ABC: Rosenstein nearly resigned after WH spin on Comey firing; Update: Rosenstein denies

When the White House first announced the firing of FBI Director James Comey, their first narrative cast it as the culmination of an internal review of Comey’s actions by newly confirmed deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Later, though, the narrative changed to put Donald Trump more in the role of central force behind the decision — and ABC News reports they had little choice in the matter. Sources within the administration tell Jon Karl that Rosenstein threatened to resign if they didn’t acknowledge their role in starting that review:

A Rosenstein resignation would have been disastrous. It was painfully clear from almost the moment that his letter was published that Rosenstein acted as a hatchet man; no one spends Day 13 on the job at the Department of Justice proposing to fire an FBI director without orders to do so. The White House needed that narrative to distract attention from the other reasons for dumping Comey, and also to take shots at Democrats for hypocrisy over Comey (which still applies), but Rosenstein refused to play along. Had Rosenstein resigned, the crisis would have escalated even further than it has.

It’s bad enough as it is, however. The shift in stories has forced the White House to acknowledge that Trump pushed this, and the brutal manner of Comey’s firing has the administration leaking like a sieve. The Washington Post got thirty sources for its tick-tock of the firing, which paints the action as a petty grudge over a lack of personal loyalty. As Trump is about to find out, that’s just the beginning. Not only will Trump have to worry about leaks, he’ll also have to worry about alienating both the FBI and the intelligence communities at the same time.

The change in stories has also alarmed Paul Mirengoff at Power Line, who was more sympathetic to the original argument:

However, it does seem that Team Trump, through the information it provided Politico, as well as the New York Times, is acknowledging that the president had a more central role in the decision to sack Comey than it initially suggested.

The change in the administration’s line doesn’t inspire confidence, either in its savvy or its honesty. And the new line — the Trump was furious with the FBI investigation into a possible Russian connection — will make it easier to attack Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

The Politico story raises an additional question: Is Trump really puzzled that the Russia story won’t “disappear?” If so, he’s quite naive. But then, it’s been reported that Trump thought his firing of Comey wouldn’t be controversial. That’s hopelessly naive.

Andrew Malcolm writes that of all the ways to fire an FBI director, this is about the worst:

President Donald Trump’s peremptory firing of James Comey is a complete homemade mess enabling a long list of the usual congressional suspects of both parties, who dislike this president anyway, to strut, preen and opine on this week’s hot topic while avoiding normal duties.

It’s a boon too to the obsessive D.C. media. And a potential disaster to a chief executive who once again has made himself the center of a raging and completely unnecessary political tornado, this time over the nation’s preeminent law enforcement agency.

Comey is known as a bureaucratic maverick, a real bulldog when it comes to strongly held opinions. His firing has all the hallmarks of a long-running capital scandal because A) it involves the nation’s highest office, B) it was sudden, unexpected and played dramatically on 24-hour news channels and C) it reeks of political duplicity.

Most importantly, its obvious haste and poor organization create dozens of important unanswered questions that invite continued, often overblown political comment, dangerous speculation and negative media coverage that can create its own damaging momentum.

The picture as it now appears seems to be that of a business executive used to acting as the full and only authority within an organization, a point to which Andrew also alludes. Governing does not work in that fashion within the American system — power is shared between branches, and officials have their own power bases even within branches. Presidents may have the technical authority to fire people on a whim (at least political appointees), but exercising that power whimsically and arbitrarily comes with significant political costs. Trump and his team hadn’t learned that yet, and it remains to be seen whether they’ve learned it from this episode. Even if they do learn their lesson, it might be too late to start the snowball effect that they’ve created.

Comey, for his part, seems ready to head into the sunset. In his letter to FBI agents, Comey advised them not to spend much time on the decision or its execution, but to just get on with their work:

In a message to FBI staff late Wednesday, Comey wrote: “I have long believed that a President can fire an FBI Director for any reason, or for no reason at all. I’m not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed. I hope you won’t either. It is done, and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply.”

He added that “in times of turbulence, the American people should see the FBI as a rock of competence, honesty, and independence.”

True, but don’t think for a moment that FBI agents haven’t become a little more motivated to keep a closer eye on this administration.

Update: Both the Washington Post and ABC News reported this independently, but Rosenstein denied it in an interview with Sinclair’s WJLA:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said he’s not quitting, nor did he threaten to quit over his role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

When asked by Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Michelle Macaluso about reports that claim otherwise, he stated “no, I’m not quitting.”

Well, now he doesn’t have to do so anyway. Trump now says he was going to fire Comey anyway regardless of what Rosenstein concluded, which contradicts their original explanation. Allahpundit will have more on that.