Rod Rosenstein’s Letter of May 9, 2017

I don’t always comment on the most current news.  Many thought Trump was going to fire Rod Rosenstein, because he was protecting the Mueller investigation.  Instead,  Trump fired Jeff Sessions.  Sessions did submit a resignation letter, but it was at the request of Trump.

On May 9, 2017 Rod Rosenstein prepared a memo, indicating that FBI administrator, James Comey, had committed three serious errors in his public disclosure of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.  Note that each of these errors concerned Comey overreaching his authority as FBI director or breaking with protocol on public disclosures.   There has been no accusation by the Department of Justice that Comey has ever acted in any partisan manner in the Clinton  email investigation or any other investigation.     Trump stated that Comey was a  “nut-job”,  “loose cannon” and a “showboat.”    Really, this describes better Donald Trump than James Comey.

The Rosenstein letter  was provided to Trump, because he wanted to base the  firing of James Comey on a DOJ recommendation.   This fabricated excuse failed when Trump explained on national television, in an interview with Lester Holt, that he was going to fire Comey anyway over his handling of the “Russian thing.”    So,  Trump blew his own pretext.

I think Trump knew the Rosenstein letter wasn’t going to fool anyone.    It would make no sense to go all the way back to events of July 5, 2016 in firing someone in May 2017.    It was quickly pointed out, that two of the three errors committed by Comey, as claimed by Rosenstein,  actually helped Trump get elected (Error #2, the “extremely careless” comment about Clinton, and Error #3, letter to Congress on the eve of the election, re-opening the email case).

I believe Trump or someone within the White House did edits on Rosenstein’s initial draft.    A second author added that Comey had failed to repented for his sins.  I believe the second author came up with subject line: Restoring the Public Confidence in the FBI.     This sounds much more as a heavy handed political statement than a legal one, and I don’t think it came from Rosenstein.

It was a dumb argument, that Comey should have admitted his faults and kowtowed to either Trump or Obama, and immediately ask for forgiveness.   Admitting your wrong, is never an option in the Trump administration.   The proper thing, is to quietly resign, so you do not disgrace Trump.     It was so dumb, that it had to have come from the White House.

I believe three edits were made:  (1) the subject of the letter,  (2) the opening statement and (3) the final paragraph.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has long been regarded as our nation’s premier federal investigative agency. Over the past year, however, the FBI’s reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage, and it has affected the entire Department of Justice. That is deeply troubling to many Department employees and veterans, legislators and citizens. 

Final paragraph:

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 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.

Of course,  the extraordinary circumstances of the Clinton email scandal  –   unfounded claims by Trump at rallies and tweets,  together with highly partisan House and Senate oversight committees,  and political commentators on Fox News,  in a desperate attempt to diminish respect for the FBI and  influence the electorate – had zero chance of ever being repeated.  Rosenstein would not have written about the “necessary corrective steps”  –  far too vague.

If anyone had diminished confidence in the FBI,  it was Donald Trump.  And he’s still at it, but the scope has broaden to include the Department of Justice, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Amazon, which owns the Post.   Now, public enemy also includes CNN.

I begin with the part that came from Rosenstein.   His  memo claims Comey made two errors of judgement in his press conference of July 5, 2016, then a third error of judgement in his letter to Congress on October 28, 2016.   It is not cited that he broke any laws or rules, but went against tradition and policy norms.   Error #1 was to announce that the evidence against Hillary Clinton were not sufficient to warrant prosecution.   He had usurped the authority of the Attorney General.   This helped Hillary Clinton.   Then he said that Hillary Clinton was extremely sloppy in her handling of classified documents.  His hurt Hillary Clinton, but at least she could put the email scandal behind her in the critical last four months before the election.   Comey has defended his actions on July 5, 2016 saying that he took his unusual action, because of the extraordinary circumstances.

The extraordinary circumstances  were (1) The June 27, 2016 meeting between AG Lynch and Bill Clinton, at the Phoenix airport, for 20 minutes.  This meeting  has been portrayed repeatedly by Trump as backroom deal to get “Crooked Hillary” off the hook for a charge of criminal gross negligence and (2) Lynch had already stated that she would follow the recommendations of the FBI report on the email scandal.

Trump lost no time in the campaign to claim this meeting showed deep corruption in the FBI and the Department of Justice.    Trump tweeted immediately after the tarmac meeting:

Take a look at what happened w/ Bill Clinton. The system is totally rigged. Does anybody really believe that meeting was just a coincidence?

As Bernie Sanders said, Hillary Clinton has bad judgement. Bill’s meeting was probably initiated and demanded by Hillary!

So, the Trump absurd version of events, is that Hillary Clinton, although out of the Obama administration for 3 years, could still demand a meeting between Loretta Lynch and her husband.

Trump took the collusion/conspiracy theory one step further, claiming there was proof that the elite media was part of a broader cover up in Aug 2017:

E-mails show that the Amazon Washington Post and the Failing New York Times were reluctant to cover the Clinton/Lynch secret meeting in plane

The emails that Trump refers to,  are requests for information from the Washington Post and New York Times to the DOJ.   Of course, the DOJ doesn’t respond.   To get information, it’s important to downplay its importance, as “just want to clear up a few loose ends.”   These tricks, I don’t think work.

Error #3, the letter to Congress on October 28, 2016 certainly  helped Trump win the election.   Emails from Clinton’s private server were found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.   Now, for those that enjoy conspiracy theories (like Trump) this was solid gold.   From Wikipedia:

Law enforcement officials stated while investigating allegedly illicit text messages from Anthony Weiner husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin, to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina, they discovered emails related to Clinton’s private server on a laptop computer belonging to Weiner. On November 6, Comey notified Congress that the FBI had not changed its conclusion reached in July. The notification was later cited by Clinton as a factor in her loss in the 2016 presidential election.

Comey defended his actions, stating he had promised Congress that he would advise them if they found any new evidence, that warranted the re-opening of the case.

Rosenstein correctly states that other past Attorney Generals had similar criticisms of Comey, including Eric Holder, AG under Obama.   Holder begins his criticism with Error #3, and not to announce an investigation of a candidate to congress  just prior to an election.

I have a lot of respect for legal professionals.  They usually craft their arguments well.  This is why I believe the letter was edited to support the case of firing Comey.

Comey likely made it easier for Trump to win.   Trump, not Comey,  is diminishing respect for the DOJ,  FBI and other institutions, such as the free press.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

The Atlantic:  Rosenstein’s Case Against Comey, Annotated

Newsweek: Trump’s comments on the tarmac meeting

TRUMP: Hillary ‘probably’ demanded controversial meeting between Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch

Wikipedia:  Hillary Clinton’s email scandal

 

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