during the election: his holding a press conference in July to announce that the Clinton email investigation was closed, and his writing a letter to Congress in October re-opening the investigation. Rosenstein did not, however, recommend Comey be fired, although Sessions did when he forwarded his deputy's letter to Trump on Tuesday.

According to the President's letter to Comey later that day informing him of his dismissal, the Director was fired to make way for "new leadership that restores public trust and confidence in [the FBI's] vital law enforcement mission." The White House statement said Trump "acted based on the clear recommendations" of Sessions and Rosenstein.

However, this timeline seems potentially contradictory to White House press secretary Sean Spicer's initial explanation that the dismissal was initiated by Rosenstein ("It was all him"), as it is unclear if the AG and DAG asked to come to the White House to discuss removing Comey or if Trump invited them there because he wanted to discuss it.

Why was Comey fired? What reports are saying: White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Comey was fired due to the "atrocities" he had committed in handling the Clinton email investigation amounted. Yet, the Administration's insistence that Comey was fired due to his October Surprise announcement on the Clinton emails has been met with skepticism, since then-candidate Trump praised the decision at the time.

According to reports by NBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and other sources, the FBI investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and Comey's refusal to end the probe was the impetus for Trump's decision. According to McClatchy, Comey had attempted to expand the Russia probe just before his firing; the Wall Street Journal adds that Comey had begun receiving daily updates on the investigation and was "concerned by information showing potential evidence of collusion." The Times has reported that just days before being dismissed, Comey requested increased resources for the Russia probe. Finally, a Reuters report revealed that "a turning point came came when Comey refused to preview for top Trump aides his planned testimony to a Senate panel."

Many of these outlets have reported that Trump decided earlier in the week to fire Comey, meaning the meeting with Sessions and Rosenstein was merely held so the President could order written criticisms of the Director. According to the Washington Post, Rosenstein "threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation."

Who will replace Comey? According to Fox News, there are five leading candidates to succeed Comey: former TSA Administrator and FBI deputy director John Pistole, former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, former U.S. Homeland Security Advisor Kenneth Wainstein, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), and Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ).

NBC News has reported that the replacement will be announced later this week, adding a few more names to the list: Acting FBI Directing Andrew McCabe, DNI counterintelligence lead William Evanina, FBI Richmond office Agent in Charge Adam Lee, FBI Chicago office Agent in Charge Michael Anderson, and FBI Executive Assistant Director for the Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch Paul Abbate.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Sessions has interviewed candidates to replace Comey, despite recusing himself from the Russia investigation that the new FBI Director would lead. Sessions has already come under fire for his role in Comey's ouster, seemingly a break in the recusal pledge.

How did members of Congress respond? Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed concern after the firing was announced, although calls for what should happen next have been split roughly along partisan lines. According to a New York Times count, 132 congressional Democrats and 0 Republicans have called for the Deputy Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to lead the Russia probe with Comey removed. 84 Democrats and 5 Republicans have called for a special commission to lead an independent review.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that "every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire director Comey was part of a cover-up" and that appointing a special prosecutor was the only way to restore public trust in the investigation. "I don't think that's a good idea," House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday, citing the fact that three investigations are currently in motion.

How did Comey respond? CNN obtained a farewell letter Comey sent to FBI staff after learning he had been dismissed. "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," Comey wrote. "I hope you won't either. It is done, and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply."

What happens now? It's too early to know, but a few events in the coming days should be informing. First, President Trump will sit down with NBC's Lester Holt today for his first interview since the firing, which should be an interesting opportunity to see the President give more answers. On the investigative front, the Senate Intelligence Committee is set to hold a hearing at 10am today that will include testimony by acting FBI director Andrew McCabe. That panel has also invited Comey himself to testify next Tuesday in a closed meeting, although he has not yet announced if he plans to accept.

The Intelligence Committee has also made other moves to step up its Russia investigation: on Wednesday, the panel announced they had subpoenaed former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to hand over documents related to his interactions with Russian officials, which was what forced him to resign in February after less than a month on the job. This was the Committee's first subpoena since their investigation in the aftermath of 9/11.

Also: House Government Reform and Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) penned a letter to the Justice Department Inspector General on Wednesday asking for a review of the "circumstances surrounding the removal of Director Comey." If such a review occurs, more answers could come soon about the lead-up to Comey's firing.

This story is developing... WUTP will continue to provide updates as more news becomes available.