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The United States President, Donald Trump, has defended his dismissal of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director, James Comey, fighting a storm of criticism that the ouster was aimed at blunting a probe into his presidential campaign’s possible collusion with Russia to sway the 2016 election.
The White House on Tuesday said Comey was fired over his handling of an election-year FBI probe into then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state, Al Jazeera reports.
But Comey had also been leading an investigation into potential Russian collusion in last year’s US presidential election.
Trump on Wednesday said Comey had lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington and would be replaced by someone who “does a far better job”.
His comments came as he welcomed Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister to the White House, in his first meeting with a Russian official since taking office in January 20.
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Washington, DC, said the timing of Comey’s dismissal, in conjunction with Lavrov’s visit, looked “extremely awkward” for the Trump administration.
“Here you have a president who has fired the head of the FBI, an agency that happened to be investigating associates of the president for possible collusion with the Russians over the hacking of the presidential election – and soon after that happens prominent Russians, including Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to the US, turn up in the Oval Office,” Bays said.
Comey’s abrupt dismissal sent shockwaves across Washington and was swiftly condemned by Democrats – as well as some in his Trump’s own Republican party.
Many Democrats, who had previously criticised Comey’s management of the e-mails investigation, sharply questioned the timing of his dismissal, arguing that Trump could have acted soon after taking office on January 20.
Chuck Shumer, the Senate’s minority leader, on Wednesday called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate alleged links between Russia and the Trump campaign.
“If there was ever a time when circumstances warranted a special prosecutor, it is right now,” Schumer said.
Reports also emerged on Wednesday that just days before his dismissal, Comey had asked for additional funding from the justice Department to expand his investigation into possible Russian election meddling.
However, Senate majority leader Republican Mitch McConnell ridiculed Democrats’ criticism, saying they were “complaining about the removal of an FBI director who they themselves repeatedly and sharply criticised”.
On the Senate floor, McConnell also dismissed Democratic calls for the justice department to appoint a special prosecutor for a new investigation.
McConnell said such a move would “only serve to impede” existing probes such as one under way in the Senate intelligence committee.