Why would he say this? The case for waiting until now to fire Comey, supposedly, was because a neutral official at the DOJ finally made the argument that Comey must go. That was Rod Rosenstein, the deputy AG, who was confirmed by the Senate just two weeks ago on a 94-6 vote. By having Rosenstein write a memo asserting that the public had lost faith in Comey, Trump had something he could point to from an impartial prosecutor with bipartisan credibility to justify canning Comey. As Mike Pence said yesterday:
“Let me be very clear that the President’s decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI was based solely and exclusively on his commitment to the best interests of the American people and to ensuring that the FBI has the trust and confidence of the people this nation,” Pence said.
Interestingly, although Rosenstein’s memo strongly implied that Comey should be removed, it never explicitly recommended it. Either way, though, the spin was set: Trump simply accepted the DOJ’s recommendation. Now here’s Trump, a day later, telling NBC that the DOJ’s recommendation didn’t really matter and all but admitting that Rosenstein’s memo was a fig leaf. Why?
Two possibilities. One is that Trump’s ego is bristling at the perception that Rosenstein dropped the axe on Comey, not Trump himself. Trump is the decider and he needs you to know that, even though that badly undermines the White House’s spin. The other possibility is that Rosenstein might be going rogue and the White House is desperate to keep him happy before he does. The big news of the day (so far) is that Rosenstein allegedly threatened to resign after the White House tried to place responsibility for the Comey firing on him. (He denies it.) Then came this ominous bulletin a few hours ago:
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was seen arriving at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s secure office spaces Thursday afternoon. Sources told POLITICO Rosenstein had requested to meet with the Intelligence Committee leaders, Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), who both hastily left an open, televised committee hearing for what Burr said was a meeting “we can’t push off.”…
Burr said the meeting with Rosenstein was pre-scheduled. However, sources say DOJ reached out to the committee with new urgency after the Comey matter.
Rosenstein is the head of the Russiagate investigation at the DOJ due to Jeff Sessions having recused himself, and suddenly he’s meeting urgently with the Senate Intelligence Committee. Maybe Trump was worried that Rosenstein’s going to turn on him and tried in this interview to make amends, insisting that it’s not Rosenstein’s fault that Comey was canned but his own. (Rosenstein has been savaged by some colleagues for his role in Comey’s firing.) Telling the world that your deputy’s opinion was ultimately irrelevant to a major personnel decision is an odd way of protecting him, but it’s possible that that’s what Trump was after here — just trying to take some heat off of Rosenstein to get him back on the team. The Journal is reporting this afternoon that Rosenstein went to White House counsel Don McGahn and asked someone to “correct the record” about his role in Comey’s termination, leaving the impression “he couldn’t work in an environment where facts weren’t accurately reported.” Trump might have been trying to do that in talking to Lester Holt, fearing a high-profile resignation from Rosenstein would turn this from a major headache into a crisis.
Here’s another one for the “what the hell was he thinking?” files. What the hell was he thinking insulting Comey here as a “showboat” and a “grandstander”? Not three hours ago, the acting director of the FBI said publicly during testimony that Comey hadn’t lost the support of people at the FBI. There were reports yesterday of agents in tears that he’d been fired; Comey himself apparently found out while he was addressing agents in L.A. and TVs in the room broadcast the news. He thought it was a prank until someone pulled him aside and let him know the truth. Now Trump’s tearing him down on camera. What’s his relationship with the FBI going to be like going forward?
One senior F.B.I. official said that the president had severely damaged his standing among agents, many of whom are conservative and supported Mr. Trump as a candidate. Agents were angered by the way Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey, who learned of his dismissal from television reports while he was in Los Angeles. They called it disrespectful.
And agents flatly rejected the assertion Wednesday by a White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, during a briefing with reporters that the F.B.I.’s rank-and-file supported the sudden firing of Mr. Comey.
Some intel people are essentially vowing revenge:
Many employees said they were furious about the firing, saying the circumstances of his dismissal did more damage to the FBI’s independence than anything Comey did in his three-plus years in the job.
One intelligence official who works on Russian espionage matters said they were more determined than ever to pursue such cases. Another said Comey’s firing and the subsequent comments from the White House are attacks that won’t soon be forgotten. Trump had “essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI,” one official said. “I think there will be a concerted effort to respond over time in kind.”
The leak problem that Trump was unhappy with Comey for not solving is, ironically, probably about to get much worse.
The one bit of good spin here for Trump is what he says Comey told him about not being a subject of the Russiagate investigation. Is that true? If so, will Comey confirm it publicly? It’s surprising that Comey would categorically rule out Trump as a target of an investigation that’s still open and has reportedly been “accelerating,” but if it’s true, go figure that he’d want to reassure his new boss that he wasn’t coming after him.