Trump may have fired FBI chief because of Russia probe, Senate subpoenas ex-NSA

Mike Flynn was fired as national security advisor by Trump in February after it emerged he had lied about his interactions with Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in December.

world Updated: May 11, 2017 22:24 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump,James Comey,Trump Russia
Protesters outside a federal building in Los Angeles denounce the firing of FBI Director James Comey by US President Donald Trump on Wednesday.(AFP)

As a US congressional panel served a subpoena requesting papers from former NSA Michael Flynn, accounts surfacing of FBI director James Comey’s firing indicated growing anger and frustration in the White House with the continuing investigation into Donald Trump campaign aides’ contacts with Russians.

The subpoena was issued on Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting one of three independent investigations into allegations of Russian meddling in 2016 elections, after Flynn refused to cooperate and hand over the papers requested by the panel in April.

“The subpoena requests documents relevant to the Committee’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election,” the panel’s chairman Richard Burr and ranking member Mark Warner said in a joint statement, adding “Flynn … declined, through counsel, to cooperate”.

This was the first subpoena issued by the panel. Flynn was fired by Trump in February after it emerged he had lied about his interactions with Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in December, the day President Barack Obama had announced sanctions against Russia for its alleged meddling in US polls.

The other two investigations, underway separately and independently, were being conducted by the House of Representatives’ intelligence committee and the FBI. According to multiple accounts in US media, the latter was the reason behind Trump’s stunning firing of Comey on Tuesday.

The president had been frustrated about the ongoing investigations that have dogged his young presidency right from the beginning. In fact, Comey revealed in a Congressional hearing recently, the FBI launched the investigation last July when evidence first surfaced of hacking of the Democratic party’s computer network by Russians.

That further irked Trump, who was already frustrated by the FBI director’s refusal to, one, back his claims that Obama had ordered a wiretap on his Trump Tower offices and, two, that he was not paying as much attention to leaks about the investigations that had kept the issue on the front burner.

The president is reported to have made up his mind last weekend, the last straw being Comey’s latest testimony that he felt “mildly nauseous” that he might have caused Hillary Clinton’s defeat by his remarks close to polling day. And he soon set the ball rolling in discussions with close aides.

The White House has officially blamed Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigations for his firing. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokesperson, called his moves “atrocities” at the briefing on Wednesday and said the president had been wanting to let him go since his election, but finally made up his mind on Monday. The justice department, to which the FBI reports, was asked to send recommendations, which were cited in a memo explaining the firing the next day.

But accounts emerging of the firing put the Russia investigation — and not the one about Clinton — centre-stage and said that Comey and in recent days sought more resources and manpower for it. Also, the reports pointed to rank incompatibility between the two men as individuals — Trump prized loyalty above everything else and Comey was fiercely independent and treasured it.

Comey was astonished by Trump’s wiretapping claims and told aides, according to The New York Times, it was “outside the realm of normal” and perhaps “crazy”. Trump, on the other hand, felt there was “something wrong with” Comey, as he told aides, according to the same newspaper account. He also thought Comey was grandstanding at his Congressional testimonies.

First Published: May 11, 2017 20:27 IST