Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was considered honorable, fair and non-partisan by virtually everyone in Washington D.C. until he wrote a letter calling for President Donald Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey.
Rosenstein has held his position under Attorney General Jeff Sessions for two weeks after being confirmed by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority vote of 96-4 in the Senate April 25. He served as the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland from 2005 to 2017, gaining the respect of Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
“Throughout his 27-year career, Mr. Rosenstein has earned a reputation as a fair and focused administrator of justice,” Democratic Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen said in support of Rosenstein’s appointment April 25.
Rosenstein “garnered broad, bipartisan support from state and local law enforcement officials across our great state, as he has tackled problems of crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, gun and gang violence, civil rights enforcement, environmental crimes, intellectual property fraud, and corruption,” according to Maryland’s other senator, Democrat Ben Cardin.
But Rosenstein’s support could be eroding after his first high-profile act as deputy attorney general when he wrote a memo urging the president dismiss Comey based on his handling of the Clinton investigation.
Rosenstein’s two page memo, the White House released as the administration’s official rationale Tuesday, claims that firing Comey is the best way to restore the public’s faith in the Department of Justice.
Trump’s letter terminating Comey says Sessions recommended the firing. Sessions writes in his own letter that both he and Rosenstein recommend Comey’s dismissal. Rosenstein relies on the opinions of former FBI directors and attorneys general appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents. Each of the former officials criticized Comey’s decision to release details about investigations into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of private email servers during her tenure.
The president has the full authority to dismiss the FBI director. Even though many Democrats believe Comey failed in his duty last year, they question whether Rosenstein’s memo is the real reason for the termination. (RELATED: The Last President To Fire An FBI Director? Clinton)
“I 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,” Rosenstein wrote in his memo.
The timing of Comey’s dismissal shocked politicians on both sides of the aisle, but perhaps Sessions needed a respected non-partisan voice to justify Comey’s dismissal.
One voice of opposition to Rosenstein’s nomination came from Connecticut Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who has called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s Russia ties. Blumenthal said that despite Rosenstein’s “impressive background,” he could not support his nomination unless Rosenstein committed to investigating the Russian connection, the Baltimore Sun reports.
“I would vote for him if he agreed to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Russian interference in our past election,” Blumenthal said.
The Democratic senators who supported Rosenstein belittled the reasons reasons he gave for terminating Comey.
“It’s laughable to try and believe Trump fired Comey because of the Clinton email investigation,” Van Hollen told reporters Wednesday. The dismissal has “the foul stench of an attempt to stop an ongoing investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians,” he said in a statement.
Van Hollen told The Daily Caller News Foundation that Rosenstein’s letter justifying Comey’s dismissal is “simply not credible.”
“The timing of this firing — coming on the heels of Comey’s request for more resources to investigate potential collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign associates and the Russians — reeks to high heaven.”
To restore credibility to his office and to the Justice Department itself, Rosenstein and Sessions must appoint “a completely independent special prosecutor who cannot be fired by the President,” Van Hollen said. “We need to put aside the politics and get to the truth.”
Cardin’s did not return The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
It’s unclear whether Rosenstein’s rationale for dismissing Comey is the same as Trump’s. Rosenstein “should realize that his correct assessment of those mistakes is now being used to justify [Comey’s] firing for a very different reason,” Donald Ayer, former deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, said Tuesday.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include Senator Van Hollen’s comments.
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