Over 100 pages of emails written by FBI agents last year, shortly after President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey, reveal a stunned and saddened bureau, sharply contrasting with the president’s statements that Comey was unpopular with most FBI employees.
Security analyst Benjamin Wittes, editor of the legal affairs blog Lawfare and a friend of Comey’s, obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request. The request sought FBI managers’ messages about the firing, and the agency turned over 103 pages of emails out of 116 it identified.
“We are not going to let this defeat us ... it will only make us stronger,” the head of the Knoxville field office told her team in one email Lawfare obtained. “I know you all know our director stood for what is right and what is true. He truly made us better when we needed it the most.”
“Many of you have inquired about how to get a message to director Comey,” a Los Angeles field office leader wrote after the May 9 firing. “I have spoken to his staff that assured me any emails and letters sent to the director’s office will be collected and delivered to him.”
The special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit office emailed: “I hope this is an instance of fake news.”
“Our hearts may be heavy but we must continue to do what we do best, which is to protect and serve the American people,” wrote the assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Victim Assistance.
Despite the sentiments in the emails, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was deputy White House press secretary at the time of Comey’s firing, insisted he was ousted because the president and the bureau had lost faith in him. Trump claimed at a press conference that Comey was “very unpopular with most people.”
But Andrew McCabe, who served as acting FBI director before returning to his role as deputy director and recently resigning, testified otherwise before the Senate Intelligence Committee just days after Comey’s firing, saying Comey “enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does.”
Many observers believe Trump’s decision to fire Comey could become a centerpiece of an obstruction of justice case against the president by special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last June that before Trump fired him, the president had pressed him for a declaration of loyalty. He also disputed Trump’s statements that the FBI was struggling and had lost faith in him, calling the remarks “lies, plain and simple.”
In an NBC interview aired after Comey’s firing, Trump called the former director a “show boat” and said the bureau was “in turmoil.” But in the same interview, Trump implied that he’d fired Comey because of “this Russian thing.”
“When I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election,’” the president said.
The New York Times reported that a week after firing Comey, Trump had told Russian officials in the Oval Office that Comey was a “nut job,” adding: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”