WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday after the FBI confirmed that Comey overstated key details in his testimony last week to lawmakers about why he made public, just 11 days before the 2016 presidential election, that he was reopening the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
“Today, President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office,” the White House said in a statement just before 6 p.m.
“President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” the statement continues.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the search for Comey’s successor will begin immediately.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. said President Trump called her at about 5:30 p.n. Tuesday and told her he was removing Comey.
“The next FBI director must be strong and independent and will receive a fair hearing in the Judiciary Committee,” Feinstein said.
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3, Comey said the thought that he could have influenced the outcome of the election with his disclosure made him “mildly nauseous.”
But he then went on to explain he believed he had no choice but to reopen the investigation after FBI agents discovered thousands of Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s emails on the computer of her husband, Anthony Weiner.
“Somehow, her emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information,” Comey said, adding later, “His then-spouse Huma Abedin appears to have had a regular practice of forwarding emails to him for him I think to print out for her so she could then deliver them to the secretary of state.”
Comey put the number of emails forwarded by Abedin at “hundreds and thousands.”
But the FBI began walking those statements back Tuesday, with sources confirming to The Associated Press that Comey had “misstated” the magnitude of what was found.
In a letter to lawmakers delivered Tuesday afternoon, the agency said it wanted to “supplement” the information Comey told the judiciary committee last week.
Signed by FBI Assistant Director Gregory A. Brower, the letter says: “Most of the emails found on Mr. Weiner’s laptop computer related to the Clinton investigation occurred as a result of a backup of personal electronic devices, with a small number a result of manual forwarding by Ms. Abedin to Mr. Weiner.’’
The FBI also corrected Comey’s testimony that 12 classified emails were among those forwarded by Abedin to Weiner.
“Investigators identified approximately 49,000 emails which were potentially relevant to the investigation,” the letter says. “All were reviewed with a particular focus on those containing classified information. Investigators ultimately determined that two e-mail chains containing classified information were manually forwarded to Mr. Weiner’s account.’’
Ten other emails chains that contained classified information were found on the laptop as a result of backup activity.
Lawmakers, historians and law-enforcement officials alike rebuked Comey last year for public comments he made during the election season. In addition to his October revelation about the Clinton email investigation, Comey drew fire for his statement in July that Clinton and her aides had been “extremely careless” in their handling of classified information.
The Associated Press quoted its FBI source on Tuesday as saying Abedin never made a habit of distributing potentially sensitive emails, a direct contradiction of Comey’s testimony.
A spokesperson for committee Chairman Rep. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, issued a statement before Comey’s firing Tuesday, saying that if any clarifications needed to be made, they would expect the director to publicly update the committee.
“Regardless, Director Comey promised briefings for Committee members on matters that he was not able to discuss in a public forum, and Chairman Grassley is eager for the FBI to provide that information, ” said Taylor Foy, Rep. Grassley’s spokesperson.