Posted by 17 May 2017
In early May, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Considering that a president has fired an FBI Director only once previously in the modern era, many people have questions about what this means for the future of the FBI.
We’re here to provide some context.
The FBI is part of the Department of Justice, but the FBI Director is under the authority of the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. The president appoints the FBI Director and the Senate must confirm the nominee. The Director serves for one ten-year term, although Congress can pass legislation to extend this term. The president has authority to fire the FBI Director for any reason.
The presidential appointment authority for the FBI Director dates back to reforms made in 1968. The fixed 10-year term was legislated in 1976. The agency’s activities during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement raised concerns about the power of the FBI Director. After the death of iconic FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1972 after 48 years of service, there was a consensus that long tenure for a Director was not desirable. Limiting the term and bringing that appointment under the president were ways to place limits on this power.
On the whole, the FBI Director has generally remained generally independent of the president and partisan politics. A ten-year term means that a Director will outlast any president who appoints him or her. Prior to Comey, the only FBI Director who has been fired was William Sessions, whom President Clinton removed due to ethical issues. It remains to be seen if President Trump’s action will set a new precedent that leads to more dismissals of future FBI Directors.
President Trump will have the task of naming a new FBI Director. The Senate will have the power to confirm or reject that nominee. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the nominee, and then vote whether to recommend the nominee to the full Senate for consideration. Most nominees for FBI Director have been confirmed unanimously. In fact, the only one not to be confirmed without opposition was James Comey, who received one dissenting vote from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
Do you think that President Trump should have fired Director Comey? Who should President Trump appoint as the new Director of the FBI?