James Comey versus Rod Rosenstein on firing, not Donald Trump

James Comey, formerly Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is a person sequentially loathed and loved, criticized and praised, a person who both Republicans and Democrats have severely criticized. A cat with at least nine lives it seems.

On June 8, 2017, he testified under oath to the United States Senate Intelligence Committee purportedly concerning the investigation into allegations of interference in the 2016 presidential elections by agents of the Russian Federation. The real scope however was utterly partisan with a strong dose of anticipated revenge, a stage Mr. Comey apparently fully enjoyed. Everyone seemed to hear only what they wanted or translated what was said into what they wish had been said. That was especially true of Senator Dianne Feinstein who paraphrased Mr. Comey’s testimony concerning the “lifting of a cloud” from the Trump Administration’s ability to function into an allegation that the President had ordered the termination of the investigation into Russian electoral interference. Senator Marco Rubio was quick to correct that interpretation eliciting from Mr. Comey the admission that the President had instead urged completion of the investigation, including information concerning wrongdoing by any of his allies. It hardly made a difference.

One issue that may reverberate but was not been focused on was Mr. Comey’s reference to the Trump administration’s claims that the FBI had been poorly led by Mr. Comey and in disarray as follows: “The administration chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI,” he said, adding: “Those were lies, plain and simple.”

However, that comment involves not the President but rather Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein whose memorandum concerning Mr. Comey’s performance as FBI Director is the source of Mr. Comey’s accusations. In his memorandum to the Attorney General, Mr. Rosenstein wrote the following (see https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3711116/White-House-Fires-James-Comey.pdf:


My perspective on these issues [Mr. Comey’s improper actions] is shared by former Attorneys General and Deputy Attorneys General from different eras and both political parties. Judge Laurence Silberman, who served as Deputy Attorney General under President Ford, wrote that “it is not the bureau’s responsibility to opine on whether a matter should be prosecuted.” Silberman believes that the Director’s “Performance was so inappropriate for an FBI director that [he] doubt[s] the bureau will ever completely recover.” Jamie Gorelick, Deputy Attorney General under President Clinton, joined with Larry Thompson, Deputy Attorney General under President George W. Bush, to opine that the Director had “chosen personally to restrike the balance between transparency and fairness, departing from the department’s traditions.” They concluded that the Director violated his obligation to “preserve, protect and defend” the traditions of the Department and the FBI.

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who served under President George W. Bush, observed the Director “stepped way outside his job in disclosing the recommendation in that fashion” because the FBI director “doesn’t make that decision.”

Alberto Gonzales, who also served as Attorney General under President George W. Bush, called the decision “an error in judgement.” Eric Holder, who served as Deputy Attorney General under President Clinton and Attorney General under President Obama, said the Director’s decision”was incorrect. It violated long-standing Justice Department policies and traditions. And it ran counter to guidance that I put in place four years ago laying out the proper way to conduct investigations during an election season.” Holder concluded that the Director “broke with these fundamental principles” and “negatively affected public trust in both the Justice Department and the FBI.”

Former Deputy Attorneys General Gorelick and Thompson described the unusual events as”real-time, raw-take transparency taken to its illogical limit, a kind of reality TV of federal criminal investigation,” that is “antithetical to the interests of justice.”

Donald Ayer, who served as Deputy Attorney General under President H.W. Bush, along with former Justice Department officials, was “astonished and perplexed” by the decision to “break[] with longstanding practices followed by officials of both parties during past elections.” Ayer’s letter noted, “Perhaps most troubling… is the precedent set by this departure from the Department’s widely-respected, non-partisan traditions.”

We should reject the departure and return to the traditions.

Although the President has the power to remove an FBI director, the decision should not be taken lightly. I agree with the nearly unanimous opinions of former Department officials. The way the Director handled the conclusion of the email investigation [the Clinton Server Issue] was wrong. As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them. Having refused to admit his errors, the Director cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions.

Mr. Comey’s Senate testimony must be taken in context of the foregoing, especially, when in his introduction, he claims the foregoing information was a blatant lie. If there were liars then it would be Mr. Rosenstein and every one of the persons quoted, assuming their quotes were accurate. Something with which one might expect them to take umbrage, perhaps even serious umbrage.

It is obvious and has been for a while given the frequent “corrections” required with respect to Mr. Comey’s sworn Congressional testimony that Mr. Comey’s veracity is no better than that of those he accuses of dishonesty. On any topic. Of course, that does not mean that he always lies or that those whose dedication to veracity he questions are always truthful. Mr. Trump’s reputation for veracity has been destroyed by the mainstream media and by his own not infrequent inconsistencies.

But as to Mr. Rosenstein and the others, that may well be another matter. But probably a matter utterly ignored by the mainstream press.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved

Guillermo Calvo Mahé is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia. Until recently he chaired the Political Science, Government and International Relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science, law, international legal studies and translation studies and can be contacted at wacalvo3@autonoma.edu.co. Much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

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