After Comey, Former Top S.F. Federal Prosecutor Calls on Keeping Politics Out of the FBI

Melinda Haag is the former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California. (File photo)

Melinda Haag is calling on top Justice Department officials to shield federal law enforcement agents and lawyers from the political turmoil she says led to the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

"It appears that there's political interference here, or at least a strong smell of political interference," said Haag, who served as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California from 2010 to 2015.

Comey's FBI was in the midst of investigating allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

President Trump's firing of the director is "startling and troubling and it certainly smacks of politics," said Haag.

Haag is now in private practice. She is the global head of litigation at the San Francisco-based Orrick law firm. After being appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate, Haag oversaw some of the Bay Area's most significant criminal cases, including the prosecutions of former state Sen. Leland Yee and Giants slugger Barry Bonds.

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The White House has said Comey was fired for mishandling the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails.

Haag agrees Comey did not handle that case well, but says he should not have lost his job over it.

"I don't believe it was a firing offense," she said.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein played a key role in firing Comey. Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all matters related to the Russia probes, Rosenstein will take the lead.

Haag worked with Rosenstein when he served as a U.S. attorney in Maryland.

She said he needs to persuade the public that he's dedicated to shielding federal law enforcement officials and lawyers from politics. If he can't, he needs to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation, she said.

"I can only imagine that the FBI at this moment is in tremendous turmoil," Haag said.

KQED's Mina Kim contributed reporting to this post. 

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