Rod Rosenstein full remarks to Congress on Comey memo - Axios
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Rod Rosenstein full remarks to Congress on Comey memo

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

"Good afternoon. I welcome the opportunity to discuss my role in the removal of FBI Director James Comey, although I know you understand that I will not discuss the special counsel's ongoing investigation.
Most importantly, I want to emphasize my unshakeable commitment to protecting the integrity of every federal criminal investigation. There never has been, and never will be, any political interference in any matter under my supervision in the United States Department of Justice.
Before I discuss the events of the past two weeks, I want to provide some background about my previous relationship with former Director Comey. I have known Jim Comey since approximately 2002. In 2005, when Mr. Comey was Deputy Attorney General, he participated in selecting me to serve as a U.S. Attorney. As a federal prosecutor, he was a role model. His speeches about leadership and public service inspired me.
On July 5, 2016, Director Comey held his press conference concerning the federal grand jury investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails. At the start of the press conference, the Director stated that he had "not coordinated or reviewed this statement in any way with the Department of Justice…. They do not know what I am about to say."
Director Comey went on to declare that he would publicly disclose "what we did; what we found; and what we are recommending to the Department of Justice." He proceeded to disclose details about the evidence; assert that the American people "deserve" to know details; declare that no "reasonable" prosecutor would file charges; and criticize Secretary Clinton.
I thought the July 5 press conference was profoundly wrong and unfair both to the Department of Justice and Secretary Clinton. It explicitly usurped the role of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General and the entire Department of Justice; it violated deeply engrained rules and traditions; and it guaranteed that some people would accuse the FBI of interfering in the election.There are lawful and appropriate mechanisms to deal with unusual circumstances in which public confidence in the rule of law may be jeopardized. Such mechanisms preserve the traditional balance of power between investigators and prosecutors, and protect the rights of citizens.
Director Comey attended the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office training seminar on October 27, 2016, and gave a detailed explanation of his reasons for making public statements about the conclusion of the Secretary Clinton email investigation. I strongly disagreed with his analysis, but I believe that he made his decisions in good faith.
The next day, October 28, Mr. Comey sent his letter to the Congress announcing that the FBI was reopening the Clinton email investigation. He subsequently has said that he believed he was obligated to send the letter. I completely disagree. He again usurped the authority of the Department of Justice, by sending the letter over the objection of the Department of Justice; flouted rules and deeply engrained traditions; and guaranteed that some people would accuse the FBI of interfering in the election.
Before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2017, Director Comey testified under oath about his public statements concerning the Secretary Clinton email investigation. I strongly disagreed with his explanations, particularly his assertion that maintaining confidentiality about criminal investigations constitutes concealment. Nonetheless, I respected him personally.
Former Department of Justice officials from both political parties have criticized Director Comey's decisions. It was not just an isolated mistake; the series of public statements about the email investigation, in my opinion, departed from the proper role of the FBI Director and damaged public confidence in the Bureau and the Department.
In one of my first meetings with then-Senator Jeff Sessions last winter, we discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI. Among the concerns that I recall were to restore the credibility of the FBI, respect the established authority of the Department of Justice, limit public statements and eliminate leaks.
On May 8, I learned that President Trump intended to remove Director Comey and sought my advice and input. Notwithstanding my personal affection for Director Comey, I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader.
I wrote a brief memorandum to the Attorney General summarizing my longstanding concerns about Director Comey's public statements concerning the Secretary Clinton email investigation. I chose the issues to include in my memorandum. Before finalizing the memorandum on May 9, I asked a senior career attorney on my staff to review it. That attorney is an ethics expert who has worked in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General during multiple administrations. He was familiar with the issues. I informed the senior attorney that the President was going to remove Director Comey, that I was writing a memorandum to the Attorney General summarizing my own concerns, and that I wanted to confirm that everything in my memorandum was accurate. He concurred with the points raised in my memorandum. I also asked several other career Department attorneys to review the memorandum and provide edits.
My memorandum is not a legal brief; these are not issues of law. My memorandum is not a finding of official misconduct; the Inspector General will render his judgment about that issue in due course. My memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination. My memorandum is not a survey of FBI morale or performance. My memorandum is not a press release. It is a candid internal memorandum about the FBI Director's public statements concerning a high-profile criminal investigation. I sent my signed memorandum to the Attorney General after noon on Tuesday, May 9.
I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it."
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A read on Trump's new court names

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A year and a half ago, as a candidate for president, Trump broke precedent and named a list of people from whom he'd promise to pick Supreme Court justices. He fulfilled the promise by nominating Neil Gorsuch; and today announced five new names.

