Breaking News -- United States
Trump fires FBI Director James Comey
by Andrea Noble and Stephen Dinan
President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey Tuesday, the White House said, moving to oust the man leading an investigation into his campaign operatives’ ties to Russia.
Mr. Trump insisted he’s not part of the probe, but said he felt compelled to fire the director anyway.
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau,” Mr. Trump said in a letter to Mr. Comey.
The president said a new director is needed at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who “restores public trust and confidence” in the agency.
He said he was following the advice of his attorney general and deputy attorney general. The White House said the search for a replacement will begin immediately.
Democrats said the firing raises troubling questions about the current investigation into Russia and demanded Mr. Trump take steps to make sure the probe continues without interference. The firing is likely to intensify calls for a special prosecutor to take over.
“There can be no question that a fully independent special counsel must be appointed to lead this investigation. At this point, no one in Trump’s chain of command can be trusted to carry out an impartial investigation,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat.
Mr. Wyden said he’s been a longtime critic of Mr. Comey, but called the firing “outrageous.” He said Congress needs to immediately call a hearing and have the former director testify about the status of the probe.
“This is Nixonian,” said Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat.
He called for Mr. Rosenstein to immediately appoint a special counsel to investigate ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin’s meddling in the presidential race, which is a longstanding demand of Democrats.
“This investigation must be independent and thorough in order to uphold our nation’s system of justice,” said Mr. Casey.
Mr. Comey became a major figure in last year’s election, first pursuing an investigation into Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, then clearing her of criminal wrongdoing over the summer. He inserted himself into the final weeks by reopening — then quickly clearing — the investigation again.
More recently, he confirmed the FBI is investigating Trump campaign associates for possible illegal links to Russia.
Mr. Comey had served as deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush, then was appointed FBI director by President Obama. His term was slated to last through 2023.
He’s had an unusual relationship with Mr. Trump, blaming him during the campaign for letting Mrs. Clinton off lightly, then praising him in the days after the inauguration in January.
At a White House reception for law enforcement officials, the two men shook hands and the president joked that Mr. Comey had “become more famous than me.”
Mr. Comey at the time said Mr. Trump had asked him to stay on as director, and he agreed.
But the relationship between the White House and the FBI quickly became tense over the Russia allegations.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus encountered FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in a hallway of the West Wing on Feb. 15, when Mr. McCabe pulled Mr. Priebus aside to tell him that a New York Times article about contacts between Trump aides and Russians during the presidential campaign were “garbage.”
Mr. Priebus asked Mr. McCabe and Mr. Comey if the FBI would push back publicly against the news story, but the FBI declined, saying it couldn’t be involved in refereeing news articles.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer expressed frustration at the time over the FBI’s refusal to back up the White House, and for Democrats portraying Mr. Priebus as trying to exert pressure on the FBI.
“The chief of staff said, well, you’ve put us in a very difficult situation,” Mr. Spicer said at the time. “You’ve told us that a story that made some fairly significant accusations was not true. And now you want us to just sit out there.”
Hours before the president fired Mr. Comey, reporters asked Mr. Spicer if the president still had confidence in the FBI director. Mr. Spicer qualified his answer.
“I have no reason to believe — I haven’t asked him,” he said. “I have not asked the president since the last time we spoke about this. I don’t want to start speaking on behalf of the president without speaking to him first.”
In letters Tuesday both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Mr. Comey had lost their backing.
“I cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgement that he was mistaken,” Mr. Rosenstein wrote in a memo to Mr. Sessions. “Almost everyone agrees that the director made a serious mistake; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.”
Mr. Rosenstein said Mr. Comey was “wrong to usurp” former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s authority when he took it upon himself to hold a press conference in July to announce that the FBI would not recommend criminal charges against Mrs. Clinton.
The FBI director testified before Congress last week that he took the unusual step because he believed that a June 2016 airport tarmac meeting between Ms. Lynch and Mrs. Clinton’s husband, former President Clinton, had undermined the Justice Department’s credibility to independently investigate the case.
“A number of things had gone on, which I can’t talk about yet, that made me worry that the department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and decline prosecution without grievous damage to the American people’s confidence in the justice system,” Mr. Comey told senators.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sessions wrote in his own memo that “a fresh start” was needed in order for the DOJ to “reaffirm its commitment to longstanding principles that ensure the integrity and fairness of federal investigations and prosecutions.”
The White House provided reporters with a document pointing to Democrats’ own complaints with Mr. Comey.
Most recently, Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said he thought Mr. Comey treated Mrs. Clinton badly during the campaign by talking publicly about his investigation into her email account, but shielding from the public his investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign associated.
In testimony last week Mr. Comey defended his handling of the situation, saying he faced only bad options and felt “mildly nauseous” over what he had to do, but “even in hindsight, and this has been one of the world’s most painful experiences, I would make the same decision.”
FBI Historians have been closely watching Mr. Comey’s interaction with the White House.
Pulitzer Prize–winning author of ‘Enemies: A History of the FBI‘ Tim Weiner said the bureau has worked to check and confront the power of the president since its first director, J. Edgar Hoover, ran the agency.
