Several Senators told reporters Thursday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein knew the decision to fire FBI Director James Comey had been made before he drafted his memo recommending that course of action.
Rosenstein addressed Senators at a closed-door briefing in the wake of his decision to appoint a special counsel, ex-FBI Director Robert Mueller, to oversee all investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential related misconduct.
Rosenstein’s memo, on which President Trump purportedly relied in coming to his decision to dismiss Comey, referenced Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation as a grounds for dismissal.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) was the first to share Rosenstein’s acknowledgement that he had prior knowledge of the president’s decision. “[Rosenstein] did acknowledge he knew Comey was going to be removed prior to him writing his memo,” she told the staked out reporters.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) later confirmed what McCaskill had said. “He knew the day before,” Durbin answered when asked about Rosenstein’s prior knowledge.
When asked about the exact timing suggested by Senator Durbin for Rosenstein having learned of Trump’s decision to fire Comey, Monday, May 8, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) claimed he had not heard part of the briefing and could not confirm that date.
FBI Directors serve at the president’s pleasure, and Trump did not need Rosenstein’s recommendation to fire Comey. Some critics of Trump have contended that if Trump’s decision were based on Comey’s refusal to “let go” of some criminal investigation, that could potentially constitute obstruction of justice. Other observers, however, disagree.
At least one Democrat appeared to come close to accusing Trump of a crime: “There is mounting evidence of obstruction of justice,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told reporters.
Blumenthal then walked back from any explicit accusation. “At this point we’re talking about potential, we’re talking about allegations … I’m satisfied that we will know whether that’s occurred,” he said.
A reporter thought the implication was strong enough to seek clarification. “Just to be clear, you just gave the indication that the president may be under a criminal investigation for potential obstruction of justice,” she posited.
“No,” came Blumenthal’s answer before she had finished, “only that the evidence needs to pursued wherever it leads, not that any individual person is under investigation. I have no knowledge what the [special counsel] may pursue.”