Cicilline Asks IG Whether Rosenstein Should Recuse from Russia Case, Hiring of New FBI Director

May 19, 2017

WASHINGTON – After Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill regarding the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-RI), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, is asking Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz to determine whether Rosenstein needs to recuse himself from any investigations into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, as well as from the hiring of a new Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

 

Rosenstein authored a memo that was initially used by the White House to justify the firing of Comey. President Trump later stated that he planned to fire Comey before he received Rosenstein’s memo.

 

In addition to his questions about Rosenstein, Cicilline is also asking the Inspector General to clarify whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions violated his own recusal by recommending the firing of Comey, and whether Sessions should also recuse himself from the search for a new FBI Director.

 

The full text of Cicilline’s letter is embedded below. A signed PDF copy of the letter can be downloaded by clicking here.

 

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May 19, 2017

 

The Honorable Michael E. Horowitz

Inspector General for the Department of Justice

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Suite 4706

Washington, DC 20530-0001

 

Dear Mr. Horowitz:

 

I am writing in regards to the ongoing recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and possible grounds for recusal for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in relation to the firing of FBI Director James Comey. 

 

On March 2, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he would recuse himself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating to the 2016 presidential campaign, including Russian interference in the election.  Calls for the Attorney General’s recusal came after revelations that during his confirmation hearing in January 2017, he failed to disclose that he met twice with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, and falsely claimed that he had no contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.[1] 

 

Yet, it was reported on May 9, 2017 that Attorney General Sessions recommended the firing of FBI Director James Comey.  In fact, the New York Times reported that President Trump put Mr. Sessions in charge of building the case to fire Mr. Comey.[2]  This is despite the fact that Mr. Comey was overseeing an FBI investigation to which Mr. Sessions’ recusal applies—an investigation into improper communications that the Trump campaign may have had with Russian officials leading up to 2016 presidential election. [3]

 

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was also instrumental in the firing of Mr. Comey.  Specifically, Mr. Rosenstein drafted a memorandum titled “Restoring Public Confidence in the FBI” dated May 9, 2017, which expressed his concerns that Mr. Comey mishandled the investigation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails and usurped the Attorney General’s authority.[4]  The White House initially used Mr. Rosenstein’s memorandum as a supporting document in firing Mr. Comey.  However, as I have expressed to you in a separate letter, I am concerned that the rationale for Mr. Comey’s firing provided by the administration is weak and contradictory, and may have been politically motivated. For example:

 

·         During the 2016 election, President Trump made comments both castigating Mr. Comey for not taking harsher action against Secretary Clinton,[5] as well as comments commending Mr. Comey for investigating Secretary Clinton. [6]

·         The Trump administration failed to take action on its alleged concerns about the Clinton investigation until five months into the Trump presidency, even though said concerns have existed since October 2016.[7]

·         Days before he was fired, Mr. Comey had asked Mr. Rosenstein for additional resources for the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. [8]

·         In an interview with NBC News on May 11, 2017, President Trump stated that he had planned to fire Mr. Comey before he received Mr. Rosenstein’s memorandum.

·         On May 18, 2017 in a briefing with the full Senate, Mr. Rosenstein told Senators that he learned on May 8, 2017 that the President was going to fire Mr. Comey, a day before Mr. Rosenstein drafted his memorandum. [9]

 

At the time that Mr. Rosenstein drafted the May 9 memorandum, he was overseeing the Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian tampering in the 2016 presidential election.  He continued to oversee the Russia probe until May 17, 2017, when he directly appointed former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III as the special counsel to oversee this investigation.[10]  At the same time, it is also being reported that Mr. Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein are in charge of replacing Mr. Comey and are interviewing candidates for interim FBI director.[11]

 

I believe the facts as presented are alarming and that it is appropriate for your office to conduct an investigation into the following matters.

 

·         Whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recommendation to fire FBI Director Comey and his ongoing participation in hiring an interim FBI director are in breach of his pledge to recuse himself “from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.”  

·         Whether there are grounds to recommend that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recuse himself from any investigations into contacts between the Trump campaign, transition team, or administration and Russian government officials or associates, including ongoing investigations in Russian interference with the 2016 election. 

·         Whether Attorney General Sessions or Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein should recuse themselves from the search for a new FBI Director, since this position will take over the investigation into the 2016 election and possible collusion with Russia.

 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your timely response.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

__________________________________

DAVID N. CICILLINE

Ranking Member, House Committee on the Judiciary

Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law