May 23, 2019

THE TIGHTENING NOOSE:

What Rod Rosenstein Knew When He Helped Trump Fire Comey  (Murray Waas, 5/23/19, NYRB)


In May 2017, then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein agreed to assist President Trump in an effort to fire James Comey as FBI director despite Rosenstein's knowing beforehand that the president had devised a false cover story to conceal the fact that he was firing Comey for his oversight of the FBI's Russia investigation, according to previously confidential White House records and interviews with former and current government officials familiar with the matter.

In this previously unreported episode, President Trump gave Rosenstein a draft of a letter to then FBI Director Comey, in which the president justified his firing of Comey with a concocted story claiming that, at the beginning of his presidency, Trump had retained Comey on a probationary or trial period only, because of what he described as poor job performance by Comey. After reading this draft letter, Rosenstein agreed to write a memorandum for the president severely criticizing Comey's handling of the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of State. The White House used Rosenstein's memo as its initial public rationale for Comey's firing.

The Mueller Report mentioned this draft letter that Trump gave to Rosenstein, but quoted only portions of two sentences of its text. Trump stated in the letter that Comey had "asked [the president] at dinner shortly after inauguration to let [Comey] stay on in the Director's role, and [the president] said that [he] would consider it," but the president ultimately had "concluded that [he had] no alternative but to find new leadership for the Bureau--a leader that restores confidence and trust."

I was able to read the full draft of that letter, and two earlier drafts, as well as notes made by Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser to President Trump, who helped the president write the various drafts. The Trump administration has refused to provide these records to Congress, citing claims of executive privilege.

In these documents, President Trump claimed that Comey sought a private dinner with the president in an effort to keep his job. In one early account, Trump quoted Comey vowing to earn the president's trust to retain his job, with the president concluding that Comey had underperformed in a number of ways, including failing to have the FBI more aggressively identify and prosecute leakers. Mueller's investigators were later able to discount most of these claims--a conclusion that Trump's own advisers seemed to have drawn themselves, since the claims were largely absent from the letter that Trump ultimately sent to Comey firing him.

Posted by at May 23, 2019 12:19 PM

  

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