BALTIMORE – Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein criticized former FBI Director James Comey for becoming a “Partisan pundit hack” in the two years since he was fired by President Donald Trump.
In some of Rosenstein’s first extended remarks since leaving the Justice Department last week, the former deputy attorney general called Comey’s dismissal, which set off a firestorm in Washington and resulted in the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, “reasonable under the circumstances,” citing Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Rosenstein, who authored the memo that the Trump administration initially held up as the reason for Comey’s firing, said the president did not tell him what to put in that memo. And he said that though he didn’t dislike Comey — “On the contrary, I admired him personally” — the former FBI director crossed certain “bright lines” that were “not within the realm of reasonable decisions.”
“I would be the last one to condemn anyone for a judgment call,” Rosenstein said in remarks to the Greater Baltimore Committee’s annual meeting. “These jobs are difficult. They involve choices that invite criticism.”
Still, the former deputy attorney general said “the clearest mistake” Comey made was announcing his recommendation about the investigation into Clinton’s private email server at a news conference in which he discussed “details about the investigation without the informed consent of the prosecutors and the attorney general.” He also criticized Comey for his letter to lawmakers in the 2016 presidential campaign’s final days informing them the Clinton email investigation had been reopened.
The former deputy attorney general said that had he been in Trump’s shoes when the president was deciding whether to fire Comey in 2017, he would have included “a more balanced analysis of the pros and cons.” He also said he would have ensured Comey’s dismissal was carried out with “far more respect and far less drama,” alluding to Comey finding out about his dismissal on TV during a trip to Los Angeles.
“So I do not blame the former director for being angry. I would be too if I were in his shoes,” Rosenstein said. “But now the former director seems to be acting as a partisan pundit, selling books and earning speaking fees while speculating about the strength of my character and the fate of my immortal soul. I kid you not.”
Rosenstein’s criticism of Comey is the latest salvo in what has evolved into a war of words between the two former colleagues. Comey has become a major public figure in the wake of his dismissal and has been at times lauded as a hero by Trump’s critics. Several weeks ago, Comey penned an op-ed in The New York Times ripping into Attorney General William Barr and accusing Barr and others in Trump’s administration of lacking the “inner strength” to stand up to the president and writing that Trump “eats your soul in small bites.” In a televised town hall last week, Comey described Rosenstein to CNN’s Anderson Cooper as a person “of accomplishment but not real sterling character, strong character.”
“That is disappointing,” Rosenstein shot back Monday. “Speculating about souls is not a job for police and prosecutors.”
But while he defended Trump’s decision to fire Comey and his own role in the move, Rosenstein criticized the president’s manner of doing so and called the department’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia justified and said he would never have let anyone interfere with that investigation.
The former deputy attorney general argued that several of Trump’s campaign aides were under FBI investigation for their communications with Russian agents.
“At the time these were allegations. They were leads, what we call predication,” he said, adding later that the department was “not out to get anyone — we’re out to follow facts.”
He also appeared to take credit for an investigation into the Russia probe’s origins, telling the audience he wanted to ensure the Justice Department’s inspector general was conducting a thorough examination of the surveillance of the Trump campaign.