Here's a read on the names from Leonard Leo, an influential figure in the conservative legal community and an outside adviser to President Trump on judicial selections:

  • Brett Kavanaugh (judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals): "The president obviously shied away from D.C. personalities when he was running for office, but he's now, almost a year into his office, in a much better position to have a more geographically diverse list." Leo has made no secret of his enthusiasm to see Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and says he has "one of the deepest and widest judicial records."
  • Britt Grant and Patrick Wyrick (state supreme court justices) : "The president likes the whole state supreme court justice angle ... because they're people who have to make final decisions and like a CEO, when you have to make a final decision, you own it. So that requires you to have a degree of strength." Leo added that these two state Supreme Court justices, in their prior careers as state solicitor generals, had been "very important architects of efforts to challenge overreach in Washington during the Obama administration, on behalf of the states."
  • Amy Coney Barrett and Kevin Newsom (recent appointments): Having recently been picked for the Federal bench they "could have potential going forward."

Behind the selections: Trump consulted with White House counsel Don McGahn, who led the process; and they sought advice from conservative legal thinkers. But they didn't need to do much vetting. The five they selected are well known in the conservative legal community.

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Peter Thiel has parted ways with Y Combinator

Peter Thiel. Photo: Kevin Moloney / Fortune Brainstorm Tech

Famed investor Peter Thiel, who publicly supported Donald Trump during his candidacy and as president, is no longer affiliated with startup accelerator program Y Combinator, as BuzzFeed first reported and a blog post update confirms.

Be smart: Thiel isn't the only one departing the program. Y Combinator has shuttered its entire part-time partner program in which Thiel participated, according to BuzzFeed. So it's not quite the symbolic move many wanted YC to make last year.

  • The organization has been experimenting with various ways to involve alumni entrepreneurs who want to advise new startups, such as having "visiting partners" for a 6-month run.
  • And as a venture capitalist with close ties to the startup community and friendships with some of YC's executives, it's hard to believe that Thiel won't continue to meet with and invest in the accelerator program's startups.
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Report: War on ISIS killing 31 times more civilians than claimed

Airstrikes target ISIS positions on the edge of the Old City a day after Iraq's prime minister declared "total victory" in Mosul, Iraq. Photo: Felipe Dana / AP

The U.S.-led war against ISIS is claiming civilian lives at a rate 31 times higher than was previously acknowledged by the coalition, according to Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, NYT reporters who conducted an 18-month investigation in northern Iraq.

Why it matters: This staggering number of deaths "is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history," per NYT. It also raises questions about civilian casualties in neighboring Syria, and how far this reporting problem reaches around the world.

What they did, per the NYT: The reporters went to roughly 150 airstrike sites in northern Iraq to interview witnesses and local officials, photograph bomb fragments, search local records and news sources, and map out the destruction through satellite imagery. They visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition is based and interviewed coalition officials and advisers. They provided coalition analysts with coordinates and date ranges of 103 air strikes to examine and compare their responses.

What they found, per the NYT: The coalition claims 1 civilian is killed in every 157 airstrikes but their on-the-ground analysis shows 1 civilian is killed in every 5 airstrikes. They added the coalition is doing a poor job of investigating claims or even to keep proper records to make investigation possible.

"While some of the civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants," according to Khan and Gopal.

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White House on sexual allegations: Franken admitted wrongdoing, Trump hasn't

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a press briefing at the White House. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Friday that the allegations of sexual misconduct against Sen. Al Franken are different from those against President Trump because, "Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing, and the president hasn't. That's a very big distinction."

Key quote: When asked why allegations against Franken merit an investigation but those against Trump don't, Sanders replied "The American people spoke very loud and clear when they elected the president."

More from Sanders:

  • Is it the WH position that Trump's accusers are lying? "The president has denied those allegations."
  • Does Trump believe the women who accused Roy Moore? "The president certainly finds the allegations extremely troubling ... and he feels it's up to [Alabama] ... to make a determination."

Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett, joined Sanders to discuss the latest on tax reform:

  • Trickle-down economics: "There's nothing about that's controversial."
  • Difficulty of passing tax reform in the Senate: "I'm hopeful that people can work it out, and that everybody, even Democrats, will end up wanting to vote for it."
  • Temporary tax cuts: Hassett said he hopes future congresses won't let them expire.
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Florida Democratic Chair resigns after sexual harassment claims

Stephen Bittel apologized to the women who felt uncomfortable. Screengrab via YouTube

Stephen Bittel, Florida's Democratic Party chairman since last January, resigned today after several women accused him of making inappropriate comments toward them, according to Politico's interviews with six women.