“The FBI has gone after presidents and administrations before,” Mr. Weiner told The Washington Times last week after Mr. Comey testified twice before congress. “My view of him (Comey) is that he is a stand-up guy faced with a political and legal snake-pit that very few outsiders could possibly comprehend.”
Mr. Weiner added that there were major questions as to how the American justice system would ultimately handle the Russia investigation, which he characterized as a national security threat not seen since the start of the Cold War
“In a political landscape that is so littered with landmines — Comey can’t afford to take a false step,” he said.
• Dave Boyer, Dan Boylan and S.A. Miller contributed to this article.
Texas governor signs bill targeting sanctuary cities
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill Sunday prohibiting the state's cities and counties from enacting so-called "sanctuary" laws that prevent local law enforcement officers from inquiring about the immigration status of anyone they detain.
Abbott took the unusual step of signing the bill on Facebook with no advanced public notice. He said Texas residents expect lawmakers to "keep us safe" and said similar laws have already been tested in federal court, where opponents have already been hinting the bill will be immediately challenged.
"Let's face it, the reason why so many people come to America is because we are a nation of laws and Texas is doing its part to keep it that way," Abbott said.
SANCTUARY CITIES BILL PUTS TEXAS COUNTY IN TIGHT SPOT
The timing of the signing caught Democratic lawmakers flatfooted. Democratic state Rep. Cesar Blanco said it looked like Abbott "wanted to get ahead" of any protests surrounding the bill signing. Abbott spokesman John Wittman said they chose to sign the bill on a Facebook livestream because that's "where most people are getting their news nowadays."
Protests over the bill have been intense for months and about 20 people were charged with criminal trespassing last week after staging a daylong sit-in at a state building where some of Abbott's staff works. One Democratic state representative embarked on a three-day hunger strike in protest.
Teri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said "we will fight this assault in the court" and the ballot box. Abbott said key provisions of the bill had already been tested at the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down several components of Arizona's law but allowed the provision permitting police to ask about immigration status.
Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure local jails honor requests from federal officials to keep dangerous offenders behind bars.
The bill allows police to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they detain, a situation that can range from arrest for a crime to being stopped for a traffic violation. It also requires local officials to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for possible deportation.
One of the bill's most controversial provisions allows for criminal charges against city or county officials who intentionally refuse to comply with federal authorities' attempt to deport people in the country illegally who already have been jailed on offenses unrelated to immigration. Elected officials could face up to a year in jail and lose their posts if convicted of official misconduct.
Opponents blasted the Texas bill as a version of Arizona's immigration crackdown law, SB 1070, which launched protests, lawsuits and national controversy in 2010. The Arizona law went to the U.S. Supreme court, which voided much of the measure but allowed the provision permitting police to ask about immigration status.
But the Texas and Arizona bills are not identical. Whereas the Arizona law required police to try to determine the immigration status of people during routine stops, the Texas bill doesn't instruct officers to ask. But it does allow Texas police to inquire whether a person is in the country legally, even if they're not under arrest.
Every major police chief in Texas opposed the bill. Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said millions in the nation's second most populous state will now be subjected to racial profiling and suggested that worried Hispanic residents will now be less willing to cooperate with police investigations.
"Given the size of the state, this may well be the most costly gubernatorial signature in all of United States history," Saenz said.
Some Democrats said the timing of the signing particularly stung after three recent federal court rulings that found intentional discrimination in Republican-passed voting laws.
"They did not connect the history of our culture or how closely that it is tied to Mexico," Democratic state. Rep. Eddie Rodriguez said. "It's just extremely personal. There is a lot of disconnect. They don't really see this as affecting people."
Texas doesn't currently have any cities which have formally declared themselves sanctuaries for immigrants.
But Sally Hernandez, the sheriff of Travis County, which includes liberal Austin, enraged conservatives by refusing to honor federal detainer requests if the suspects weren't arrested for immigration offenses or serious crimes such as murder. Hernandez softened her policy after Abbott cut funding to the county, saying decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis. She has said she will conform to the state's ban if it becomes law.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Report: 56,000 Bridges Are 'Structurally Deficient
by Jeffrey Rodack
Nearly 56,000 bridges in the United States are "structurally deficient" — with 1,900 of them on the interstate highway system.
"Despite dozens of new transportation and infrastructure projects underway in the United States and President (Donald) Trump's call for new roads and public works, tens of thousands of bridges across the country are currently falling apart," according to a report from the Auto Insurance Center, which cites data from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.
The busiest structurally deficient bridges were found in Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii and New Jersey, the insurance center said. But every state was found to have structurally deficient bridges, the report said.
"Despite being right outside the buildings where decisions are made about infrastructure projects, the Arlington Memorial Bridge running between the District and Virginia has been a long-standing danger to those driving across it," the insurance center reported.
It said more than 100,000 bridges in the U.S. are at least 65 years old. And it noted contemporary spans are designed to last 50 years before needing a major overhaul.
The Washington Examiner reported that Trump has promised action on an infrastructure plan, which includes building new bridges.
"We build a bridge and it's like a miracle in this country," he said.
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