President Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, who was fewer than four years into what was supposed to be a 10-year term, on Tuesday evening. His ouster, which purportedly came because he mishandled the investigation of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server, is just the the second firing of an FBI director in history — the other by President Bill Clinton for ethical violations.

The firing comes as the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian officials. The dismissal now allows Trump to replace Comey, who was appointed by Obama but has served under presidents of both parties, with his own appointee.

That potential conflict of interest — an ally of the president, whether a Trump appointee or another member of his party, controlling the agency that is investigating Trump — is echoed across the different agencies and committees with a hand in the investigation.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that those individuals are actually shirking their responsibilities — just that they don't appear to be an unbiased third party.

The intelligence agencies’ directors will be Trump appointees

The FBI, which will eventually be run by a Trump appointee, has the largest role in intelligence gathering regarding the Trump-Russia inquiry and broader authority to investigate U.S. citizens than the other intelligence agencies. The agency’s findings go to higher-ups in the Justice Department, and some information also goes to Congress. 

The FBI director has significant power to determine how thorough the investigation will be. He or she can decide on the size and scope of the investigation. The director can also refuse to cooperate with congressional inquiries, among other things.

Trump appointees

Republicans

No ties to Trump

FORMER

FBI DIRECTOR

James B. Comey

Oversaw the FBI investigation from its inception in July until he was fired on Tuesday, purportedly for mishandling the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

replaced

by

ACTING

FBI DIRECTOR

Andrew McCabe

Took over Comey’s role upon his firing. Was Comey’s deputy under Obama and Trump, but is expected to be replaced by a Trump appointee soon.

will be

replaced by

FBI

DIRECTOR

To be appointed

Trump appointees

Republicans

No ties to Trump

FORMER

FBI DIRECTOR

ACTING

FBI DIRECTOR

FBI

DIRECTOR

replaced

by

will be

replaced by

James B. Comey

Andrew McCabe

To be appointed

Oversaw the FBI investigation from its inception in July until he was fired on Tuesday, purportedly for mishandling the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

Took over Comey’s role upon his firing. Was Comey’s deputy under Obama and Trump, but is expected to be replaced by a Trump appointee soon.

Trump appointees

Republicans

No ties to Trump

FORMER

FBI DIRECTOR

ACTING

FBI DIRECTOR

FBI

DIRECTOR

replaced by

will be

replaced by

James B. Comey

Andrew McCabe

To be appointed

Oversaw the FBI investigation from its inception in July until he was fired on Tuesday, purportedly for mishandling the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

Took over Comey’s role upon his firing. Was Comey’s deputy under Obama and Trump, but is expected to be replaced by a Trump appointee soon.

[Podcast: Can the president fire the FBI director?]

Other intelligence agencies also have a role in this intelligence gathering, though they focus more on foreign agents. The Director of National Intelligence oversees a large swath of intelligence officials, most notably the CIA and NSA directors. All of these officials do not report their findings to the Justice Department but do relay information to Congress, either at their discretion or in response to subpoenas.

Much like in the case of the FBI, these directors have discretion to put fewer resources toward the investigation or minimize cooperation with Congress.

DIRECTOR OF

NATIONAL

INTELLIGENCE

Daniel Coats

CIA

DIRECTOR

Mike Pompeo

NSA

DIRECTOR

Mike Rogers

CIA

DIRECTOR

DIRECTOR OF

NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE

NSA

DIRECTOR

Mike Pompeo

Daniel Coats

Mike Rogers

The Justice Department leaders are Trump appointees

Based on the evidence turned up by the FBI’s investigation, the Justice Department is able to file and prosecute criminal charges. The person leading that investigation has significant discretion over what those charges are, so they could minimize the consequences any wrongdoers face. Though, if the evidence was stark, there would be a lot of political pressure to file significant charges.

FORMER ACTING

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Sally Yates

Appointed by Obama and oversaw investigation for first 10 days of the Trump administration, before she was fired for refusing to defend the travel ban.

replaced

by

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Jeff Sessions

Recused himself from the Russia probe in early March after reports that he had undisclosed contact with the Russian ambassador.

replaced

by

Acting

Deputy Attorney

General

Dana Boente

Oversaw the investigation after Sessions recused himself but before the Deputy Attorney General was confirmed. Now heads a Justice Department unit working on the investigation.

replaced

by

DEPUTY ATTORNEY

GENERAL

Rod Rosenstein

Appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate in a 94-to-6 vote. Currently overseeing the investigation.

