WASHINGTON -- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told members of Congress Friday he stands by a memo he wrote bluntly criticizing former FBI Director James Comey. But he made clear it was not his intention for President Trump or other White House officials to use the document to justify firing Comey, which is what they have done.
In closed-door meetings with lawmakers on Thursday and Friday, Rosenstein said he wrote the memo after Mr. Trump told him one day before the May 9 firing that he wanted to dismiss Comey. Rosenstein said that though he was personally fond of Comey, "I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader."
Rosenstein made it clear to the lawmakers that he drafted his memo only after Trump told him of his plans to dismiss the FBI director. "My memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination," he said. But he added, "I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it."
Rosenstein said he and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had "discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI" as far back as last winter, CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes reports.
The Justice Department on Friday issued the text of Rosenstein's opening remarks for the briefings on Capitol Hill. That was two days after Rosenstein named Mueller as a special counsel to investigate possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Mr. Trump has said he plans to nominate a new FBI director soon, and that had been expected before his departure. However the White House said there would be no announcement Friday.
The appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel has drawn generally favorable comments from Democrats and from some Republicans as well. But lawmakers at both congressional sessions expressed frustration that Rosenstein would say little in answer to their questions about his actions -- or others' -- before Comey's firing.
"I think we are still puzzled about the memorandum," Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said in response to a question from Cordes.
"There was considerable frustration in the room," said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a member of the Armed Services Committee. "This renewed my confidence that we should not have confidence in this administration. I don't think (Rosenstein) did a lot to bolster our confidence in him today."