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A Brief Guide to The Most Boring Beef in Washington

James Comey and Rod Rosenstein are trading barbs about each other's moral fortitude.

by Tim Marcin
May 14 2019, 7:29pm

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James Comey and Rod Rosenstein are beefing in a way only former Justice Department officials can: in speeches and op-eds pondering each other’s moral fortitude.

The latest barb came from Rosenstein, Trump’s former deputy attorney general and the man formerly in control of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. election. At a Baltimore event Monday evening, Rosenstein, whose time at the DOJ officially ended just days ago, called Comey a “partisan pundit” who's just trying to sell books.

But the tension between the two former government officials goes back a while. Rosenstein wrote a letter in May 2017 criticizing Comey’s handling of the fall 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. The memo said the then-FBI director refused to admit his mistakes and “cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions.”

Following Rosenstein’s recommendation, President Donald Trump canned Comey, in May 2017. (Trump later admitted in an interview that he was thinking of the “Russia thing” when he let Comey go.)

When he’s not posting about his contemplative nature walks, Comey’s found the time to make his own cracks about Rosenstein and other members of the Trump administration. Most of his criticism has focused on the DOJ’s handling of Mueller’s report, which did not find that Trump obstructed justice by doing stuff like … firing Comey.

When Attorney General William Barr initially summarized Mueller’s report, instead of releasing the full version to Congress, Comey tweeted out a picture of a forest (likely from one of his many jaunts outside) captioned “so many questions.” After Barr eventually released the full — but redacted — version, Comey tweeted a picture of a forest floor alongside “so many answers.”

Earlier this month, the former FBI director launched a more direct attack when he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times titled “How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr.” Barr ultimately made the decision not to charge Trump, but Rosenstein also got caught up in the mix. Comey said Trump would have faced charges if he weren’t the president.

“Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump, and that adds up to something they will never recover from,” Comey wrote. “It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.”

The piece also cites a speech and resignation letter from Rosenstein that heaped praise on a president who has repeatedly attacked the intelligence community. He once retweeted an image of Rosenstein — who was still deputy attorney general at the time — Comey, and Mueller, all behind bars.

“How could Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, after the release of Mr. Mueller’s report that detailed Mr. Trump’s determined efforts to obstruct justice, give a speech quoting the president on the importance of the rule of law?” Comey wrote. “Or on resigning, thank a president who relentlessly attacked both him and the Department of Justice he led for ‘the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations’?”

Comey’s meditations on Rosenstein’s soul clearly sparked the most recent bout of sass. In a speech at the Greater Baltimore Committee Monday, the former deputy AG referenced Comey’s op-ed nearly verbatim.

“Now the former director seems to be acting as a partisan pundit, selling books and earning speaking fees while speculating about the strength of my character and the fate of my immortal soul,” Rosenstein said Monday night, according to the Baltimore Sun. (Comey is in the throes of an expansive — and expensive — tour to promote his book, “A Higher Loyalty.")

“I kid you not. That is disappointing. Speculating about souls is not a job for police and prosecutors. Generally we base our opinions on eyewitness testimony,” Rosenstein continued.

Comey has not yet responded to Rosenstein’s salvo. But keep an eye on the country’s op-ed pages, university lecterns, and nature paths for a potential comeback.

Cover image: Former FBI Director James Comey speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill Washington, Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, after a second closed-door interview with two Republican-led committees investigating what they say was bias at the Justice Department before the 2016 presidential election. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)