WASHINGTON — Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told the FBI he was “angry, ashamed, horrified and embarrassed” at the way James Comey was fired as FBI director, according to records released Monday.
Rosenstein was interviewed by FBI agents several weeks after Comey’s firing as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. An FBI summary of that interview was among roughly 300 pages of documents released as part of public records lawsuits brought by BuzzFeed News and CNN.
The records also include summaries of FBI interviews of key Trump associates, including Hope Hicks, Corey Lewandowski and Michael Cohen. They provide additional insight into Mueller’s two-year investigation, which shadowed the first part of Trump’s presidency and preceded an ongoing impeachment inquiry centered on his efforts to press Ukraine for investigations of political rival Joe Biden.
Hicks described efforts to prepare for media scrutiny of a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russians and the president’s oldest son. Lewandowski told investigators the president prodded him to tell then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make an announcement that the scope of the Russia investigation had been limited to future election interference.
And Cohen, who is now serving a three-year prison sentence for campaign finance violations and lying to Congress, told investigators he advised Trump’s personal lawyer that there was more detail about a proposed deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow than what he had shared with lawmakers.
Cohen said the lawyer, Jay Sekulow, told him that it was not necessary to elaborate or provide additional details and to “stay on message” and to “not contradict Trump,” the FBI said.
Cohen also said he “vaguely recalled” telling Sekulow about a call he had “with a woman from the Kremlin,” and said Sekulow’s response was “in line with ‘so what’ and the deal never happened,” according to the FBI document.
Sekulow told The Associated Press on Monday night that Cohen’s statements were false and that Cohen never told him anything about any call with a woman from Russia.
Rosenstein, who left his Justice Department post last spring, was interviewed about his role in Comey’s May 2017 firing. Rosenstein wrote a memo harshly criticizing Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, a document held up by the White House as justification for his firing.
Rosenstein said he was asked during a White House meeting one day before Comey’s firing to produce a memo laying out his concerns with the FBI chief. He said he knew when he left the office that day that Comey would be fired, though he said he did not expect for his memo to be immediately released, and was surprised by the portrayal in the media that the termination was his idea instead of the White House’s, according to the FBI document. Rosenstein also said his goal in writing the memo was not to get Comey fired.
He said he expected Comey would be contacted by either Trump or Sessions so a meeting could be scheduled and he could be fired in person. Comey instead learned of his firing from television while speaking with agents in Los Angeles.
When he learned of how Comey was fired, he was “angry, ashamed, horrified and embarrassed. It was also humiliating for Comey,” an FBI agent wrote of Rosenstein’s reaction.
At one point during the interview, as Rosenstein was describing how he had “always liked Jim Comey” but disagreed with his decisions in the Clinton case, the deputy attorney general “paused a moment, appearing to have been overcome by emotion, but quickly recovered and apologized,” according to the FBI.