Rod Rosenstein, Maryland’s longtime federal prosecutor-turned-Jeff Sessions underling, played a major role in President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to can the head of the FBI on Tuesday.
According to a circulating memo that Rosenstein penned to Attorney General Sessions, Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation last year — and his resulting refusal to admit he may have screwed up — were indefensible to Rosenstein.
Best known to Marylanders for his 11 years spent as the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, Rosenstein was the guy who announced indictments of dozens of Baltimore gang members, as well as cops, along with perpetrators of fraud and other high-level crimes.
But in 2017 America, he’s the second-in-command to Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Trump administration, a position he was sworn into last month. While he’s a registered Republican, analysts noted at the time of his appointment that he’s relatively apolitical compared to other Trump hires.
In his official memo to Sessions yesterday, Rosenstein stuck to his procedural guns by criticizing Comey for breaking chain of command in the Clinton investigation.
In July 2016, Comey killed a yearlong criminal investigation into her use of a private email server for official business. He did it through the media, specifically by calling a press conference and issuing a statement in which he criticized Clinton’s behavior as “extremely careless,” but told the world “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”
Justice Department officials took issue with his choice to go through news outlets, rather than handle it internally by passing on his recommendation to prosecutors, who were legally entrusted with deciding whether or not to charge her.
Last week at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Comey defended his decision to publicly scuttle the investigation, saying his “goal was to say what is true” about the case. He also told lawmakers he spoke up because he was concerned that Obama administration Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s relationship with Clinton and decision to meet with her privately could have compromised the probe. Some had called for Lynch to recuse herself from the investigation at the time.
But in his Tuesday memo, Rosenstein wrote that Comey “was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority” in July, and said he ignored processes put in place to get somebody else to handle the investigation if the attorney general decides to recuse herself.
“The Director laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial,” the letter reads. “It is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”
To back his points, he quoted past attorneys general and their deputies, who also said Comey violated Justice Department traditions and injured public trust in the U.S. Justice Department and FBI.
He stopped short of telling Sessions Comey should be fired. However, he strongly hinted he felt that was the right path.
“The FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them,” Rosenstein opined. “Having refused to admit his errors, the Director cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions.”
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