Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was furious after President Donald Trump used a memo he wrote to justify firing then-FBI Director James Comey back in May 2017, according to a new report from the New York Times.
Trump's decision to fire Comey led Rosenstein to appoint Robert Mueller as a special counsel in charge of the investigation of the president, Russia's interference in the 2016 election, and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.
The Times reports that Rosenstein "alternately defended his involvement, expressed remorse at the tumult it unleashed, said the White House had manipulated him, fumed how the media had portrayed the events and said the full story would vindicate him," according to four people familiar with the "outbursts."
People described Rosenstein after the firing as “shaken,” “unsteady,” “overwhelmed,” as well as “frantic, nervous, upset and emotionally dis-regulated,” the Times reports.
Rosenstein's memo detailed a list of Comey's offenses, recently echoed in a report from the Department of Justice inspector general, in the handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. Rosenstein did not explicitly call for Comey's removal, but he strongly condemned the director's choice to comment publicly about the investigation in July 2016 and to announce the reopening of the probe shortly before the election — a choice many believe cost her the presidency.
As the Times notes: "Mr. Trump has long argued that Mr. Comey was too soft on Mrs. Clinton, but the memo and subsequent White House statements suggested that Mr. Comey was fired for actions that hurt her candidacy."
Initially, many observers were critical of Rosenstein's involvement in the Comey firing. But more recently, he has been portrayed as a bulwark against presidential interference into Mueller's investigation, especially as the president's allies in Congress ramp up their attacks against the probe.
While Rosenstein's involvement in the drafting of the memo could be seen as a reason for him to recuse from the case, the deputy attorney general has thus far said he is not conflicted and can appropriately oversee the investigation.
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