WHITE HOUSE —
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is sticking by his memo that preceded President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.
“I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it,” Rosenstein said Friday during his closed-door session with lawmakers at the House of Representatives.
In the memo, Rosenstein recommended that Comey be replaced, in part because of his handling of the investigation into ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails.
White House officials have cited Rosenstein’s memo as one of the main justifications for Trump’s firing of Comey.
Trump also has suggested he fired Comey in part because of his investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Many Democrats have accused Rosenstein of providing the president with cover for what they describe as a blatant attempt by Trump to obstruct a federal investigation.
In the briefing, Rosenstein acknowledged that he knew Trump was going to fire Comey before he wrote the memo, saying Trump approached him the day before to seek his “advice and input.”
But he said ultimately he thought it was appropriate for Trump “to seek a new leader” of the FBI.
In a move aimed at restoring public faith in the Russia investigation, Rosenstein this week appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to head the probe.
Mueller, a former federal prosecutor, also is authorized to investigate any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians who tried to influence the election, as well as any matters that result from the probe.
Congress has largely praised the appointment of Mueller.
“What I learned and I am very satisfied with is that the special prosecutor will have the breadth of scope necessary to follow any and all leads directly and tangential to Russian attempts to influence our election,” Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California told reporters after the briefing.
“I was very pleased, certainly, with the selection of Mr. Mueller,” Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland told reporters after the House briefing. “You will not push him around. He’s a straight shooter and he will, I think, bring some normalcy to this process.”
In the briefing, Rosenstein stressed that his memo criticizing Comey was not meant to be a finding of official misconduct or a “statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination.”
“It is a candid internal memorandum about the FBI director’s public statements concerning a high-profile criminal investigation,” he said.
Rosenstein also said he was not aware that Comey had requested more resources for the Russia probe before he was fired, as some reports have alleged.
Trump, who on Friday left for his first foreign trip, has slammed the appointment of a special counsel as a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
The international trip, which includes stops in the Middle East and Europe, comes at an opportune time for the White House, which has endured a week full of bombshell news stories that threaten to engulf the administration.
Among the most explosive reports: that Trump earlier this year asked for a pledge of personal loyalty from Comey, and that the president asked Comey to drop an investigation into his then-national security adviser, Mike Flynn.
Trump denied that charge at a press conference on Thursday. He also dismissed as “ridiculous” the accusation that he colluded with Russia.
But in his denial, Trump added a qualifier that seemed to leave open the question of involvement by others in his campaign.
“I can always speak for myself and the Russians,” he said.