Q&A on the News

Q: I’ve read more than once that FBI Director James Comey was barely halfway through a 10-year term. How, then, could President Donald Trump fire him?

–John R. Siegel, Atlanta

A: The FBI director is a presidentially appointed position, and there are no statutory conditions on the president’s authority to remove the director, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Comey, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013, is not the first FBI director to be removed before his 10-year term ended. President Bill Clinton removed President Ronald Reagan’s FBI director, William S. Sessions, who was less than six years into his term.

In removing Comey, Trump said in a letter he had concluded that the director was “not able to effectively lead the bureau” and that it was “essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”

The establishment of FBI directors as presidential appointments and the idea of a 10-year term are both relatively new.

In 1968, as longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was reaching advanced age, Congress established the position as a presidential appointment that requires Senate confirmation, as part of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. Hoover died in 1972, creating a vacancy in the post for the first time in 48 years.

Congress later created a fixed 10-year term for FBI directors as part of the 1976 Crime Control Act.

Fast Copy News Service wrote this column; Keith Still contributed. Do you have a question? We’ll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or email q&a@ajc.com (include name, phone and city).