The reason the Trump administration is giving for the firing of James Comey is that the newly confirmed Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein recommended it. Upon taking office, Rosenstein reviewed the matter of Comey’s fitness and concluded that he needed to go.
Rosenstein states his reasoning for this conclusion in a memo to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. You can read the memo here, along with Sessions’ letter to President Trump and Trump’s letter of discharge to Comey.
Rosenstein says Comey needed to go because he mishandled the email investigation of Hillary Clinton and then continued to defend his conduct, most notably in recent congressional testimony. Rosenstein says Comey was wrong to “usurp” the Attorney General’s authority and announce that Clinton wouldn’t be prosecuted and wrong to hold a press conference in which he released derogatory information about Clinton.
This discharge scenario plays out very well for President Trump — as well as it possibly could under the circumstances. The decision originates with Rosenstein, not Trump or Jeff Sessions, and it was based on the “mistreatment” of Hillary Clinton.
Few Democrats are going to say that Comey didn’t deserve to be fired for badmouthing Clinton at the famous press conference (among other Clinton-related “offenses”). Sure, they can say that the timing of the discharge is suspicious. But the White House has an explanation for the timing — Rosenstein’s ascension to the Deputy position.
Is the White House’s scenario true? I have no trouble believing that Rosenstein disagrees strongly with the way Comey handled the Clinton matter. The Justice Department has a longstanding practice of not announcing its adverse views about a would-be defendant it decides not to prosecute.
Rosenstein is able to cite past high ranking Justice Department officials from both parties who strongly share his view that what Comey did was wrong. I have heard partisan Republicans who worked in the Justice Department take the same position. (It happens that I agree with Comey. In the context of a presidential election and all of the interest in the Clinton email scandal, it would have been wrong for Comey not to state the reasons why he recommended no prosecution and wrong not to have laid out the facts for the American people.)
So there is no reason to doubt that Rosenstein was appalled by Comey’s conduct and his recent defense of that conduct before Congress. There is also no reason to doubt that he genuinely thinks Comey needed to go as a result of his behavior and the controversy it has generated.
Is that all there is to the story? Was President Trump really out of the loop until he Rosenstein made his recommendation or was he involved behind the scenes?
I don’t know. But unless evidence emerges that Trump had greater involvement, the Rosenstein scenario described above stands unrebutted.
The Democrats will bark, but as it stands now, they are barking at shadows.
ONE MORE THING: I find it amusing to hear so many partisan Republican/conservative talking heads now saying how awful it was for Comey to have held laid out evidence against Clinton at the press conference in which he said he was recommending not prosecution. I know that most of these same people (and, of course, Donald Trump) were incensed that Comey didn’t want to prosecute, and I imagine that many of them would have been angrier still if he hadn’t counterbalanced that decision by discussing the evidence of Clinton’s wrongdoing.
I heard some criticism from Republican/conservative commentators when Comey badmouthed Clinton at the press conference, but not nearly as much as I’m hearing now. Suddenly, it is an article of faith that Comey shouldn’t have discussed the evidence against Clinton.