In Rod We Trust: Maybe We Were Wrong About RosensteinPhoto by Alex Wong Politics Features Rod Rosenstein
Donald Trump lied about why he fired James Comey. In the end, this might be what sinks him. Or at least the first thing that sinks him. It’s the fastest torpedo in the water. And it was fired by none other than Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
It started like this: two weeks ago, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote a memo recommending the president fire FBI Director James Comey. So Trump, upon receiving that memo, along with another from his Attorney General named after two Confederate Civil War heroes, abruptly fired Comey. In his letter to Comey notifying him he was fired, Trump said he was acting, in part, on Rosenstein’s recommendation:
“I have received the attached letters from the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.”
The official White House press notice about the firing said the same thing:
“President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”
Then Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Sean Spicer, and Vice President Mike Pence spent three days yelling “Because Rosenstein!” at people like they couldn’t read.
But if they’d actually read the memo, which you can do here, they’d see clearly that Rod Rosenstein never recommended that Donald Trump fire James Comey.
This was obvious in his memo, but it also came out in a congressional session last week: Rosenstein himself effectively told Congress that Donald Trump and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III had lied to him. They’d tried to set him up, it seems, as cover to do something they feared would otherwise be illegal: committing obstruction of justice by firing the guy who’s investigating them. Trump couldn’t fire Comey. Too obvious. Sessions couldn’t do it, either; he’d recused himself. But Rosenstein?
And then Donald Trump, yet again, proved himself stupider than nearly anyone else in Washington, D.C. Rosenstein saw this coming weeks ago, and he turned the tables and set Trump up. And Sessions. Thanks to Rosenstein, Mr. Trump’s fall is probably not too far off. And it’s certainly going happen a lot more quickly than if Trump hadn’t fired Comey to begin with.
So if you thought Rosenstein was a bad guy, or if the Trump administration counted vertebrates as having a pre-existing condition, you’re wrong. In a few weeks, Rod Rosenstein will be considered a hero. Here’s why in two parts.
Part I: The Memo
You could say I’m nitpicking about what Rosenstein said, playing semantics, being an asshole. It’s reasonable, I guess, to think it’s ridiculous to interpret Rosenstein’s memo any other way than that Comey should get canned. Here’s his conclusion, word for word:
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.
That’s it. The end. You kind of expect one more sentence, right? Maybe something like, “And this is why I recommend the President take the unusual but necessary step of removing James Comey as the head of the FBI.” But Rosenstein doesn’t go there. All the memo actually says is: Comey fucked Hillary Clinton over; it tarnished the FBI; it doesn’t seem like he’s ever going to acknowledge it; and unless he does, or unless he’s replaced, it really, really sucks for the FBI.
Look, it’s an extraordinary thing for the president to fire the FBI director. It’s only happened once. And it’s an even bigger deal that Trump is the guy to do it, because the FBI is investigating his campaign. So Rod Rosenstein, who’s put in 27 years at the Department of Justice, knowing exactly what was at stake, didn’t just forget to put that in there. If Rosenstein wrote the memo because he wanted to advise Trump to fire James Comey, the entire point of the memo would have been: fire James Comey.
And sure, you can still dig your heels in here, saying I’m parsing words, sounding like an attorney or something. But guess who’s currently the longest-serving U.S. Attorney in the government? Right: the guy who wrote the memo.
If you still think this is ridiculous, consider this: last Thursday, Rosenstein told Congress he didn’t write the memo as a recommendation to fire James Comey. The memo, he said, wasn’t even supposed to be public.
In Rosentein’s own words: “My memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination.” In fact, Rosenstein said he wrote the memo only after Trump told him he was going to fire Comey.
Now read the memo again. What’s the whole thing actually about?
Again, Rosenstein: “I wrote a brief memorandum to the Attorney General summarizing my longstanding concerns about Director Comey’s public statements concerning the Secretary Clinton email investigation,” he said. “I chose the issues to include in my memorandum.”
This means that instead of bending over to do Trump’s bidding, Rosenstein actually took the opportunity to go to bat for every Democrat in America.
Now, Rosenstein stands by his assessment. I do too, which is why I’ve got to pause here to address a question I’m sure the Trump supporters are screaming at their screens about and the Democrats are sick of being asked. Rosenstein and Sessions had actually first talked about removing Comey back in the winter. Now, would I have been okay with Trump firing Comey back then? No way. I never wanted Trump to fire Comey. His campaign was under FBI investigation.
Ah, but would I have wanted Clinton to fire Comey? Fuck yes.
