President Trump and former FBI Director James Comey are the most prominent players in the saga over Comey’s removal. But three deputies in the Justice Department, White House press office and FBI have taken on outsized roles this week at the center of the developing controversy.
Here’s what you need to know about them:
A memo from Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was initially used by the White House as a justification for Trump’s firing of Comey. Rosenstein, who received bipartisan support when he was nominated deputy attorney general, criticized Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as Secretary of State.
“The FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them,” he wrote.
But in an interview on Thursday, Trump said he was planning to fire Comey regardless of what the Justice Department recommended.
“He made a recommendation. He’s highly respected. Very good guy, very smart guy. And the Democrats like him. The Republicans like him,” Trump said of Rosenstein. “He had made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it.”
“And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,” Trump added.
The New York Times and Associated Press report that, days before he was fired, Comey had asked Rosenstein for more resources to pursue the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. But a spokesperson for the Justice Department has denied that.
Rosenstein — who served as the U.S. attorney in Maryland under George W. Bush and Barack Obama — will brief Senators on the firing next week.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, principal deputy press secretary at the White House, has been holding daily press briefings this week while Sean Spicer is fulfilling his Navy Reserve duties at the Pentagon — the timing of which was scheduled before Comey’s firing.
The daughter of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has become central to the White House’s changing, contradictory narrative about why Comey was fired, as several of her statements about the incident have been called into question.
Sanders joined the Trump campaign early last year after her father dropped out of the Republican primary race.
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday and directly contradicted several White House talking points.
“I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day,” McCabe said, responding to a question about Sanders’ comment that FBI officials had “lost confidence” in Comey. “I can confidently tell you that the majority—the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.”
McCabe also called the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election “highly significant”—a statement that differed from Sanders’ comment that the investigation is “probably one of the smallest things that they’ve got going on their plate.”
His testimony on Thursday lessened any speculation that he could be chosen as a permanent replacement for Comey, and it’s not clear whether he will stay on as deputy under a new FBI director.
McCabe received criticism last year for not recusing himself from the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. In 2015, McCabe’s wife ran for a State Senate in Virginia as a Democrat, but the FBI has said McCabe played no role in her campaign, the New York Times reported.
McCabe, who began his FBI career in 1996 as a special agent investigating organized crime in New York, previously served as the assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division and then executive assistant director of the national security branch. He was named deputy FBI director by Comey in January of 2016.
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