Rosenstein defends his involvement in James Comey's firing

Essay divulges new details about 2017 memo

By David Shortell, CNN
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rod Rosenstein

(CNN) - Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, days removed from a career in public service, continued to air his side of the story that has captivated Washington for the past two years, posting an essay online Thursday that divulged new details about the reasoning behind his 2017 memo recommending the firing of then-FBI Director James Comey.

The essay, which is an expanded version of a speech that Rosenstein delivered Monday night in Baltimore, amounts to a defense of his involvement in Comey's firing and one of the first rebukes of his critics after graduating from nearly 30 years of Department of Justice regulations against public commentary.

Rosenstein also said Thursday that Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump's first attorney general, had discussed firing Comey before his inauguration in 2017. It was Rosenstein, however, whose reputation was staked to Comey's eventual firing, when the White House released his three-page memo as a justification for the move.

The former deputy attorney general posted the updated speech to the website Medium and shared it on a personal Twitter account. His disparagement of Comey as a "partisan pundit," which generated headlines when he first launched it on Monday, remained in the text, but now came supported by several new paragraphs of criticism of the former FBI director's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Rosenstein called Comey's decision to give his personal recommendation against the prosecution of Clinton in a news conference "a really, really big deal," and said the move to publicize the reopening of the FBI investigation days away from the 2016 election was a "cataclysmic decision" that should have been left to the attorney general.

He cited several former senior Justice Department officials who had come out against Comey's handling of the Clinton investigation and noted that his short memo was backed up by the release of an inspector general report last year.

"The entire public-relations-driven episode was dramatically wrong, and principled people recognize that without regard to political affiliation," Rosenstein wrote.

He said Thursday that he'd had only "a few hours" to write the memo, and would have preferred to include a "more balanced analysis of the pros and cons of replacing the Director at that time" as well as "more than just two sentences summarizing his good work."

The Rosenstein tell-all came the same day that the Senate approved his successor's place at the Justice Department. Jeffrey Rosen, a senior Department of Transportation official, was approved along party lines and against the objections of Democrats, who said he lacked relevant experience.

In the essay, Rosenstein also added to his thinking regarding the origins of the Russia probe, which Trump allies have said was initiated by corrupt FBI officials.

Rosenstein had said Monday that in 2017 he viewed the opening of the investigation into Russian election interference as "justified." The Justice Department's inspector general and a US attorney designated by Attorney General Bill Barr are both currently reviewing the period.

"Career federal employees have little ability to defend themselves against public allegations. We should not endorse misconduct claims unless and until the Inspector General, following an objective and nonpartisan investigation, concludes that there is sufficient credible evidence to establish wrongdoing," Rosenstein wrote Thursday.

He also appeared to have written directly with his detractors in mind, recalling a tenure marked by calls for his impeachment from the right and digs against his integrity on the left.

"Citizens who devote their careers to public service deserve at least the same benefit of the doubt that we give friends and relatives who do not spend nights and weekends risking their reputations, and sometimes their lives, to protect America," Rosenstein said.

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