Twenty state attorneys general, all Democrats, are calling on the US Department of Justice to appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate allegations of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
In a letter sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday, the attorneys general described Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey in the middle of his investigation “a violation of the public trust.”
“The residents of our states and the American people deserve a thorough investigation that makes clear the extent of Russian meddling, any collusion by Trump campaign officials, and any cover-up,” says the letter. “We urge you to appoint a special counsel immediately.”
The lead signer, Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey, was joined by her colleagues from California, Connecticut, Washington, DC, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Delaware and Minnesota.
Rosenstein authored the three-page memo recommending that Comey be fired, which was forwarded to the White House. Attorney General Jeff Sessions seconded the recommendation.
“As prosecutors committed to the rule of law, we urge you to consider the damage to our democratic system of any attempts by the administration to derail and delegitimize the investigation,” says the letter.
The Democratic state prosecutors forwarded the letter to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, which are conducting their own investigations into alleged Russian meddling.
Democratic lawmakers joined the state attorneys general in pressing for an independent prosecutor, arguing this would take politics out of the probe.
Six federal agencies have also been investigating Democrats’ claims of possible links and financial ties between the Kremlin and Trump’s associates, including his son in law Jared Kushner and advisers Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.
On March 20, 2017, Comey testified to the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation about Russian interference since July 2016, including looking into reports of collusion between Trump’s associates and Russia.
‘We have no information regarding the impact’ of Russian influence on Trump’s election, it ‘isn’t something that we looked at’ – Dir Comey pic.twitter.com/A6TWq1BfwK
— RT America (@RT_America) March 20, 2017
At the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on May 3, Comey said he did not have anything to say about the Russian investigation until it was over and would not comment on which Americans the FBI was looking into.
Six days later, the White House announced Comey’s dismissal citing recommendations from Sessions and his deputy Rosenstein.
In a memorandum to Sessions, Rosenstein wrote that over the past year, “the FBI’s reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage, and it has affected the entire Department of Justice.”
He said he could not 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 unites people of diverse perspectives,” the Deputy Attorney General added in the memo.
Comey’s July 2016 announcement that the probe into Clinton’s emails had concluded without prosecution was not the function of an FBI director but rather the DOJ, Rosenstein said, calling the press conference “a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”
On Thursday, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested that Rosenstein be appointed to take over the Russia investigation.
Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show, Deputy Sanders calls Rosenstein a person “who sets the gold standard within the legal system.”
She also said that “I am not aware” of reports that he threatened to resign over the manner in which Comey’s dismissal was attributed in part to the memo he wrote.
But Sanders also said the Trump White House isn’t trying to quash the investigation and they didn’t plan to appoint a special prosecutor.
“Any investigation that was taking place on Monday is still taking place today,” she said.
President Trump called Comey, a “showboat” and a “grandstander” and told NBC in an interview on Thursday he had planned to fire him even if the Justice Department had not recommended it.
Trump said that Comey’s dismissal was not meant to send a message to the FBI to back off its Russia probe.
Days before he was fired by Trump, Comey requested more resources to pursue his investigation into Russia’s election meddling and the possible involvement of Trump associates, the New York Times reported citing anonymous US officials. The report fueled concerns that Trump was trying to undermine a probe that could threaten his presidency.
However, both the Department of Justice and the acting head of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, have denied that Comey had made such a request.
“We don’t typically request resources for a particular case,” McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee, adding that the probe into alleged Russian interference is “adequately resourced.”