File photo taken on May 3, 2017 shows that James Comey, the director of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing in Washington D.C., the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump fired James Comey, the director of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the White House said in a statement on May 9. (Xinhua/Bao Dandan)
WASHINGTON, May 10 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday came as a surprise to many, even those at the very center of the country's political machinery.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the White House said Trump had informed Comey of the decision, which he made following suggestions from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
"The FBI is one of our nation's most cherished and respected institutions and today will mark a new beginning for our crown jewel of law enforcement," the statement quoted Trump as saying.
In his letter to Comey, Trump said: "While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgement of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau."
Rosenstein, Comey's immediate superior, listed a number of reasons why Comey was unfit to lead the FBI, primarily his handling of investigations into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's email servers.
"I cannot defend the director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of (former) Secretary (of State) Clinton's emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgement that he was mistaken," Rosenstein said.
Comey was embroiled in controversy in 2016 when he announced twice in July and late October that the FBI was launching investigations into possible mishandling of work-related emails by Clinton, which she said was partially to blame for her eventual defeat in the presidential election.
In both cases Comey crossed the line, Rosenstein said.
"The director was wrong to usurp the attorney general's authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution," Rosenstein said.
Rosenstein said Comey's decision to announce investigation against Clinton was equally misguided, as Comey was not as he claimed "obligated to speak out."
"The director cast his decision as a choice between whether he would 'speak'... or 'conceal' it. 'Conceal' is a loaded term that misstates the issue," Rosenstein said.
But the reason was immediately dismissed by Democrats, who pointed out that Trump has repeatedly hailed Comey's actions against Clinton during the presidential campaign, saying it was the right thing to do.
"Comey was not fired because of Hillary. Comey was fired because of the Russians," Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren said in an interview with MSNBC.
"The timing makes this, I think, entirely clear," Warren said, adding that "there's nobody left in America who believes that Donald Trump fired James Comey because James Comey was mean to Hillary Clinton."
Warren was referring to the ongoing FBI probe into possible links between some of the White House staff and Moscow.
Trump's former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned earlier this year due to improper connections with Russia.
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump's move "raises a whole host of conflicts of interest and questions about whether this is simply brazen interference with a criminal investigation."
"He (Trump) must have concluded that he was better off without him (Comey) than with him at the helm. And that is deeply troubling. I think it underscores just how essential it is that we have an independent prosecutor appointed immediately," Schiff said.
But the Trump administration was adamant in stating that there was no ulterior motive in letting Comey go.
"It's not a cover-up. In fact, the president makes clear in the letter the fact Comey assured the president that he is not under investigation," Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway told CNN.
Conway also refuted attacks on Trump's shifting position on Comey before and after entering the White House, saying "it makes complete sense because he (Trump) has lost confidence in the FBI director and he took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein."
According to the White House, the search for a new FBI director is under way. Trump's supporters say the change will not affect any ongoing investigation, but critics suspect firing Comey was the beginning of a dangerous road of bending the FBI from neutrality.