Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein delivered a stunning rebuke of fired FBI Director James Comey to members of Congress this week—arguing he undermined public confidence in the FBI and damaged the Justice Department.
“In one of my first meetings with then-Senator Jeff Sessions last winter, we discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI,” Rosenstein said, according to prepared remarks released by the Justice Department. “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.”
Rosenstein delivered these remarks on Thursday in a private meeting with the members of the Senate, and again on Friday in a private meeting with the House. He has drawn excoriating criticism over the last week for writing a memo that the White House used to defend President Donald Trump’s firing of Comey.
In that memo, Rosenstein criticized Comey for public comments he made about the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
But Rosenstein also pointed out that his memo didn’t call for Comey to be fired.
“My memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination,” he said.
But the White House said it was, and its timing made that perception unavoidable.
After Trump fired Comey, White House officials pointed to Rosenstein’s memo and said it was the reason. However, Trump quickly undermined that explanation by telling NBC News he fired the FBI director was because he was investigating possible collusion between the president’s campaign staff and Russian government officials.
Rosenstein told members of Congress that he wrote the memo knowing the president had already decided to fire Comey. In his remarks, he tried to explain his role in the firing, which is widely suspected to be an effort on the president’s part to stop the Russia investigation. Rosenstein has drawn fire for appearing to provide Justice Department cover for an incredibly controversial, political move.
In his remarks to Congress, Rosenstein defended his memo.
“On May 8, I learned that President Trump intended to remove Director Comey and sought my advice and input,” Rosenstein said. “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,” he continued. “I chose the issues to include in my memorandum.”
He also reiterated his blistering criticism of Comey.
“It was not just an isolated mistake,” he said. “The series of public statements about the email investigation, in my opinion, departed from the proper role of the FBI Director and damaged public confidence in the Bureau and the Department.”