Rosenstein in hot seat after Comey firing – The Hill
The controversy around President Trump’s explosive decision to fire FBI director James ComeyÂ hasÂ thrust deputy attorney general Rod RosensteinÂ into the spotlight.
Rosenstein, aÂ 27-year Justice DepartmentÂ veteran, was little known outside of government circles until Tuesday.
Thatâs when the White House hung its decision to fire Comey,Â who lead the FBI investigation intoÂ potential ties between Trump campaign officials and Russia, onÂ aÂ memo Rosenstein wroteÂ criticizingÂ Comeyâs handlingÂ of the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonJuan Williams: Comey firing burns GOP Rosenstein in hot seat after Comey firing Week ahead: Comey firing dominates Washington MOREâs private email server.
Ironically, Rosenstein’s notion that Comey overstepped his bounds, broke protocol and generally politicized the Clinton investigation is accepted by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as many legal scholars and law enforcement officials.
Rosenstein has been in the fire before, working on Ken Starrâs independent counsel investigation into the Whitewater affair during the Clinton administration
Appointed by former President George W. Bush, Rosenstein was one of only three U.S. attorneys keptÂ on byÂ the Obama administration.
RosensteinâsÂ confirmation vote in late AprilÂ provoked little opposition from a normally hyper-partisan Congress. Ninety-four U.S. senators voted in his favor, an indication that even most Democrats were at ease with Rosenstein taking the lead on Russia at the Justice Department.
Now, less thanÂ three weeks later, Rosenstein has become one of theÂ mostÂ polarizing figures in Washington.
âI had very high regard for Rod as a prosecutor and public servant. He was a true and dedicated and capable prosecutor every step of the way and served multiple administration,â said Ron Hosko, the president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. âHowever, his involvement in these events and the timing is questionable. That itâs his second week on the job and heâs focused on something James Comey did nine months ago is beyond curious to me.â
Rosensteinâs memo, produced at the request of the White House, argued that Comey had no right to âusurpâ the Justice Departmentâs authorityÂ asÂ whether to bring charges against Clinton â even after then-attorney general Loretta Lynch recused herself from the investigation over an impromptu meeting with former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonAppeals court to hear arguments on Trump’s revised travel ban Rosenstein in hot seat after Comey firing Bill Clinton condemns fear of immigrants in commencement speech MOREÂ thatÂ raised concerns about her partiality.
Comey âignored another longstanding principleâ by holding a press conference to ârelease derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation,â Rosenstein wrote.
RosensteinÂ alsoÂ argued that Comey had no obligation toÂ send a letter toÂ lawmakersÂ revealing thatÂ the FBI had reopened its investigation into Clintonâs server a few days before the 2016 election âÂ aÂ decision that Clinton blames in part for her November defeat.
ThoseÂ criticismsÂ are not controversial on Capitol Hill, where Comey is widely viewed to have overstepped his bounds at the infamous press conference last July, in which he said that Clinton had carelessly handled sensitive information as secretary of State but that there was no legal case to support charges against her.
But the political implications of Rosensteinâs memo have overcomeÂ itsÂ content.
Democrats say it is the height of hypocrisy for the Trump administration, which reveled in the problems Comey created for Clinton during the campaign, to now fire him forÂ his public statements on the case.
RosensteinâsÂ critics accuse himÂ of abetting what they view as the administrationâs efforts to bury the Russian investigation. RosensteinÂ facesÂ calls to resign orÂ recuse himself by appointing a special prosecutor.Â
In anÂ NBC NewsÂ interviewÂ this week, Trump praised his deputy attorney general and took sole responsibility for the decision, appearing to contradict the letter to Comey where Trump claimed he based the decision on Rosensteinâs memo.
âHe made a recommendation,â Trump saidÂ of Rosenstein. âHeâs highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him; the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation, but regardless of the recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.â
Writing at the widely read Lawfare blog,Â though,Â Brookings Institution senior fellowÂ and Comey friendÂ Benjamin Wittes said the damageÂ to RosensteinÂ has been done.
âTrump happily traded the reputation of Rosenstein, who began the week as a well-respected career prosecutor, for barely 24 hours of laughably transparent talking points in the news cycle,â WittesÂ wrote.
âThese are the costs of working for Trump, and it took Rosenstein only two weeks to pay them. The only decent course now is to name a special prosecutor and then resign.âÂ
Press reports indicate Rosenstein was caught off guard by the administrationâsÂ reliance onÂ hisÂ memoÂ to justify Comeyâs firing.
One report â denied by Rosenstein â said he threatened to resign. Another said he called White House counsel Don McGahn to objectÂ toÂ the way the administrationÂ portrayed him as responsible for Comeyâs firing.
Still, experts interviewed by The Hill said it strains credulity to believe RosensteinÂ would not haveÂ known how the memo would be used.
âWhen youâre in one of these positions, you sometimes have to spend your own political capital,â saidÂ one former Justice Department official. âI could see how, as the heat built, he might be frustrated and express concern about it, but it seems like he would have known.â
Rosenstein will brief senators on the decision to fire Comey and the state of the Russia investigation next week, but manyÂ senatorsÂ who voted forÂ the deputy attorney generalÂ now say theyâve lost confidenceÂ in him.
âIâve now read Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosensteinâs memo three times. With each read Iâve become more troubled by the contents of this unusual document,âÂ Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinRosenstein in hot seat after Comey firing Deputy AG sees no need for special prosecutor on Russia: report Feinstein calls for deputy AG to name special prosecutor or resign MORE (D-Calif.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
âThe attorney general and deputy attorney general should recuse themselves from the appointment, selection and reporting of a special counsel. This issue should be handled by the most senior career attorney at the Justice Department.â
But it will be difficult for Rosenstein, who is leading the Russia investigation because Sessions recused himself after it was revealed he failed to disclose to lawmakers a meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, to agree to a special counsel.
Rosenstein argued againstÂ appointing special counselÂ in his nomination hearing, andÂ White House and many GOP lawmakers on Capitol HillÂ sayÂ that it would be a waste of time and money.
âWe donât think itâs necessary,â White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said at a Thursday briefing.
âYouâve got the deputy attorney general who I would say is about as independent as it comes, due to the fact that he has such bipartisan support,â she added.