The now ex-FBI Director James Comey was in Los Angeles when he learned he had lost his job.
The New York Times says he was addressing staff when the news flashed on a TV in the background. He laughed at first, thinking it was a joke.
Others too are stunned. Some Democrats compared President Donald Trump’s move to the “Saturday Night Massacre” of 1973, in which President Richard Nixon fired an independent special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.
“It is really quite remarkable, the notion that you would fire one of your top investigating officials when that person is in the midst of an investigation that could involve you or people high up in your administration,” said Sam Erman, an Associate Professor at USC Gould School of Law in Los Angeles.
“We have seen a president fire people investigating him before but that was Richard Nixon and he eventually had to resign.”
The bombshell forced Comey, 56, to cut short his California trip. FBI staff are reeling, nearly all having confidence in him, according to one anonymous insider.
The FBI source says agents are concerned that Comey, formerly the top US law enforcement official, was dismissed because of leading the probe into the Trump presidential campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.
White House officials have denied allegations that there was any political motive in the move.
Moscow has repeatedly denied any meddling in the election and the Trump administration denies allegations of collusion with Russia.