White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday that former FBI Director James Comey committed “atrocities” while he led the bureau, which she said spurred President Donald Trump’s to fire him.
Sanders said although Trump expressed support for Comey’s decisions relating to the Hillary Clinton email investigation while he was a candidate, the letter he received on Tuesday from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlining “the basic atrocities” Comey committed “in circumventing the chain of command of the Department of Justice” convinced Trump that Comey needed to be fired.
“Any person of legal mind and authority knows what a big deal that is,” Sanders said. “Particularly for someone like the Deputy Attorney General, who has been part of the Justice Department for 30 years — when he saw that, he had to take action, and that was the final catalyst” for Comey’s dismissal.
McClatchy reported Wednesday that Trump met with Sessions and Rosenstein on Monday to discuss firing Comey, who days earlier had asked the Justice Department for more resources to expand the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether any Trump campaign associates were involved.
Sanders denied that the Monday meeting was arranged to specifically discuss Comey, however, telling reporters that “the topic came up” during a meeting of DOJ officials at the White House. At that point, Sanders said, Sessions and Rosenstein asked to meet with Trump to discuss the issue further.
Trump asked Rosenstein to write a memo outlining his concerns about the FBI director, Sanders said. But the New York Times’ Michael Schmidt wrote on Tuesday that Trump had been contemplating firing Comey for some time, and that Sessions had been trying to find an excuse “since at least last week” to let him go. Sanders said Trump had been contemplating dismissing Comey since the day he was elected.
In his letter to Trump, dated May 9, Rosenstein said he “cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.”
“The director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution,” he continued. “It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement. At most, the Director should have said the FBI had completed its investigation and presented its findings to federal prosecutors.”
Rosenstein also criticised Comey’s decision to tell Congress, 11 days before the election, that the FBI would be revisiting the Clinton email probe — a move that Trump and Sessions applauded at the time.
“Concerning his letter to the Congress on October 28, 2016, the Director cast his decision as a choice between whether he would “speak” about the decision to investigate the newly-discovered email messages or “conceal” it,” Rosenstein wrote.
“‘Conceal’ is a loaded term that misstates the issue. When federal agents and prosecutors quietly open a criminal investigation, we are not concealing anything; we are simply following the longstanding policy that we refrain from publicizing non-public information. In that context, silence is not concealment.”
Trump fired Comey one day after Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, testified before Congress that she had warned the White House about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia’s ambassador during the transition.
Days earlier, Comey reiterated during an open Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the FBI was still “conducting an investigation to understand whether there was any coordination between the Russian efforts and anybody associated with the Trump campaign.”
“The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax,” Trump tweeted on Monday night. “When will this taxpayer funded charade end?”
More from Natasha Bertrand:
- Trump has now fired 3 high-profile federal officials who were investigating him and his associates
- ‘He’s a free man as of today’: A member of the Senate Intel Committee wants Comey to lead the Russia probe
- White House spokeswoman: ‘It’s time to move on’ from Trump-Russia investigation
- The Trump-Russia probes are not going away — here are 6 things to watch as they move forward
- Trump’s firing of Comey seems ‘suicidal’ — but could ‘energize’ the Russia investigation
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