The day after Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that “the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.” Trump himself later said the FBI had been in “turmoil” and that Comey was a “showboat” and a “grandstander.”
Was the FBI really falling apart at the seams under Comey? Ben Wittes, editor in chief of the Brookings Institute’s Lawfare Blog and a personal friend of Comey’s, sent a Freedom of Information request for emails sent by FBI staff in response to his firing. His aim, he writes, was “to show conclusively that President Trump and his White House staff are lying about career federal law enforcement officers, their actions, and their attitudes.”
The emails, released today, strongly contradict the White House’s narrative. Wittes and other Lawfare staff write, “there is literally not a single sentence in any of these communications that reflects criticism of Comey’s leadership of the FBI.”
Instead, the emails suggest that his firing shook the organization. In messages confirming Comey’s firing, heads of FBI field offices described the news as a “surprise” or “shock,” as “challenging” or “unsettling” and a “disappointment,” and described the moment as “tumultuous” and of “upheaval and uncertainty.” Some letters showed little emotion, but nearly all those in the FOIA trove show regret at the lack of information about Comey’s dismissal and urge officers to keep doing their jobs.
Here are some of the more emotional responses:
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. I am only sending this because I want everyone to know I have received no HQ confirmation of the reporting. I hope this is an instance of fake news.
— David Gelios, Detroit field office head
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!!! It’s our job to continue along and continue to make him proud of the finest law enforcement agency in the world. He truly made us better when we needed it the most.
— Renae McDermott, Knoxville field office head
These events are hard to hear and harder to comprehend.
— John Bennet, San Francisco office head
On a personal note, I vehemently disagree with any negative assertions about the credibility of this institution or the people herein.
— Amy Hess, Louisville field office head
You will not be surprised by the eloquence and grace of Director Comey, or by the genuineness of his message. He will be missed.
— David Schlendorf, assistant director for human resources, when forwarding Comey’s goodbye message to FBI staff.
Our hearts may be heavy but we must continue to do what we do best, which is to protect and serve the American people.
— Kathryn Turman, assistant director for the office for victim assistance. She ended her message, “Hang in there, Thanks, Kathryn.”
We all felt the pain associated with the loss of a leader who was fully engaged and took great pride in the FBI organization and our employees. Simply stated, Director Comey will be missed.
— Michael DeLeon, Phoenix field office head
I will tell you that [Comey] truly felt the warmth from the employees as he walked out of that room. He will never forget that, nor the professionalism of the team who accompanied him back to the airport for his return [to Washington].
— Deirdre Fike, assistant head of LA field office. Comey had been at the LA office when news of his firing was announced on TV.
Director Comey was a man of integrity and vision, he made a lasting impact on FBI leadership, diversity and our embracing of new technology.
— Charles Spencer, Jacksonville field office head
Read the FBI letters in full here.