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18 February 2018 00:00:00 AM Breaking News

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Five questions for Trump after FBI firing

President Trump's shocking and unexpected dismissal of FBI Director James Comey has left the White House with a lot of questions to answer.

Officials scrambled to explain the circumstances that led to the bombshell news, which roiled Washington when it broke Tuesday night.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been quick to note that the president has fired the man leading the investigation into his campaign's possible ties to Russia.

Here are five unanswered questions raised by Comey's dismissal.

Why now and not in January?

The administration argues that Comey's dismissal is a result of his handling of the Clinton probe - which was officially completed in July and was temporarily resurrected when investigators uncovered new emails in October.

But questions swirled about the timing. Why did Trump only now, in May, fire Comey over a breach of conduct that took place months previous?

Democrats are suspicious that Comey's investigators had uncovered damning evidence in the Russia investigation. They likened the move to the Watergate scandal, when President Richard Nixon's attorney general and deputy attorney general resigned instead of heeding the president's request to fire the special prosecutor investigating the scandal.

The White House has pinned the timing of the decision on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was confirmed in late April. He dated the memo recommending Comey's dismissal on Tuesday.

Who ordered the review by Rosenstein?

The origins of Rosenstein's review of Comey's job performance remain murky, raising questions about whether Trump directed the probe.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters late Tuesday that Rosenstein initiated the effort himself after he was confirmed by the Senate two weeks ago and that Trump was not aware of it until he received the recommendation earlier in the day.

"It was all him," Spicer told reporters. "That was a DOJ decision."

White House officials have used the Rosenstein letter as the key piece of evidence to justify Comey's firing, repeatedly citing his nonpartisan bonafides as a George W. Bush-appointed prosecutor who also served as a U.S. attorney under former President Barack Obama.

But media reports have appeared to contradict the White House's account. The New York Times reported that senior Justice Department and White House officials were working on building a case against Comey since last week, and that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asked to come up with reasons to oust him.

What was Jeff Sessions's involvement?

The White House said Comey's dismissal came at the recommendation of both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein.

But the attorney general recused himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential eleciton earlier this year over his failure to disclose a meeting with the Russian ambassador.

Democrats were quick to point out that Sessions was recommending the removal of the man in charge of a case from which he had disavowed involvement.

Sessions's decision to step down, in March, put Rosenstein in the driver's seat for any charges in the case.

Perhaps hinting that the White House anticipated that criticism, it was a memo from Rosenstein - not Sessions - that detailed the administration's rationale for firing Comey.

Spicer referred questions of Sessions's involvement to the Justice Department.

Who knew and who signed off on it?

A major outstanding question surrounding Comey's ouster is who in the White House and elsewhere knew about the plans to fire the embattled FBI director and when - and who signed off on it.

What we know for certain is limited and centers only on official communications that took place on Tuesday.

Sessions and Rosenstein made the recommendation to remove Comey. According to documents released by the White House, Trump informed Comey of his firing on Tuesday - the same day that he received a letter from Sessions concluding that "a fresh start is needed at the FBI."

Rosenstein sent a memorandum to Sessions the same day underpinning his recommendation with the argument that Comey mishandled the Clinton email investigation.

Members of Congress appear to have been largely kept in the dark over the decision - Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that Trump informed her by phone at 5:30 p.m. of the decision, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was notified "literally minutes before" the firing happened, a spokesman said. Others expressed surprise.

Reports have indicated that there was no warning given to officials in the FBI ahead of the decision. Comey is said to have found out about the news through media reports while in Los Angeles for a speech later in the day.

What is the status of the Russia investigation?

Comey's sudden firing has thrown the future of the FBI's Russia investigation into doubt, accelerating calls for a special prosecutor to take control of the highly sensitive probe.

His ouster came weeks after he publicly confirmed, with the permission of the Justice Department, that the bureau is investigating the possibility that Trump associates colluded with Moscow in its meddling in the presidential election.

The investigation will continue under the supervision of acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a 20-year veteran of the bureau. But it's unclear how long he will remain in that post; the White House has said the search for a new director will begin immediately.

There are signs the probe is moving forward, for the time being. CNN reported Tuesday, amid news of Comey's firing, that federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a central figure in the investigation.

"I guarantee you there will be more shoes to drop, I can just guarantee it," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday night. "There's just too much information that we don't have that will be coming out."

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