Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told Congress that he knew the president planned to fire James Comey before he wrote a memo that the White House had cited to justify the termination.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told members of Congress that he knew President Trump planned to fire FBI Director James Comey before he wrote a memo that the White House has cited to justify the termination. “On May 8, I learned that President Trump intended to remove Director Comey and sought my advice and input. Notwithstanding my personal affection for Director Comey, I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader, ” Rosenstein said in his opening comments in private briefings with both the House and Senate this week, according to a statement he released. (The next day, May 9, , and the White House cited Rosenstein’s memo to justify that decision.) “In one of my first meetings with then-Senator Jeff Sessions last winter, we discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI, ” Rosenstein continued. “Among the concerns that I recall were to restore the credibility of the FBI, respect the established authority of the Department of Justice, limit public statements and eliminate leaks.” In that memo — which the White House initially used as the justification for Comey’s firing, before Trump admitted he had made up his mind well before that — Rosenstein outlined why Comey should be terminated, namely his handling of the investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server almost a year ago. “I thought the July 5 press conference was profoundly wrong and unfair both to the Department of Justice and Secretary Clinton. It explicitly usurped the role of the attorney general, the deputy attorney general and the entire Department of Justice; it violated deeply ingrained rules and traditions; and it guaranteed that some people would accuse the FBI of interfering in the election, ” Rosenstein said. Comey would later reopen the Clinton investigation less than two weeks before Election Day after additional emails surfaced, a controversial decision that many Democrats — including Clinton herself — believe helped tip the election Trump’s way. Trump praised that decision at the time, though, saying it “took a lot of guts.” Trump also later admitted that the ongoing Russia investigation and possible ties between his campaign associates played a role in his decision to fire Comey. On Wednesday, Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to take over the Justice Department’s Russia probe. Rosenstein underscored that the memo he wrote was “not a legal brief” and was “not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination… [and] not a survey of FBI morale or performance” but instead “a candid internal memorandum about the FBI director’s public statements concerning a high-profile criminal investigation.” “I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it, ” Rosenstein underscored. Rosenstein also told senators that he was “not aware” of a request Comey made for additional resources for the Russia investigation shortly before his firing. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe has also testified he wasn’t aware of any such request. A source with direct knowledge confirmed that Comey had indeed requested additional resources for the FBI investigation, which NPR has previously reported.