So Rod Rosenstein went before a closed-door meeting with the Senate Democrats and apparently, they came away with a less-than-enthusiastic attitude towards Rosenstein, particularly on why he drafted a letter recommending the termination of then FBI Director James Comey when he already knew President Trump made the decision.
Here is what Rosenstein said when briefing the House today:
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.
I wrote a brief memorandum to the Attorney General summarizing my longstanding concerns about Director Comey’s public statements concerning the Secretary Clinton email investigation.
I chose the issues to include in my memorandum.
It is a candid internal memorandum about the FBI Director’s public statements concerning a high-profile criminal investigation.
I sent my signed memorandum to the Attorney General afternoon on Tuesday, May 9.
House and Senate Democrats are likely frustrated in part because Rosenstein cannot answer questions related to an ongoing investigation and that’s entirely fair. But it is not out of bounds for him to explain why he took part in what turned out to be a charade for two days.
Look at the timeline.
- On May 8th: Donald Trump informed Rosenstein of Comey’s impending termination.
- On May 9th: Rosenstein delivered what was has been described to people as a recommendation letter.
- On May 10th: President Trump, claiming he was acting on the advice of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, terminated James Comey.
- May 11th: Trump, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, brags he intended to fire Comey all along
So the question remains: Why did the Trump administration spend nearly two days telling everybody within earshot, the President acted on behalf of the advice of the assistant attorney general?
It’s not hard to venture a guess based on the President’s previously documented impetuous behavior. Look at the example of Trump’s behavior when Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate matters related to Russia, the White House released the following statement by Donald Trump:
“As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.”
A reasonable statement.
The next morning, however, Baby King Trump appeared:
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
It’s as though he cannot help himself. Chances are, his aides, including Chief-of-Staff Reince Priebus, said to use the recommendation letter as a means of tempering explosive news. By the time Trump sat down with Lester Holt, the narrative was that Trump was merely acting on behalf of what was recommended to him.
Of course, Trump doesn’t want anybody stealing his spotlight. So….
“I was going to fire Comey– my decision. There is no good time to do it, by the way,” Trump told NBC News’s Lester Holt. “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”
So Rosenstein can stand by his memo all he wants. It was not the reason for Comey’s termination and Rosenstein knew it.
That said, it left Rosenstein in a precarious position so it is not unreasonable to conclude he had no choice but to appoint a special counsel knowing his participation in a concocted excuse for Comey’s termination would face scrutiny. He still hasn’t explained why he went along with it and it’s fair to say he should provide an answer.