Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggested in an interview Wednesday that former FBI Director James Comey broke with Justice Department policy when he arranged to leak memos about his conversations with President Donald Trump.
During an appearance on Fox News, the No. 2 Justice Department official was asked whether it would "ever be proper for a FBI director" to leak notes about conversations with the president.
"As a general proposition, you have to understand the Department of Justice. We take confidentiality seriously, so when we have memoranda about our ongoing matters, we have an obligation to keep that confidential," Rosenstein said during the interview for Fox’s "The Story with Martha MacCallum." "As a general position, I think it is quite clear. It’s what we were taught, all of us as prosecutors and agents."
Comey has acknowledged giving memos of his conversations with Trump to a law professor friend with instructions to share them with the media. Comey was a former FBI director, not a current employee at the time, having been fired by Trump on May 9. However, FBI policy appears to bar former employees from releasing confidential bureau records.
The ex-FBI chief told a Senate committee he disclosed the information in order to ensure that a special prosecutor was appointed to see through the investigation the FBI began into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials or agents during last year’s presidential election.
Rosenstein, who made the decision to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel for that matter, was also asked whether Mueller’s relationship with Comey made Mueller a less than ideal choice.
"I made the decision to appoint Director Mueller based upon his reputation. He had an excellent reputation. Really bi-partisan support for his integrity. That’s why I made that decision….But, I can assure you that if there were conflicts that arose, because of Director Mueller or anybody employed by Director Mueller, we have a process within the department to take care of that," Rosenstein said.
Trump said last month he found that connection "bothersome." He also expressed concern that some attorneys hired by Mueller either supported Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or worked for her.
Asked about some prosecutors having donated to Clinton’s campaign, Rosenstein suggested that the public should focus on the outcome of the investigation and not the background of those conducting it.
"The Department of Justice, we judge by results and so my view about that is, we’ll see if they do the right thing," he said.
While Rosenstein fielded questions about the Trump-Russia investigation during his Fox appearance, he refused to engage on the subject earlier in the day during a half-hour-long roundtable with Justice Department beat reporters from newspaper, television, radio, wires services and online outlets. The deputy attorney general said then that he would only respond to questions about — a topic also touched on in the Fox interview.
"We’re going to have to move on to the next question. I’m not going to be talking about that. It’s not asset forfeiture," he said during the morning roundtable at Justice Department headquarters.