White House officials say President Trump based his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday on the "clear recommendations" of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
In a memo released Tuesday evening, Rosenstein sharply criticized the FBI chief, saying he mishandled the final stages of investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's treatment of classified State Department emails. The firing was needed to restore public confidence in the agency, Rosenstein concluded.
At the heart of the criticism: Comey's various public pronouncements about the investigation during the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign. On July 5, Comey held a news conference in which he said no charges would be filed against Clinton. But on Oct 28, Comey announced that the probe had been reopened to examine newly discovered emails. Then, two days before before election, Comey once again weighed in, saying the department still was not recommending charges against the former secretary of State.
Here are key points in Rosenstein's memo:
1. "The FBI's reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage, and it has affected the entire Department of Justice. That is deeply troubling to many department employees and veterans, legislators and citizens."
2. "I cannot defend the director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unifies people of diverse perspectives."
3. "The director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General's authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution. It is not the function of the director to make such an announcement. At most, the director should have said the FBI had completed its investigation and presented its findings to federal prosecutors."
4. "Compounding the error: The director ignored another longstanding principle: We do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation."
5. "Although the president has the power to remove an FBI director, the decision should not be taken lightly. I agree with the nearly unanimous opinions of former department officials. The way the director handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong."