(WASHINGTON) — Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told members of Congress that his memo to President Trump detailing concerns about James Comey’s actions as FBI director was “not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination” of Comey.
The White House initially cited Rosenstein’s memo as the basis for Trump’s sudden dismissal of the FBI director on May 9.
The deputy attorney general stood by the contents of his memo in his comments to Congress on Thursday, maintaining his disagreement with Comey’s actions in relation to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails as secretary of state, according to Rosenstein’s prepared opening statement to both the House and Senate.
“I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it,” Rosenstein said in his two separate briefings on Comey’s firing, one to the Senate yesterday and the other to the House Friday. “Notwithstanding my personal affection for Director Comey, I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader,”
Rosenstein said he first learned of Trump’s intent to remove Comey on May 8. The next day, Comey was dismissed and the deputy attorney general sent his memo to the president who, Rosenstein said, had “sought [his] advice and input.”
In his letter to Comey on May 9, the president cited Rosenstein’s memo in his dismissal of the FBI director whose agency was investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
In the two days that followed, White House officials and Vice President Mike Pence said Trump was acting on the recommendation of the deputy attorney general. But Trump later changed this account. In an interview two days after the firing, Trump told NBC he had been planning to terminate Comey regardless and was thinking of Russia when he made that decision.
Rosenstein in his remarks to Congress Friday echoed the contents of the memo he sent to Trump in his criticism of the former FBI chief’s handling of the Clinton email probe, including Comey’s press conference last July about the investigation.
“I thought the July 5 press conference was profoundly wrong and unfair both to the Department of Justice and Secretary Clinton,” said Rosenstein, adding, “It violated deeply ingrained rules and traditions, and it guaranteed that some people would accuse the FBI of interfering in the election.”
The deputy attorney general described listening to Comey’s rationale for his public statement about the probe when he attended a training seminar in October 2016, and continued to disagree “with his analysis.” Rosenstein added, though, “I believe that he made his decisions in good faith.”
The day after that seminar, on Oct. 28, Comey disclosed to Congress that the bureau was continuing its investigation of Clinton’s emails in light of new evidence. Rosenstein also expressed discomfort with that disclosure.
Rosenstein further told Congress that discussions between him and Jeff Sessions about “the need for new leadership at the FBI” began in one of their first meetings last winter, when Sessions was still a senator and before his confirmation as the new attorney general.
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