Rod Rosenstein didn’t waste any time since stepping down as deputy attorney general to open up about his time at the Justice Department, which included a biting criticism of the FBI’s ex-director, James Comey.
Speaking to the Greater Baltimore Committee on Monday, only two days after formally leaving his post at the DOJ, Rosenstein defended the decision to fire Comey, whom he said trampled “bright lines that should never be crossed.” He also took issue with the former FBI director’s suggestion earlier this month that Rosenstein and Attorney General Bill Barr did not have the “inner strength” to “resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump.”
“I do not blame the former director for being angry,” he said. “But now the former director is a partisan pundit, selling books and earning speaking fees while speculating about the strength of my character and the fate of my immortal soul. That is disappointing. Speculating about souls is not a job for police and prosecutors. Generally we base our opinions on eyewitness testimony.”
While Rosenstein acknowledged he would’ve handled the firing of Comey with “more respect and far less drama,” he nevertheless defended his memo that criticized Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe.
"The clearest mistake was the director’s decision to hold a press conference about an open case, reveal his recommendation and discuss details about the investigation, without the consent of the prosecutors and the attorney general," Rosenstein said. "Then, he chose to send a letter to the Congress on the eve of the election stating that one of the candidates was under criminal investigation, expecting it to be released immediately to the public."
Comey explained in great detail during his July 2016 news conference —without the consent of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch or DOJ prosecutors—how Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information but ultimately said the FBI would not recommend charges against her.
“Those actions were not within the range of reasonable decisions,” Rosenstein said. “They were inconsistent with our goal of communicating to all FBI employees that they should respect the attorney general’s role, refrain from disclosing information about criminal investigations, avoid disparaging uncharged persons, and above all, not take unnecessary steps that could influence an election."
Rosenstein also criticized the pundit class for putting a political spin on every decision he made.
“People spend a lot of time debating whose side I was on, based on who seemed to benefit most from any individual decision” to appoint Mueller, he said. “That is because partisans evaluate things in terms of the immediate political impact, and cable TV pundits fill a lot of time by pretending there is always serious breaking news. But trying to infer partisanship from law enforcement decisions is a category error. It uses the wrong frame of reference.”
He continued: “My soul and character are pretty much the same today as they were two years ago. I took a few hits and made some enemies during my time in the arena, but I held my ground and made a lot of friends. And thanks to them, I think I made the right calls on the things that mattered.”