McCabe: Rosenstein considered asking Jim Comey for advice after firing

McCabe: Rosenstein wanted Comey's advice

Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe has told CBS News that, following the firing of FBI director James Comey, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein considered reaching out to Comey for advice on the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election – an investigation President Trump had publicly stated was a reason for his having fired Comey.

In a portion of the interview which was not included in last night's report on "60 Minutes," McCabe told Scott Pelley about advising Rosenstein on the appointment of a special counsel. At that point, the FBI had already opened investigations into the efforts by Russia to disrupt the election, and communications between Russian government officials and figures within the Trump campaign.

Pelley asked McCabe, "Rosenstein took a little bit of time deciding whether to appoint a special counsel in this case. What were some of the things he was thinking about? Who was he seeking advice from?"

"Rod was thinking about a lot of things during those days; there was a lot going on," McCabe said. "Rod and I had numerous, several interactions over the course of five or six days. In each one, I pressed, pressed, raised the issue and pressed a little harder.

"Rod initially wasn't convinced that we needed [a special counsel], and then initially wasn't convinced that we needed one right away. I think one of his concerns that he mentioned to me was that he was concerned about what would happen to him if he appointed a special counsel, that if he did, it might mean he would lose his job and then we would no longer have a Senate-confirmed official at the Justice Department to oversee all these efforts. He was also concerned about the ongoing efforts to find and nominate a new candidate for the FBI director position, and that was a process that he very much wanted to stay involved in."

"Who was he seeking advice from?"

"I can't say everyone who Rod was seeking advice from because I don't know that, but he did mention to me that he would, he mentioned to me how highly he thought of Jim Comey, and he mentioned that he would like to speak to Jim Comey about it," McCabe replied.

"After Comey was fired?"

"That's correct."

"Rosenstein had been the one who wrote the memo that got Comey fired. And now he wants to reach out and ask him for advice?"

"He did, he did. He raised the issue with me twice. And ultimately I told him that I wasn't comfortable connecting him with Jim Comey, that I didn't think Jim should weigh in on these things," said McCabe.

Why not? "Because at that point, Jim was no longer a member of the government, and it would've been improper to have him weighing in on these decisions, I felt," he said.

McCabe said he did not know whether Rosenstein and Comey ever did speak. Rosenstein has denied talking with Comey about the special counsel's investigation.

Former FBI director Robert Mueller was named special counsel in May 2017, and since his appointment his team of prosecutors has received convictions or guilty pleas from seven individuals within the Trump campaign and transition (including Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos), and has charged 30 individuals and firms, including many Russian intelligence figures.

McCabe, who was fired shortly before he was due to retire owing to an OIG report alleging he had lied under oath, spoke to "60 Minutes" in advance of Tuesday's publication of his book, "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump."

CBS News senior national security analyst Fran Townsend, who was President George W. Bush's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, said Monday it was surprising to hear that Rosenstein considered reaching out to Comey, given that Rosenstein had been tasked by the president to write a memo justifying his firing.

"Comey had been a career official in the Justice Department long before he was FBI director," Townsend said. "And so as was Rosenstein, right. I think that their long history and shared history working at the Justice Department explains why he might have wanted to do it."

She also defended the FBI having opened two investigations into the president following Comey's firing. "Having done this when I was in the Justice Department, the FBI brings in a case, and they must have a legal predicate. And McCabe was very careful last night – the used the word 'predicate' and laid out the facts, right? He relied on the president asking to shut down the Michael Flynn investigation, [and] his meeting with the Russians [in the Oval Office]. He went through it, and we can argue whether or not it was enough, but he certainly laid out the predicate to justifiably open up these cases."

She also said she did not believe McCabe's claim that Rosenstein considered wearing a wire in the Oval Office in order to collect evidence. "Based on my own interactions with Rod Rosenstein, I find it hard to believe," she said. "Now listen, in this environment down in Washington, everything is a little bit different."

Was the FBI in chaos following the Comey firing? "I do think that's a fair term," Townsend replied. "I should say, to be clear, I was down there in this couple of days, right. I was invited down to the Justice Department by Rosenstein to be interviewed for the FBI director job. And he seemed himself. He was calm. He's a real lawyer's lawyer. And so, I don't imagine Rosenstein's hair on fire."

To watch the full interview with Fran Townsend click on the video player below. 

Townsend says parts of McCabe interview should be viewed with skepticism
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.