Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Wednesday the temporary head of the FBI was “not fully candid” with him about the memos written by James Comey about his conversations with President Trump before being fired as director of the bureau.
Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller in 2017 while overseeing the Russia investigation after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, made the admission during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also testified that he would not have signed off on the fourth and final Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant targeting onetime Trump campaign adviser Carter Page if he knew then what he knows now.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the panel, pressed Rosenstein on whether former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who took over in an acting role after Comey was fired in May 2017, would have known about all the flaws with British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier without telling him. Rosenstein said he hoped that was not the case, but he didn’t personally know.
“Did he ever lie to you?” the South Carolina Republican asked about McCabe.
“I don’t believe, senator, that there were any occasions in which I identified that he lied to me,” Rosenstein replied.
“Do you believe he was truthful to you?” Graham asked.
“I believed, senator, that Mr. McCabe was not fully candid with me, he certainly wasn’t forthcoming,” Rosenstein said. “In particular, senator, with regard to Mr. Comey’s memoranda of his interviews with the president and with regard to the FBI’s suspicions about the president, Mr. McCabe did not reveal those to me for at least a week after he became acting director, despite the fact that we had repeated conversations focusing on this investigation.”
Last year, DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz condemned Comey’s decision to leak contents from his memos to “force” the appointment of a special counsel, saying his scheme violated FBI rules as he tried to “achieve a personally desired outcome.”
Rosenstein said he felt McCabe was not being entirely candid about the investigation with him.
Graham asked how much he relied on McCabe’s statements when signing the Carter Page FISA warrant, to which Rosenstein said he did not rely only on McCabe’s word when he signed off on it.
“I had an understanding of what Mr. McCabe told me, but the document stands for itself,” McCabe said. “It’s a 100 pages and I relied what I understood to be in the application.”
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah later said to Rosenstein: “You indicated moments ago that Mr. McCabe did not lie to you, but you also acknowledged that he was not fully candid. What’s the difference?”
The former deputy attorney general said that in his view, “Lying is when you ask somebody a direct question and you get a false answer” and “candor is when you’re forthcoming with information that somebody needs to know.” Rosenstein added that “Mr. McCabe should’ve recognized that when I became acting attorney general, I needed to know about Comey’s memos … He did not tell me that until a couple of hours before they showed up in the New York Times.”
Comey was fired by Trump on May 9, 2017, and two days later the New York Times published an article with the headline, “In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty. Comey Demurred.”
“Weren’t you his boss?” Lee asked of McCabe.
Rosenstein replied, “Correct … That’s a pretty important thing that I would’ve needed to know.”
McCabe released a statement in the midst of Rosenstein’s testimony.
“Mr. Rosenstein’s claims to have been misled by me, or anyone from the FBI, regarding our concerns about President Trump and the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia are completely false. Mr. Rosenstein approved of, and suggested ways to enhance, our investigation of the President. Further, I personally briefed Mr. Rosenstein on Jim Comey’s memos describing his interactions with the President mere days after Mr. Rosenstein wrote the memo firing Jim Comey. Mr. Rosenstein’s testimony is completely at odds with the factual record. It looks to be yet another sad attempt by the President and his men to rewrite the history of their actions in 2017. They have found in Mr. Rosenstein — then and now — a willing accessory in that effort.”
Graham read McCabe’s statement aloud and asked if Rosenstein had a response.
“I did not say that Mr. McCabe misled me … What I said was he did not reveal the Comey memos to me for a week, and that is true. And he revealed them to me only a couple of hours before they showed up in the New York Times. And he did not reveal to me that he was having internal deliberations with his team about whether to target very high profile people for investigation,” Rosenstein said. “And his position is that he did not have to do that until after he’d signed off on it. And that may be true under the rules that were written at the time, but my view, senator, was that’s the kind of thing that I needed to know.”
“I haven’t accused him of making false statements to me,” Rosenstein emphasized. “I’ve simply said that he wasn’t fully forthcoming.”
Rosenstein said he believed those he worked with at the Justice Department at the time “will back me up on that.”
The Justice Department declined to pursue criminal charges against McCabe earlier this year after McCabe was fired in 2018 after Horowitz released a report in 2018 detailing multiple instances in which McCabe “lacked candor” with Comey, FBI investigators, and inspector general investigators about his authorization to leak sensitive information to the Wall Street Journal that revealed the existence of an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
Graham plans on asking potentially dozens of other Trump-Russia investigators, including McCabe, to testify for his panel for its inquiry into the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
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