Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Tuesday that he had multiple meetings with FBI director James Comey shortly before President Donald Trump fired him on May 9.
“I did have meetings with Director Comey during our brief period in which we overlapped in this administration,” said Rosenstein, who was confirmed to his post on April 25. He declined to elaborate on the content of the conversations.
Those meetings could become a crucial piece of the timeline as a special counsel probes whether Trump may have obstructed justice by firing Comey, who had been overseeing an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The investigation is also probing whether any of Trump’s campaign associates assisted the Russian effort.
Comey testified last week that Trump had plied him for months to help “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation from his White House, conversations he concluded were inappropriate given the longstanding independence of the FBI from political considerations. Comey said he raised general concerns about Trump’s interactions with in separate discussions to Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Notwithstanding those discussions, Rosenstein authored a memo excoriating Comey’s handling of the 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. That memo was used briefly by top White House officials to justify Comey’s firing — until Trump came out a day later to say he fired Comey with the Russia investigation in mind, and would have done it with or without Rosenstein’s recommendation.
In his testimony before a House appropriations committee on Tuesday, Rosenstein refused to say who asked him initially to craft the memo used to justify Comey’s firing.
“I am not at liberty to talk about that now," Rosenstein told the committee. He noted that the matter might be a component of Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“We don’t want people talking publicly about” those components, he said.
Asked after the hearing whether he ever relayed Comey’s concerns about his talks with Trump to others in the administration, Rosenstein told POLITICO he wouldn’t discuss the subject. He also declined to comment about whether those interactions had become a part of the special counsel’s probe.
“I’m not going to comment beyond what I said in the public hearing, Rosenstein said.
Days after Comey’s firing, Rosenstein appointed a special counsel — former FBI director Robert Mueller — to continue the Russia probe and prosecute any associated crimes that may have been committed.
Mueller’s investigation has become a growing danger to the Trump White House in recent days. Several of Trump’s allies have urged him to push Rosenstein to fire Mueller, and the White House has refused to bat down suggestions that he’s considering it. Trump ignored questions on the subject Tuesday during a brief public appearance.
Rosenstein emphasized that he’s seen “no cause” to terminate Mueller and wouldn’t do so without a reason — even if ordered to by the president.
Rosenstein testified at the same time Sessions was testifying on the other side of the Capitol before the Senate Intelligence Committee on a related subject. Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe in March after questions emerged about his meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year. Comey, in testimony to the Senate intelligence committee last week, hinted that he was aware of non-public information that would have required Sessions to recuse himself.