Acting

Deputy Attorney

General

FORMER

ACTING ATTORNEY

GENERAL

DEPUTY

ATTORNEY

GENERAL

ATTORNEY

GENERAL

Sally Yates

Jeff Sessions

Dana Boente

Rod Rosenstein

Appointed by Obama and oversaw investigation for first 10 days of

the Trump administration, before she was fired for refusing to defend the travel ban.

Recused himself from the Russia probe in early March after reports that he had undisclosed contact with the Russian ambassador.

Oversaw the investigation after Sessions recused himself but before the Deputy Attorney General was confirmed. Now heads a Justice Department unit working on the investigation.

Appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate in a 94-to-6 vote. Currently overseeing the investigation.

DEPUTY

ATTORNEY GENERAL

FORMER ACTING

ATTORNEY GENERAL

ATTORNEY

GENERAL

Acting Deputy

Attorney General

replaced by

replaced by

replaced by

Sally Yates

Jeff Sessions

Dana Boente

Rod Rosenstein

Appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate in a 94-to-6 vote. Currently overseeing the investigation.

Appointed by Obama and oversaw investigation for first

10 days of the Trump administration, before she was fired for refusing to defend the travel ban.

Recused himself from the Russia probe in early March after reports that he had undisclosed contact with the Russian ambassador.

Oversaw the investigation after Sessions recused himself but before the Deputy Attorney General was confirmed. Now heads a Justice Department unit working on the investigation.

Trump’s party controls Congress

The House and Senate’s investigations have a broader scope than the DOJ’s and can look into actions that are problematic or unethical, not just illegal. They can respond to wrongdoing by making the results of their investigation public and creating political pressure for the official in question to be dismissed. Though it’s rarely done, especially to officials of the same party, they could also impeach officials.

Congressional Republicans have a clear stake in minimizing the reach of the Trump-Russia investigation. If the investigation’s results cast Trump in a negative light, it would reflect poorly on the party as a whole, making it harder to pass legislation or get reelected. Since Republicans control both houses of Congress, the scope and content of the investigation is completely up to their members leading the intelligence committees. So, it’s easy to tone the investigation down if there’s not too much political pressure.

That doesn’t mean they will — the intelligence committees have a long history of bipartisan cooperation. Many Republican lawmakers have expressed serious concern about Russia’s alleged interference in the presidential election and how Trump has responded to it. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), for instance, who’s running the Senate’s investigation, said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination.”

House

INTELLIGENCE

COMMITTEE CHAIR

Rep. Devin

Nunes (R-Calif.)

Recused himself in early April after allegedly telling President Trump and the public classified information about the investigation.

replaced

by

INTELLIGENCE

COMMITTEE MEMBER

Rep. K. Michael

Conaway (R-Tex.)

Currently overseeing the House investigation.

Senate

Intelligence

committee chair

Sen. Richard

Burr (R-N.C.)

Overseeing the Senate investigation, which got more public attention after Nunes’s transgressions jeopardized the integrity of the House investigation.

House

Senate

INTELLIGENCE

COMMITTEE CHAIR

INTELLIGENCE

COMMITTEE MEMBER

Intelligence

committee chair

replaced

by

Rep. Devin

Nunes (R-Calif.)

Rep. K. Michael

Conaway (R-Tex.)

Sen. Richard

Burr (R-N.C.)

Recused himself in early April after allegedly telling President Trump and the public classified information about the investigation.

Currently overseeing the House investigation.

Overseeing the Senate investigation, which got more public attention after Nunes’s transgressions jeopardized the integrity of the House investigation.

House

Senate

INTELLIGENCE

COMMITTEE CHAIR

INTELLIGENCE

COMMITTEE MEMBER

Intelligence

committee chair

replaced by

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)

Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.)

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.)

Recused himself in early April after allegedly telling President Trump and the public classified information about the investigation.

Currently overseeing the House investigation.

Overseeing the Senate investigation, which got more public attention after Nunes’s transgressions jeopardized the integrity of the House investigation.

[Comey firing: Reaction from members of Congress on FBI director’s dismissal]

Citing these conflicts of interest throughout the system, lawmakers (primarily but not exclusively Democrats) have called for a special prosecutor or independent commission to take control of the Russia investigation.

Such a move would increase the independence of the investigation, but it may not be enough. The independent party may rely in part on intelligence collected by the FBI or other agencies — organizations that, after Comey’s dismissal, will soon all be overseen by Trump’s allies.

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