When President Donald Trump fired former FBI director James Comey last May, the White House claimed that those within the agency had “lost confidence” in him. Contradicting the administration’s official line, internal communications now reveal that FBI employees were actually shocked by it.
The bundle of more than 100 pages of documents and emails, acquired through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Lawfare blog on Monday, intimately detail the reaction of agency staff in the immediate aftermath of the firing—one of disbelief and disappointment.
“I just saw CNN reporting that Director Comey has been fired by President Trump. I have no notification from HQ of any such thing. If I receive any information from HQ, I will advise. I’d ask all to stand by for clarification of this reporting,” special agent David Gelios wrote to all his staff. “I hope this is an instance of fake news.”
As the news was confirmed another special agent wrote out to her squad: “Unexpected news such as this is hard to understand but 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.”
The following day, agents are told to “follow up” with one another to make sure their colleagues “are doing OK.”
Meanwhile, that same day, May 10, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was justifying the president’s actions to the press and claiming that FBI staffers were glad to see Comey fired.
“I’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision,” she told reporters. “I believe that most people of the people that we’ve talked to also believe it was the right decision.”
In around 20 interviews conducted with agency employees for the publication, Lawfare reporter and former FBI counterterrorism analyst Nora Ellingsen noted the majority of her old colleagues held their former director in positive esteem.
“Nearly everyone loved him,” she said, “[the] degree of consensus on this point… has been incredible. All of the people I talked to described having the same reaction when they heard that the director had been fired: complete shock, followed by deep sadness.”