These are not happy times at the F.B.I.
Morale at the country’s premier law enforcement agency plummeted months ago, after James B. Comey, its director, revived the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server in October and plunged the bureau back into the political maelstrom just before the election.
Then President Trump fired Mr. Comey on Tuesday, saying he had mishandled the Clinton investigation, and the mood darkened again.
Agents were stunned that Mr. Trump would fire Mr. Comey in the midst of an F.B.I. investigation into whether any of the president’s associates had conspired with Russia to swing the election in favor of Mr. Trump. Some said in interviews that news of the firing felt like a gut punch. Others wondered whether they would be able to continue the inquiry.
One senior F.B.I. official said that the president had severely damaged his standing among agents, many of whom are conservative and supported Mr. Trump as a candidate. Agents were angered by the way Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey, who learned of his dismissal from television reports while he was in Los Angeles. They called it disrespectful.
A strained relationship with the F.B.I. can make life difficult for a president. The White House relies on the bureau for regular security updates and for unvarnished information during crises.
Agents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly offer their assessments of F.B.I. morale, said they respected Mr. Comey as their director. They said they believed he had the bureau’s best interests in mind and had tried his best to guide them through a difficult past year, even if he had misstepped in the Clinton investigation.
The Justice Department was rushing to put in place an interim director, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, expected to interview at least four candidates on Wednesday, a department official said. All are well-regarded within the F.B.I. and are seen as unlikely to allow politics to influence the Russian investigation — and as loyal to Mr. Comey.
But if the firing of Mr. Comey was meant to help restore the bureau’s credibility and put the work force at ease about the F.B.I.’s future, as Justice Department officials said, it has had the opposite effect.
“People are stunned right now,” said Frank Montoya Jr., a former senior F.B.I. official. An F.B.I. spokesman declined to comment about bureau morale.
For the moment, the bureau is being run by Andrew G. McCabe, a veteran F.B.I. agent and previously the deputy director who was at Mr. Comey’s side as he navigated the politically perilous currents of the Clinton and Russian investigations that ultimately brought him down.
It is not clear whether Mr. McCabe will stay on as acting director. He is under consideration for the role of interim director, who will stay in place until Mr. Trump’s eventual nominee is confirmed by the Senate, the Justice Department official said.
The four candidates being interviewed Wednesday for the interim role are William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; Paul Abbate, assistant director of the F.B.I.’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch; and Michael J. Anderson and Adam Lee, who run the Chicago and Richmond, Va., field offices, respectively.
The official cautioned that the list was not exhaustive.
Whatever happens, another senior F.B.I. official said stoically, the bureau will continue to investigate crimes. The day Mr. Comey was fired was no different than the day before, the official insisted.
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