Key quote: "There was a lot of boob stuff in his office," one woman, a former fundraiser for Bittel, told Politico. "I was told by other women not to go into his bathroom. I was warned."

Why it matters: Bittel is another Democrat after Franken who has faced allegations of sexual harassment, and he's likely not going to be the last. His resignation is one example of some of the consequences these men will face in the wake of these revelations.

His statements:

  • To Politico on Thursday, before his official resignation: "Every person, regardless of their gender, race, age or sexuality should be treated with respect and valued for their hard work and contributions to our community and if any of my comments or actions did not reflect that belief I am deeply sorry. I have much to learn, but my goal is and has always been to make sure every member of our party has a safe environment in which to succeed. It seems I've not been successful in that goal, and I will do better."
  • On the day of his resignation: "When my personal situation becomes distracting to our core mission of electing Democrats and making Florida better, it is time for me to step aside. I am proud of what we have built as a Party and the wins we have had for Florida families, but I apologize for all who have felt uncomfortable under my tenure at the Democratic Party. I am working with our leadership to elect my successor."
One more quote: "He's just so f----ng creepy," a former party staffer told Politico. "He just leers at you, and stares. I don't know if you know what that feels like, but he just leers at you. I don't know how to describe the feeling."
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Report: Trump administration plans to halt work permits for H-1B spouses

Computer information specialist and immigrant from India, Santosh Pala, right, carries his three-month-old son Hemang during a prayer procession at the Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple in Frisco, Texas, in 2015. Photo: LM Otero / AP.

The Trump administration plans to halt work permits for the spouses of H-1B visa holders, which would discourage H-1B visa applicants from staying in the country and would revoke the ability to work for thousands of visa holders' spouses, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Why it matters: It's another move by the Trump administration to make it more difficult for foreign workers to come to America in its larger effort to safeguard American jobs.

  • Approximately 100,000 spouses and children of H-1B visa holders come to the U.S. every year on a visa known as H-4.
  • These workers were not able to work in the U.S. before 2015, when President Barack Obama created a work permit for some H-4 holders.
  • Silicon Valley will be disproportionately affected, since many high-tech employers employ H-1B workers. Because of the region's high cost of living, It is difficult for a family to survive on one salary and, as a result, may not be able to stay in the country.
  • A decision on the H-4 work authorization will likely come soon, immigration attorneys told The Chronicle.

Other efforts: Earlier this week, a House committee advanced Rep. Darrell Issa's bill to increase restrictions on how "H-1B dependent" companies can obtain the work permits for employees. Find details of Issa's bill here, and the Indian firms' lobbying efforts against crack downs on H-1B visas here.

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Franken's former female staffers defend him amid allegations

Jim Mone / AP

Amid a firestorm of criticism for his alleged sexual misconduct, eight of Sen. Al Franken's former female staffers issued a joint statement obtained by the Star Tribune Friday saying the senator treated them "with the utmost respect" and "was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices."

Franken's former chief of staff, Casey Aden-Wansbury, also told ABC News that during the eight years she had known him, "he has always worked hard to create a respectful environment for his staff." She added that "the inappropriate behavior reported today does not live up to the values I know he holds."

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Spotify acquires yet another startup as it prepares to go public

Illustration: Sam Jayne / Axios

Spotify has acquired Swedish collaborative music-making startup Soundtrap, the latter said on its website. Spotify paid at least $30 million, according to Breakit.

The big picture: As Spotify eyes a public listing of its stock next year (as it has been reported and sources tell Axios), the company has to keep growing its music business beyond streaming existing tracks. This way, it can provide more services, such as music collaboration tools to artists.

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White House requests 3rd disaster relief package

Volunteers sort supplies for those affected by Hurricane Maria. Photo: Carlos Giusti / AP

The White House requested an additional $44 billion from Congress on Friday for disaster recovery, which if approved would bring the total to almost $100 billion for Texas, Puerto Rico, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Politico reports.

Go deeper: The latest on Puerto Rico recovery, per Puerto Rico's government site and FEMA:

  • Almost 82% of the island has water.
  • Nearly 45% of the island has electricity.
  • There are 15,000 civilian/military personnel assisting in recovery, plus 2,800 FEMA personnel.
  • 84% of gas stations are up and running.
  • Almost 89% of supermarkets are running.
  • There are 1,822 people taking shelter in 50 shelters.
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Kayla Moore says her husband will not step down

Roy Moore's wife, Kayla, said that he will not step down from the U.S. senate race in the face of sexual harassment allegations.

Moore also said the "liberal press" and others who have attacked President Trump are now attacking them and taking spotlight away from the Russia investigation: "To the President, I would say now is a good time to get some things done in Congress."