The investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, led by Special Prosecutor Robert Muller, a former FBI director, and overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, has expanded to include probes into the president’s potential obstruction of justice.
Calling the investigation a “witch hunt,” Trump lashed out at Rosenstein (although not by name) and confirmed for the first time reports that he is under investigation.
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey on May 9. To justify the surprise ouster, the Trump administration released a lengthy memo drafted by Rosenstein that highlighted what he characterized as Comey’s mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton‘s use of private email for her work as secretary of state.
The day after Trump fired Comey, the president said in an interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt that he decided to fire Comey before receiving Rosenstein’s recommendation that he do so. Trump also said he fired Comey in part due to the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russia.
Trump also released his own memo stating that Comey assured him “on three separate occasions” that he was not under investigation. Comey later confirmed that account in his June 8 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Letters from Trump, Sessions, and Rosenstein on James Comey pic.twitter.com/msc7QBV3xL— Allan Smith (@akarl_smith) May 9, 2017
Comey’s firing ignited a firestorm of controversy fueled by memos the former FBI director recorded of his conversations with Trump. One memo—the contents of which Comey asked a friend to leak to the New York Times—detailed a Feb. 14 meeting between Trump and Comey during which the president allegedly asked the then-FBI director to “let go” an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. According to Comey, Trump asked Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to leave the Oval Office before his discussion with Comey.
Trump has since denied asking Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, who had resigned on Feb. 13, hours after a Washington Post report revealed that he had lied to Pence about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition.
The president also reportedly asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers to intervene in the FBI’s investigation into Russia. Neither Coats nor Rogers would confirm or deny this version of events during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing earlier this month. Rogers said only that he has never been asked to do anything illegal.
It is these revelations—not a unilateral decision by Rosenstein—that helped guide Muller’s investigation toward Trump. In other words, Trump’s alleged conduct surrounding the firing of Comey is the reason he is now under criminal investigation.
Both Trump and Pence have secured private attorneys as Muller’s investigation continues to expand.