Deputy AG tells senators he knew Comey would be fired before he wrote memo
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
Updated: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told U.S. senators Thursday that he knew James Comey would be fired as FBI director before he wrote the memo recommending that action, the Washington Post and the New York Times reported Thursday.
Rosenstein’s memo, which said Comey improperly spoke publicly about an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, was initially cited as the reason President Donald Trump fired Comey last week. Trump later told a reporter that he was thinking of Comey’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia when he made the decision.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Rosenstein told the full Senate he was not pressured into writing the memo, but did so after learning of the president’s decision to fire Comey.
The briefing came a day after Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in that country’s attempts to improperly influence the 2016 election. Rosenstein spoke to the Senate in closed session and in a secure underground room normally used for national security discussions.
On Friday, Rosenstein told members of Congress that he stands by the memo, The Associated Press reports. Rosenstein also told Congress that the memo doesn’t represent any official misconduct nor is it a statement of reasons for Comey’s dismissal, according to the AP.
The news that Rosenstein knew about Comey’s firing before he wrote the memo could make the deputy attorney general a witness in Mueller’s investigation, the Times noted. Mueller was granted broad investigatory powers, which could encompass looking into whether Trump obstructed justice by asking Comey to drop his investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. It later emerged that Comey made note of Trump’s request in a memo that was saved.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday that Rosenstein’s briefing left him with the impression that Mueller’s investigation would be criminal in nature. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he thought it was in nobody’s interest to impede Mueller’s investigation.
Rosenstein is the lead Justice Department official on the investigation into Trump’s connections with Russia. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was part of the Trump campaign, recused himself from involvement after it became clear that he did not tell the entire truth during his confirmation hearing about his contacts with Russia.
An anonymous source told the Post that Rosenstein was upset at the White House for initially saying his memo was the reason Comey was fired, and threatened to resign if that narrative was not changed.
Rosenstein did not notify White House Counsel Donald McGahn of Mueller’s appointment until Justice Department officials were already briefing reporters, the Post notes.
In tweets early Thursday morning, Trump argued he was being unfairly singled out for investigation, calling Mueller’s appointment “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.”
Trump is slated to leave Friday for his first overseas trip as president with scheduled stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican.
Updated May 19 with new comments from Rosenstein.