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A combination photo shows U.S. President Donald Trump (L) in the House of Representatives in Washington, U.S., on February 28, 2017 and FBI Director James Comey in Washington U.S. on July 7, 2016.

With a three-paragraph statement at 5:43 p.m. Tuesday, the White House touched off the wildest days yet of the Trump administration.

The President fired FBI director James Comey, the man overseeing the investigation into Mr. Trump's campaign team's ties to the Kremlin and Russia's interference in last year's election. The sacking thrust the scandal back into the spotlight, raised troubling questions about Mr. Trump's use of presidential power and threw the White House and Congress into chaos.

At first, Mr. Trump claimed he fired Mr. Comey on the advice of Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein because Mr. Comey inappropriately disclosed details of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Within 24 hours, this narrative had collapsed completely, thanks to a torrent of leaks from inside the administration.

Analysis: With Comey firing, Trump steps into risky territory

Mr. Trump had actually fired Mr. Comey, as you might have guessed, because he was angry over the FBI's investigation into the ties between members of Mr. Trump's campaign team and the Kremlin. By Tuesday evening, even the White House was admitting Mr. Trump already wanted to fire Mr. Comey when he asked Mr. Rosenstein to write the memo he used to justify it.

Here is what we've learned so far, and what is happening next.

1) Mr. Trump was upset that Mr. Comey was a) investigating team Trump's ties to Russia and b) refusing to back up the President's evidence-free accusation that former president Barack Obama wiretapped him. Three significant events preceded Mr. Comey's firing.

First, Mr. Comey told a congressional committee in March that the FBI was investigating ties between the Russian government and Mr. Trump's campaign as part of its probe into the Kremlin's interference in last year's election. At the same hearing, Mr. Comey said there was no evidence to back the President's bizarre claim that Mr. Obama had wiretapped Mr. Trump's campaign headquarters at Trump Tower in New York during the election.

Second, the FBI director further testified to the Senate last week about both the Russia probe and the Clinton e-mail investigation. At one point, he said he felt "mildly nauseous" at the possibility that his disclosure on Ms. Clinton in October might have swayed the outcome of the vote – an implication that undermined the Trumpian narrative that his amazing campaign was the only reason he won the presidency. Third, Mr. Comey asked Mr. Rosenstein for more resources – such as bringing in more prosecutors, according to the New York Times – to help the Russia investigation.

Mr. Trump was increasingly enraged that Mr. Comey's investigation was keeping the Russia scandal in the spotlight, according to officials who spoke anonymously to the Washington Post, and he wanted the FBI to instead focus on finding the people who kept leaking information to reporters about his team's Kremlin ties. He also, for some reason, had apparently expected Mr. Comey would back up his assertions of Mr. Obama's wiretapping and was angry that he didn't.

The President became "strongly inclined" to fire Mr. Comey last Wednesday, the day of the FBI director's Senate testimony, according to the White House. On Monday, Mr. Trump called in Mr. Rosenstein and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions and asked them to come up with reasons to turf the FBI director.

The following day, Mr. Rosenstein produced a memo outlining the problems with Mr. Comey's handling of the Clinton investigation. Mr. Sessions, in turn, produced a memo recommending Mr. Trump axe Mr. Comey.

2) Mr. Rosenstein threatened to resign after the White House pinned Mr. Comey's firing on him.

At first, the White House claimed the President decided to fire Mr. Comey because of the advice of Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Sessions. By Tuesday evening, however, the administration had reversed itself: In a chronology released to reporters, the White House confirmed Mr. Trump had already made up his mind when he asked for Mr. Rosenstein's and Mr. Sessions' memos.

The about-face was certainly due in part to the parade of anonymous sources telling journalists about Mr. Trump's real reasons for firing the FBI director.

But the Washington Post suggested another reason: Mr. Rosenstein's threat to resign, according to one source. His memo, which was released by the White House on Tuesday, makes this explanation plausible. The text lays out a series of Mr. Comey's purported mistakes in the Clinton investigation, but stops short of actually calling for him to be terminated.

3) Mr. Trump had no plan for the fallout. Also, he's blaming White House press secretary Sean Spicer. The President didn't appear to realize his decision would be so poorly received, and the White House didn't come up with a strategy for handling it. Mr. Spicer apparently wasn't even informed of the decision until shortly before it happened.

At first, Mr. Spicer told reporters Tuesday night that the administration would have no further comment on the firing until the following day. But Mr. Trump, watching the reaction on cable news as he ate dinner, the Washington Post reported, became enraged when he saw no one was defending him.

So the White House abruptly dispatched Mr. Spicer, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and counsellor Kellyanne Conway to go on television. Then, Mr. Spicer held a scrum (or "gaggle," as they say in America) among the bushes outside the West Wing.

According to Politico and Axios, Mr. Trump believes his media team – and Mr. Spicer in particular – dropped the ball. He is said to be closely watching Ms. Huckabee Sanders' performance as she fills in for Mr. Spicer. The press secretary is a naval reservist, and as such is required to serve a few days every month. He is on naval reserve duty for the rest of the week.

Mr. Trump seemed to have thought that pinning Mr. Comey's firing on his treatment of Ms. Clinton would give him cover with the Democrats. When the Dems instead unanimously condemned Mr. Trump's move, he berated them on Twitter: "Dems have been complaining for months & months about Dir. Comey. Now that he has been fired they PRETEND to be aggrieved. Phony hypocrites!"

4) The Russians tricked Trump into a photo-op with the guy at the centre of the Kremlin collusion scandal.

In a case of inexplicably bad optics, Mr. Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office less than 24 hours after axing Mr. Comey. Making matters worse, Russia's American embassy tweeted a photo of a smiling Mr. Trump shaking hands with Mr. Kislyak, and a further series of photos appeared on Tass, a Russian news agency, showing the President palling around with the Ambassador. Mr. Kislyak played a key role in the Russian collusion scandal: The disclosure of his secret conversations with former national security adviser Mike Flynn and Mr. Sessions forced Mr. Flynn to resign and Mr. Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

As it turns out, the White House was had: According to an anonymous official who spoke to the Washington Post, the Russians told Trump's people that the photographer was an aide to Mr. Lavrov and didn't mention that he would be releasing the photos publicly. The administration, the official said, was surprised to see Mr. Trump's chummy moment with the man at the centre of the scandal he was trying to avoid being broadcast around the world.

5) Both the Senate and the FBI are stepping up their Russia investigations.

The Senate intelligence committee announced Wednesday it will subpoena documents from Mr. Flynn after he failed to hand them over voluntarily, the first such order made by the committee.

Separately, CNN reported, prosecutors sought subpoenas last week to compel grand jury testimony from Mr. Flynn's associates.

Where either investigation goes from here is an open question. Congress has broad powers to hold Mr. Trump to account: It could allocate more resources to its investigations (the House is also doing one), pass legislation establishing a special counsel or block Mr. Trump's agenda until he agrees to an independent commission. But the Republicans hold a majority in both chambers and have, for the most part, lined up behind Mr. Trump. How long that cohesion lasts could determine how seriously the investigation is taken. Crucially, Senate intelligence chairman Richard Burr has been one of the few Republicans who has expressed concern over Mr. Comey's firing.

The FBI investigation could depend on who takes over from Mr. Comey and what resources they, and the Department of Justice, are willing to give the probe. Other sources have suggested to American media that the firing will only make the FBI more resolute to get to the bottom of what happened. One unnamed intelligence official told the Post that Mr. Trump had "declared war" on the FBI and warned ominously there would be "a concerted effort" to respond "in kind."