Is this hypocritical? No. Again, the reason I believe Trump shouldn’t have fired Comey is because Comey was actively investigating him. If Comey didn’t have anything to do with Trump, then yeah, I wouldn’t care if Trump fired him. I like Comey, but he fucked Clinton and the rest of us over, so be my guest. Likewise, if Comey were investigating a hypothetical President Clinton, I wouldn’t want her to fire him. That’d be obstruction of justice. Right? Which brings me to Part II:
Part II: The Coverup
In that meeting, Rosenstein told Congress he couldn’t say much more about the memo, or much more about the firing in general. This left many people frustrated. But why couldn’t he say more? Because, Rosenstein said, the FBI investigation into Trump is not just a counterintelligence investigation anymore; it’s also a criminal investigation.
What could the crime be? Probably lots of them. Money laundering, for one, is certainly on the table. But here Rosenstein was explicitly referring to a case his memo would be part of. This could only mean an investigation into the obstruction of justice that Trump and Sessions clearly committed when they canned Comey. Here’s that whole case, timeline style:
1. Trump decided to fire the FBI Director who was investigating his campaign’s connections to Russia, because that investigation was starting to pinch.
2. His Attorney General couldn’t do it, because he, a Trump campaign surrogate, had lied under oath about his own connections to Russia, so he had to recuse himself from anything related to the campaign.
3. Trump tells the guy who took Sessions’ place he’s going to fire Comey, and Trump and Sessions have him write up a memo about why Comey sucks.
4. Sessions uses that memo, which conveniently has nothing to do with Trump-Russia, as an excuse to justify writing his own memo.
5. Trump tells Comey, and America, that a) he fired Comey because Rosenstein told him to; and b) Comey told him he wasn’t under investigation.
6. For the next couple of days, the president, the White House, and the vice president tell America over and over Trump was acting on Rosenstein’s recommendation; no one believes them because this is asinine, but they keep saying it anyway because they’ve all killed something warm and infinite inside themselves.
7. While they’re lying to America, Trump (who had just told America, and Comey, that same lie) goes and tells the fucking Russian Ambassador and Foreign Minister, in the Oval Office, the truth: he fired Comey because he was under too much “pressure” from the investigation for conspiring against America with, well, the very Russians he was telling this secret to, actually..
8. Trump also tells the Russian officials that James Comey, who exclusively speaks in federal statutes, was “crazy” and a “total nut job.”
9. Two days later, Trump just says fuck it and, probably inadvertently, tells America the truth on national TV: he fired Comey because of Russia.
10. The next week, Trump goes back to lying and says at a press conference he fired Comey because of Rosenstein; not because of Russia
1. In February Trump asked Comey to lay off the Russia investigation;
2. Comey apparently has copious notes about that and other similar instances;
3. Everyone’s already forgotten about Jeff Sessions’ role in all of this.
Look: Trump and Sessions didn’t just lie to Comey and America. They also lied to Rosenstein. Remember, his memo wasn’t even supposed to be public. When Trump sandbagged Rosenstein and put the blame on him, he was pissed. But, being smarter than Trump the way an iPhone is smarter than a chunk of cow shit, Rosenstein slow-rolled it: after Trump fired Comey, Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation, said publicly that even in the wake of Comey’s firing, he still saw no reason to bring on a special prosecutor. At this point many people figured Rosenstein was in Trump’s pocket, but the whole time he was actually preparing to appoint a special counsel (whom Trump can’t fire) behind Trump’s back. And Rosenstein brought one on in a matter of days. What’s more, Rosenstein didn’t notify Trump until it was a done deal: he didn’t want to give Trump the chance to fire him first.
Now Trump is very upset. He can’t stop the investigation, and firing Rosenstein does him no good now. So the Russia investigation will move forward under the stalwart eye of Robert Swan Mueller III, who is, poetically, the former director of the FBI.
Rod Rosenstein is a smart motherfucker.
And one last note. Though a case under a special prosecutor might take a year or more to complete, this criminal case—obstruction of justice—won’t take long at all. If Rosenstein’s memo is involved, it will rope in Sessions; if the Comey memos are involved, it will bring down Flynn; if Flynn is involved, it will bring down Pence.
And then there’s Mr. Trump. Though clearly not the mastermind of Russiagate, he’s certainly the mastermind of this: the worst criminal cover-up in the history of the United States. Anyone with half a brain could have and would have pulled these levers in the background. It’s only thanks to Donald J. Trump that we’ve got it all in writing.