President Donald Trump prepared his own draft letter making the case for firing FBI Director James Comey, which was then circulated among senior White House staff before the deputy attorney general wrote a memo justifying the move, according to two people familiar with matter.
The memo Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein submitted to the White House was released as the first of several justifications for firing Comey, on May 9.
In Trump’s draft letter, the existence of which was first reported Friday by the New York Times, the president didn’t focus on the FBI’s Russia investigation as a reason for Comey’s dismissal, the officials said. He did reiterate his understanding that Comey had told him multiple times he wasn’t being investigated as part of a probe into Russian tampering in the 2016 election.
Trump’s letter was emotional and critical of Comey and was at least four pages long, single-spaced, one of the people said. White House Counsel Don McGahn argued that Trump should not send the letter to Comey. McGahn expressed concern that the letter’s tone was expository, impolite, provocative and went against presidential tradition, the person said. McGahn also argued that Trump should involve the attorney general and deputy attorney general in any decision to fire the FBI director, the person said.
McGahn didn’t express concerns about any legal repercussions of the letter, the person said.
Comey’s firing had immense political ramifications for Trump that intensified weeks later when the ousted FBI chief accused the president of pressuring him to pledge his personal loyalty and to drop an investigation of former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The president’s lawyers have denied those accusations, and Trump has repeatedly referred to the continuing Russia investigation as a “witch hunt.”
Trump’s letter was prepared with the assistance of White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller, the two people said. Miller kept tight control of the document, and staff who participated in its drafting were given only paper copies, one of the people said.
But Trump gave a copy to Rosenstein, the person said, and now Mueller has the document. Efforts by Bloomberg News to obtain or review Trump’s letter have been unsuccessful.
McGahn and Miller didn’t respond to requests for comment.
When Comey’s firing was announced, the White House instead released Rosenstein’s memo, which sharply criticized Comey’s handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state. In the initial aftermath of Comey’s ouster, Trump and his aides cited Rosenstein’s memo as contributing to his decision, though the president later pointed to the Russia probe as the underlying reason.
Less than two weeks after Comey’s ouster, as the administration faced growing criticism, Rosenstein appointed Mueller — a former Federal Bureau of Investigation director — as special counsel to oversee the expanding Russia inquiry. Mueller is now looking into whether Trump tried to get the FBI to back off its probe of Flynn and whether the Comey firing constituted an attempt to obstruct justice.
Asked on Friday about the draft letter from Trump, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “to the extent the special prosecutor is interested in these matters, we will be fully transparent with his investigation.” She told reporters that the White House would work with the special counsel’s office regarding release of the document.
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